INTRODUCTION TO DPS
Truancy is presumably exactly as old as education. Some 800,000 years ago in the Middle East, people learned how to start fires. Though an important skill and an entertaining subject, I’m sure that some frustrated student thought to her or his self, “Lame. I’m outta here.” Later truants organized parties during school hours. My research for this blog entry turned up accounts of actress Sharon Tate and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa frequenting them in the 1960s. I myself — though something of an advanced ditcher of high school — only attended one organized ditching event (it wasn’t really a party. The drumline I was in all went to a restaurant and played tabletop shuffleboard. My punishment was having to work in the school library for a spell).
In the early 1990s, a ditch party scene emerged as a phenomenon on LA’s Eastside (for clarification: the region east of the LA River). That is the subject of this entry. DISCLAIMER: This post is not meant to glorify drug abuse nor truancy; neither is it meant to suggest that I’m an authority on the subject. I didn’t even move to Los Angeles until well after the scene had faded.
I have searched for firsthand accounts of the “Old School Ditch Party” scene but, aside from a couple of blog entries, and scanned images from Street Beat magazine, almost all of the information in this post is derived from the sensationalistic and comically disapproving FOX Undercover stories from the era. So far only one of my friends has told me about her firsthand experiences with the scene. So this isn’t mean to be taken as anything remotely suggesting a serious study but rather an invitation for readers to share their memories and help fill out the picture of this seemingly scarcely documented but fondly remembered era.
WHAT, THEN, WAS A DITCH PARTY
Frank Ski – “Whores In This House”
Although the FOX 11 stories make no mention of race or ethnicity, it’s obvious for many reasons that Ditch Parties were a uniquely Latino phenomenon. It almost seems as if that’s part what attracted FOX reporter Chris Blatchford’s attention. Although Blatchford has also covered Asian gangs, Russian gangs, and the Aryan Brotherhood – his track record of reporting on Latino street gangs, the (Latino) backyard party scene, (Latino) Rebel Bouts, underage (Latina) Go-Go Crews, Colombian drug cartels, and (Latino) Ditch Parties were part of FOX’s apparent determination to only focus on (perceived) negative aspects of Latino culture and whip up a good ol’ fashioned moral panic.
EASTSIDE BACKYARD PARTY SCENE
I suspect that the Ditch Party scene can be traced back to the Eastside’s backyard party scene of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Back then, neighborhood kids began forming mobile DJ units and playing in backyard parties. According to Marty “Marty Beat” Garcia, the founder and former editor of Street Beat, the first “party crews” began to emerge in the same era. According to John Guzman, a veteran DJ of the Eastside backyard party scene, disco was the soundtrack until 1979 and ’80 when he and other DJs began incorporating punk and new wave sets in their mix to appease its growing popularity and disco’s decline.
The Cure – “Boys Don’t Cry”
EASTSIDE BACKYARD PUNK SCENE
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Eastside was also home to the vibrant backyard punk scene. Homegrownbands from the Eastside neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, East LA, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights and neighboring communities in the San Gabriel Valley (e.g. Monterey Park) and Southeast Los Angeles (e.g. Montebello) thrived largely (although there were Eastside venues) by playing outdoor sets in people yards rather than the Hollywood venues that featured their mostly Anglo, Westside punk counterparts from across the river.
MDMA AND RAVE
The drug MDMA was first nicknamed “ecstasy” by a Los Angeles dealer back in 1981. However, aside from small groups of dedicated users, ecstasy’s popularity didn’t truly explode until after it was exported in large quantities along with house and techno music to the UK where they were combined resulting first in Acid House Parties, and then massive Raves. By 1990, mainstream American media including MTV and Spin magazine were covering the rave phenomenon that was occurring in Europe. Soon after, American DJs like Frankie Bones imported raves to the US, although in New York “massive” meant 5,000 attendees, whereas contemporaneous UK raves were attracting 40,000.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN EAST LA
Meanwhile, in LA, Ditch Parties evolved into something resembling mini-daytime raves. The Rebel subculture added house music to their playlist of Alternative, New Wave, and Rock en EspaÃ±ol. A bell rang at the high school announced the start of the day, and ditch party attendees began drinking, huffing, puffing, and dancing.
Lidell Townsell & M.T.F. – “Get With U (Morales Def Mix)”
The truancy, drug use (Blatchford refers to “reefers,” “Jungle Juice,” “quart bottles of beer” and more), attracted FOX’s attention and allowed them to cluck with disapproval all while lingering a bit too long on the underage dancing girls.
It seems to me that there were positive aspects of the ditch party scene as well. Party crews would seem to offer comradery and a sense of family. Though he certainly didn’t advocate skipping school, the then-director of Project HOPE (Helping Our People Excel) suggested that party crews could be a positive alternative to gangs. Violence in the 1990s was out of control, Los Angeles experienced widespread rioting in 1992, but ditch party scene seems to have been an attempt to reject not just school, but violence. Judging by the guy tugging at his Malcolm X shirt’s “x” logo, to the lollipops and generally “loved up” expressions, it seems pretty likely (at least to an E fan) that MDMA was sometimes involved.
The ditch party scene was promoted, in many ways, like raves. A flyer would feature a phone number, a phone call led to a location, someone at the location told you where the party was. The heyday was between 1991 and ’93, when the scene fanned out from the Eastside to other areas with large Latino populations like Midtown, North Orange County, theSGV, South LA’s Eastside, and the Inland Empire. The fliers do display a disrespect for school, with phrases like“La escuela es para los pendejos”, “F___ School !!!”, and “Why be a good boy and go to shool, when you could F___ school and be a bad boy!!” although their avoidance of the actual “F” word seems almost sweetly naÃ¯ve.
THE PARTY CREWS
In 1995, a couple of years after the DP scene’s peak, an LA Times article reported that there were an estimated 500 party crews in existence. Members of party crews advertised their affiliation with embroidered baseball caps and tattoos. They were also covered by Street Beat magazine. Some of them include Abusive Kids, Acidmen, Aztek Nation, Brown Pride, Buckwild Productions, Clash, Crazy Sex, Delinquints, H.E.M. (Hecho en Mexico), Happy Habits, Ho Patrol, Inhumane Crew, Krasyl1fe, L.A. Hellraisers, Madness, Mass Production, No Control, Operation X, Rated X, Rescue 911, SOR (Slaves of Raves), Sexual Dezire, T.W.S., The Dogs, The Psychedelics, The Saints, Thee Undertakers, Trinity, Un4gvn, Unexpected, and Unisex.
There were all-girl party crews too, some known as go-go groups. From the FOX expose I now know of Unpredictable Ladies (UPL), Q-Teez, Everlasting Ladies, Sweet Desire, Top Priority, Ladies of Mischief, and Wet Fantasies.
THE DP SOUNDTRACK
Depeche Mode – “Just Can’t Get Enough”
I hope that some of the DJs or their fans will come forward to grant them recognition. I’m aware of (mostly from looking at the fliers) Brooklyn, DJ Betime, DJ Toro, Karloz, MP Ford, and John Wayne. I hear lots of house and the British indie that was popular on KROQ before that station went to the dogs. Some of the songs being played that I recognize are the videos posted in this entry.
STYLES OF DITCH PARTY
No piece on a subculture would be complete without mentioning the clothing styles. I’m seeing then-new brands like Cross Colours, Freshjive, and GAT, as well as subcultural standards like Adidas, bomber jackets, and of course band T-shirts (The Smiths!)
THE END OF DITCH PARTIES
In 1993, the violence peaked as gangs muscled their way into the scene (as was happening in the UK’s rave scene as well). Furthermore, the lines between party crews and gangs blurred, as some party crews began carrying guns and other weapons. Although not ditch parties, there were high profile violent incidents at nighttime backyard parties and raves. In 1992, 11 people shot and wounded at a backyard party promoted by Derek San Miguel’s Operation X. San Miguel was himself subsequently murdered passing out flyers in East LA when he was just 21 years old. Some DJs went on to work at radio stations or licensed venues. Kids, of course, still ditch school and sometimes throw ditch parties but the widespread, organized ditch party scene of the early ‘90s seems be a thing of the past.
Although they’re not my memories, those that were seem to have mostly fond reminiscences, despite the negative tone of most media coverage. And it looks like there’s a documentary documenting the era (and maybe, therefore, the DP scene) in the works called House DJ.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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