Since the late 1970s, California has had a thriving regional punk rock movement. It primarily consists of (but is not limited to) bands from the Los Angeles, Alameda County, Orange County, Ventura County, San Francisco, and San Diego areas.
Los Angeles had a very strong experimental rock scene in the early 1970s. Many figures from this earlier scene would play notable roles in the later punk scene. The experimental LA rock scene was centered around a club called the Rodney’s English Disco, run by Rodney Bingenheimer, who later, as a disc jockey for KROQ’s “Rodney on the Rock”, did much to promote LA punk bands.
In the mid-1970s, a wave of protopunk glam bands emerged from Los Angeles, including Shady Lady, Zolar X, Berlin Brats, Imperial Dogs, and most notably The Runaways.
Starting in 1976, following recent releases of recordings by punk bands such as the Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Damned, a number of punk bands formed in the Los Angeles area. Among these bands in L.A. were The Weirdos, The Germs, The Plugz, The Controllers, The Skulls, The Dils, Black Randy and the Metrosquad, Catholic Discipline, The Go-Go’s, The Screamers, The Dickies, X, The Zeros, The Alley Cats, Hal Negro and the Satintones which featured Masque nightclub owner Brendan Mullen who co-authored three books in the 2000s about the punk era in Los Angeles, and The Bags.
Many bands also formed in the San Francisco Bay Area; The Avengers, The Nuns, Mutants, Flipper, Negative Trend, The Offs, and the Dead Kennedys. California punk of this period was musically very eclectic, and the punk scene of the time included a number of bands whose sound strongly crossed over to Art/experimental Punk, new wave, synthpunk, Rockabilly, and hard rock.
In 1978 in Southern California, the first hardcore punk bands arose, including The Middle Class, Black Flag, Vicious Circle, and the Circle Jerks (in late 1978). Hardcore bands and fans tended to be younger than the art punks of the older LA scene and came mainly from the suburban parts of the Los Angeles area, especially the South Bay and Orange County and San Diego. This resulted in a rivalry between the older artsy “Hollywood” scene and the hardcore “suburban”, “surf punk”, or “beach punk” scene. Those in the “Hollywood” scene often disliked what they saw as the musical narrowness of hardcore and the violence associated with “suburban” punks (the South Bay and Orange County punk scenes had a particular reputation for violence), while the “suburban” punks looked down on what they perceived as the lack of intensity of older “Hollywood” bands (The Germs being a notable exception with lead singer Darby Crash) and the fashion consciousness of “Hollywood” punks. The Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, shot in early 1979 and early 1980, documents the period when the older LA punk scene was being completely taken over by hardcore and features performances by bands from both scenes. Decline was filmed in part at punk shows sponsored and promoted by David Ferguson, who in 1979, formed CD Presents, a recording label that would record and promote a number of pioneering groups from the California punk scene. Ferguson and CD Presents organized New Wave 1980, the first festival gathering and showcasing punk bands from all over the West Coast.
By 1979, hardcore had displaced the Hollywood scene and become the dominant expression called hardcore punk in both Northern and Southern California. By this time, many of the older punk bands had broken up or become relatively inactive. A few, such as The Go-Go’s, The Dickies, and X, went on to mainstream success (in some cases, X, almost abandoning punk entirely), while a few others, such as The Dickies, embraced hardcore completely.