In the ‘90s, Orange County was in the midst of a musical revolution. It was the epicenter of the 3rd wave of Ska. Instead of the melodic 1st wave, or the two tone soulful 2nd wave, the 3rd wave was punk, punk, and more punk… mixed with a ton of Ska! While local bands like No Doubt, Sublime, Reel Big Fish and Buck O’ Nine were killing it in the ‘90s, bands all over the world were having a renaissance of their own. Today, skacore is a sub-genre that has a boatload of roots in SoCal. Locally, Voodoo Glow Skulls, La Banda Skalavera, Matamoska and The Delirians are deservedly grabbing all the headlines. Truthfully, it was a band called Los Kung Fu Monkeys that has had a heavy influence on what the Latino ska culture looks like today.
Before there was a band, the guys grew up in Tijuana. Bernie Leos would eventually become the lead singer for the band, but as a kid, he grew up with no iPhone, iPad or cable television. His interest in music and other things came from watching basic tv and radio from San Diego. Leos was a big fan of the Ramones after seeing Rock & Roll High School on tv one day as a kid. From that moment on, he was hooked. As he grew older, he listened to 91X and he was inspired by bands like Nirvana, NOFX and Rancid. The band also has Canadian roots by way of the Limas brothers, Tarek and Hassan. The guys were also drawn to punk and ska groups like The Clash, The Specials, and the English Beat. Pop music didn’t seem to move them like the Punk and Ska sound did. Given their roots, the guys were able to merge their Mexican culture and love for everything Alternative to a signature sound. They also loved skating. That too is a culture all to itself; but admittedly, they weren’t very good at it. Therefore, music was the path they decided to take.
As they got older, it was now the early ‘90s, and bands like Bad Religion, Social Distortion and Pennywise were all the rage thanks to heavy airplay by radio stations KROQ in Los Angeles, and 91X in San Diego. 91X has its transmitter set in Tijuana, so the alternative music influence has a great following there. The Tijuana locals support 91X and KROQ whenever they venture south of the border for events.
Both of these radio stations have sponsored events in Tijuana in the past that featured some of these punk and ska bands. The locals couldn’t get enough of them. As a result, in 1997, Los Kung Fu Monkeys came to life. They initially released a three-song demo that exploded with their first hit, Consecuencias. The song had the same theme as their US and English Ska counterparts; a song about the excess of uncontrollable youth. The song created such a buzz, not only were they making noise in Mexico, they were being recognized north of the border as well.
After decades on the stage, the band have gotten so popular that their music has created its own subculture with fans from coast-to-coast and around the world. Los Kung Fu Monkeys have a strong following here in OC, especially in the Latino community. The truth is the music is draw; not because they’re from Mexico. It’s because they play great music and they’re great entertainers. If they sucked, the OC ska community would call them out; instead; they have embraced the boys from south of the border. About that, now some of the band members live in the US and Canada.
As you can imagine, becoming a successful band means you get asked to play a ton of shows and festivals. The guys have been so well received internationally that they were the first independent Mexican band to be asked by Kevin Lyman to play on Warped. Since then, they’ve played just about everywhere on the planet, making several tour runs throughout Europe and the US. In 2012, they received a great honor; they were hand-picked to play “VIVE LATINO 2012.” It’s one of the most prestigious festivals in Latin America. The guys played alongside bands like Bordello, Foster the People, Café Tacuba, and ska royalty, Madness.
Over the years they’ve been tour support for other great US acts like Dropkick Murphys, and ska-punk legends, NOFX. They’ve even played with some of their favorite Ska bands: Fishbone, Aggrolites, Mad Caddies, and The Toasters. Their reach has even gone beyond being recognized as just a cool Ska band that plays punk themed songs. Their punk brothers also dig their sound. So-much-so, they’ve played with Punk greats The Misfits and The Adicts.
Circling back to their appeal, their onstage performance is energetic and entertaining to say the least. The band’s current lineup includes, Bang Bang Bernie (vocals), Hassan (bass), Tarek (guitar), Tony (sax) and Hecky on the skins. The guys love their fans and they are as down-to-earth as they come. They’re not caught up in their own celebrity and their fans love them for that. Their genuine love for music and to be onstage performing for their fans is infectious. Their sound is electric, and their performance makes you want to dance your ass off, or dive head first into a mosh pit, or in their case, a skank-pit.
Some of their songs their fans scream out for are “Ciudad de Nadie”, “Screaming at a Wall,” “Una y Otra Vez”, “Neglect”, “Justify,” and a very cool Cure cover called “Boys Don’ Cry”. Two of their latest songs from their last release that are doing very well are “Taking It Easy”, and “Rudeboy Rockers”. Los Kung Fu Monkeys have been doing it now for the better part of two decades, during that time, they’ve put out 10 albums that have created a very diverse local following. Their fans come from all walks of life, and every corner of the planet. Recently, they came to Orange County playing the Sold Out KLOS-sponsored festival called Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival at Doheny State Beach. He guys did not disappoint the massive crowd. This time around, the guys played with the likes of Me First & the Gimme Gimme’s, Pennywise and The Offspring.
There are a lot of challenges in making it in the music biz. Making it, and staying together, that’s impressive. This band isn’t just heroes to kids in Tijuana, they’re heroes to people in many places. We always say we can become anyone we want if we work hard enough. Just believe in yourself and you’re halfway there; Los Kung Fu Monkeys are living proof that this mindset works. That all being said, you’d think with all the success and requests to join festival after music festival the guys would be resting on their laurels. That’s anything but the truth. As a result of their last release, “Rudeboy Rockers”, the word on the street is that they may be working on new material. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we may hear new music very soon from Los Kung Fu Monkeys.
There’s a ton of cool music you can catch in OC almost every night of the week. If you want to hear more than great music, maybe see a great show, and there’s a difference… check out Los Kung Fu Monkeys. They play House of Blues, Anaheim (The Parish) May 4th. They circle back to play OC’s newest music venue, Marty’s On Newport, September 15th.