Save Music in Chinatown 16 recap with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas plus Gabba Gabba Cake

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After five years and 15 shows, you’d think organizing Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows wouldn’t be a big deal anymore. Yet another matinee with old music and young kids–don’t they all blend together and are there even show-goers who like either? Maybe they would come for cookies. Or cake!

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My wife Wendy and friend Nate, who also obsess over our series of all-ages matinees year-round, were right on board when I decided to made our 16th show my 50th birthday party, hoping that  maybe a couple more people would come out to help raise money for music education at Castelar, Chinatown’s public elementary school, by carrying on the punk rock tradition of the historic neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe.

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As usual, the lineup came together perfectly but from totally different directions. Phranc has been playing at punk rock shows and benefit gigs for decades, and we had been in touch with the All-American Jewish Lesbian folk singer since she and our mutual friend Alice Bag teamed up to play our 14th show as PHAG. I loved the Smothers Brothers-inspired duo’s topical songs, which were as progressive as they were current, and two-of-a-kind banter, but wanted our audience to get a rare taste of Phranc as a solo artist as well. Is there anyone cooler or more calming, more sensible or funny, in a state of chaos? She was doing it way before “Life’s a Beach” and the Reagan and Bush years and she’ll be around long after 45 and “YOLO.” Phranc was and will always be the original Life Lover that reassures all of us underdogs to not give in or give up.

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We’ve been shocked a few times when a friend, whose cool band had no business playing a rinky dink show like ours to begin with, has asked to play for our cause a second time. Mike from Channel Three and Tony Adolescent approached us about a record-release show and secret gig last year, and this time it was Chip from Ford Madox Ford. What an honor to have lifers and veterans of the first wave of punk in Chinatown come back to play for the kids who go to school there now. What a relief not to grovel to potential headliners and co-headliners! And I don’t even know what the blues are, but I love the combo’s rock-solid groove mixed with Chip’s original punk energy and nonstop layer of noise provided by his guitar shredding son Dewey.

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I lined up LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads during a bittersweet afternoon at Alex’s Bar in way back in July. Nate and I were commiserating with Louie Perez III and Mike Martt at Steve Soto’s memorial, and one of the beloved bass player’s last shows with the Adolescents in SoCal was actually at our May benefit. Louie had been working closely with Steve and was devastated. He only came to the gathering because Mike asked him to bring some gear so CJ Ramone and a few Adolescents could play a short set (which they joked Steve would have hated, but made everyone feel better). Somehow, I built up the courage to ask them if their bands would be interested in playing our show and, perhaps partly in tribute to Steve’s memory and the legacy of his great music and big heart, they said yes.

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Having LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads was a very cool pairing of cowpunk legends, lifers, and torch carriers–perfect since Chip and his brother Tony formed the genre’s instigators Rank & File–and how about Chip coming up to sing “Class War,” a Dangerhouse single released by the brother’s previous band, The Dils, with LP3? The famously unruly Horseheads covering “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?” for a crowd with as many children in the audience as survivors of the Hong Kong Cafe days? “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” provided a gritty balance that pleased the blues purists and fans of Mike’s other old band Thelonious Monster

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Bolstered by a kickass bake sale and cool raffle as usual, the show would have been amazing enough right there–way above and beyond what we should expect from our humble project, cause, and efforts. But it gets better and I actually get emotional when I look back at it, largely because The Linda Lindas played. Eloise has gone from mascot to flyer artist to member of a band with her cousins and their friend. While we hoped to raise money for our daughter’s school all along, having a scene grow around it was a total surprise, and who knew that it would be a place where kids that can handle it could thrive? They play covers now (Go-Go’s, X-Ray Spex, Ramones, Bikini Kill, Joy Division) but who knows how far they will take it?

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And on top of all that, it was my birthday! What a cool present for so many friends, family, and supporters come out and eat a Ramones-themed cake for my twin brother Greg and me? Or hear Phranc sing “It’s Cool to Grow Old in L.A.” name-checking Save Music in Chinatown, The Linda Lindas, and The Hong Kong Cafe?

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I’m grateful not only that so many people come out to support public school and music education in the historic neighborhood for my immigrant grandparents and in-laws, and now my daughter, has found community, but also that they contribute to my most fun, amazing birthday ever. And I never make a big deal out of my birthday but this was a big deal.

 

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Thank you to everyone who played, contributed, attended, and had fun at #savemusicinchinatown 16 at @thegrandstarjazzclub this afternoon! It's unbelievable to me that our all-ages matinee fund raising concerts for Castelar's music program has not only survived into its sixth year but that we can get a lineup like @horseheadsmusic, @lp3andthetragedy, @fdmdxfd, and @phranc.la to play for our humble cause. Or that my daughter would go from being a kindergartener dancing around in front to flyer artist to guest singer to member of a band on the show, @the_linda_lindas! Why not make this show my 50th birthday party, celebrating not only a birthday but Eloise's awesome school and my favorite neighborhood's punk rock past at the Hong Kong Cafe. And cookies! Is there a cooler way to grow old in L.A. or anywhere else? If you were there and loved it, please share your pictures and spread the word! And if not but it sounds right up your alley, I'll be blabbing about our next show sooner than you think! Who wants in?

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Hugs, high fives, and thanks to everyone who played, worked the bake sale, contributed to the raffle, helped get the word out, and came and had fun. Reaching 50 could have been a somber event, but I’ve never felt more excited, engaged, joyful about uniting my favorite subcultures of punk rock and immigrant kids and trying to make a difference in my favorite neighborhood, Chinatown. And to do it with my family and so many old and new friends is simply the best. We hope to see you at our next shows in January and June… I wonder who we can get to play?

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Left to right, top to bottom: Artist Vicki Berndt; Dewey Peak from Ford Madox Ford and too many other bands to list; Phranc, Horseheads, and Bela from The Linda Lindas; Castelar alum and one of the flyer models, Tatawan; Alpine Decline; Gabba Gabba Cake from KG Bakery; Tsubasa from Rough Kids and family; Chip from Ford Madox Ford, Rank & File, Dils, etc. with Alice Bag and The Linda Lindas; Zen and Atomic Nancy; RazorCake crew; Chris from Scoops, who brought custom ice cream, and Mamie, whose family ran the Hong Kong Cafe; post-show birthday dinner crew at Golden Dragon.

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For news on the next shows, keep an eye on this blog or follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook!

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Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine and sixth year

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Five years ago, Save Music in Chinatown was just a crazy idea that Wendy came up with.

A couple of weeks after Eloise started Kindergarten at Castelar, we received a handout asking us families if we could donate money to the elementary school’s excellent but underfunded music program. We knew there was no way the mostly blue-collar neighborhood would cough up enough dough to make a dent in the amount. And we aren’t rich. But Wendy and I straddle Chinatown’s immigrant culture (her parents and my grandparents) and punk rock past (my favorite type of music), and have a background in DIY projects. Why not build a bridge between two of our favorite subcultures in one of our favorite places to raise money for kids who live in and around Chinatown today?

With no experience in organizing benefit shows but a lot of help from old and new friends, we set up our first all-ages matinee fund raiser inspired by the old Hong Kong Café, which hosted early shows by the Germs, Go-Go’s, Weirdos, Bags, Black Flag, and other legendary L.A. punk bands. Except we had cookies and coffee, little kids dancing in front, and a very cool raffle with autographed records and books, and gift certificates for donuts and pho!

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We didn’t expect our humble shows to last more than five years, couldn’t have expected that so many amazing bands would play on our behalf, or never even dreamed that we’d be part of a small community that has raised about $10,000 for Castelar’s music program every school year. Amazing and totally unexpected.

And, personally, Wendy and I have become fixtures in Castelar’s booster club, recognized advocates of the teachers union, and regular contributors to the historic neighborhood’s resistance to gentrification.

Eloise is now a fifth grader, and several of her teachers have told Wendy and me that they will miss her when she moves on from Castelar next year. But I think we have grown and learned at least as much as our daughter—and are savoring everything that is going on and grateful to everyone who has helped in any way. Thank you for being a part of it.

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In advance of our sixth year and sixteenth show, we made a Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine. This essay was written for it, and we hope to see you at Save Music in Chinatown 16 on Sunday, November 4 with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas.

Save Music in Chinatown 11 and Ice Cream with Rikk Agnew

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I was on my way to meet Rikk Agnew at Scoops in Chinatown, when I got a text from him saying that he doesn’t do ice cream. Of course not, it suddenly occurred to me. How could the key member of Adolescents, Social Distortion, Christian Death, D.I., and so many other gnarly bands be seen in public eating something ridiculous like an ice cream cone? Oh man.

Then I replied, adding that Scoops has non-dairy options, and he was down. Whew! It turns out that Rikk, who has shaped the sounds of punk, hardcore, and goth, is a total sweetheart who doesn’t like dairy but loves nothing more than eating ice cream with families and is down for playing a benefit to help support for music education for elementary school kids in Chinatown.

Rikk has also just released a kickass new album called Learn.

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It seems like you’re genuinely having a blast singing and playing on Learn. After being an underground musician for 40 years, is it still just as much fun as it ever was?
Oh, yes. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s got to be fun first.

But after so many bands and all the ups and downs, it would be so easy to be jaded or bored or over it.
For most bands, it stops being fun when they get too concerned with being competitive, making it to the top, making money, and all that stuff. That doesn’t mix with art and music as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not like I’m going to turn down a million dollar check…

That would be a byproduct and not the purpose.
Thank you. Very well said. That’s not the reason at all.

So are you a machine who automatically cranks out song? Are you addicted to the process of working on them? Do you have a lot to say? How have you kept going for decades?
Well, it sounds strange but the only way I can describe it is that I have a connection to the cosmos, the muses, and the universe. The beats, the pulses–they come down to me. I can’t sit and write a song. It doesn’t work that way. It just hits me.

So does your brain catch hold of a melody? A lyric?
Actually, the whole thing just flows in.

The words, too?
Just the music. The words are a whole separate thing. Words are usually personal politics and everyday experiences that affect me emotionally. I’m a very emotional person.

Whether commenting on Kelly Thomas being beaten by cops in Fullerton or changing the world, I can tell the content matters to you.
It’s mostly experiences that I transform into poetry. I like to use a lot of tongue-in-cheek words and little excerpts from other peoples’ songs, like The Beatles and stuff. Usually, I put it together phonetically like a puzzle before trying to make a stream of a story.

There’s also a sense of playfulness with your spelling as well as your tone. I feel like you’re pushing people’s buttons as much as you’re getting on a soapbox.
Yes, and I like to create my own spelling of words. My brother Frank is the same way. We do it because it helps us to remember things.

Isn’t he connected to the cosmos in a different way? Isn’t he an astronomer or something?
Oh, that’s Alfie. He and a team of three other PhDs at Cal State Fullerton have been working quite a long time on the theory of gravitational waves that Einstein had set out to prove almost exactly 100 years ago. When they broke through recently, it made world news and I’m so proud of him.

Maybe there will be a star or something named after you!
Maybe!

Back to “I Can’t Change The World,” I was wondering who is the “we” that you’re singing to. People in bands? People in the crowd? Parents?
Basically everybody on the planet. I’ve belonged to this thing called Nichiren Shoshu of American and been a Buddhist since 1988 or 1989 and we believe in this thing called kosen-rufu. It’s a theory–well, I think it’s real–that if everyone in the world took one smile or be positive for just one second, the world world miraculously heal itself because Mother Earth is a living creature. We’re in a symbiotic relationship with her.

That’s a big audience, but you’re not going to reach everyone with that album cover! Where did you find those intense portraits?
Originally the album cover was just going to be a picture of my face in red and black, but the overseas booking agency said that the album needed something more intense. I thought, okay fine. That was five years ago and this picture will get people’s attention.

I was looking up Krokodil on the Internet, and was under the impression that the person was suffering from Krokodil abuse. But then I dug deeper and found out it was caused by a virus caused by manmade toxins in the environment. But whether it was drug induced or created by toxins, it is still a shocking statement to say “Learn.” If anyone wants to figure out why, they can read the lyrics or talk to me. I’ll explain it.

How did Lisa from Frontier react when you told her about the concept?
She backs me up on it and believes in me. It’s like what punk was originally. We weren’t out to be nice or pretty. We wanted to shock and get attention. And then give the message. My message is always positive, even if it sounds like I’m bitching or angry. My modus operandi is to get people to be positive or, as Bill and Ted would say, be excellent to each other.

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So you have the Rikk Agnew Band, which reminds me of early Adolescents and your All By Myself solo record, but you also play death rock with the Gitane Demone Quartet and what else?
I’m in five bands now! One of the others is called Ann B. Davis, with Casey Chaos from Amen who was also the bass player for Christian Death during the reunion. And then there’s the original bass player James McGearty from the Only Theatre of Pain lineup and we had George, but he’s a policeman in St. Louis and the commuting and work were just too much. We parted ways with him and now we have Hoss, the drummer who played with Mondo Generator. We’re recording an EP and then there’s going to be an album and then we’ll go out and blast it out there. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the band Amen but they were like Korn, Slipknot, and that sort of thing. I was in the band in the mid ’90s, but now we’re taking that sort of music and mixing it with Gothic deathrock. Good songs, amazing stuff.

The other two bands?
I’m in a band called The Only Theatre of Pain, which is kind of a tribute to the album with a singer called Steve Skeletal who’s a 6’5″ version of Rozz. We do the album and songs from back then so I’m in my own tribute band. They asked me to do it and I said, why not? And then I recently joined the Deadbeats. That’s a dream come true for me. I used to watch them in the ’70s at The Masque. The new double album is great. It’s a unique thing we’ve got going on with a unique stage show, too.

Playing in all those bands–your brain must on fire right now.
The nice things about being in multiple bands is you have multiple outlets.

One of your best-known songs is about living in Orange County. So when did you come to L.A.?
About three and half years ago. I’ve wanted to since the ’70s. We’d come up here and hang out for weeks at a time at the Masque with Brendan Mullen and the Controllers, or hang with Gerber or Jane Drano, but I never had the confidence that I’d make enough money to stay. Hung out frequently at the Church in South Bay for a spell.

Do you think L.A. is still good for being in bands with all the gentrification going on?
Yeah, and it always will be. It isn’t the location as much as it is the spirit and the people. And for people like Gitane, myself, and others who’ve survived, we’re not above anything. We used to play the Santa Monica Civic or Palladium and now we play little places Cafe NELA, but it’s fun. If we didn’t do it, I don’t know what else I would do! There are so many punks who got into acting like Lee Ving or got PhDs like Milo or Greg Graffin, My Brother Alfie, but they’re still doing it. Why? Because there isn’t anything more fun to do and they feel the same way.

And you can make a difference, too.
Yes.

I’m glad you include lyrics because they’re really smart. It’s punk that an adult can listen to, but it’s still bratty.
I have an inner child that’s in me that never leaves.

Does your daughter listen to your music?
She was assistant engineer for the Learn LP. She joins me onstage to sing “Amoeba” sometimes and has a blast doing it! But I almost lost her this past August when she was in a bad car accident. She’s healing up pretty well, but you know how it feels to be a parent.

I’m really proud of my daughter. She’s a great artist and an amazing singer. She’s been working for Disney for a while and has other jobs on the side, but she’s a really, really good person, a heart of gold. I couldn’t ask for a better child.

If our children aren’t creative and rebellious, we’re all screwed!
Someone interviewed Tony about that song “I Hate Children” and he laughed and said, “I love children. Children are our future.” It was a personal politic thing about begin the oldest boy taking care of four rugrat siblings when his mom was an alcoholic and his dad was nowhere to be found back then.

Every few Adolescent shows, I’ll hear him tell the audience why they don’t play that song. I love it when he explains that.
And he should. I love interacting at shows. Whether I’m on a big stage or a little one, there is no dividing line and if someone says something, I’ll answer.

I think it’s great how you stay in touch with old bandmates and the new record is on Frontier. It’s amazing and cool and telling that there’s so much love from your past instead of burned bridges.
We all go through our periods, but if you ask any of the punks who’ve been around and they’ll tell you that it’s all about love. It’s like Johnny Rotten sang in “Fodderstompf”: “We only wanted to be loved.” Everyone took it like he was being a smartass but he meant it. I just finished reading his book, Anger Is An Energy, and it’s amazing. He’s one of my heroes.

Like him, you have explored different genres and defied fans when you easily could have kept making the same type of music.
You have to satisfy yourself first. If you don’t, you’ll become a slave to the people and you won’t be where you should be. Even if it makes a lot of people scratch their heads and wonder, “What happened?” As an artist you get bored doing the same thing, so you jump ahead not for competitive purposes but just for fun. It feels like you’re on a mission to keep things rolling and keep perpetuating.

So are you going to tour to support the Rikk Agnew Band album?
Oh yes. I want to do the world.

Is it hard getting all five members to take time off and commit to it?
They’re great and they’re faithful and I want to be on the road for most of 2017 to promote the album. And if they can’t take time off work to make it to Europe or wherever, I have people there who can and they’re all good with it and won’t feel insulted. I’m lucky.

Will you play stuff from all of your bands, as you’ve been doing, or will you just play the new stuff?
Well, more of the new stuff because we’re promoting the album but we’ll also play longer sets. I like to say that we’re like a wedding band because we play old songs, new songs, borrowed songs, and blue songs from the Blue Album.

What do you think about a playing matinee that is not only for music education at the public elementary school but one that will have little kids in the audience?
Well, of course! They can witness who and where the funding comes from firsthand (an education in itself–public relations, organization, hands-on assistance even!) as well as have the best experience of the whole process. The excitement and spirit of the music. The bands. The people. And the interaction between the performers and kids is such healthy and different dynamic. Lots of love, lots of fun.

Is there anything cool about playing in Chinatown? Can you share any feelings or memories of the plaza where so many cool and key shows happened?
There’s everything cool about playing in Chinatown: It’s cultural, festive, and fun. Great feelings, too,

Too many memories and shows to remember but: The Plastics from Japan in 1980 at Madame Wong’s and sitting outside on the curb drinking beer and smoking weed across from Madame Wong’s when Robert Fripp did His Fripptronix thang.

And shows at the Hong Kong Cafe: The Germs – Didn’t get in, got arrested outside by an LAPD undercover sting sweep that nabbed Dez Cadena, Janet Housden, and other punks. I was on many hits of acid! Aaargh!

The Slashers – My band at that time was scheduled to play but we were frying way too hard to play with the Outsiders, The Humans, and an opener.

Adolescents – We played there a couple times, once on Halloween with the Stingers, Speed Queens, and others. Agent Orange and I forgot who else, it was the first time I saw anyone do a stage dive (1978-1979). The OG diver was a blonde waif of a boy that was barefoot and insane looking: Tony Bones a.k.a. Cadena a.k.a. Bee.

Nervous Gender – With Phranc and Don Bolles on board, they were strangest sounding band at that point–more so than the Screamers or DEVO.

El Duce- I first met him there, He was doing an impromptu manifesto post show behind a podium in the back room area, We all gathered, speechless.

I could go on, but wait and read that chapter in my book.

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Get more information at the Facebook event page and ticketing page on Eventbrite. Seeya there!

 

Save Music in Chinatown 10 recap with SISU, Carsick Cars, Chui Wan, and Alpine Decline

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I was even more stressed out than usual about our tenth Save Music in Chinatown show. Was the previous evening’s Long Beach gig, which I also helped set up, going to turn out alright for the bands that were coming all the way from Beijing? Wasn’t it going to be extra difficult for the musicians, helpers, and attendees to make it to the Grand Star with Ciclavia happening on the same date that we set way back in the spring?

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It was less convenient getting to the Grand Star and parking cost twice as much, but everything turned out fine. Actually, excellent.

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Really, how could those who made it to the show not be blown away by the raw chemistry of the Alpine Decline duo, soaring and psychedelic musicianship of Chui Wan, or buzzsaw riffs of the power trio Carsick Cars? The urgency and excitement of a new generation of artists who are out of their minds and inspired by the entire history of rock being unloaded on China all at once?

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I was first introduced to Carsick Cars along with P.K.14 way back in 2007 when I stalked them for a magazine article and have been obsessed with Beijing’s underground music scene ever since. How amazing to see them in Chinatown.

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And then there were the dark, swirling sounds of SISU. I became familiar with the band when I interviewed Sandy as one of the Dum Dum Girls and became a fan of her main musical outlet as well as a friend.

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At first, SISU agreed to come out of seclusion to play as a stripped-down version for the cause but it wound up being a full-on headlining set with all four members along with a projector and fog machine!

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And then they played a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl,” arranging for a handful of kids including Eloise and her cousins to go onstage and sing backup. Wow.

For my favorite bands to play all-ages matinee fund raisers to support the unfunded music program at my daughter’s public elementary school in Chinatown is surreal. And for us to be embarking on our fourth year of shows is really incredible. We had no experience when we started this project and have gotten by only with the help of so many supporters.

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There are awesome bands, old friends and new friends, all of my family and so many community members, killer bake sale, and super cool raffle to make it a completely unique and excellent afternoon. But even better is the community that has grown over the years. To not only raise money and awareness to help kids but also create a scene in Chinatown is something we never anticipated and are always humbled by.

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Thanks to everyone who makes our shows possible, building on the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, and helping the largely underserved kids who live in Chinatown today. It not only gives them access to music education and a creative outlet, but empowers them with the DIY aesthetic.

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The next Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinee will take place in January or February. Follow this blog or like facebook.com/SaveMusicInChinatown for news.

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See you there!

 

Save Music in Chinatown 6 recap with Dengue Fever, Birdstriking, Chui Wan, and Deadly Cradle Death at the Grand Star

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Photo: Marc Walker, Not shown: Zac and Ethan

Let’s pause for a moment and consider how unlikely and awesome Sunday’s benefit was. We had Birdstriking, Chui Wan, and Deadly Cradle Death,  underground bands from Beijing playing our little show in Chinatown. Headlining was Dengue Fever, a hometown band with a huge following that typically plays way bigger stages than ours. And then we had a new venue, the Grand Star Jazz Club, located in Chinatown’s main plaza and in spitting distance of the The Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, legendary dives that inspired and informed our series of DIY concerts. Walking up the stairs from the main bar to the top floor with its low ceilings, small stage, and Oriental windows was not unlike entering O.G. school punk shows back in the day…

http://www.imprintculturelab.com/save-music-in-chinatown-6-recap-with-dengue-fever-birdstriking-chui-wan-and-deadly-cradle-death/