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Backyard Parties | A Brief History of DJ Culture in Southern California

Text by Gerard Meraz

Los Angeles’ environs are set-up for a thriving backyard party scene. The town is blessed with some of the best weather in the country, allowing for a 10-month stretch of non-stop partying to occur.

But not only the weather is to blame. The planning of our streets, with its city grids and post-war middle class homes allow many residents to enjoy a backyard with an orange tree and enough space to throw a party.

Not everyone though takes advantage of this or even needs it. The working class communities in east and south Los Angeles see their backyard as a place to commune, retreat, escape and yes, save some money. 

Historically, the youth involved in backyard party planning and djing did not have the extra cash to drive to Hollywood and pay $20 bucks to enter a club. That is why they created a party of their own, with their own rules, participants, promoters, economies and music. This sub-culture which was and continues to be emulated by club promoters in the west side and the world was built and devised by the young men and women, ages 15 to 21, who live and sometimes die in east and south L.A. 

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We will explore the rise of backyard parties as we take a look at the evolution of DJ culture from the 1970s to the present. In each decade we will explore one famous party, tracing the evolution and development of fashion, music and culture in L.A. 

So sit down and relax…. and let the mix take you away.

1970s: Temporary Discothèque
1980s: East L.A.'s DJ Culture
1990s: Party out of Bounds
2000s: Post-Backyard

About the DJs

John Guzman of Face to Face was one of the first generation of DJs in the Eastside of Los Angeles that helped form what would become one of the biggest regional subcultures in Southern California history. Eastside DJ culture had its own fashions, music styles and attitudes that were organic to the area and developed from the milieu of growing up bilingual, in an place where a minority was the majority.

Gerard Meraz of the Wild Boyz and The Brat Pack stepped into a thriving DJ scene as a teenager. He had heard of the DJs that came before him and how some had moved into club residencies, large halls and massive events at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena. When he started he was just one of about 20 DJs at his high school. He knew he had to prove himself so he too could be club DJ with his own residency. This was the paradigm of the Eastside DJ scene.

Frankie Z. of Madness and Lee of The Lost Boys promoted events in South Central Los Angeles inspired by the Eastside scene. Their neighborhoods were rougher in that they were ground zero for the Crip and Blood wars over crack cocaine sales. This effected their promotion style and music selections as they tried to keep peace on their dance floors. Nonetheless they continued to refine their work and eventually outgrow the Eastside's party paradigm.

Droid Behavior are the new model of DJ. That includes producing and remixing music, and having a record label. Droid goes further in that they fund and host their own events and have a magazine that helps promote their slice of the huge underground music scene. While their success today is based on the quality of their events it also rests on the foundation laid by the Eastside DJ culture.

Gerard Meraz is the author of An Oral History of DJ Culture From East Los Angeles.

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