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Old Punks Never Die: Remembering San Gabriel Valley’s Hardcore Scene Legend, James “YAPO” Valenzuela

11:00 AM PST on January 14, 2021

[dropcap size=big]J[/dropcap]ames “YAPO” Valenzuela was the lead singer of the San Gabriel Valley hardcore punk band, Young and Pissed Off. He was a true OG in the SGV DIY backyard punk movement who put in work to keep his corner of the L.A. punk scene–made up of mostly BIPOC punks—alive from 1984 to 2020.

Tattooed from head to toe, James towered over you at over six feet tall. As an L.A. native, he often sported a Raiders, Dodgers, or Lakers jersey to show the great pride he had for his hometown. As intimidating as he looked, he was a big jokester and a real “ball-buster” to the younger punk guys. 

He loved to tell stories about the scene in ’84, about the fights with racist skinheads who would dare attend shows full of Latinx SHARPS (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) and the injuries he would sustain to keep them out. He loved talking about that one time he lived out of his car for a month when he was 17 to go to as many punk gigs as possible. 

James "YAPO" Valenzuela. Photo via YAPO's Facebook page.

His vocal stylings were often compared to Lemmy of Motörhead, Wattie Buchan of The Exploited, and Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, but James’ vocal rage was uniquely his. Aside from his love of hardcore and punk, James was a family man. He always picked you up if you fell in the pit. He liked to drink light beers and eat carne asada on Sundays, especially when the Raiders played. He was a father, a fiancé, a brother, an uncle, a primo, and a friend to many. 

His vocal stylings were often compared to Lemmy of Motörhead, Wattie Buchan of The Exploited, and Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, but James' vocal rage was uniquely his.

My favorite memory of James was my band’s first backyard gig. It was a chilly December night in the SGV, and Hungry Ass Youth earned a spot at David Vidrio’s backyard in South El Monte. We were opening up for old school SGV bands Tangwich, Anti-Social Brats, and the “almighty” YAPO. My band thought it would be cool to bring five dollar Little Cesars pizzas to the gig and distribute them before playing our hit song “Pizza.” 

Unfortunately, all the pizza was devoured by the hungry punks slamming in the pit. I just remember James picking up the pizza box off the ground, using his can of beer to inspect the emptiness further, and then toasting his beer to express satisfaction for the pizza carnage that had just taken place. 

From day one until the day he passed away after a battle with COVID-19 at 52-years-old, James did whatever he could to uplift any new DIY punk band he played a show with, and that meant a lot to us. Since we shared band members, YAPO and Hungry Ass Youth often gigged over the past 13 years. We were fortunate to open up for YAPO’s last performance on February 22, 2020. 

Long-time YAPO guitarist, Billy Lee, describes James as being “strong as an ox, stubborn as a mule, hard to the core, and full of heart.” 

A favorite James memory that his longtime friend Manny Casillas remembers is when Vinnie Stigma from Agnostic Front gave him a pitcher of beer when YAPO opened up for their show at Angelo's in Pomona. “He was all happy telling everyone, ‘Stigma gave me his beer!!!’" 

Since the 80s, each decade brought a new crop of punk kids and punk bands that came into the scene and got blown away by YAPO’s stage presence.

What James YAPO did for our San Gabriel Valley punk scene was to help establish a foundation of punk culture. An important part of YAPO’s success was their longevity. In their 36 years playing on and off as a band, they played through several different punk eras (the 80s, 90s, 2000s, & 2010s) and adapted their sound to fit each generation, from 90s skate punk to the UK-influenced street punk of the 2000s. Since the 80s, each decade brought a new crop of punk kids and punk bands that came into the scene and got blown away by YAPO’s stage presence. He was a preacher of the hardcore gospel. James wrote political songs, but he also wrote love songs. 

In September of 2020, there is a quote by James “YAPO” Valenzuela that captures his punk lifer ways. “I have a great fun life. And no fear of death. I wouldn’t change it for any other life. Hardcore tells us what for?!!” James lived and breathed hardcore. He refused to go on tour and was perfectly happy playing for a handful of punks in a dusty backyard every weekend. 

This is a significant loss for the SGV and LA hardcore scenes because YAPO wasn’t just James; it was all the members throughout the years (1984 – 2020) pounding the fuck out of their instruments to a crowd of self-medicating punks who depended on backyard gigs as therapy. 

Although the lineups changed over the years, YAPO managed to keep a tight sound. James played right until one of the last backyard punk shows before the pandemic hit. At that show, they still brought the passion and hate that has fueled them from 1984. There are numerous bands from the 80s that are still around, but none that raged the way YAPO did. And although many bands will pay their tributes to James and YAPO, there will never be another James “YAPO” Valenzuela.

James “YAPO” Valenzuela

May 7, 1968 - January 11, 2021

If you would like to contribute to James’ family for funeral expenses, please consider donating to his gofundme

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