July went by rather mildly, meeting friends for ramen, mapping about new projects, and listening to “no CDs, no mp3s, nothing but the hits, the hits, the hits, on JJ’s original soul 45 rpm record show” on KPOO on Saturday nights. Staying home, saving money and trying to get into some kind of writing routine (fuck knows why, it’s all rubbish rhetoric). There was a nice work-related surprise, which was getting free tickets to see Melt Banana from Japan. I will go ahead and assume most of you know this band, and for those who don’t (living under a rock maybe?) let me say they were mental live. They played for just under an hour, Yasuko’s captivating stage presence, wicked sense of humour and untouchable vocals a sharp contrast to her soft-spoken voice in person. She held some kind of sampler or sound manipulator ,which she waved about to the music, while Ichirou slammed out riff after crazy riff. A great pleasure to finally see them live, fifteen years after I first heard “Free the Bee.” Arigato Revolver, arigato Melt Banana.
August rolled in completely out of nowhere and before I knew it I was watching Total Control in an absolutely packed Knockout, sweating my tits off but stoked to be seeing TC again for the first time since the release of Typical System. I will be honest, they were not as… air-tight as I thought they would be, but I do realize it was still the beginning of their tour. It’s obvious they know how to play their shit, and it’s much rawer, punker and guitar-driven, and fuck if their drummer is not impressive—an experience to watch.
Next day I was packing my bag Mr. Bean style to head down to LA. Well, Santa Ana actually. We set out on Friday with Syndicate (the Oakland band, check them out at syndicate-oakland.bandcamp.com), singing along to Polish punk and looking out for the In-N-Out arrow, feeling the temperature rise with every mile. By the time we got to Santa Ana we were all ready for a cold beer and… a hot tub apparently! Oh the luxury! Good call Super 8.
OK, so this festival was not a punk festival, let’s just get that out the way. Yes, it had punk bands playing (among other genres) and there were a lot of punks there, and the people running bits of it were in the punk world, but this was not a purely DIY punk festival, and I think everyone was aware of that. The Santa Ana Observatory is located kind of in the middle of nowhere, north of the beach and south of downtown. That area is block after block of office complexes, with tall trees and wide, three-lane roads. A train track cut through one of the main streets offering some sort of orientation point. No convenience stores, no bus or train stations, no banks or grocery stores; just Microsoft buildings, parking lots, Scion cars…and a Jack in the Box. A second point of reference as to where the fuck anything was located. Overall, I’d day if you don’t have a car (or an Uber account?) in the greater LA area you are kinda screwed, though there was shuttle bus service of sorts provided by the organizers. There were also no ins-and-outs at the venue—which, yeh, never fun—so I directed my focus towards bands and catching up with friends from out of town. There were food trucks provided, but I was going through one of my “beer and smokes for me please” phase and preferred to feast on music surging through my brain at top volume instead. Combined with the heat (which I had missed) and the sun (which I always long for) I was feeling rather grand, engaging in friendly banter with new people, floating on a state of over-intoxicated stimulation.
I won’t go into a detailed account of every band, because there were just too many, so some highlights include but are not limited to: Liebestod, aka Jesse Sanes, who created some truly tasteful experimental ambient noise sounds and growls. Prostitutes aka James Donadio, a prolific “no trends” electronics project. Juanita y los Feos, obviously, were amazing! They are super tight as a band, the vocals are spine-chilling and the delivery was a joy to experience! Hoping they won’t be disbanding completely; check out Rata Negra, featuring members of Juanita, also reviewed further down in these pages. The Lowest Form were a high point; blazing primitive noise made by deranged people. Love those blokes! Helm, aka Luke Younger, also a member of the Lowest Form, was the most stunning act to me; my attention firmly captive, the music engrossing, so much so for me that I actually transcended into some other dimension for most of the set, no other drug necessary. Lust for Youth, the electro-pop outfit punks don’t wanna admit they love, were as dreamy and dancey as I hoped they would be (so not too much and just enough). Volhan, meaning Ritual Kaos and part of the Black Twilight Circle, play really sick, depressive black metal, influenced by early black/death metal, esoteric and traditional music sonically, but pay tribute to their Mayan heritage ideologically, addressing issues like colonialism, cultural suppression and sterilization. Definitely one to keep an eye on. Slægt from Denmark was the best new discovery for me, playing superb black metal, with death and NWOBHM details. Sick drummer, great riffs! OK, so I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t immediately grabbed by Vexx when I heard them on record, but I gained new perspective when I saw them live and I’ll say, they are one of the sickest live bands in punk right now. They truly are something special and singer Mary Jane is the only person in punk today to remind me of pioneer Wendy O. Williams. See them live before it’s too late! Total Control delivered a good set, but somehow didn’t quite reach the ecstasy mark I was aiming for. It was great to see No Hope for the Kids, and hear all the classics, even if it was in the knowledge that this event was happening ten years too late in my life. I saw Dead Moon, but really didn’t last long and walked out before their set was over. (For shame, I know!) I also missed a bunch of bands (like Diät, Sissy Spacek, Puce Mary) and some were just really bad / “not my thing” so here are a couple honorable mentions: Fumigados, Apetite, Institute, Circuit Des Yeux, Destruction Unit, Royal Headache.
The first night I was to stay with ex-MRR coord and partner in crime Mariam. As I got lost in a maze of parking lots trying to find her car, I remembered how much I hated this type of nothing-suburbia, this kind of man-made setting, of which LA is the finest example. I looked left, then right, both sides seemingly the same fucking view: office buildings, blinking traffic lights and not a human in sight. However, I am glad I got a bit closer (albeit by car) to understanding the kind of environment that spawned LA and Orange Country hardcore and punk. Didn’t visit Darby’s grave this time either, but gotta have something on the to-do list for next time, right?
Merm and I hung out on her balcony drinking Makers Mark and smoking splees, having a retrospective /reflective looks at our lives post-MRR. Leaving MRR is truly a form of break-up. You do something every day for three years and then you don’t. You have to figure out new boundaries, learn to take a step back, train yourself not to worry about it, avoid feeling resentful for all the things you didn’t manage to achieve. It’s hard I’ll admit and has been a source of much existential disorder for me these past few months. Time dependably soothing, memory deceptively selective. I haven’t a clue what is to follow, I am open to ideas, but I’m glad MRR is part of my past and, for now at least, also my present and future. Let’s see how long it’ll be before I can feel as passionate about something as I do for MRR.
I wish I could say that I had some kind of epiphany that night, some kind of apokalypsis, but I didn’t. I was obviously in search of one. I was however tremendously grateful to be around a human who knows me so well I barely have to utter words and she knows what’s happening in my knotted brain. The transient nature of SF makes it sometimes hard for roots to grow deep and, much like with science fiction being more about humans than aliens, traveling is often more about the connection you have to the place you are leaving rather than the place you’re going to. “Gotta know where you’re coming from to know where you’re going,” they say. “…but what the hell do they know anyway?!” I thought as I stared at the ceiling, hazy-minded and exhausted, the sky blood orange as the sun crept up behind the dark hills outside the window.
The next morning I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee and scrambled eggs. A breakfast feast was prepared (and speedily consumed) and headed to the beach! I was excited to be by the sea again, and not only because the weather was hot and sunny—after all, this is SoCal—but also because the water there is actually warm enough that you can swim without the threat of hypothermia. (I once asked surfer and MRR shitworker John Downing—he helps this mag looks sick by doing layouts, among other things—how long a surfer could last in the water at Ocean beach in SF if they got pulled in too far by the tide to swim to shore. He said with a wet suit, about 45 minutes. Scary shit for a hot-blooded Mediterraneo like me!)
We threw down out towels, set up our brolly and off I went, sunglasses still firmly attached to my face, ready for a dip. As I shimmied underwater, flooded by memories of summers past, I started to think of the concept of change, and how resistant we are to it sometimes. I lay on my back, nothing but my nose above water, and cried just a little bit as I enjoyed the stillness of the world beneath the waves, so happy to find some momentary peace.
I planned for a week off work after a weekend of decadence, stories of which I won’t bore you with, and treated myself to a spa session, sushi in Japantown, cocktails in Chinatown, excellent company (hi Paco, miss you Martin!) and the experience of being a tourist in my own city. I also got a few dozen thousand words down for a project I’m working on and made my first three pieces of (electronic albeit) music ever. I won’t go into the reasons why I had not attempted this before, they’re thoroughly boring, but a whole new universe of creativity opened up for me none the less, and I’m more than ready to explore. In fact, I’m only just getting started. Thank you Jason and Will for that extra boost. Η αρχή είναι το ήμισυ του παντός.