SleezeHog Productions platforms artists of color

Sleezehog Productions, which comprises (left to right) Emmeline Salazar, Riah Conway, Natalie Lee, Julia Craig and Skylar Jones was founded to promote musicians of diverse backgrounds. (Photo courtesy of Luke Harrington)

People moshed and headbanged at the end of SleezeHog-iversary and Halloween Bash, a concert in the cinderblock-ridden backyard of an L.A. home featuring artists within the genre of its namesake. As the Doc Martens left the venue, the event organizers — known by the name SleezeHog Productions — approached The Groans, a queer punk band of color, to ask them how the show went.

The members voiced their grievances to the SleezeHog team. One of them stepped in dog poop; a noise complaint forced the band to turn down the volume during their set. Of the short list, one complaint stood out:

“They were like, ‘This whole lineup was really white and male, and the crowd was representative of that,’” said Natalie Lee, a founding member of SleezeHog. The Groans continued, expressing how they did not feel very safe in the homogeneous environment and how this treatment was common in their performing experience.

Then, Lee cried.

“As a queer person of color, I took that very much to heart,” said Lee, a senior majoring in music industry. “That’s the last thing I want …  for a marginalized person to feel unsafe and uncomfortable at our shows.”

The organizers had not originally focused on promoting diversity in their lineups, but the values of representation and inclusion mean a lot to the team, Lee expressed. The feedback sparked a newfound dedication to ensure the comfort of both their bands and audience members.

“If we’re going to be the ones throwing these things, we’re going to be the ones who need to make the effort to make the change,” said Emmeline Salazar, a senior majoring in music industry.

From there, the group’s intent was clear. 

The Thornton School of Music’s live music production and promotion class, which is taught by Music Industry chair and assistant professor of practice Michael Garcia, brought SleezeHog into the world in 2018. For their major assignment, the students had to break into groups and throw their own shows, taking care of everything from booking artists and the venue to promoting the show to fill seats — or, in this case, a living room.

Salazar’s group, which included students senior Julia Craig and alumnae Dane Pieper and Emily Schultz came up with Punk-o-ween, a punk house show with a date set for the end of October. Schultz and Pieper have since left SleezeHog. Since the team was not too involved in the local punk community, they brought Lee on to the class project as their “punk liaison.”

“We didn’t want to put on a punk show and just say it’s punk even though it wasn’t,” Salazar said. “We wanted to make sure we stuck with the culture.”

After hours of crowd-surfing, dancing, singing and shopping for clothes courtesy of vendor Good Sport, SleezeHog deemed the night a success.

“People came up to me afterward, and they were like, ‘Thank you, we needed this,’” Lee said. “There’s no other scene around USC where you can just mosh.”

The glowing reactions, as well as another opportunity for a punk-inspired holiday pun, kept SleezeHog kicking beyond their class assignment to host Punk-mas.

“SleezeHog always brings a good crowd of good people that are nice to be around. They don’t tolerate transphobic, racist, homophobic, stupid bullshit like that,” said Gabi Cohen of GUPPY, a band that performed at SleezeHog’s most recent show, SleezeHog-iversary. “You feel confident being in a space where you’re like, ‘Oh, these people are my people, and they all stand up for me, and I want to stand up for and be there for them.’”

Along with actively involving people of color and queer communities, SleezeHog emphasizes booking local bands, uplifting the L.A. music scene and giving smaller artists the space to garner followings.

“It’s just cultivating a culture that everyone can thrive in, whether as a community member, an audience member, a performer, an artist or creator,” said Polartropica, another artist who also took the SleezeHog-iversary stage last Friday.

Being small and scrappy does not mean SleezeHog sacrifices quality. According to multiple bands and audience members, the promoter runs its shows quite smoothly.

“The shows are a DIY feel, but with the professionalism of being at a venue,” said Julia Lebow, another member of GUPPY.

Aside from the bands, SleezeHog’s audience feels equally welcomed and supported when attending the shows. Danielle Haase, a junior majoring in neuroscience, frequents SleezeHog shows she was introduced by a friend.

“It’s definitely a really good source of representation for the queer community and a good outlet for people to come and enjoy music they can relate to,” Haase said.

Support for SleezeHog has only grown since last year’s Punk-o-ween, still one of its most attended shows to date. Beyond punk music, the promoter has branched out to welcome artists of all genres.

“They’re so, so talented,” said Marcus Emery, a senior majoring in animation and digital arts. “I mean like, the fact that they’re able to repeatedly be this good at finding new artists and a diverse group of people to perform, host, showcase their art, whatever … it’s amazing. It’s so impressive, and I’m so proud of them, because they’ve come such a long way.”

And they keep rocking. 

SleezeHog will be hosting its next show, the fifth Queer Night of Expression — a staple event for the crew — at the local gallery space Junior High on Nov. 23. The team also plans to go on tour in the first half of 2020, before donning their gowns and sashes at graduation.

“It’s a class project that hasn’t ended,” Salazar said.