California Coast cover story
Photographer: Erin Kunkel
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On any given Monday night in Los Angeles, you can see Randy Randall (of No Age fame) play in a No Age cover band; you can watch satanarchic short films; you can dance all night to Alice Deejay or Eve 6. Thanks to an iconoclast named Sean Carnage, this all transpires at Pehrspace. In the darkest corner of a sleepy Echo Park plaza, $5 grants you a personally finger-crocheted wristband and access to Carnage’s otherworldly experience of experimental music, performance art, and the occasional vegan pizza.
Let’s go back to January 1991. Cleveland, Ohio. Euclid Tavern. Derek Hess, a young line cook and aspiring artist, began booking bands in exchange for the opportunity to design show flyers. A Case Western Reserve University student named Sean Carnage frequented this unusual music night, known as Euclid Tavern Monday Nights. “There were these musical mutants that would come out,” says Carnage, “both in the audience and on stage.” Hess hosted unknown bands like Helmet and The Melvins that found success later in the decade. Carnage was inspired by the unconventional performances and awestruck by the talent that Hess managed to unearth on a weekly basis.
Carnage migrated from the bar scene when his friends started an all-ages performance space called Speak in Tongues. This was revolutionary for Cleveland’s underground music scene, and Carnage was at its epicenter for eight years. He finally relocated to Los Angeles to experience big city life, but still craved that same irreverent, D.I.Y. experience. He discovered this in West Hollywood at Club Screwball, a Tuesday night ritual hosted by Nora Keyes and his old friend Don Bolles at the Parlour Club. Bolles became a father figure for Carnage, and for two years he never missed a single Club Screwball, relishing the friendship and experimental music. The club is now located at Hyperion Tavern under the moniker Club Ding-a-Ling.
In 2005, Bob Bellarue started a D.I.Y. performance space called Il Corral, allowing Carnage to host a night. Carnage chose Mondays as an homage to Hess. At the first show on August 1, 2005, the artsy 30-somethings he befriended at Club Screwball were instant fans, but the idea of an alcohol-free all-ages venue eventually stunted their interest. Carnage ended up replacing his extended family with an unexpected crew.
Youngsters from all over Los Angeles flocked to Il Corral to witness the insanity that was unfolding there every Monday. They came to see acts like Robin Williams on Fire, Captain Ahab, and Health, all now pioneers in the experimental/noise scene. “These kids just blew me away with their enthusiasm and their talent,” Carnage muses. “I reached out to a new audience that I never knew existed. And now I know all these wonderful young people that I never would have otherwise met.” One of them was Kyle Mabson, who took over sound at Il Corral in October 2005. “He was the smart-aleck kid who came in and told me I was doing everything wrong!,” says Carnage. “Then he kept coming back week after week after week to make it right, and now he’s my roommate and my best friend.”
As Sean cultivated Il Corral’s scene and bonded with its patrons, there was no better time for him to document what was going on in L.A. underground music. Based on a touring noise show called 10 Bands/60 Minutes, he decided to make 40 Bands/80 Minutes, a documentary featuring 40 of L.A.’s most exciting musical acts. The March 2006 filming happened to coincide with the demise of Queer TV Network, where Carnage worked. With a crew of out-of-work, anxious co-workers at his disposal, he filmed 52 bands in a few short hours, capturing a scene that was, in his own words, “overflowing with talent.” Abe Vigoda, Health, Anavan, Wives, Bipolar Bear, The Amazements and others gave visceral two-minute performances to a congregation of local music lovers.
In December 2006, Bob Bellerue moved to Portland. “It was clearly the end of an era at Il Corral,” says Carnage. Financial disarray ensued in the following weeks, so he searched for a new venue. As a favor from Dustin Krapes at the new D.I.Y. performance space Vermont House, he was able to transition for one week there before the move to Pehrspace. The low-key Echo Park art space proved to be the perfect venue for Carnage’s Monday Nights, with its progressive owners, the quality of sound, and its intimate size. Though less “punk” than its previous home, the community-oriented haven for artists and musicians fit perfectly with Carnage’s vision. “I feel that Sean Carnage has definitely carved out a niche for himself in the local music scene,” says Pehrspace owner Darren King. “His Monday night shows are an important contribution to the L.A. underground music scene.”
Over a year after its move to Pehrspace, Sean Carnage Monday Nights are still a fiercely popular event. Slots to play are now so coveted that most shows are set up through pre-existing relationships. Regulars come to watch repeat performers like John Thill, I.E., Whitman, Kyle Mabson, and an amalgam of their side projects. Carnage still works hard to expose patrons to new L.A. acts and touring bands. Elijah of emotronic duo e & e says of Carnage’s Monday Nights: “They support bands like us, when no other venues do.” Lauded sister venue The Smell—also a regular hangout and outlet for many Pehrspace denizens—has experienced a similar explosion in recent years. “It seems like The Smell is getting all the hype these days, and I love the Smell, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other awesome all-ages spaces in L.A.,” says Chris of Whitman. “I can honestly say that I’d rather play a Sean Carnage Monday Night than anywhere else in LA.”
The communal quality draws in a heterogeneous crowd of individuals who find a common bond through music and performance. One might expect an aura of pretentiousness at such an avant-garde venue, but Monday Nights are quite the opposite. The basement party/sideshow ambiance is always infused with Carnage’s appreciation for popular culture, making it totally accessible and enjoyable for those with more conventional tastes.
Carnage is planning another showcase for L.A.’s underground music. His new film, Friends in Other Dimensions—which he produced in conjunction with L.A.’s Retard Disco Records—features energetic performances by 25 veteran and up-and-coming L.A. bands. The Mae Shi, tik//tik, Foot Village and Juiceboxxx all participated in the September 2007 filming.
“[Sean Carnage] is a believer in the youth and the way they can change the face of music,” says friend Margot of I.E. August 4, 2008 marks the third anniversary of Sean Carnage Monday Nights. He’s got something special lined up, with performances by his new and old favorites—a retrospective accented perfectly by the forward-thinking nature of the D.I.Y. scene in L.A. Surely it will be as memorable for the audience as Euclid Tavern Monday Nights are for him. If history repeats itself, Sean Carnage’s endeavors will inspire his protégés, and experimental music will always have a home, whether at Pehrspace or beyond.
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