Save Music in Chinatown 10 is here

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You’d think organizing benefit concerts for the music program at our daughter’s elementary school would be be easy after three years. Not really. However, arranging for bands from Beijing whose records you can’t even buy at Amoeba probably isn’t the most sensible choice.

But how cool is it to have Carsick Cars, one of China’s most excellent and influential post-punk bands, playing to help underserved kids in Chinatown?

Or have Chui Wan return after blowing our minds at last school year’s sold-out show with Dengue Fever and Birdstriking?

Alpine Decline will be extra noisy and amazing, too. How have I missed them every time they’ve come through town before? Or even when they lived here?

My pals in SISU are coming out of hiatus to round out the bill. They were initially going to play a special set as a duo but have decided to bring out the entire band!

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We’re lucky to have so many friends that make the shows happen. Sandy and Jules from SISU came on to our usual KCHUNG show with Gabie and Daryl (listen HERE) and of course there was the traditional two-hour hoot and warmup that is the Molotov Cocktail Hour on KXLU, as well.

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And what about the flyer that Senon Williams from Dengue Fever volunteered to make? When the bands play in front of the poster-sized image on Sunday, they’ll be like The Clash in the “Complete Control” video!

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Plus supporters donating stuff for the raffle, families contributing to the bake sale, everyone spreading the word, and Nate behind the scenes… I hope Sunday’s show raises a decent amount of money for music education at Chinatown’s public school but no matter what happens (Is Ciclavia really happening  in Chinatown on the day we chose last spring?) I’ll be grateful for being part of such a rad community that makes it happen.

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See cool bands! Eat delicious cookies! Help kids in Chinatown! Get more info at the Facebook event page and save some dough by ordering tickets in advance at eventbrite.com.

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You can further support the Chinese bands that support us by seeing them in Long Beach on Saturday night and Cafe NELA on Sunday night:

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Spokenest on the new album and Save Music in Chinatown 9

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I’ve been trying to remember how I met Daryl. I’m pretty sure it was at the Redwood Bar (possibly a Street Eaters show) and I must have given him a Save Music in Chinatown flyer. Somehow we got to talking about KCHUNG and RazorCake and eventually the band that he plays in with his wife Adrian, which has become one of my favorites. Their ripping brand of garage punk is primal, raw, and fun but smart as hell. Oh, yeah, and he has become one of my favorite people.

It’s pretty awesome that the duo has a new LP called Gone, Gone, Gone and that they are also playing our next all-ages benefit to raise money for the music program at Castelar Elementary. Sounds like a great excuse to interview a guy who usually does the interviewing! And his badass partner, rad drummer, and my future friend, too.

Martin: Daryl, does writing about and reviewing music every day make it hard for you to just make music? Like is it possible to not think too much about context or comparisons?
Daryl: Seeing every single piece of review material that has come through Razorcake in the last ten years has created a heightened sense of punk’s many tropes. When I think of how I challenge myself as a musician, I’m challenging myself to avoid clichés. Which is scary, because most likely people have no idea that what they’re making is a cliché. For all I know, I’m the most generic musician to ever to pick up a guitar. So, to answer your question: Yes. I’m constantly having an existential crisis on the matter. Thanks for asking.

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Martin: You two have spent three years making the record. Are the songs old news to you and do they remind you of old stuff?
Adrian: Some of them we have definitely been playing for a while. But somehow the recordings still feel fresh to me. When we play old songs live I try to give them new feelings. That usually means singing the parts a little differently than usual. That keeps it interesting for me. I don’t think the lyrics we/I write are specific enough to only remind me of old stuff–I think they are usually more general about big feelings and things that still affect me everyday.

Daryl: One of the reasons I love songwriting is because I think of the songs I write as reminders to myself. Ideas and beliefs I don’t want to forget. Ways I want to live my life. Plus, some of these songs were inspired by people who are no longer with us, I don’t want to forget them either.

Martin: I like your Dils cover a lot. Are there other songs by other bands you’ve played and what’s your criteria for a good cover?
Daryl: I think the criteria for a good cover is something everyone knows and loves. I’m pretty sure you and your family were the only ones who recognized that cover. Adrian knows a million songs off the top of her head.

Adrian: Thanks Martin, I like that song too. My criteria for a good cover is something that is enjoyable to play for me, something that has lyrics that feel good to sing and have a good message, and something that’s not ridiculously difficult to play! And not too long!

Martin: Is Spokenest a noun (like someplace where cyclists hang out) or an adjective (did the most talking)? Something totally different?
Adrian: Daryl made up this word…and he is building a spokenest out of his old, broken guitar strings.

Daryl: This is true! But the spokenest I’m building came after Spokenest, the band. It can be what ever you want it to be, and pronounced however you want to pronounce it. Spo-ken-est or Spoke-nest, it honestly doesn’t matter to me. But if I had to pick between a noun or adjective, I would pick noun. Though an adjective band name does sound pretty unique.

Martin: Where was the cover photo taken? Can you give me details about the show?
Daryl: The photo was taken at a house show in San Luis Obispo last year. Shot on film by our friend Joshua Redman. It was a weekend festival and we were one of the first bands to play on Saturday afternoon. That room was also the first outta town show Spokenest ever played in January of 2013. I strongly believe that our sound changed for the better at that show due to just being nervous. We played a much more aggressive set than we had been previously.

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Adrian: Playing San Luis Obispo is always intense. Daryl’s brother used to live there several years ago and would set up all the shows we played there, so the friends we made those years feel like family almost. Nux Fest is additionally intense because all those friends who are so close to our hearts are organizing this and it’s stressful for them (so many bands, so many people, and SLO has a lot of noise complainers and cops showing up to house shows). It feels good, but it feels intense.

Martin: I’m super grateful that you’re playing our Chinatown benefit. Why did you say yes to playing our show and are there any bands you’re particularly stoked about playing with.
Daryl: Has anyone ever said no to playing SMIC? Every single one is a dream show with so much heart put into it. As far as favorites, that’s just too much to ask. But one of these people wrote “Cut,” so…

 Adrian: I am super grateful to be playing a fundraiser to help music education! Having access to music when you’re a kid is super important. If I didn’t have music, I would be a very sad person. It’s hard to even imagine that because it seems very depressing. I am grateful to have been raised in a household where music was valued so much (we had a rule growing up that you could play music as late at night as you wanted as long as you were playing the instrument yourself!). I am also really grateful to you Martin, and very impressed with all the work you have put into this great cause, so thank you!

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Check out Spokenest at spokenest.bandcamp.com and the Save Music in Chinatown 9 event page on Facebook and ticketing at Eventbrite!

#savecastelar recap until next time

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Wendy and I were shocked when we received a memo from the LAUSD stating that Castelar Elementary had been identified as a possible site of co-location by Metro Charter School. What an insane idea to have a charter school occupy the “unused” classrooms at our daughter’s campus. Besides the fact that most of the space was utilized by Chinatown children for music, art, science, and P.E., two schools on one campus would be a logistical nightmare, as well as an unhealthy environment in which the school and students on either side would be in constant measurement and competition against each other. And how tragic would it be for Castelar to be drained of kids and resources by Metro–the pattern in co-location–weakening Chinatown’s historically excellent neighborhood public school and trusted resource for generations of immigrant families. What would be the social repercussions in the neighborhood where my grandparents, in-laws, and now daughter had found a community?

Neither Wendy nor I considered ourselves to be activists, possessing resumes that have mutated from indie publishing to organizing DIY punk rock matinee fundraisers, but our unique backgrounds turned out to be useful in Castelar’s fight against co-location. When a march to popularize our struggle didn’t receive media coverage, I wrote a blog about it that has garnered nearly 2,200 views. And then I posted a petition that has been passed around and received more than 1,800 signatures from family, alumni, community members, and other supporters–complementing 600 physical signatures gathered in front of the school and around the neighborhood. Wendy used her graphic design skills to create bold, wall-sized posters that communicated to parents exactly what our children would lose and what events they could attend in English, Spanish, and Chinese. And then every morning she used her limited Cantonese to get as many Chinese parents to sign the petition and attend the Metro board meeting as possible.

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Observing our efforts, a lot of my good friends pitched in even though they didn’t have kids at Castelar. Wendy, Eloise, and I collaborated with Save Music in Chinatown co-conspirator Gabie Strong to host a special #savecastelar radio program on KCHUNG to discuss saving public education in Chinatown, DIY activism, and punk rock. Artists Susie Ghahremani, Nate Pottker, and Martin Cendreda provided incredible #savecastelar pieces that we used for posters, flyers, and social media. Filmmaker and actor Daniel Wu posted a #savecastelar photo on his Instagram page, instantly giving our cause a boost to fans of his work and also the Chinese press. For them to put themselves out there means a lot to us, because charter schools are not only a divisive topic among parents but backed by people and groups with a lot of dough.

We made new friends, too. When we attended a TEAch meeting wearing Castelar T-shirts, a retired teacher walked up to Wendy and me in her vintage Castelar sweatshirt and said, “I know who you are and what you’ve been doing.” We became instant allies with Phyllis Chiu, who shared valuable information and forwarded letters to politicians for us. She introduced me to King Cheung, a member of the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, who could be our translator. He and his wife Diane Tan became our activist mentors. It was sort of like being like a kung-fu movie where we met different masters that would train us in their specialties and then accompany us in our journey.

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A handful of us parents joined forces and rallied 50 family members to get into cars and pack Metro Charter School’s tiny board meeting room. We had at least two dozen Cantonese speakers, and King translated for half of them. We had numerous Spanish speakers, as well, and spent about 30 minutes detailing why we  didn’t want our classrooms taken away and how important Castelar is to the Chinatown community. While our hosts were civil and repeatedly emphasized that they never chose Castelar, they never said they would not be coming at the meeting or when I followed up with a thank-you email.

Metro Charter School might not have chosen Castelar, but if they invoked Prop 39 and asked to co-located in public classrooms they should have expected resistance from the targeted school and community.

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Attending the Chinese American Citizens Alliance lodge meeting with the hopes of getting a letter of support was both surreal and cinematic. While chatting beforehand, the president frankly told me that she would have to invite someone from Metro Charter School to hear their side of the story. Crap! But after I finally gave my spiel, several members stood up and said that the lodge had to support Castelar, their kids’ and grandkids’ alma mater. After my allotted time was up, I tuned out while the last of three politicians tried to curry support from the organization until the president asked me about the LAUSD’s timetable. Members unanimously voted to bypass the lodge’s protocol and promised a letter of support for Castelar on the spot! I felt like I was in a Jimmy Stewart movie, and that was a real cool moment that I will never forget.

Our efforts didn’t go perfectly. Not once but twice, I posted that organizations had supported our cause prematurely. How awkward to put potential supporters in a position like that. And then after weeks of pushing our case on social media, a Metro Charter School parent accused me of spreading rumors. I posted a photo of the February 22 memo and she turned out to be quite reasonable. Not like the other one who mocked me for being “so dramatic” without ever denying the possibility of co-location.

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One of the hardest-to-take moments stemmed from one of the most minor events. A Downtown-based online news site ran a puff piece about Metro Charter School having a tough time finding a new location, and described resistance from Castelar community as a “minor outcry.” Since when does more than 2,400 signatures on a petition and 50 Castelar family members and supporters traveling across town to voice disapproval to the Metro Charter School board meeting qualify as minor? I had actually provided the writer with the facts before the article posted, and then asked him to correct the piece but he has stuck by his verbiage. He considers it minor because Metro never chose to locate Castelar and had chosen not to take LAUSD’s offer and, in his opinion, the Castelar community was making a big deal out of nothing. He is entitled to that take–and his outlet doesn’t have the largest audience anyway–but calling the response minor is not only untrue but dismissive to an entire community. This misinformation also lives on in a dark corner of cyberspace and I’m still pissed off about it.

And that’s why, even as this particular struggle against co-location is wrapping up, it’s important to talk about and document what has happened. The LAUSD Facilities Services Division and and other charter schools that might be considering to occupy Castelar in the future need to know that the Chinatown community will not give up its neighborhood school without a fight. The families in Chinatown and kids who attend Castelar, as well as other schools that are fighting against co-location, need to know how families banded together and what steps we took to protect our community, and the Chinese newspapers and KPCC were the only media that responded to our outreach.

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Before Castelar’s Open House, a small group of parents attended an LAUSD committee meeting to present our case and personally invite board members to see the school were were trying to protect and attend the assembly afterward, with the intent of having a packed auditorium voice dissent with co-location. The lion dance opening the assembly was perfectly cathartic, totally powerful, and could only happen in Chinatown. And when Principal Shum was given permission to announce that Metro Charter would not be occupying our classrooms, everyone could really feel the room brighten, lighten, and practically elevate. Afterward, many of the Cantonese-speaking ladies that Wendy recruited thanked us for letting them know what was happening and how they could help stand up for Chinatown’s school–a nice ending to a steep learning curve and emotional roller coaster.

Thanks to everyone who signed and shared the petition and spread the word. Thanks to the parents who stood outside school with clipboards, joined community groups, and attended board meetings. Thanks to our new friends and allies who support public education in Chinatown. And thanks to the faculty and teachers who supported us and voiced their appreciation all the way. What everyone had in common was how much all of us love Castelar and Chinatown and, while these weeks have been scary and exhausting, our children and community are worth fighting for. With the Broad Plan for privately-run charter schools to take over half of all public education in L.A. over the next few years, we’ll likely be doing it all over again sooner than we think.

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And thank you for reading all the way to the end of this post. Click and scroll through the  petition comments at change.org to read additional testimonials from alumni, family, and friends of Castelar.

Save Music in Chinatown 6 on KCHUNG’s Crystalline Morphologies

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Thanks to my longtime friend and Save Music in Chinatown supporter from the beginning Gabie Strong. She invited Nate Pottker and me onto her Crystalline Morphologies radio show on KCHUNG to talk about the cause, play some music related to the shows, and get the word out about our May 31 lineup.

For the first time, I actually tried to scribble down mini sets to play. Here’s how they went:

Anarchy Jerks – Oi! Oi! Oi!
Adolescents – Monolith of Mountlake Terrace, A Dish Best Served Cold
Mike Watt & The Black Gang – Rebel Girl
Brain Failure – Living in the City
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Dengue Fever – Glass of Wine (demo)
The Zeros – Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
The Gears – Let’s Go To The Beach
Channel Three – Indian Summer
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Birdstriking – TV at 7PM
Carsick Cars – Ono
P.K. 14 – Voyagers (I think)
Dear Eloise – Castle
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The Bicycle Thief – Max, Jill Called (Live at Save Music In Chinatown 4)

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I tried to play a Chui Wan song after Dear Eloise, but the CDR didn’t work. Bummer. Maybe you heard them on NPR lately anyway? I’ll try again on KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour next week…

In the meantime, stream or even download the show at http://archive.kchungradio.org/2015-05-21/Save_Music_In_Chinatown_6-05.21.2015.mp3.

Thanks, Gabie! Thanks, KCHUNG! Seeya May 31!

We Want The Airwaves: Save Music in Chinatown

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For more than a month, I’ve been submitting details about Sunday’s Save Music in Chinatown benefit show to just about every calendar and music blog in town. And I have yet to see a listing or receive a reply.

That’s a bummer since I’m super proud of the lineup (the first hometown Bicycle Thief gig in 13 years, second show ever by Evil Hearted You, the return of Hector Penalosa from the legendary Zeros) and feel very strongly about the cause (music education at Castelar Elementary, the public school that my 6-year-old daughter attends). I thought the angles of bringing punk shows back to Chinatown and uniting the neighborhood’s subcultures of art and music for the local kids were strong, too. Oh well.

But just when I start to wonder if I’m delusional, in come my excellent friends contributing awesome goods for the raffle, volunteering at the bake sale, and promoting the gig via social media. And a few have even put me on the airwaves to help get the word out.

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Last night, I was a guest of Cyrano and Lotus on KXLU‘s Molotov Cocktail Hour. How cool was it to make the pilgrimage to L.A.’s main artery of underground and independent music–and for my pals to not only give me a lift to the station but provide snacks, as well. They’ll be DJing at Sunday’s event, and I’ll be too busy to enjoy their selections of Asian and Latin garage rock, psych, and punk, so it was extra cool to dig those jams in the studio while adding cuts from bands that have been supporting the cause and gushing about the upcoming show, as well.

On Thursday, my friend Gabie invited to the KCHUNG studios in Chinatown to be on her Crystalline Morphologies program. She invited me to bring a guest and Ben from Evil Hearted You was available to talk about his band and share why they jumped on a chance to play our next event. Gabie has been a supporter of our project since the beginning, and always invites me onto her show each time we have a benefit to play records and promote the cause. You can stream or even download the show at archive.kchung.org.

Thanks again to Cyrano, Lotus, Gabie, and everyone else who helps in whatever ways they can. There’s no way we will single-handedly raise enough dough with our little DIY shows to pay Castelar’s $50 thousand bill for music education. But raising awareness, building community, and engaging the scene matter, too. And we can have a blast doing it.