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Esperanza: Looking Back at the Late ‘90s, Early ‘00s California Hardcore Band

Photo: Joshua Peach

Influenced by the hardcore and post-hardcore movements that came out of the DC in the '80s, Esperanza was a band out of the Los Angeles/Victorville areas of California that existed for a brief yet fruitful period from the end of the '90s and into the start of the new millennium.

Comprised of musicians Raymon Ruiz (guitars),  Jake Hockel (drums), Miguel Amezcua (bass), Rich Booher (vocals), and Steve Aoki (guitaris), Esperanza recently released 1998-2001, a complete collection of the group's studio recordings.

In this No Echo piece, Raymon gives us the history of complete collection of Esperanza in his own words.

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Esperanza guitarist Raymon Ruiz on their origin story:

"I was driving from Victorville, CA to Willmington at least 2-3 times a week for shows at the PCH which was a room about 800 sq. ft. located in an industrial area.  There was nothing like that, at least that operated like that, in Victorville. It was mid to late 1997. I started going so much that I guess people were wondering where I came from because it was pretty much a very tight knit community and they probably saw 'out-of-towner' written all over my face.

"Mike Amezcua, who was doing El Grito Records at the time, hit me up when I was flipping through his record box. That was at the Los Crudos/MK-Ultra show in '97. I wanted to know where I was from, and we would just build a friendship from that day forward. Eventually, I was just driving to South Central where Mike lived at the time, just to hang out.  At the time, Mike was doing reviews for HeartattaCk, so we would just listen to records and tapes.  

"I lived in a rural area so I wasn't exposed to much. I knew about punk but never really started going down that rabbit hole until Mike showed me The Faith/Void split. We talked about how amazing it would be to try and do a band like The Faith. Our musical skill level was very basic (and still is). I didn't know how to use a pick at the time, it was basically one of those moments where you say 'I'll play bass and you play guitar.....now what.' 

"We would keep meeting up at the PCH and saw Rich Booher who's band at the time, Dirty Dirt and the Dirts, had just broken up. I brought up the idea of asking him to sing. We all hung out afterwards and just started talking and we hit up Rich and he was on board. My friend, Scott Deitz, who would come 'down the hill' with me to shows at the PCH, was there that night too. Mike turned to him and said 'and you're going to play drums' and that's how Esperanza started.  

PCH in 1998 (Photo: Raymon Ruiz)

"At the time, Mike was doing a project with Martin Sorrendeguy [Los Crudos, Lengua Armada Discos] called Tragatelo so we couldn't really fully start Esperanza until that was done. When Tragatelo finished writing and recording their demo, we started writing for Esperanza. We would meet at a rehearsal space in Maywood, CA once a week.

"We wrote enough songs for a demo so we booked some studio time at the Living Room in Goleta with John Lyons. Mike was friends with Steve Aoki and he was already working on putting out the This Machine Kills On the Move 7 inch, which was Steve's other band. He was excited about what we were doing and wanted to play guitar, so we practiced with him maybe a week or two before recording the demo and we became a 5 piece.

"After the demo was recorded we played a few shows and then decided to take a trip up the coast to Canada and work our way down. A week before we were going to leave, Scott had to quit the band for personal reasons. Jake Hockel who played drums in Former Members of Alfonsin had just moved to LA from San Francisco, so we asked if he could help out. He became part of Esperanza after that trip and recorded everything after that demo. I guess in hindsight what drew us together was the PCH."

Esperanza guitarist Raymon Ruiz on their lyrics:

"We wanted the lyrics to get to the point. We wanted you to know what we were about. There were a lot of things happening at the time that were affecting our communities and our families. In California under Pete Wilson, you had Proposition 187 and Proposition 21 which would destroy families and communities of color.

"Schools were overcrowded and crumbling and instead of investing in community programs and education, Pete Wilson decided to use the migrant communities and youth of color as scapegoats for the social and economical failings of California. Fill up the prisons and detention centers for profit. These are things that affected communities and families that Mike and myself grew up in.  

"We wanted Esperanza to be about something, It was our responsibility. Rich and Jake were/and are allies so they were on board as well. I think it rubbed a lot of people and bands the wrong way when we would play and talk in between songs. We didn't care though because it was the right thing to do. People would want to fight Rich and say fucked up racist shit about Steve.

"We were called PC and preachey. We definitely had our own individual faults, and we were conscious about it. You spend your whole life trying to figure yourself out constantly changing."

Photo: Joshua Peach

Esperanza guitarist Raymon Ruiz on the Southern California hardcore scene of the late '90s, early '00s:

"There was so much going on, it was the post-Macondo era in Los Angeles. Kids continued that DIY ethic into the late '90s. I mean it reached me all the way in Victorville. The DIY community made us feel empowered at that time. No matter how naive we might have been at that age it’s definitely something I’m sure all of us implement in our daily lives and don’t really think twice about. We did things out of necessity because we wanted to be heard.

"Not every punk or hardcore band was saying or doing what we wanted to hear, so we formed our ideas, and gathered what ever we had at our disposal and created. We were hungry. We wanted to be heard.

"I would work bussing tables and right after an 8hr shift drive 2 hours to Maywood practice for about 2.5 hours then drive 2 hours back. I would get home around 2-3 in the morning and wake up at 7 because that’s the time my daughter needed to get ready for preschool. Then at 12 I started my shift. Steve would drive from Santa Barbara to practice then immediately drive back to finish a paper or practice with his other bands. There were times me and Mike had to be back in South Central by a certain time because his mom was starting her shift at 2:30am at USC working janitorial and we would drop her off at work. That’s how strong the desire was to create.

"We made it work and we wanted to make sure we stood for something and not just rehash lyrics about getting stabbed in the back. You had a band like Los Crudos who destroyed musically but also stood for something and didn't shy away from it. Definitely influenced us. You had bigger bands that we all associate with that era and labels like Victory, Revelation, and Ebullition. But there were other bands and people from Southern California doing rad shit at the same time.  

"You had bands like Life's Halt, Kontraattaque, Former Members of Alfonsin, Run For Your Fucking Life, Parades End and a lot more Im sure I'll remeber later. Hand Held Heart, Gravity, Hopscotch Records, Mankind Records put out some really killer punk and hardcore. The Deathwish Kids 7 inch on Hopscotch was on my turntable constantly! Early Dim Mak put out some really good shit too from bands like Envy (Japan) There Is A light The Never Goes Out (Japan), and Cross My Heart.

"Besides the PCH, you had places like the YAC in Claremont, which was just outside of LA, The Smell had just started doing shows (pre-gentrification), Koo’s Cafe in Santa Ana and places like Headline Records. You had various co-ops like Luna Sol and community centers that were doing shows for benefits that weren't punk related."

Esperanza @ Headline Records, Los Angeles, CA, 2000. (Photo: Heric Duenas)

Esperanza guitarist Raymon Ruiz on their break up:

"When we got back from playing Chicago Fest, we played a show in San Francisco. We didn't know it at the time but that was the last time we all played together. Everyone kind of just started to get busy. Mike, Rich, and Steve were pursuing their education full time at that point. Jake, I believe, moved back up north for a while then moved back down to LA and started making music again but was really into sampling at the time and started doing music based on that. 

"I had a 4-year-old daughter at the time we stopped playing so I was hustling trying to build something for my family. I guess reality came into play."

Postscript:

"After Esperanza stopped playing, Rich and Jake got together with Sarah Kirsch and Alex and Max Frixione and started  Please Inform the Captain this is a Hijack who put out 2 amazing LPs. We try and check in on each other. Jake, not too long ago, out of nowhere, hit me up and said he was stranded in Victorville [laughs]! He was on his way to Philly. It was cool because he got to meet my family and we broke bread.

"I lost touch with Steve after Esperanza, but he's been very supportive of this record coming out. Me and Mike stay in constant touch to this day. We haven't stopped playing in bands together regardless of geography. We wrote some songs with Carlos Ruiz and Lupe Garza from Sin Orden and put out some records under Descarados. The most recent project me and Mike were in was Marrón which had members located everywhere.

"We try to make it happen somehow, we just have that strong urge to create and document. Currently me and Julio Chavez, who was in Marrón with us and is also from the high desert, started a label called Extinction Burst. Julio sets up shows here as well so once it's safe to put on shows again, hit him up if you need one."

The Esperanza 1998-2001 discography is available on vinyl via Extinction Burst. You can also grab it in digital form on Bandcamp.

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