Stepping into the freight elevator, you can hear whispers of music echoing.

Exiting on the third floor, genres clash in the hallways. Under fluorescent lights that made everything look a bit gray, it looked like an eerie padlocked self-storage facility – the sounds of banda, ranchera, mariachi, jazz, and punk were barely muffled as we passed door after door.

Before we got to Multo’s rehearsal space (which doubles as a recording studio), their drummer, Jesus Castillo said he couldn’t count how many successful musicians had found themselves in this building hidden in the folds of the industrial areas of Southeast LA (SELA) bordering Maywood, Vernon, and Commerce.

Multo was first established as the band Warfront in 2018 and they’ve been instrumental to the SELA punk scene since then. In the room they share with a few other bands, instruments and equipment are piled in every corner. They just used the space to record and mix their new album, Doomsday, which came out on April 19 on Spotify and Bandcamp.

For Multo and other local punk bands, the building on Leonis Blvd encapsulates the punk scene in SELA: a safe space for other young musicians in the area and at the same time, a place to learn and grow as musicians without formal training.

The SELA Scene

Underground punk music has a long history in Los Angeles most notably in East LA, with a documentary, Los Punks: We Are All We Have, putting the scene on full display. But just down the road past Sears Tower and through Vernon, SELA’s scene has been just as busy.

There has always been a bustling music landscape in SELA, with the likes of Slayer forming in 1981 Huntington Park and getting their start in backyard shows just like the ones you can still find scattered through SELA to this day.

A lot of people in SELA have stories about the bands that brought them to the scene and kept them there.

Multo’s Frontman Guillermo Molina is inspired by local bands like Self Sabotage, System of Hate, and Sadistic Intent. “Even though they’re not necessarily huge bands, they still do their thing regardless,” he said. “For a lot of musicians, there can be outside pressure to stop doing music and it’s refreshing to see you don’t HAVE to give it up.” 

The members of Multo found their way into the punk scene in various ways. Molina was a metalhead originally in a metal band. His school friend pulled him away from that and encouraged him to tag along to metal versus punk shows around LA County.

Seeing the people thrashing around and feeling the music was different from what he’d known in his time playing metal. Since then Molina has only wanted to play for punks.

Castillo, the drummer, remembers seeing his older brother styling his mohawk to a point, getting dressed, and listening to music in preparation to go to local shows. Castillo’s brother even played in a band himself and was the one who first taught him about drumming. He later joined Multo after his first band, Diversity, broke up.

Castillo has independently studied the sound of LA punk from the 80s to now, along with classic rock, and takes inspiration from many genres.

“Seeing how they struggled back then as we do now it motivates me to go out and keep doing music,” he said. “Even if it only gets me a couple of gallons of gas and a meal.”

Bass player Josh Ortiz was brought in by friends after he expressed wanting to form a band. They took him to backyard shows in South Central, he joined a band not long after that.

Like many of the kids in the area, they had an interest in music and the arts without many avenues to explore those interests. 

“I feel like events like these represent our community, for example, Multo. They represent the Hispanic and Latino community within the punk community. I feel like they do a great service when it comes to representation,” said Damaris Lopez, who is from Huntington Park and frequents punk shows in and around SELA. “It’s always good to see an up-and-coming band from Southeast LA who are trying to break through.”

For Boryoku, another local punk band, one of the bands that kept them in the scene was Multo. 

“I always looked up to those guys as like, one of the top dogs in the fucking scene. Those guys are just fucking rippers,” Lubiano, bass for Boryoku, said of Multo.

Boryoku is a band that came together in a way that many bands do – sheer luck and good timing.

“We’re pretty ordinary dudes, like everyone, we come to these shows to escape,” said Boryoku guitarist Robert Vasquez, who briefly played second guitar for Multo.

“I guess it’s like, we want people to feel what we feel when we play up there.”

Vasquez said that despite being in front of audiences of sometimes hundreds of people, playing with his bandmates, his best friends, always feels very intimate.

When he is playing at shows it’s almost like there isn’t even an audience, he said it feels very intimate like he’s alone jamming out with his best friends.

Boryoku has now made a name for themselves in the scene, hailing from South Central, K-town, and Covina, they continue to find themselves playing shows in SELA and playing shows with SELA artists all around LA County.

Multo Drummer Jesus Castillo playing a show in April 2024. (Amanda Del Cid Lugo / LA Public Press)

Punk with a purpose

Punk is not only a music genre. For many it is a set of ideals, often anti-authoritarian, and anti-government – generally something subversive. Though from the outside looking in it can seem chaotic and aggressive, and in many ways it is, SELA punks have found a way to make the scene chaos for good. 

Multo and many other local bands often play shows to raise funds for members of the community who are struggling with housing, funeral costs, food insecurity, or to support families in Palestine.

“I think it’s super cool to play shows that welcome everyone and encourage people to feel accepted and proud of where they are from and what they stand for,” said Castillo who not only drums and subs in on bass but also makes cover art for many bands around SELA.

Multo’s frontman, Molina, said that he likes shows that do more for the community than just throw a party. He said that he recently went to a show, organized by college students, that had vendors and resources – even giving away Narcan and doing demonstrations on how to use it and promoting harm reduction in the scene. Molina said he hopes that harm reduction and safety at shows continue to trend around the entire LA punk scene.

More recently, Multo joined their friends Desgracia, a punk band from South Central, to play a fundraising event where all proceeds, from the entrance ticket to merch sold by bands and vendors, would be donated to American Near East Refugee Aid. Poets and musicians made statements calling for a ceasefire and an end to the genocide. They raised over $2,000. 

Back in 2020, word got around that the low-income mobile home parks owned by the city of Bell might be sold off to developers. Activists from SELA got together to shut down part of Florence Avenue – a major street in SELA, which runs East to West through Huntington Park, Bell, Bell Gardens, and Downey – with a march supporting the mobile home residents. 

At the end of the march, there was a community gathering outside of the mobile home park, and a show featuring Multo. They played to a crowd of children who danced and ran back and forth in a mini mosh pit, as elders from the local community watched on. 

The Bell mobile homes are still there to this day.

Audience members crowd around Multo as they play the Gecko presents LA versus OC show in Anaheim in September 2023. (Amanda Del Cid Lugo / LA Public Press)

A SELA production through and through

Last November SELA bands Multo, Sharp Shooter, and CrossxBreak played a backyard show in Bell Gardens. 

“All SELA bands, run by SELA dudes, in the SELA area,” said Jose Raya, who plays guitar for Sharp Shooter.

The show had been months in the making. A SELA production through and through featuring mostly SELA bands and run by Multo’s bassist, Ortiz, who lives in Bell and grew up in SELA. Local vendors set up tables along the sides of the driveway, trinkets and snacks, stickers and jewelry.

The bands played under a white pop-up tent that was open on three sides, the drums, and amps staying in place as the bands came in and out for their sets.

Raya said having the homegrown scene makes being involved much more accessible for locals. Having shows in SELA “takes a lot of weight off,” he said.

Raya said that many SELA bands like Multo represent the positive aspects of being a part of the scene.

“The scene is so much bigger than just music, it’s the people within it, and all of their life experiences,” said Raya. “There’s undocumented people, there’s people of color, there’s people from the LGBTQ community that have found shelters and safe space within the community.”

CrossxBreak, the band from South Gate, handed out T-shirts to fans and strangers alike after they played. They had a retro vibe with shaggy haircuts and the bassist rocking hair that went down the whole length of his back.

“It’s sick to see some of these other guys from the scene taking the lead,” said Sharp Shooters’ Joseph Ramos.

At punk shows, there is a history of using nozz (or nos), nitrous oxide, to get high. 

At this show, there was no nozz and no funny business. A dad held his two-year-old kid in his arms at the front of the crowd, the little boy shaking his head and moving his arms like the teenagers that surrounded them.

The crowd was full of fans who requested specific songs from the bands, some even naming unreleased songs.

It costs money to put on shows like this, paying for the space, moving equipment, promotion, and merch. Most bands at most shows don’t get paid, if anything it costs money to play a gig, to have a practice space, record music and maintain equipment once you have it.

Raya said that Multo and other SELA bands are made up of some of the hardest-working people he knows. “They’re literally building on the scene. And they’re building on their own lives, too.”

It’s become a training ground for so many kids to learn skills and trades they would otherwise not have access to: watching bands set up and break down, learning how to assemble a drum kit, and creating and seeing the organizer keep a show moving. 

Ortiz, from Multo, has only put on one other show before. He said it was a terrible experience despite being a show with a huge turnout. The venue took the majority of the earnings, bands didn’t get paid (and neither did he). He said there were hundreds of people who turned up but he was so disillusioned with the issues that came along the way, he wasn’t sure if he would organize another show.

But this show broke even at the beginning of the night which means it was one of the few paid gigs in town for them, though it may not be much. 

“I think that’s one of the cool things about the SELA punk scene. Everything tries to be as cheap as possible while still keeping the quality of bigger scenes,” said Damian Cortez, a punk fan from South Central who also grew up in SELA. He frequents Multo’s shows and said that being in those spaces can be therapeutic. 

“Some of the greatest punk bands of all time have come out of the South East LA and LA in general, like Suicidal Tendencies. So for us to be able to relive that scene that they created is pretty crazy.”

“We were just kids”

Sharp Shooter singer Maria De Jesus Cruz Gonzalez only recently came on to front the SELA-based band after being a part of the punk scene in SELA for years. She also volunteers with a program in the Southeast called Chicxs Rockerxs South East Los Angeles (CRSELA) that creates music lessons and mentorship accessible to girls and gender non-conforming youth. She says that the scene has been rapidly changing since the pandemic and suspects that social media is the driving force.

As the scene expands and pulls in new youth through social media promotion and classic word of mouth, SELA punk bands now find themselves looking out at the crowds of attendees who are kids, just like they once were.

Multo said they remember being young at their first shows too. All of them remember walking in and seeing people drunk, high, and getting into trouble. They recall being offered Noz in people’s backyards, avoiding fights, and running away from cops after shows got busted.

They found themselves in warehouses, backyards, abandoned spaces, and the riverbed of the LA River.

“We were just kids,” said the Multo band members, reminiscing about their first years being a part of the scene.

Justin Lubiano, Bass and Vocals for Boryoku sings with Multo during the Gecko presents LA versus OC show in Anaheim in September 2023. (Amanda Del Cid Lugo / LA Public Press)

Many of the artists who practice in that building on Leonis and play shows in SELA are self-taught – picking up skills from other community members that might otherwise be inaccessible. 

Justin Lubiano, who plays bass and sings for Boryoku, said they never thought people would like them, and they kept to themselves. But they’ve since gained friendship and camaraderie in the SELA scene with Multo. Multo’s Molina has also made a name for himself by recording and mixing music not only for Multo, but for Boryoku and other up-and-coming artists making their rounds on the scene.

Lubiano said that taking the stage with SELA bands like Multo is full circle for him. Multo even shares their practice space in the Leonis building with Boryoku. 

After seeing Multo perform at a backyard show in South Central, Moises Crespo, Boryoku’s drummer, said that’s when he knew he would stay in the scene.

“If they can do it,” he said, “So can I.”

Amanda is a journalist born and raised in SELA, where you can find her playing tennis at a local park or taking her cat out for a walk.

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