Acrobatics Everyday!

It’s tough being a student in Irvine. The schoolwork is fine, but there’s nothing to do in this town! If only we lived in a hipper place – we could go see a concert this weekend, or even during the week. We could drive to Los Angeles, or maybe San Diego … but man, I just want to listen to some music, and I don’t want to go on an hour-to-two-hours-long trek.

Two years ago, a few UC Irvine students decided to change all that. Headed by Sam Farzin (the current music director at KUCI), this earnest group envisioned a future for live, all-ages music in Irvine, CA. That future is spelled out in bright rainbow letters: ACROBATICS EVERYDAY.

I recently talked to the organizers of AE — Sam, Jeff, Emily, Katie and Paul — about the beginnings and ongoing progress of their movement. Although we were only able to publish excerpts of the interview in print, we can now give you the interview in its entirety.

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New U: What was your motivation for starting/joining Acrobatics Everyday?

Emily: I felt that other college campuses had consistent, interesting live music available to their students. UCSD has the Ché Café (and now The Loft), UC Davis has a bunch of rad house shows, UCLA has a lot of money, but UCI was pretty lacking.  Sure, we have The Bren Center, Shocktoberfest and Wayzgoose, but those only bring the moneymaker musicians to the campus.  I wanted to see smaller acts without having to drive to Los Angeles.

Jeff: I originally started booking shows in classrooms because I wanted a space for my band (Sprawl Out) and other touring bands to play. Orange County has about 5 million people living in it, but two years ago, there were no decent all-ages DIY non-profit venues to speak of. Which seems incredible when you consider all the young people living here; UCI alone has about 30,000 students. Acrobatics Everyday just seemed like something that needed to be done.

Sam: I wanted to start Acrobatics from the moment I started attending UCI, but it was only when I met Jeff at a show he had put together himself that I realized the total plausibility of it. I said, “You’ve done a couple shows?” and he said “Yes,” and I said, “We should … do shows,” and he agreed, and then Dan Deacon happened [in January of 2008]. There was some more stuff in the middle, but suffice to say it involved blood, sweat and tears.

Emily: After that first show, I realized that music on-campus was possible, if we wanted it. I needed to stop complaining and start doing.

Katie: Paul and I went to that Dan Deacon show, and we were amazed that live music this interesting and creative and fun was happening in Irvine. We didn’t have to drive an hour each way to get it, or spend lots of money on gas — cool new stuff was happening right next to us. We got more involved with AE because it’s a great way for people to experience live music and art, and to actually participate in their community in some way. I think if there’s something about the place in which we live that we wish was different, it’s our duty to improve it – and I think what we do improves the community.

Paul: Well, especially in Orange County, there are not too many accessible spaces that small artists can go to present their work. To me, art and the circulation of new ideas goes hand in hand with cultural growth and understanding, and that, I think, is important for a pretty xenophobic Orange County. There’s also a neat D.I.Y. ethic and aesthetic appeal in setting up these types of shows…most importantly, our shows are just a lot of fun.

New U: For the uninitiated, what sort of shows do you put on?

Emily: We put on good shows.  We don’t haphazardly slap together mediocre shows; we are excited about every show that we do. Our shows are usually the equivalent of shows you’d see at The Smell or Echo Curio in Los Angeles – most of the artists swing down to Irvine after playing those venues.

Sam: We bring music of all genres to UC Irvine. We have hosted noise, flamenco raga guitar, glitchy electronica, rock-and-roll, avant-classical, indie-pop, etc., etc. We do this unpretentiously with minimal (but mostly quality) equipment, in intimate spaces. We try to create a worthy concert-going experience in the most efficient, exciting way. I think we succeed, for the most part.

Katie: Since we don’t make any profit from putting on these shows, we don’t think about what is going to make the most money – we don’t have to get famous people or do anything commercial. So we go for touring talented people who can understand what we are doing. They know we can’t give them a lot of money; their pay is basically whatever we make at the door.

New U: What’s the typical show like?

Katie: Loud.

Sam: There are two speakers (I think one is a little busted at this point). There are bands and they usually play on carpet. There are probably desks in the room, because it is probably a classroom, and furthermore, probably a modular trailer. The show is probably five dollars, and all of that money goes to the touring artists. There are probably three or four bands playing, and while they’re quite different from each other, they’ll all fit the overall vibe of the show. Even if you haven’t heard of any of them, chances are you’ll walk away impressed, with at least one new favorite band. That’s one new favorite band that you didn’t have to journey to see, that you didn’t have to appease Ticketmaster to see, that you saw in person, right in front of you. And you can talk to them afterward!

Jeff: What’s surprisingly typical is that many bands will tell us that playing at UCI was one of the best shows they’ve ever had.

New U: How about an atypical show?

Sam: The atypical show is a sold-out one.

Emily: One “atypical” show was the Chirgilchin show back in September 2008. We got a group of Tuvan throat singers to play a show on-campus. TUVAN THROAT SINGERS. WITH COSTUME CHANGES. They played at the Getty, too. So it was really quite an honor to have such a unique group play here, but very few people showed up and we ended up having to run to the ATM and pay out of our own pockets. That part was a bummer.

New U: What were your favorite shows so far?

Sam: Pretty much any show were people came, the vibe was good, and fun was had by all. The Silk Flowers/Former Ghosts/Lucky Dragons show in February 2009 was amazing. The Astronautalis/ Bleubird/Animental show was also AMAZING — some of the best and most enjoyable rapping I have ever witnessed, and it is a travesty that there were only forty people there. The Tan Dollar record release blowout in January was totally fucking amazing! Seven bands, smooth as butter, and one of the best vibes EVER. I think think the Tan Dollar dudes & gal were totally touched.

Katie: Mount Eerie + BARR + Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters + Jeremy Jay at Phoenix Grille on 3/6/08 was a classic: BARR performed his last couple of songs with a drum over his head, Phil [Elverum] from Mount Eerie played played from within a dense cloud (from a fog machine) with projector visuals of his photo project going, and Jeffrey Lewis finished his set with one of his famous cartoon slideshow/song combos (“History of Communism,” I think it was). Parenthetical Girls + PWRFL PWR + AU at the Student Center Terrace on 5/26/08 was highly entertaining due to the “abandoned shopping mall” atmosphere of the empty Student Center.

Emily: There have been far too many awesome shows, but here are a couple favorites that come to mind: Blank Dogs (which was actually at OC Center for Contemporary Art — one of our two off-campus shows); Captain Ahab/Hawnay Troof (at the Beall Center) — such a sweaty dance party, and someone’s clothes somehow ended up hanging from the ceiling; Ponytail, where we stunk up SSTR 103…there are so many more so I will stop listing!

Jeff: Dan Deacon/Lucky Dragons, Crash Normal, Times New Viking, Christmas Island, Indian Jewlery, Crocodiles, The Muslims (now Soft Pack), xBxRx…I could go on…!

New U: How do you book all these bands? How do you find them?

Sam: We like them or they like us. The latter usually entails a band hearing from a friend’s band about a great tour stop between LA and San Diego.

Emily:  It’s always encouraging when they say that AE was recommended to them by their friends in other bands.  A lot of local bands write us asking to play, and we try to add them onto bills that make sense.

Jeff: We are all music lovers, and we have lots of friends who are music lovers; we go to shows all the time. We’re always seeing and listening to new bands. We’ll try to seek out the bands that we enjoy and ask them if they want to play. Usually these are bands that are outside of the “mainstream,” artists who play music just for the love of playing music…very rarely do we get rockstars looking to make a ton of money. Really, these are do-it-yourself musicians just looking for a place to play their music and to get enough gas money to make it to the next town. All the bands we book are bands that we like, and all the proceeds from the shows go directly to the bands — unless we need a little bit of money for fliers or something.

Sam: For the first three or four months, booking bands consisted almost entirely of us contacting artists and agents. This has shifted so much — now the process is half contacting bands, and half them contacting us.

New U: Do the higher-profile acts usually have high demands? Or are they super chill?

Jeff: Some bands are prima donnas, but I’d say that 95% are super chill and and supportive of what we are doing.

Sam: Artists booked by professional agents usually have a guarantee, a rider, etc. — but their agents generally understand our limitations, especially if they were the ones who contacted us. So, for the most part, we have no problem with artists with a higher-profile.

Emily: We generally disregard the demands of the tour riders — we can’t provide private dressing rooms, meal buyouts, fresh fruit, or any of the other things that bigger-name performers may want. We don’t make any money from doing these shows, and we don’t have a proper space to call a “venue,” so please understand if we can’t get you your kombucha or whatever. Dan Deacon did request “one (1) pair new underwear (size 38) (any color and any design)” on his rider — I wish we had provided that. And if I remember correctly, Thao [with the Get Down Stay Down] was bent on having a stage to perform on. So we had a stage set up. Inside Phoenix Grille. Yes. Honestly, we could’ve done without it, but it was a good show.

New U: I know that AE shows have moved around a lot – what’s the best performance space on-campus?

Jeff: Well, there’re not really any “good” spaces on campus…but we make do with what we have.

Paul: The social science trailers are the least awkward space, in my opinion; shows have always sounded great in there.

Emily: We really like using the social science trailers for several reasons. Bands can pull up to Ring Road and unload their equipment from there; the trailers’ location catches a lot of people walking around on campus. They are far enough from other classrooms, and the trailers have a total cozy living room vibe -– it’s the sweet wood-paneled walls. We’ve had many a show where we’ve fogged up the windows and turned the trailer into a sauna … a muggy, B.O.-scented sauna. Those are the best shows.

Sam: If we did not have to set up and break down our “venue” every show we did, I am sure we’d be way more into doing more shows more often. It would be great if we could have a semi-permanent space; just have a trailer in the outer rims of some parking lot. Hella easy.

Katie: The dream would be to have our own trailer, just for AE shows. We’ve talked to the administration about it, and we’re just not quite a priority for that sort of thing yet. But we’re going to keep trying.

New U: What does the future of AE look like?

Emily: NEED MORE PEOPLE/YOUNG BLOOD TO HELP.

Sam: Hopefully we’ll get some new blood in the mix … but I don’t see myself leaving the fray anytime soon. We definitely need to establish a more specialized “crew” to help publicize and stuff, though. Plus a trailer. And full access to said trailer. Come on, UCI.

Katie: We definitely want to keep it as a UCI thing, since the point of AE is to fill a cultural void and moving it out of Irvine would seem like turning back on the original basis. But long term plans aren’t solidified because most of us really aren’t going anywhere.

Paul: The future of AE will be hard without Sam, because of the relationships he’s built with other DIY spaces, artists, and booking agents. Putting on shows itself is not too difficult, but those relationships are priceless and a good DIY space depends on those. Hopefully the relationships that Sam has developed can be easily passed on to those who follow.

New U: What is your response to people who say “there’s nothing to do in Irvine”?

Paul: I grew up in Irvine, and I know there is not much to do in Irvine, so I don’t blame them for making those comments…but they should come to a show!

Katie: I agree with them, somewhat. After all, that’s the reason AE started: to make Irvine more interesting, and to keep people around here from having to drive to LA or SD for shows. We haven’t fixed everything that’s wrong with art & culture in Irvine, but if you haven’t been to a show, you can’t complain.

Sam: Come experience these posi-vibes and quit drinking the haterade. Sure, St. Vincent doesn’t play at UCI, but for every time St. Vincent hits LA there are 20 great Acrobatics shows. And I like St. Vincent.

Jeff: Well, if people say there’s nothing to do, they probably don’t know about Acrobatics Everyday yet. After all, we spend a lot of time booking shows and running them, so sometimes promotion falls through the cracks. If you want to check us out, you can join the facebook group, add us on myspace, or get on the mailing list at acrobaticseveryday.com.

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The next AE show will be Saturday, March 6 in SST 103, featuring L’Orchidee d’Hawaii from France.