Secret Disco: Hi-NRG

Trans X-Living on Video

Stop-Wake Up

Lime-Babe Were Gonna Love Tonight

Considering the term “Chicano Oldies” is accepted and in popular use, I’d like to create a genre called “Chicano Disco.” Some favorite examples above.

In Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro explains how the influence of the European musicians’ love for synthesized music fundamentally changed the essence of dance music. Whereas disco used to be based on funk, live beats and real drummers bands like Kraftwerk showed there was another way to create a rhythm. The synthesizer with it’s fake handclaps, hi-hats and bass drums helped create a whole new genre of disco music: Hi-NRG.

Hi-NRG had a huge following amongst Mexicans and Chicanos in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s. It was the musical fuel for an amazing DIY scene of DJs, backyard parties and dance clubs that ruled over large sections of the city. It’s a movement that isn’t well known outside Chicano circles in Los Angeles, back then most people could not care less what was going on in our communities.

I wasn’t part of this scene but my brother was a DJ and a member of Boyz in Kontrol, one of the hundreds, if not thousands of party crews that existed at the time. The crews were responsible for organizing parties, dance contests, DJ battles and cruising (cars) spots. While punk may get a lot of credit for being a DIY scene, the disco scene of 1980s rivaled punk in it’s “let’s organize ourselves” philosophy. Unlike punk it wasn’t a political choice, the self organization was done out of sheer necessity. Our neighborhoods offered very few forms of entertainment or diversions for youth.

Towards the late 1980s, the backyard parties started attracting the attention of the authorities, and by using the excuse of minor incidents of violence, these authorities begin to systematically shutdown and target the parties. Some involved with the scene said this heavy handedness by LAPD and the sheriffs department helped to create the revival of cholos and gangs on the Eastside. During the height of the disco scene, to be a gangster or cholo was the epitome of being uncool. Kids would snicker at the site of old veteranos riding on the bus with baggy pants like some anachronistic figure of the past. The disco scene had Latino kids going from neighborhood to other neighborhoods across the city to attend parties and to battle each other on the dance floor. The rivalries that existed and any tension were quickly diffused through dancing and partying. The violence that occasionally happened at these parties was mostly due to fights over girls/boys and the usual love dramas.

When the authorities started cracking down on the party crews and cruising, the essentially were forcing teenagers with lots of energy to stay home. And who was waiting for them? The old gangs who provided them with diversionary outlets. Many of us saw this process play out in front of our eyes. I’m not saying this was the only catalyst for the upsurge in gangs but it was a significant one and gives us a few clues to how we can deal with our current gang problem. The more you try and control youth, the greater the eruption of chaos. Young people need something to do, they have a lot of energy and excitement for their new world that cannot be bottled up and funneled into a path that adults approve of. Let the kids party!

Hi-NRG is still popular among successive generations of backyard partygoers. Go to any baptism, quinceañera, wedding or birthday party on the Eastside or in the San Gabriel Valley and there will be at least one DJ set devoted to the pantheon of Chicano Disco aka Hi NRG.

Please see Pachuco 3000’s post: 30 Years of DJ Culture from East Los Angeles for further reading.

The Berlin Wall

The Ex – State of Shock (90s song by Anarcho-Dutch group)

Two days ago marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I just happened to have a few pen pals in Berlin when the Wall came down. They sent me bits of the broken wall as mementos. Pieces with graffiti were more desirable so some entrepreneurs decided to start spray painting parts of clean walls and then breaking off chunks so that they could be sold internationally for a higher price. Strange. I bet Eduardo Galeano could re-write this paragraph and make it profound.

I have photos somewhere of the Wall being torn down sent to me by a pen pal.  I should find and post them.

East Berlin is now gentrified. The modern architecture lovers were turned on by all that boxy Soviet construction. Funny world we live in.

In Los Angeles, we don’t need walls. We have freeways, bridges and a big concrete river to keep us apart.


Found the photos! Please click to see a much larger image.






My Berliner pen pal who I met once when he visited Los Angeles. I don’t remember his name.

Hobbs Battery

(please click to enlarge)

It’s rare to have photographs of people at work, that’s why I was quite excited when I came upon this photograph of my Grandfather Atanasio in work mode at Hobbs Battery Company. He is the first worker on the left. I don’t know too much about his work at the battery shop. I know he also worked at a company called Smallcomb Electric.

What I love about this photograph is it seems to have captured the various personalities of these men, they look to be so different from each other. It’s almost as if the photo was staged. Who is the mysterious Zoot Suiter in the hat? Most striking to me is the fellow with the upturned collar. He looks to be a heartbreaker or the workplace snake. There is the double-headed ghost man and the White guy stuck in the shop full of Mexicans, perhaps he was the boss? The curly-headed worker filling the batteries with toxic goo looks to be the clown, the payaso quick with the jokes and biting comments. My grandfather is so fresh faced here, slightly dazed as if he slept in a little too much. He was probably the one who’d tsk Mexican style while waving his hand away in a sharp motion and saying “Ay, estas chingaderas!” But in the next minute would crack a smile and think about the beer he’d be having at quitting time.


My uncle has been cleaning out the last of my grandmother’s things and recently handed me a big Danish cookie tin containing forty years worth accumulation of my grandmother’s junk drawer. In the jumble of rusted paper clips, plastic stirrers and other flotsam was this badge from the Hobbs Battery Company. What a find! I pleaded with my family to never throw any of my grandmother’s things until I have gone through them for this very reason. I imagine this badge was long forgotten.

The Book of Lists


Lately, my reading has been limited to short time chunks. No long leisurely afternoons of lounging these days. I recently came across The New Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace and it’s perfect reading for my five minute “input” intervals.
The book is filled with all kinds of random information and facts, some lists I passed over like 12 Men Who Cried in Public or Unnamed Women of the Bible. I think I can live without knowing these facts.
Some of the most entertaining lists so far have been 13 Art Riots, Names of Things You Never Knew Had Names, 17 Untranslatable Words and New Neuroses. I found the terms for New Neuroses to be the most enjoyable.  I look forward every year to those dictionary introductions of new words for new situations. In fact, I think there needs to be more words to describe a number of unnamed situations that happen in life whether they are considered neuroses or not.
For instance, a co-worker and myself were trying to describe the feeling one gets when away from the job and being unable to imagine yourself back in the workplace. In this state, it can seem almost impossible to think your daily life revolves around the workplace. You start to think “That life could not possibly be mine.” Of course, one often gets this feeling while away on holiday or in some foreign city but it can easily happen over a long weekend. So this is my new goal, to come up with a word or phrase to describe this phenomenon.

Some highlights from the lists:

Untranslatable Words

Bilita Mpash from Bantu meaning “a legendary blissful state where all is forgiven and forgotten” much like the feeling one gets when waking from a happy dream.

Espirit de L’Escalier (French) when a brilliantly witty response to a public insult comes into your mind only after you have left the party. Literally translates as “the spirit of the staircase.”

New Neuroses

Cell Yell: Loud talking on cell phones in public places by people with the neurotic need to invade their own privacy.

Cyberchondria: Hypochondria resulting from seeing one’s symptoms on a medical Web site.

Art Riots

Most of the art riots listed in the book were the results of controversial performances. One exception was the 1809 “Old Price” Riot at Convent Garden Theatre where the audience interrupted a performance of Macbeth with cries of “old prices! old prices!” The theater had recently raised the rates and redesigned the theater so that only the legs of the performers were viewable from the cheap seats. Soldiers were called in to quell the audience but this only inspired the theater goers to mount greater disruptions. For months they brought in whistles, trumpets and even barnyard animals to cause mayhem. It worked, the ticket prices were finally set back to the “old prices.”

George Antheil, an avant-garde composer and performer who was well acquainted with hostile audiences, provoked a riot in Budapest, 1923 while performing one of his “harsh and unfamiliar sounding” piano compositions. The second night, in order for his music to be heard, he ordered all of the ushers to lock and guard the doors and then in full view placed a revolver on top of his piano. There it remained throughout the whole performance and no disturbances took place. It was said he carried a gun around for this very purpose.

George Antheil – Sonata for Piano and Violin 1 (b)

This was not the composition that caused a riot but it gives an idea of the type of music he composed.

Nowadays, it’s social conventions that will keep you in your seat suffering through drawn-out performances of self-absorbed artists, musicians and poets. I say we return to the good old days of rotten tomatoes, catcalls and barnyard animals. Artists, you need some inspiration? I got yer inspiration right here! All power to the peanut gallery!

La Puente Ranch

My great-grandmother Matilde, her sister Trini, my great-great grandmother (and Yaqui descendant) Matilde Moreno Vizcarra, known in my family as “Nana Grande.” Photograph taken on my great-grandmother’s ranch in La Puente. (click to enlarge)

They bought the ranch after World War Two ended as a relaxing country location for my great uncle Hector who had just finished serving a harrowing stint in the Navy, part of the Pacific fleet. Unfortunately, the property was located much too near some railroad tracks and the nighttime rumbling of the trains terrified my uncle – it sounded much too similar to the war noises he thought he’d left behind. He quickly scrambled back to the original family compound in Echo Park. My great-grandmother lived in La Puente the rest of her life.

The Year In Books: History of the Crypto-Jews in Mexico


History of Crypto-Jews in Mexico

I’ve previously mentioned my research into my family genealogy and the history of the Southwest. Through genealogical DNA testing it was discovered that my grandfather shares a DNA sequence with those that consider themselves Cohanim, a patrilineal Jewish priestly caste believed to be descended from the biblical Aaron. When I received this news, I was floored! As strange as it seemed to me at the time, Mexicans with Sephardic Jewish heritage are not as uncommon as I might have believed, especially in the Southwest. Around the time Columbus bumped into the New World (which was really the “One World” to a good chunk of my ancestors), Spain decided to kick out all the non-Christians from it’s kingdoms. That meant that communities of Moors and Jews who had lived together for centuries were all of a sudden forced to uproot themselves or convert to Christianity.

The diaspora of Muslims and Jews spread across Europe and North Africa. The conversion to Christianity wasn’t always a safe bet either, these conversos as they were known were often persecuted and hounded. Some were spied on and once caught practicing their old religion were brutally punished. Then the Inquisition started and it was bad news for conversos. Large number of Jews fled to Portugal where they were tolerated for the most part – the skills they brought with them were valuable and needed. Eventually, the King of Portugal with pressure from Spain decided to kick the Sephardic Jews out of his country too.

It is believed some Andalusian Jews and Moors mixed in with the recently arrived communities of Gypsies/Roma. There is little hard evidence (that I’ve found) to back up this theory but a look at the faces of modern Calós (Gypsies of Spain) is evidence of the blended heritage of this ethnic group.

The New World seemed like the most practical place to flee from the growing persecution of the Inquisition. According to official documents, a great number of conversos and other Portuguese and Spanish of sketchy heritage fled to New Spain (almost all of North America was considered New Spain at the time) . One of the most famous of these conversos was the founder of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, Luis de Carvajal y Cuevas and his nephew Luis de Carvajal (El Mozo). Unlike other conversos who practiced their religion covertly, El Mozo openly declared himself Judizante (Jewish) and was taken in by the long arm of the Inquisition as it expanded it’s reach across the Atlantic. The Carvajal family are most remembered because they were actually burned at the stake in 1596 for the crime of practicing Judaism. Due to the increased scrutiny converso and crypto-Jewish families received in Mexico City and other populated places, there was a push to move to the outer reaches of the New Spanish territory. The book To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico is an academic study researching the crypto-Jewish heritage of New Mexico’s founders. Most of the evidence for this theory is circumstantial, people are determined to have crypto-Jewish heritage based on such factors as having Portuguese ancestors or palling around with known New Christians/conversos. References to lifestyle habits are scrutinized and studied and documented in order to determine New Christian and hence Jewish ancestry such as bathing on Friday and relaxing or hiding out on Saturdays (the Sabbath).

One may ask, how prevalent was this Sephardic heritage in the history of Mexico and the Southwest? The answer leads to a number of very interesting theories and investigations…

[Part two]