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Influential Chicanos Made Playlists Using the Songs That Shaped Their Youth

1980s East L.A backyard parties. | Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Meraz
Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Meraz

In partnership with the Vincent Price Art Museum: The mission of the Vincent Price Art Museum is to serve as a unique educational resource through the exhibition, interpretation, collection, and preservation of works in all media.

"Tastemakers & Earthshakers: Notes from Los Angeles Youth Culture, 1943 – 2016" is a multimedia exhibition that traverses eight decades of style, art, and music, and presents vignettes that consider youth culture as a social class, distinct issues associated with young people, principles of social organization, and the emergence of subcultural groups. Citing the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots as a seminal moment in the history of Los Angeles, the exhibition emphasizes a recirculation of shared experiences across time, reflecting recurrent and ongoing struggles and triumphs.

Through a series of articles, Artbound is digging deeper into the figures and themes explored in "Tastemakers & Earthshakers." The show was on view from October 15, 2016 to February 25, 2017 at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

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Generations of young people in Southern California have thrived in music-driven social spaces including backyard parties, concert venues and dance clubs. These spaces can provide an alternative to mainstream culture and have often served as havens for individual and collective discovery. In the exhibition “Tastemakers & Earthshakers: Notes from Los Angeles Youth Culture, 1943-2016,” on view at the Vincent Price Art Museum, the relationship between music scenes and personal and collective identity formation is explored to trace the impact they have had on the landscape of youth culture.

For the show, eight local tastemakers were invited to organize playlists with tracks that have been important to them, mixing tunes from the 1940s to the present and ranging from disco, hip-hop, punk, rave and rock genres. As concert-goers, musicians, producers, promoters and songwriters that devoted much of their youth as active participants in one or more of the region’s diverse music scenes, their selections activate the narratives within the museum’s galleries and emphasize the multiplicity of sounds and styles that form Southern Califonia’s kaleidoscopic culture. These playlists offer a slice of life from different moments within the history of our dynamic youth culture.

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Rubén “Funkahuatl” Guevara

Rubén “Funkahuatl” Guevara has been a major figure in the Chicano rock music scene for the past five decades. His playlist traces the musical legacy of Chicanos from the zoot suit era to the present, offering a seminal compilation of boogie, doo-wop, pop, punk and rock songs. Guevara was the leader of the Frank Zappa-supported band Ruben and the Jets, and now currently serves as director of Arts 4 City Youth, a music mentorship organization he founded in 1993.

Playlist era: 1940s to present
Standout track: "Whittier Boulevard" by Thee Midniters 

Mike Avelar

Dedicated music lover and concert-goer Mike Avelar spent much of his youth tracking down emerging and established artists at various gigs and backyard parties. Long before the era of social media, Avelar relied on personal ads in the back of fanzines like "Flipside" in order to meet like-minded people and forge an identity outside the social structures of school, home and family.

Playlist era: 1950s to present
Standout track: “You Don't Satisfy” by The Pandoras

James Rojas

Prior to becoming an urban planner, community activist and artist, James Rojas spent many of his weekends dancing in clubs throughout Southern California. The emergence of disco and funk classics in the Eastside, in particular, signified growth and change for young queer Chicanos like Rojas who saw themselves reflected in the community that developed around the music.

Playlist era: 1970s
Standout track: “I’ve Found Love (Now That I've Found You)” by Love and Kisses 

Sabby Rayas

Hi-NRG music (pronounced “high energy”) hit Los Angeles in the 1980s with prolific DJs such as Sabby Rayas at the forefront of disco’s new sound. Known for his signature high-tempo beats, Rayas influenced DJ and dance culture and provided musical fuel for young people across Southern California.

Playlist era: 1980s
Standout track: “Friday Night” by Sabby Rayas 

Yolanda Comparán Ferrer

A small transistor radio exposed Yolanda Comparán Ferrer to the music that existed beyond her Mexican household. Raised exclusively on the music of waltz and opera, Comparán Ferrer went on to become the co-founder of Fatima Recordz and executive producer of Circa 92 Rave, championing acts across rock en Español, punk and electronic/acid genres.

Playlist era: 1970s to 1990s
Standout track: "Shifting Heart" by The Plugz

Richard Estrada

As a producer, DJ and co-founder of Illegal Interns, Richard Estrada featured, interviewed and promoted local bands throughout Southern California. His playlist features bands from rock, punk, reggae, folk and hip-hop genres whose songs took a stand against the status quo and empowered youth.

Playlist era: 1980s to present
Standout track: "Obsolete Man" by Aztlan Underground 

Jorge Leal

Jorge Leal moved from Guadalajara, Mexico to Los Angeles at the age of 14 in the early 1990s and quickly became enmeshed in the burgeoning rock en Español scene of Southern California. The rock critic and concert producer-turned-scholar has written extensively on Los Angeles music scenes, youth subcultures and the reshaping of urban space.

Playlist era: 1990s to 2000s
Standout track: "Viernes" by Los Olvidados (del Norte) 

Lysa Flores

Musician, producer, actress and artist Lysa Flores is considered a pioneer of the East L.A. alternative scene. Flores has worked on the stage and behind the scenes since the early 1990s, bringing visibility and opportunity to underrepresented groups — such as Chicanas — in music, film and the visual arts.

Playlist era: 1990s to present
Standout track: "Poisoned Seed" by Alice Bag

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