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[Photo by Ryan Bakerink]

The Linda Lindas on playing Riot Fest and equality in the industry: “Punk is for everybody”

A lot of bands that played this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago could say they’re unique in one way or another, but the Linda Lindas truly have one claim that no other group could make: Three of them had to go back to school the day after they performed.

But the Los Angeles-based punk quartet who broke into the mainstream with a viral video of their performance of “Racist, Sexist Boy” at the Los Angeles Public Library are more than just the youngest breakout rock band in recent history. They want to earn respect for their music regardless of their age and, most importantly, have fun doing it.

Read more: 32 bands on their best Riot Fest memories—gallery

“Punk is for everybody,” guitarist Bela Salazar says. “The whole age thing isn’t that big of a deal because you should be able to have fun and play for as long as you possibly can at any age.”

As the most senior member of the Linda Lindas having turned 18 just before Riot Fest, Salazar is arguably the most outspoken member of the band as they gather around a table in the festival’s press area. But just because their Sunday afternoon set was the group’s first performance at America’s biggest punk festival, the band are no stranger to the industry, nor the spotlight.

Drummer Mila de la Garza (the band’s youngest member at 12) and guitarist Lucia de la Garza (15) are the daughters of Grammy-winning engineer and producer Carlos de la Garza, while their cousin and bassist Eloise Wong (14) has been performing with the sisters for their entire lives. But while being raised in a family within the music business surely prepared the teenagers for their ascent, serving as the opening act for the main stage at Riot Fest is a scale that’s tough to emulate. After their set, each member had their own favorite moments and reasons for being there, but a couple of underlying themes carried throughout the young ladies.

“It’s just so cool that we get to do this,” Mila says. “It’s always fun when there’s a pit.” 

“Two years ago, the idea of playing shows was impossible because of COVID,” Lucia adds. “To think that we’ve traveled so far and we’re here now, this feels like such an achievement. I grew up listening to Sleater-Kinney and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and my parents danced to Jawbox at their wedding. We take our parents with us everywhere, so they also get to see all these bands that they put forth onto us. We all just have a lot of fun watching all of them.”

While the pandemic made weekends like Riot Fest seem like a distant dream for the Linda Lindas, it was exactly the environment that gave way to the band’s rise to relative fame. In May 2021, when the world was just beginning to open up, their aforementioned viral library performance video caught the attention of a who’s who of the music scene.

At that time, the Linda Lindas had already logged some successes to their name. Performances with bands like Bikini Kill, Best Coast and Bleached introduced them to the local Los Angeles scene, while appearances on Netflix soundtracks spread awareness through the internet. But that 40-minute set and interview at the library (particularly the two-minute clip that spread like digital wildfire) skyrocketed the band’s popularity to levels they had never before considered.

“It was definitely really weird just because it was in a library,” Lucia says. “We were like, ‘Wait, A library? You’re not supposed to be loud in the library.’”

“We all love the library,” Wong says. “That’s the library we all use.”

“It was overall just a cool opportunity,” Salazar says. “We didn’t know if anything was going to come out of it, but the whole thing with our band is that we just want to have fun and do whatever we want. We don’t want to be famous or play arenas. We just want to have fun, and it was awesome that we were able to do something like that and connect with so many other people. We also hadn’t played many shows in so long because it was still during the pandemic, so we just had the opportunity to be able to play again in front of people who weren’t just our parents. 

“We love our parents, but it was really exciting to actually go somewhere and play for people,” Lucia laughs. “I like that feeling, and I missed it.”

Off the success of the library video, the Linda Lindas immediately signed to Epitaph and launched a new single. Within a year, the band released their debut album, Growing Up, and found themselves scheduled for a bevy of festivals, award shows and other coveted appearances for 2022. Now more of a known commodity than they were the last time festival lineups were being set, the pop-punkers aren’t just getting to meet a lot of their heroes each time they hit a large stage, but holding full conversations with them, swapping tips and war stories.

Being at a festival like Riot Fest allows the quartet to witness and meet other bands, Salazar says.

“Even just having conversations and talking about their experiences is cool when you realize that we’ve had similar experiences,” she continues. “It can be weird, though, because there are some things that we’ve gone through that not everybody else has gone through. That said, one of the big things I’ve learned is that we’re not the only ones that feel certain ways — like if something’s weird or hard to hear. It’s interesting to see that these other awesome people that we put on a pedestal have gone through the same things. It’s refreshing.”

“It’s cool to see that they’ve been doing it for so long,” Wong adds. “It’s like, ‘Whoa! We can do that, too. We can be playing when we’re as old as our grandparents.’”

For the most part, the Linda Lindas are content to spread their message of unity and equality, have a good time and enjoy living out rock star dreams that take others decades to reach. However, seeing as the band’s initial library video was a part of AAPI Heritage Month, the quartet often get lumped in with other Asian-American artists. And while they’re all for being a part of that culture, it’s not the only heritage that the members represent.

“I don’t know if this is important or not important, but I just really want people to know that we’re not all an ‘Asian’ band,” Salazar says. “Obviously, some of us are Asian, but some of us are also Latinx. I think the Latinx side gets left out sometimes because the majority of us are Asian. But it’s really important to me that we represent Latinx culture and heritage as well.”