From pioneers the Nuns and Crime, to Pinhead Gunpowder and the Donnas, Hickey and Ceremony, the San Francisco Bay Area holds its own against any other punk epicenter.
Punk was punk before punk had a name and, as such, has many great epicenters. From the Ramones, who rocketed out of New York City to London’s sneering and spitting Sex Pistols, and Detroit rockers such as the MC5 and the Stooges who set the attitudinal tone for the genre, punk is often considered an east-of-the-Mississippi (and across the pond) phenomenon.
But that thinking negates the very prolific West Coast, and generations of California uber alles. The San Francisco Bay Area, specifically, is home to a multitude of punk bands — as well as crucial venues like 924 Gilman and the Mabuhay Gardens, and revered pubs including Search and Destroy, Cometbus and Maximum Rocknroll, as well as festivals like Mosswood Meltdown — whose music helped define the genre from the late ’70s onward. Detractors best take warning: From pioneers the Nuns, Crime and Flipper, to MDC, Pinhead Gunpowder and Capitalist Casualties, the Donnas, Ceremony and Scary Scare, the Bay’s multifarious scene holds its own against any other punk epicenter.
In honor of a new album from hometown heroes Green Day and major anniversaries of the group’s seminal LPs Dookie (1994) and American Idiot (2004), press play and get in the pit with these 10 essential Bay Area punk bands. Welcome to paradise.
Crucial album: Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill!
Precursors to the riot grrrl movement, all-female group Frightwig left a lasting mark on both San Francisco and early ’90s alt-rock/punk. (In fact, Kurt Cobain is wearing a Frightwig t-shirt during Nirvana’s “MTV’s Unplugged” sessions.) Founded in the early ’80s by teen San Franciscians, Frightwig spent over a decade “screaming and shredding their way through glass ceilings and unapologetically leaving behind a pile of shards,” according to their website.
Expectedly, the trio and sometimes quartet received a fair amount of attention for simply being young women in punk. They were known to turn the tables by inviting male fans onstage to dance and be ridiculed while playing “A Man’s Gotta Do What A Man’s Gotta Do.”
“We really wanted to play with what the status quo of womanhood was supposed to be visually and also sonically. That’s part of our mission, to really challenge what people think about what a woman is supposed to look like and to do,” guitarist/vocalist Mia d’Bruzzi later told SFGate.
The group — which experienced a number of lineup changes in its initial 12-year run — played many of San Francisco’s major punk venues and toured with locals Flipper and Dead Kennedys, as well as Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, and Bikini Kill. Raw, noisy, feminist and tongue-in-cheek, the trio recorded two full albums — 1984’s Cat Farm Faboo and Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill! two years later — and several EPs before disbanding in 1994.
In 2023, a reconstituted Frightwig (with the expectation of long-time drummer Cecilia Kuhn, who died in 2019), released We Need To Talk. The 11-track album is a more polished, rollicking zip through the life of a 60-something empowered punk, with defiant tracks like “Aging Sux” and “Ride My Bike,” political takes such as “War On Women,” and a re-recording of their popular “A Man’s Gotta Do.”