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Why Is Highland Park’s Last Backyard Street Punk Band Finally Calling it Quits?

"Punk music will not solve our problems," Nick Carabajal, the band's frontman and co-founder reminds us. "Only punk people."

1:37 PM PST on March 1, 2024

    Nick Carabajal stage-diving during Big Boy's Set.

    Nick Carabajal stage-diving during Big Boy’s Set.

    With the spin of a kick and a fist accidentally windmilled to the eye, another nail has been driven down into the coffin of old-school, pre-gentrification Highland Park.

    On February 9th and 10th, The Runts played the band's final two shows in their home neighborhood of Highland Park. For both, they sold out the all-ages LodgeRoom (capacity: 500) twice and invited diverse and heavy hardcore bands to support their final shows, including the trans-fronted Pig City from Arizona, hip-hop and nu-metal nspired Big Boy from San Jose, and the extremely brutal Scalp, from Orange County.

    The show was also supposed to be the final show for East L.A. punk band Corrupted Youth, but their set was ultimately postponed due to a family emergency.

    So, why did one of the most successful street punk bands out of Highland Park decide to call it quits after nearly two decades?

    "To put it in a very brief way: We are partaking in recycled capitalism," Nick Carabajal, the frontman and co-founder of The Runts, tells L.A. TACO. "The music industry is not there to help musicians. They are there to make money. As a political punk band, we don't feel that it makes sense to play in corporate venues and then sell merch to be sustainable. This is our last show for sure, for sure. I love being in the band, but it's outgrown us."

    In short, The Runts' "that's not punk" consciousness, full of fallacies that can be argued about forever, ultimately led them to self-destruct.

    Nonetheless, Carabajal puts his money where his mouth is. A year ago, The Runts co-headed a show at Lodgeroom with emerging melodic crust band Lagrimas, and he donated 100% of the proceeds to the L.A. Tenants Union.

    On the nights of his last two shows, the band donated 100% of the money they made from selling The Runts merchandise to the staff at Burgerlords to thank them for creating a burger inspired by the now-iconic NELA hardcore punk band. It was the first time a restaurant celebrated L.A.'s lively local punk scene with a menu inspired by true DIY punk bands.

    "The staff at Burgerlords goes to our shows and stage dives for us, Carabajal says. "What better way to end our run than to take care of them since they've always cared for us? Except for the owner, though, he can't have any of our money. It's also a great way to showcase the restaurants we should support in our neighborhood. Fred's (owner of Burgerlords) father is from here and opened The Oinkster in Eagle Rock. They've been here."

    The Burgerlords team developed The Runts-inspired "Fence Walker" burger, based on one of the band's newer songs about "finding the courage to do what’s right and that our values and morals should stand the test of time, especially when presented opportunities to benefit them over others. It’s also anti-selling out."

    It was inspired by Carabajal's love for a simple In-N-Out-style burger, which he has boycotted for years due to the California burger chain's anti-vaccine and anti-LGBTQ politics.

    That final show was one many punks will never forget. There was a sense of catharsis in the pit that night as fans of The Runts and other acts stage-dived for the band one last time. Perhaps because The Runts may be the last hardcore punk band to have come out of Highland Park's backyard scene?

    It is a scene that is now extinct and wouldn't be able to sustain itself in the neighborhood's Nextdoor-trigger-happy, mostly affluent demographic that has likely overpaid for their bungalows and feel threatened by a few dozen kids drinking and listening to fast music in their zones of capital investment.

    Perhaps it was because of the irony of LodgeRoom's landlord allowing this DIY-promoted punk show to take place just a few feet away from a Le Labo NYC-made luxury perfume shop selling three ounces of perfume for more than $300. Perhaps it was because it truly was the end of an era in Highland Park, led by both The Runts and the 99-year-old affordable Highland Theater's calling it quits in the same month.

    However, The Runts did offer $5 Tecates at his last two shows on one of the country's most gentrified streets in the United States, so we can celebrate the little victories in life and still have fun at a show.

    And how can a self-respecting punk do their part not to participate in the neighborhood's gentrification?

    "It's about knowing which businesses to support: Las Cazuelas, Burgerlords, Folliero's," Carabajal says. "We vote with our money and ask ourselves: do you really need that $50 steak or $100 perfume? If you were born without it, chances are that someone is trying hard to convince you that you do, but you don't."

    Carabajal is gearing up for a major announcement involving what he has planned next in his punk-rooted career. Stay tuned to L.A. TACO for that announcement soon, but for now, enjoy The Runts' last show on earth.

    "Punk music will not solve our problems," Carabajal reminds us. "Only punk people."

    A mural of The Runts character holding it down in Highland Park.
    A mural of The Runts character holding it down in Highland Park. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Outside Burgerlords.
    Outside Burgerlords on Avenue 56. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    The Runts featured custom piñatas of 40-ounce bottles of Mickey's at their last show. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    At their last show, the Runts featured custom piñatas of 40-ounce bottles of Mickey's. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Burgerlords is the first restaurant in Los Angeles to celebrate its lively punk scene with a menu inspired by the show's acts, including "Corrupted Elote" and more. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    Nick Carabajal stage-diving during Big Boy's Set.
    Nick Carabajal stage-diving during Big Boy's Set. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.
    The Runts performing their last show at LodgeRoom in Highland Park.
    The Runts performing their last show at LodgeRoom in Highland Park. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

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