Skate-punk wasn’t just another hyphenate subgenre of good, old early ’80s punk rock; it was made by skaters, for skaters. In fact, San Jose’s the Faction, who formed in 1983 as part of the first wave of skate-punk, boasted one of the most famous professional skaters in the world as their bass player, Steve Caballero. Prior to the formation of the band, he had virtually no musical experience—which was why, he says, the music was attractive to him in the first place.
“It was easy to play. I never took lessons. I just kind of played and learned on my own,” Caballero says. “It was like skating, like a do-it-yourself type of thing. As we played longer and longer we got better and better at our instruments and the music got better.”
The band had an initial run of about two years—and have gotten back together on a couple occasions. This Saturday will be their first show in a decade.
Caballero had gone pro in 1980, three years before the Faction formed. Some other punk bands criticized the Faction for their success, saying that it was due to Caballero’s fame, but the truth was, they were one the hardest-working bands in San Jose. They were recording and releasing their own music, pressing their own shirts and stickers, and went on two DIY tours in the States.
An early song that gained them some popularity was the raw, rebellious anthem “Skate and Destroy.” It became a bit of a theme song amongst skate-punk rockers.
“The band was pretty underground besides the fact that it was so popular in skating,” Caballero says. “Back then we weren’t really musicians. We were just trying to make our way and just have a good time. There wasn’t any money to be made; we were just having fun.”
Though the city didn’t build skate parks until recently, San Jose has long since been a haven for skateboarders. The term “skate-punk” was coined by South Bay native MoFo, a photographer for skateboarding magazine Thrasher. He later assembled the first skate-rock compilation for Thrasher in 1983, which included several San Jose bands like Los Olvidados, Drunk Injuns, and of course, the Faction.
The Faction started out as a raw four-piece punk band, much in the vein of early hardcore bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, but in 1984, Caballero bought the Adolescents’ Blue Album and fell in love with the twin-electric guitar punk sound. He switched to second guitar. The band added Ray Stevens II from the recently defunct Los Olvidados to be their fifth member and new bassist. They ended up having a thicker sound like the Adolescents, though retained their hyper-energetic early ’80s hardcore sound, later adding some metal influences. And they didn’t lose their focus on skating and skateboarding culture.
“Really, we did get to skate a lot and rock a lot. I lived in the south side. That’s where we ended up rehearsing. We’d practice for hours, take a break and drive to Morgan Hill, and go skate, and then go back and practice. We practiced five to six days a week,” Stevens says.
The San Jose music scene at the time was particularly underground. It was a healthy, supportive scene with a lot of local punk bands, though the Faction (as well as most of the San Jose punk scene) stayed away from the bars, and played pretty much everywhere else, so kids under 21 would be able to go to their shows. In fact, the Faction’s first gig was at San Jose City College opening for Social Distortion. According to Stevens, one skate kid that was booking shows back then was Corey O’Brien, current owner of the Blank Club, and brother of the Faction’s lead singer, Gavin.
“We played art galleries and house parties, skate jams and contests at loading docks. People really got it together,” Stevens says. “Even though it took the city a while to come through with skate parks, it didn’t matter cause skaters were always making shit happen with backdoor ramps, putting out zines, putting on shows, building their own spots.”
Caballero recalls nearly 800 people showing up to a show in Palo Alto, one of the last during their initial run, before they broke up in 1985.
“I had a feeling right there that we were getting huge. Then we broke up,” Caballero says.
The band has held on to their legacy, reuniting in ’89 for a couple years and then again in 2000 for a couple more—and each time with a lot of interest from their fans, who are now in their 40s and 50s. Yet, at the same time, the band has gotten bigger since their 1985 breakup, skateboarding and punk rock have gotten more mainstream in subsequent years, so there’s a new generation attracted to the raw, aggressive, rebellious spirit of the early Faction records.
“I didn’t know I was still going to be playing when I was 50. I’m still skateboarding. To me skateboarding and music—if I do them every day, I have a really good day. I’m lucky that I have skate parks a couple blocks from my house and I can practice all the time, and that there’s creative people. It’s amazing that Corey’s still booking shows, and Steve is still a skate pro,” Stevens says.