Meaning in the mix
Community collaboration defines Saturday’s Eagle Rock Music Festival
By Joe Piasecki 09/30/2010
If there’s one thing Brian Akio Martinez has learned over half a decade as lead organizer of the annual Eagle Rock Music Festival, it’s that to do it right you can’t do it alone.
And so this year more than ever before, Northeast Los Angeles’ largest and arguably most diverse cultural event will be the product of community partnership, with no less than eight local music organizations and dozens of sponsors joining Martinez and the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock to make it all happen.
The logistics alone are a challenge: Saturday’s festival will shut down a half-mile stretch of Colorado Boulevard from 4 to 11 p.m. to accommodate nearly 75 area musical acts on more than a dozen separate stages.
And so are expenses, with organizers asking for — but not requiring — small donations from attendees this year following a recession-driven decline in grants.
But perhaps the greatest benefit of close collaboration with groups such as the nonprofit music innovation collective Dublab, a pair of local recording studios and Occidental College’s student radio station is inclusiveness — all the different musical and cultural identities the festival is able to represent.
“The more diverse the better,” said Martinez, 28 and events director for the nonprofit Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. “The mission of the center is to provide innovative and multicultural programming. For us, the way to do that is teaming up with all kinds of different people so that each stage in the festival represents different cultural elements of Northeast Los Angeles.”
Much like the city it reflects, however, diversity is for the festival not so much a question of representing disparate backgrounds and cultures as it is exploring the way those elements interact and blend together.
The meaning is in the mix, and so standard definitions of rock, hip-hop and world music tend to fade behind more genre-blending lineups.
Dublab’s Global Stage, for example, features a double handful of artists who combine traditional sounds with contemporary, danceable and at times experimental beats.
“I began using the term “cureation’ — somewhere between curator and creator,” said Mahssa Taghinia, who performs at 7 p.m. on the Global Stage, located near Colorado Boulevard and Caspar Avenue.
Mahssa, as she’s known in the music world, taps traditional and popular music from her family’s native Iran to craft what’s loosely billed as Middle Eastern psychedelia.
By day Mahssa also works with Finders Keepers, a record label that compiles and produces albums of lost or never-released musical gems from all over the world — a process she describes as a kind of “music archaeology.” Last year she helped the label produce “Pomegranates,” a compilation of Persian funk, folk and pop assembled following numerous trips to Iran.
“Sharing stories and experiences is essentially what a great record does. It conjures and shares a feeling. Throwing records into a mix, or a deejay set, is an expression of that — you’re shaping a collective experience, even if it’s just getting people to dance,” said Mahssa, who has performed several sessions for Dublab’s online broadcasts.
The Global Stage will also include performances from the eclectic band Chicano Batman, hip-hop emcees Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince, and Dublab co-founder Mark “Frosty” McNeil, who approached Martinez about participating after attending a previous festival.
“We’re definitely steering away from what people think of when they think of world music,” said McNeil. He prefers the term “future roots” — also the name of Dublab’s former KPFK 90.7 FM music show — to describe “progressive sounds in many genres that all connect back to their lineage in some way.”
Also exploring experimental rhythm-driven music is Low End Theory, a longstanding Wednesday night club residency at The Airliner in Lincoln Heights, where “the beats are harder and gnarlier than ever before,” said cofounder Elvin Estela, who works by day at Pasadena’s Pooh Bah Records.
Along with underground beatmasters such as Gaslamp Killer and Dibiase and electronic experimentalists Free the Robots, the festival’s Low End Theory stage, at Colorado Boulevard and Shearin Avenue, also features Pasadena-based hip-hop and electronic deejay Jason Chung, who performs as Nosaj Thing.
“I feel blessed to be asked to the festival,” said Chung, 25, who worked his way through venues like The Smell and Hangar 1018 before releasing his first record, “Drift,” last year, and now works full-time as a touring performer. “It’s really important because it gives more exposure to things people might not listen to normally.”
Discovery is also a theme for the stage headed up by Occidental College’s KOXY online radio station, located near Eagle Rock Boulevard and featuring the Eagle Rock band Tigerstrype and a mish-mash of others, such as LA Vampires and La Santa Cecilia.
For KOXY General Manager and Occidental senior Parker Harris, the decision to team up with the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock was about more than music.
“We’re stoked about the bands that are going to play, but this is more about making a lasting connection and to reach out to something broader than a campus event,” said Harris. “Simply closing a major thoroughfare in Los Angeles is a big statement in itself, and having art and music is a tremendous opportunity.”
Old friends, new friends
The spirit of collaboration also extends into the realm of punk rock, with East LA-focused arts education group Zocaloc Productions teaming up with Razorcake, a bi-monthly Highland Park zine that chronicles underground and independent punk artists.
Their stage at the festival’s east end, near the Blue Hen restaurant and La Roda Avenue, tops a strong seven-band set with Nervous Gender — one of the inventors of synth-punk in the late 1970s — and Toys That Kill, an evolution of the venerable (in punk terms, of course) F.Y.P.
“The festival is a great way for different styles of music to cross-pollinate, to blur artificial boundaries and for people to discover new bands,” said Razorcake co-founder Todd Taylor.
Taylor and Zocaloc’s Peter Carrillo each said working together has resulted in newfound friendship.
“I remember the LA Street Scene and seeing great new, upcoming bands while enjoying the mixture of different people. The Eagle Rock Music Festival carries on this tradition without the beer bottles flying in the air and drunk people in the streets,” said Carrillo.
LA Street Scene festivals began in 1978 under Mayor Tom Bradley as a way to celebrate the city’s diversity but ended in the mid-1980s after episodes of violence. The Eagle Rock Music Festival, which also includes a stage dedicated to kids, is a decidedly mellow, family-friendly affair that prohibits open alcohol consumption.
Eagle Rock’s also differs from most commercial festivals in that it has all but abandoned the concept of billing popular acts
as headlining performers.
The largest crowds, however, still tend to gather at the Emerging Stage, led this year by FYF Fest, and a double stage shared by neighboring Eagle Rock recording studios Kingsize Soundlabs and The Ship Studios.
The Kingsize/Ship stage, located outside Panang restaurant along Argus Avenue, is actually two adjoining stages, a setup that eliminates pauses between acts and reflects the congenial, often collaborative relationship between the two recording studios, which, incidentally, share a backyard patio.
The Ship was founded 10 years ago by Aaron Espinoza of the bands Earlimart, which performed at the 2008 festival, and Admiral Radley, a collaboration with members of Grandaddy.
Espinoza’s studio and the larger Kingsize Soundlabs, run by brothers and record-industry veterans David and Harry Trumfio, are putting forward a powerful indie rock lineup that includes the Highland Park band Seasons, Eagle Rock’s Downtown/Union, the spacey Radars to the Sky and The Submarines — who have leapt to fame after two of their songs were used in television ads for the iPhone.
Social networking also factors greatly into the Emerging Stage, located between Hermosa and Highland View avenues, where bands include Moses Campbell (featuring a former festival collaborator from Echo Park’s Pehrspace), Blank Blue (of which Martinez is a member), and Darker My Love — who, along with Espinoza’s Admiral Radley, opened last Saturday for Band
of Horses at the Greek Theatre.
“We do our best, but in a perfect world there’d be so many more,” said Martinez.
The Eagle Rock Music Festival happens from 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday along Colorado Boulevard between Argus Avenue and Eagle Rock Boulevard. A $5 donation is suggested. Call (323) 226-1617 or visit centerartseaglerock.org.