Longitudes and latitudes

Asian directions in sound; heavenly lawlessness.

Playing the race chord The list of famous Asian-American musicians is pretty short. There's Yoko Ono of course, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tiny bubbler Don Ho, and a bunch of second bananas like James Iha from the Smashing Pumpkins and the Indian-born guy from No Doubt. But, while Asian-Americans may not have enjoyed much mainstream success, they swell the ranks of the indie, hip hop, and electronic realms. Now, thanks to "Directions in Sound," you can see and hear a slew of these musicians up close.

"Directions in Sound" began in 2000 in conjunction with the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Festival Director Chi-Hui Yang had previous experience setting up indie rock shows, so he was in a unique position to know both the music and film worlds. "I realized that there were a lot of cool music videos out there," he says via phone from his S.F. office. "I wanted to showcase all the [new] Asian-American talent."

For that first year, "Directions" hosted performances by local indie pop bands Aislers Set and Scrabbel and screened videos from the likes of turntable wizard QBert and queer punk act Sta-Prest. The event was so popular that it expanded to two nights in 2001, with local zine editor and Xiu Xiu percussionist Yvonne Chen curating an indie rock night at Cafe Du Nord. This year, "Directions" grows bigger still, with a third night organized by Christine Padilla at San Jose's Agenda Cellar.

Yang says that the first night, to be held Saturday, March 9, at the Justice League, is an attempt to highlight the wide variety of Asian-American music and videos. There'll be clips from Japanese club-popper Fantastic Plastic Machine, Beastie Boys keyboardist Money Mark, Northern California ska act the Chinkees, and Toronto trip hop group Lal, as well as live performances from L.A./S.F. hip hop crew Karmacy, local female DJ Awdamn, L.A. drum 'n' bass artist E:Trinity, and Alameda power pop dude From Bubblegum to Sky. The following night's indie rock showcase at Du Nord will feature sorrowful singer/songwriter Mia Doi Todd, Vancouver post-rock combo Birthday Machine, film director and provocateur Jon Moritsugu's garage-punk duo Toni Ann, and Mister Nobu, a Toronto laptop artist who successfully combines the Beatles' pop craft with Beck's pomo danceability. The Agenda Cellar show takes place on Saturday, March 16, and includes all the videos from the first night plus live sets from the Triple Threat DJs (featuring Shortkut, formerly of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz) and DJs Mike Nice and Derrick D. For more information, call 255-4299 or go to www.naatanet.org/festival.

Do the locomotiveYou never forget your first rave, even if your first one was under a freeway ramp in Oakland rather than off in a field in Sheffield, England, with 20,000 househeads hopped up on multiple hits of E. True, my initial outside party last month wasn't as beatific as those overseas extravaganzas described in Matthew Collin's excellent book Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, but forgive me, gods of cool, if I get excited at the idea of having to dial a number at 9 p.m. to find out where the event is being held. I spent my youth going to indie rock clubs, where the only uncertainty was whether you had enough cash for the cover and a couple of beers.

Of course, this party wasn't exactly top secret. By midnight there were about 200 people gathered in the West Oakland train yard, most of whom seemed more interested in slouching against concrete dividers and drinking copious amounts of water than dancing to the techno and house. But there was something wonderfully lawless about the event, as if we existed in an area where time was irrelevant, as were the police. George Lucas' favorite futuristic freight loaders hulked in the distance, while anonymous factories belched apocalyptic smoke into the sky. A Caltrain ambled by, its doors wide open, as if inviting some commuter hobo to hop aboard. When a freight train cruised past the DJ setup, the engineer tooted his horn and stuck a fuzzy white bunny on top of the car. Soon, he was zipping back and forth, giving rides to excited raver chicks. I half expected Mayor Jerry Brown to bungee jump from the freeway ramp, declaring that the laws of gravity no longer applied.

Growing cold and a bit weary of the music, we wandered over to nearby Jack London Square, where law and order seemed even stranger than usual. It was shortly after 2 a.m., and the Oakland police force had cordoned off many of the side streets with pylons. According to Police Lt. Ed Paulson, the force often "redirects" traffic in that area in order to curb "sideshow activity," i.e., spinning doughnuts in a car while people watch. And I always thought cops liked doughnuts. If they only knew that dizzy kids on pills were taking joy rides in train cars right around the corner.

 
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