- Karyna Belmonte, 31, El Sereno. Party Crew: Tempted to Touch, 2004-2007
- Gustavo Pubil, 42, Pico Union. Party Crew: Huggies Productions, 1998-2006
- Becky Martinez, 41, Pico Union. Party Crew: Luscious Ladies, 1996-1998
- Marcos Velasquez, 34, South Central. Party Crews: High Intense, Various Party Crews, 2002-2006.
- Janice Llamoca, 35, Rowland Heights, Party Crew: Lustful Laydeez, 2003-2005
- Listen to the 'Party Crews' podcast
Attending a flier party hosted by a party crew in the 1990s and 2000s was a rite of passage for many Latino teens in Southern California. It usually went like this: You got ready at your homegirl's house (often dressing in matching outfits), packed the car of the person who agreed to give you a ride, show up at a crowded, sweaty back yard or warehouse where the music was thumping, and then you danced the night away — right until the cops raided the party or someone got in a fight.
There was a marked difference between the much-documented 1990s party crew scene and the often forgotten 2000s scene. House music dominated the parties in '90s, but by the 2000s hip-hop and reggaeton ruled, and there was a shift from analog to digital. MySpace and Techno4Us were social media platforms to share photos from the night and fliers for the next party. In the 2000s, parties tended to be indoors as opposed to back yards. And noz — nitrous oxide, or laughing gas — became a central component at parties.
But the goal was the same. You were there to be seen, to kick it with the homies, and, most importantly, to dance. It was exciting and freeing — getting out of your head and into your body.
Still, the scene wasn’t always physically safe. There were shootings and police raids. Many adults saw the scene as gang-adjacent and the media fueled negative stereotypes of kids who were out of control. One of the teens who got caught in that easy narrative was 14-year-old Emmery Muñoz, who was murdered in 2006.
We spoke with people who were featured in the LAist Studios podcast, Party Crews: The Untold Story, — which focuses, in part, on Emmery's case, which remains unsolved — to learn about what the scene meant for them and what life is like now. Here's what they told us, in their own words (interviews have been edited for length and clarity):
Karyna Belmonte, 31, El Sereno. Party Crew: Tempted to Touch, 2004-2007
My mom's a '90s baby and then I'm more like the 2000s. Her thing was backyard parties and house music. I grew up watching my mom and them dance to house music. I grew up always dancing.
Me, Regina, and our friend Bridget, we all decided to be the main heads and start this crew called Tempted to Touch.
The funnest part for me would be getting ready. Just like the excitement of, "we're gonna go somewhere and see new people and meet new people."
We would get to the parties, the minute you walk in the door, you have to represent where you're from. They would shout us out on the mic, like, “oh, Tempted to Touch is in the house!” And then it would just be dancing after that. Sweating. You're dancing, but no one's tired, like no one's complaining, no one's standing on the walls. I don't know how we had that much energy.
We were hip-hop dancers. We would go to my friend Bridget's house in her front yard and we would practice a routine dance. So when we would go battle these girls at the flier parties, we're like, we're gonna look like we're organized.
We just felt free to do whatever we want. If we threw a party, it was how we wanted, we made the flyer how we wanted, or we had the music we wanted, the DJ we wanted. It made us feel like we belong. We were all bonding off the love we had for music, for dancing, for meeting new people, socializing. It made us feel like we weren't being judged.
I've calmed down a lot. I don't party or do anything like that. So right now it's just basically mom duties. I go to work, I come home, I take care of the kids. We just make sure the household is all together.
I kind of guide them in the right direction, which I didn't have cause I didn't have my parents. My mom was on the streets. My dad was in prison for 25 years. My grandma was old.
Sometimes I go out and have fun with my friends and they remind me it's OK to come out and have fun. You're not a bad mom because you wanna have fun.
As I got older and I already experienced being young in the party scene, I flipped it around. My house is quiet, nobody parties here. We're boring. Everybody's on track. I'm like the drill sergeant in the house.
I guess my priorities change. Sometimes I go out and have fun with my friends and they remind me it's OK to come out and have fun. You're not a bad mom because you wanna have fun.
Because now it's all about them. Now I am back to figuring out who am I again? And the things I like to do, reinventing myself a little. I'm still into music. I'm still into dancing.
I look back at that time, it's like treasure, it's like gold. Who knew that those were gonna be one of the best days of our lives? Who knew that those were gonna be lifelong memories?
Gustavo Pubil, 42, Pico Union. Party Crew: Huggies Productions, 1998-2006
Becky Martinez, 41, Pico Union. Party Crew: Luscious Ladies, 1996-1998
Gustavo: I was always a big house head. The all-ages clubs at that time were Carnival, Arena. Then that progressed into people throwing backyard parties with nothing but house music.
And that started me into wanting to party in the party scene and eventually start throwing my own parties.
My crew, we originated in 1998 and it was called Huggie Productions. It was me and my two friends. We were on a three-way call at that time trying to decide what we would call ourselves. One of our friends that was on the phone, his sister, had just had a baby.
He was just sitting in his room, staring at the corner trying to figure out a name and he saw the stack of diapers and just said, "Hey, what about Huggies?" And we all liked it because basically we were all little mama's boys at that time. We kind of liked it cuz we're like children at heart.
I was one of the main heads. Also the DJ for the crew. Pretty much my role was just to make sure that, when it was time for the weekend to come, these are the parties we're going to go to, gathering up everybody together, making sure we had a car for at least all of us to get there.
And just making sure that everyone, that while we were at the party, everyone was having a good time. No one messed with any of the guys that were with us. No one touched any of the girls that were with us.
Pretty much my role was just to make sure that, when it was time for the weekend to come, these are the parties we're going to go to, gathering up everybody together, making sure we had a car for at least all of us to get there.
When I started, it was in '98. The party scene back then was a little different than what it turned out to be in the early 2000s. I saw a transition from house music to then hip-hop, to reggaeton.
The early 2000s became more about dancing. A little bit of noz that, some of the kids were totally into.
In the 2000s, my friend had an info line. It was called the speakeasy. Every Monday night at midnight, we would have what was called the Monday Midnight Review. Everyone from Sunday on would leave their reviews for their parties, what they thought, what party they went to, what crews were representing the hardest, who was dancing, what they saw. My friend would just write everything down on a piece of paper. Come midnight, we would start with his info line. And basically just give a breakdown of what everyone said, on the voicemails.
I'm still a DJ, so I still do DJing gigs every now and then doing family events, and still do clubs every once in a while, whenever I get booked for those.
We met in 2003. We started dating from the party scene. We partied together for a couple years and ended up getting married and we're still here together.
Becky: [I was in the party scene] in 1996 for a short time. When I was partying it was pretty much just back yards. It was all about house music. And then when I came back years later, I came around because my younger sister started partying. It was more like hip-hop, reggaeton, just a different scene. The same concept, but now it was at locations, like mechanic shops, warehouses. It wasn't just the back yard.
I ended up at this party and I saw my husband for the first time. He was DJing, he was playing house music, and I was introduced to the same lifestyle that I once had, only that I was older and the scene was a bit different.
I reached out to him on Techno4Us and that just established more of a relationship. We saw each other at a couple more parties and then we started dating.
I believe this was 2005 or 2006, when one of the times that we went to a party, there was a shooting, there were cops that raided the party, and so it just started to become more of a safety issue and just getting older and realizing that it wasn't worth it. We just decided that it wasn't a place for us anymore.
I [still] love house music. I'm going to EDC for the first time this year and I'm 42 years old. My daughter that's 21, is also gonna go for her first time.
Marcos Velasquez, 34, South Central. Party Crews: High Intense, Various Party Crews, 2002-2006.
I got involved [in the party crew scene] through a friend named Luis. He gave me a stack of fliers. I was the kid that was cool with everybody, even with the high school kids. Everyone loved and kind of respected me. I just took advantage of that and would invite them to these parties. A few hundred flyers became a few thousand flyers.
Then things switched up where, you know, things became very violent, gang beef got involved in the party crew beef. That was a very short-lived period. Then I just started producing, being my own promoter or like teaming up with like other party crews that had the same mindset.
I was like, “Yo, I'll just orchestrate the entertainment part of it, you know, bringing the DJs, bringing the lights, find a spot and then y'all come.”
You start [by] hitting up people like, “Yo bro, your tia still got this spot, this back yard? You think I could throw a party there? Tell her I'll shoot her a 100, 150 bucks.”
What are you gonna do for security? And the security was one of my homies.
Who are you gonna collab with? And also how's the flier gonna look like? The flier is everything. It kind of sets the mood before the person arrives.
Before the flier gets printed out, we start blasting it on MySpace, Techno [Techno4us]. Then, blasting it via text.
It's easy to get people from the hood to go to your party already, like that's already being done. I was like, 'How can I get these little rich kids from USC, UCLA to come to my party?'
I would go to mom and pops, dudes that were living at home that had a badass printer and I would be able to print thousands of fliers at a time. I would start going to parties, and pass out the fliers. I would go to the USC parties, pass them out. It's easy to get people from the hood to go to your party already, like that's already being done. I was like, 'How can I get these little rich kids from USC, UCLA to come to my party?'
The day of, wake up early, go fill up your noz tanks, go stock up on beer and liquor. I was still under age, so I had plugs in liquor stores, certain liquor stores in the hood that knew me and then they would just sell me the beer and liquor.
Then we go back home, dress up.
I always wanted to make my mom proud by being able to be a young man that's self sustainable, she didn't have to buy me shoes or clothes or anything.
I got connected with a big promoter that was in L.A. and he was bringing in all the other big artists from Puerto Rico. It was like the first wave of reggaeton in L.A. We would put up the sound, put up the production. When Alexis and Fido, Arcangel, Nicky Jam or Sir Speedy, any of those groundbreaking reggaeton artists would come into L.A., my homie was booking them, and it was my production that was doing the sound for those events.
The party crew scene, the flier party scene, that thing died down like in '07. And for me, I already had anticipated it to get shut down completely.
Then people moved on to being club promoters and that's not me. I stopped being a promoter. Also, the reggaeton scene died down. The Latin scene died down. That's when electric EDC and EDM music came alive in L.A., and I wasn't interested in it.
So then I stopped doing it. I was producing records. I'm more like a Dr. Dre individual. I'm like the orchestrator of the situation.
At the time I was already with Jess, my wife, and we were living in Hollywood and we decided to just team up and do video and multimedia services together. And that's what we've been doing since then.
I'm still producing records. I'm still the creative director of certain things. I'm still doing marketing consulting for a lot of brands, and that's what I love doing.
I like having fun, but I'm an observer, a listener. I never liked being the front man of anything. I want to be handling the business, handling the technical aspects of it, making sure you look good and sound good, and my homies are doing good. I've always wanted to be like that business guru.
The party crew thing was a way for me to make money without, at the time, I thought, risking my life and being safe about making money. It was kind of a cool thing for me to be able to make money with these like-minded individuals. In retro, I look back at it and I'm like, we were thick, we were like a good 20, 30 homies and we kicked it frequently, and we kept each other out of trouble by planning out parties, executing these parties, going to parties, making money at these parties.
It [being in party crews] taught me how to organize people to commit to a plan and vision and execute that. And to this day, I'm really good at that. That's the biggest thing that I have learned from that era is being a great delegator and being a leader.
I've always been good at making something out of nothing.
Janice Llamoca, 35, Rowland Heights, Party Crew: Lustful Laydeez, 2003-2005
I must have gone to a flier party through word of mouth, through friends, and we connected with more girls and eventually joined a crew together.
We'd get in someone's car and get to the party, you start seeing the line we're like, OK, there's a party and then you roll down the window and then you can hear the music.
Either it was me leading or one of my friends leading, but immediately it was just to get to the dance floor.
I liked to dance and I think a part of me liked the idea of a set group to party with. I had dance partners and I didn't have to dance with a guy that I didn't know that could make me feel uncomfortable. I was just dancing with my girls and I felt safe doing it.
I just remember I really loved feeling the beat of the music because the sound system was so loud. I liked feeling those vibrations and moving with them. It felt pretty euphoric for me when I was younger. I think that was just me discovering my own body and how it moves and how I can be sensual. That was something that I learned through dancing.
Sometimes you feel like things are memories and not real. I wanted proof that I'm not the only one remembering. I started Googling a lot and I couldn't find anything about the 2000s. I did find out about Emmery's case. I read it and then it stayed with me for a while.
I was like, I have this story. It's about a girl named Emmery and about party crews, a scene that I was a part of. I said, “If Emmery's not included, then I'm not doing the story.”
She's the reason I'm in it. She's the reason I'm even looking back. I wanted to make sure that her story was also there, and I could look into it because it is what drove me to look back anyways.
I just remember I really loved feeling the beat of the music because the sound system was so loud. I liked feeling those vibrations and moving with them. It felt pretty euphoric for me.
Sometimes when you're a part of something and it's normal for you, you tend to not dive deep into it cause you're like, “Whatever, no one cares about this.”
It was really just thinking OK, we were kids and we were twerking and maybe it's silly to someone now, I started to realize, "Oh no, this was not a dumb little thing that we did."
We actually put a lot of effort into this and there was a lot of thought behind this. We did it out of necessity of finding a place to party and hang out and to be free a little bit.
Being vulnerable was probably the hardest part, just because I'm pretty private.
For me it wasn't measuring the listens or downloads or clicks. I just wanted the validation from Emmery's family that it was something that they were comfortable with, that they approved of, and that, because they don't owe me anything.
What was important for me is the people who were a part of that scene and remember that time that they were able to be like, “Yo, you like brought back memories.”
As long as I portrayed that as accurately as I could, that was a success to me. Cuz this is like my audience. My audience was people who are our age, who are part of this who never thought there would be an eight episode series on party crews, it was for them.
Listen to the 'Party Crews' podcast
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