The Got To Be Scene: The Aggrolites

mike o’hara debuts his column “the got to be scene” — a look into the world of the los angeles music scene and the bands that people, from all over, should be listening too …

I live in Los Angeles. It is not my first choice as a place to live but it is what it is. Everything you have heard is true about the “City of Angels.” Yes, the weather is really nice…but I am not one to fuss about the weather and rain isn’t always a bad thing. Yes, it is kind of cool to be shopping at the local super market and find you are browsing the same display of pasta sauces as that guy from “Son of Anarchy.” It does have its moments.

On the other hand the “Dark Side” is there too. LA is a lousy town. I don’t mean to offend those raised here in The Southland…most natives are actually nothing like the swarms of soulless nut jobs that make up “The Business,” if you can call it that. LA is a giant movie set that can be taken down and repainted as trends and people come and go. I suppose at one time it was all it now pretends to be but the shine on this fancy sports car is long gone and the model has not aged well. LA is far from a classic.

Once upon a time the Sunset Strip was alive with the sounds of the up and coming “Hair band” movement. Acts like RATT, Motley Crue and Poison filled the likes of The Whiskey and Roxy. It was never my type of music, but it was the LA scene and a scene at that. Bands were breaking out of LA. It seemed if you teased your hair enough, put on mom’s makeup and wore spandex you were half way to a record deal. Today, that is not so much the case.

The strip is now filled with “pay to play” nights, mediocre bands trying to be the next Killers or Queens of The Stone Age. And most often the only time a show worth seeing pops up it usually when a the band drops in to play Conan or Kimmel. For music fans there is truly no joy in “Mudslide-ville”.

And yet, there is hope. Yea, I finally got here. I tend to ramble and inject my own east coast bias toward LA…sorry.

The Aggrolites: Jesse Wagner (vocals, lead guitar), Brian Dixon (rhythm guitar), Roger Rivas (organ) and Jeff Roffredo (bass)

There are a few Southern California based bands that are making their way in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. One of my favorites is The Aggrolites. They are just what the world of music needs right now. They are a throw back to the sounds of yesterday and a peek at what tomorrow could be.

The Aggrolites, for those unfamiliar, play what they call “Dirty Reggae.” I am sure that means something to some of you and nothing to others. When I first heard the term I thought of the two Jimmy Cliff records I had in college and the Best Of Bob Marley CD my roommate played at every party we threw.

The Aggrolites are that and more. If you were to form a new band with Toots and The Maytals, throw in Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello…maybe some of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mr. Frank Sinatra you’d be in the ballpark of what The Aggrolites have to offer. They are, simply put, outstanding.

The Aggrolites Record "IV" is available on Tim Armstrong's Hellcat Records

I have had the chance to see them a number of times over the past few years. The most memorable performance came at the Nokia Theatre here in Los Angeles. They were supporting one of my all-time favorites, the Pogues. I pray at the Altar of Shane MacGowan and would never think of discrediting the band that inspired me to do what I’m doing now. But I will say without batting an eye that on that night The Aggrolites set the bar out of reach for the headliner and in fact beat them to death with it.

Jesse “Wags” Wagner is as strong a front man as the band that backs him. He sings with passion and a soulfulness that makes you listen even if you aren’t a reggae fan. Their show had energy, aggressiveness and life! Life…something that has been absent in the LA scene for decades.

Most bands make you think that staying home and listening to their record would have rivaled actually seeing them live. Not this band. They play as if ever crowd were the last they’ll ever play to. I love the music of Hep Cat and was blown away to see The Aggrolites take it up a step or four. They are a true crossover band. The way The Beastie Boys have become a favorite to punk, hip hop and jam band fans alike. And those types of bands cannot lose.

In summary I will fully admit once again that I am forever in a “New York State of Mind”. I root against LA and find comfort in seeing it slip into “The place where The Kardashians live.” However, I will always call out something that is great and inspiring. I don’t care if it was spawn under the 405 or on the 10. The Aggrolites are flat out one of the best bands I’ve come across in a long time here or anywhere for that matter. They are doing it right and may have a hand in the rebirth of the LA scene. Thank God for that….I guess.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.


  1. Mike, I’m glad you’re giving the Aggrolites some well deserved credit for bringing a little truth to the land of plastic trees, but give me a break, man. The only progressive music scene you could note for LA was Ratt, Motley Crue, and Poison? What about about the invention of West Coast hardcore in the late 70’s and 80’s with bands like Black Flag, Fear, The Germs, The Adolescents, or the Minute Men? Jesus, Bad Religion, dude! BAD RELIGION! And the best you could do was Motley Crue and Ratt? Come on, man. Speakin’ of Bad Religion, how about the later transgression from Hardcore to Punk/Pop Punk by bands like Lagwagon, NoFX, the Descendents, ALL or their neighbors an hour or two to the north like Rancid or even San Francisco’s Green Day/Pinhead Gunpowder, and Berkeley’s Crimpshrine and Operation Ivy. Being from the East Coast (as I live in Jersey) was no excuse to fumble the ball on this one. The first time I made it out to Hermosa Beach, I was stunned at the fact that I was tromping through the stomping grounds of bands like Black Flag and The Descendents.

  2. Max — it’s all a matter of your perspective.

    Mike is indeed entrenched in the LA scene, playing in a celtic punk band, so he didn’t miss out on any of the bands you mentioned. He toured the nation on the Warped Tour — so he’s very aware of those bands you mentioned.

    The LA scene he’s describing is the one that everyone is familiar with. When you think of the LA scene, the Sunset Strip many immediately go to Ratt, Motley and Poison.

    The bands you named are extremely cool and important bands, but to the everyman, their minds go to the bands who made the most commercial impact like Motley and Poison. Those bands who are synonymous with the strip as Bruce is synonymous with Jersey and the Bosstones with Boston.

    He’s positioning that pre-conceived notion into the forefront of the readers’ mind in order to say “hey this scene is more than that, it’s alive with these great, current bands.”

    So not a fumble in my opinion.

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