The combination of punk and reggae can easily bring to mind any number of cringe-worthy pop-punk-ska bands from the 1990s. However the angst-ridden snarl of punk and the chilled-out vibes of reggae share a somewhat strange bed-fellowship that actually dates back much further than that; to the earliest days of the London punk scene.
At that time there were no punk records to speak of because none of the bands had landed record deals yet. So during early gigs at seminal London punk venue, the Roxy, DJ Don Letts (later of Big Audio Dynamite) would spin reggae records in between bands. This was due in part to the fact that many of the bands themselves, the Clash and the Sex Pistols in particular, were huge reggae fans. The two musical styles also share a revolutionary ethos and musical simplicity that actually makes them much closer to one another than one might think upon first listen.
Such was the partial inspiration behind Punky Reggae Party, a weekly DJ/dance night that takes place on Fridays at La Cita in Downtown LA. Punky Reggae Party was started about six years ago by DJs David Orlando aka Boss Harmz and Jason Mason of Dub Club, along with Ben White, and Michael Stock of the popular indie/post-punk dance night Part Time Punks.
“Punky Reggae Party was something I had creeping in my head from even high school,” explains Orlando. “Before I knew about Don Letts and his famous night at the Roxy. For myself, it started from a radio show I heard on KXLU called, Skankshaft, which was on late at night. It was the first time I heard the Skatalites, the Jam, the Specials, Lee Perry, and the Clash, all next to one another! I taped it on cassette and listened to it every day for a long time.”
Initially Punky Reggae Party was held at the now-defunct Little Pedro’s before moving to its present location at La Cita.
“We did it at Little Pedro’s for a year, then moved to La Cita, which was the perfect home for Punky Reggae Party” says Orlando.
Located across the street from Angel’s Flight in the shadow of Bunker Hill, La Cita looks and feels like a Tijuana bar that’s somehow been transported to downtown LA. True to form, it smells a bit and the drinks are known for occasionally being watered down. But on Friday nights it all seems to feed nicely into the sweaty punk dive atmosphere of Punky Reggae Party.
The typical Punky Reggae crowd is about as eclectic as you’ll find at a non-techno LA club night. Indie kids, mods, punks, skinheads, and hipsters jockey with one another on the dance floor, trying to carve out enough space to skank or pogo.
“The crowd is always really diverse,” explains Orlando. “But in the end, everyone is usually in a dance floor frenzy.”
The Punky Reggae DJs spin strictly vinyl, with selections that include everything from two-tone ska like the Specials and Madness, to classic punk groovers by the Clash and X-Ray Spex, to dancehall anthems like Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote.”
“Bands like PIL, the Clash, the Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Burning Spear, Maytals, the Fall, the Specials, the Ramones, and Crass are always in the playlists,” says Orlando. “As well as many more obscure punk and rare 60s ska and reggae 45s.”
The club also occasionally plays host to live bands that in the past have included the Expanders, the Balaclavas, Swahili Blonde, Vic Ruggiero and Dave Hillyard (of the Slackers), and even the late Ari Up, legendary lead singer of original punk girl-group, the Slits.
“We’ve stuck to our guns over the years,” says Orlando proudly. “I’ve met some greats that came to our night, because of the rep Punky Reggae has earned; like Genesis P. Orridge, Buster Bloodvessel (Bad Manners), members of Bauhaus, the Pop Group, Fishbone, the Circle Jerks (singer Keith Morris has even been a guest DJ), and Devo. We feel really blessed by that and strive to keep the spirit of that music alive every week without compromise.”
Punky Reggae Party goes off every Friday night, is free before 10:30, and costs a fiver afterwards.