In 1981, most folks thought punk rock died with Sid Vicious, Black Flag was a bug spray, and skateboarding was an activity confined to a handful of lunatics in California. Hardcore punk and skateboarding were both interests that folks had to learn about the hard way, before the Internet put everyone's obsessions at the click of a mouse. But a bunch of kids in Phoenix knew that hardcore skating and hardcore punk belonged together. And when upstart Phoenix band JFA released its debut EP, a seven-minute seven-inch titled Blatant Localism, the band helped launch a new breed of extreme music that would make them underground stars and make Phoenix a mecca of skate punk.
In 2015, skate punk is still thriving in Arizona, and AZPX Records, a local label run by longtime skaters and punk loyalists Rob Locker and Tom Lopez, is celebrating 13 years of putting some of the Southwest's best skate punk on plastic. You can't celebrate a birthday without a party, and AZPX will be marking its anniversary with a show at ThirdSpace on Saturday, September 26, headlined by the band that started it all, JFA, and featuring a jam-packed bill of local punk talent, including Dephinger, the Smoke Bombs, Fat Gray Cat, the Father Figures (a band featuring New Times contributor Tom Reardon), Poolside Sacrifice, Kevin Daly, Phoenix Hooker Cops, and Early Grabs.
Locker has been a skater since he bought his first board in 1977 at age 10. While he was a late convert to rock 'n' roll (which he blames on "having a mellow older sister who was into Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Barry Man-I-Blow"), that changed a few years later.
"Punk was introduced to me be my neighbor, who was getting into bands like the Clash, X, Devo, and the Dead Kennedys," Locker says. "When I started skating with other people, Charles Amparan turned me onto hardcore punk bands that lived in my town, and some of them even skateboarded, too! This blew me away. People who lived here actually made records?"
After decades of following the scene and selling quality skate gear, in 2002 Locker decided it was time to do something to help document the history of Arizona skate-punk.
"Tom Lopez and I started the AZPX Records label as a project that would focus on making previously unavailable classic Arizona recordings available once again," Locker says. "This was in 2002, before the hip vinyl revolution and at the birth of the mp3 and streaming. Our first release was a remastered version of the super-rare Junior Achievement album, Fade to Black. Tom was the contact point with the past, he was a walking Facebook before it even existed. He kept a mental track of everyone from the day, and coordinated most of the Junior Achievement release."
AZPX soon evolved from reissuing vintage material to documenting the current breed of Southwest skate punk, issuing high-impact music from Dephinger, the Smoke Bombs, Fat Gray Cat, and many more. While Tom Lopez left AZPX in 2005, Locker and his wife, Tara, along with business partner Nick Sewell, are keeping the label alive and well.
One AZPX band that bridges the gap between past and present is the Father Figures, featuring Michael Cornelius, who was JFA's original bassist back in 1981. Cornelius already had some local punk cred as a member of the Jr. CHemists (that capital H was deliberate), and had been skating for years.
"I started skating before there was punk rock, back in 1973 or so," Cornelius says. "It was even before urethane wheels!"
Between punk rock and skateboarding, Cornelius and Locker are longtime friends, and Cornelius has nothing but good things to say about AZPX and the local scene.
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"Rob loves the music and skateboarding," Cornelius says. "No one is more dedicated to making stuff happen in our scene. It's a lot of collaborative DIY stuff. Our releases are pretty much DIY, but Rob helps us with packaging it all up. Same with the other AZPX bands. Together, we are a mutually supportive community. We are always planning the next thing and working together. It's actually the best time I have ever had working in music. It's lots of fun and no drama now that we are all grownups."
While Cornelius left JFA in 1984, he's still good friends with his old bandmates, saying, "We have played about one show a year with JFA ever since the Father Figures started six years ago. Don [Redondo] and Brian [Brannon] are like my brothers. When we get together, it's like a punk rock homecoming."
And Cornelius is expecting the AZPX to be a serious skate punk blowout.
"The whole thing is going to be crazy," Cornelius says. "Each band has 20 minutes, so they are going to just blast out as much as they can. No warming up or holding back. Neil [Hounchell], who owns ThirdSpace, is from the '80s punk scene, too — he was in Soylent Green. So it's a throwback to our musical roots. The show is definitely the homecoming event for Phoenix punks."