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Photo by James BunoanAhmad Jamal and Daen Leon know what it's like to live your life squished between a whole lot of people. And it's not just because of the tiny artist's loft they share—a real artist's loft with a communal shower and shared bathrooms, not the $250,000 fantasy packages that cater to the last of the dot-com yuppies. It's because they live in Long Beach, with cold-shoulder condescension from gargantuan LA on one side and uncomprehending OC on the other—and they're about to make themselves a little creative elbow room. This weekend, they publish issue No. 1 of their monthly newspaper, LB Catalyst.
"This city has a long history, but it's kind of the redheaded stepchild of LA County, and it's not really accepted by OC, so it's kind of like we're out here on our own," says Daen. "That's how we came up with the name Catalyst. We want to be a catalyst to get this whole movement going again."
And to say it long and say it loud: they're Long Beach, and they're proud! As musicians ("If you wanna mention it, I'm the freshest MC in the world," says Ahmad with a laugh) and writers and all-round creative types themselves, they say, they're plugged into a scruffy but potent Long Beach creative scene that's under the radar of the city, the media, even us noble freedom warriors at OC Weekly.
It's not quite the Long Beach of the East Village Arts District or Snooptown/Sublime that they're living in, they say. "Those cats did a lot not only for the area but also for the music industry," says Ahmad. "But times have changed." Instead, it's a younger, leaner and hungrier Long Beach that they're after, a vibrant creative community where the purpose of a day job—if they even have a day job—is to keep the music and art alive at night.
A typical Friday evening might see them creep out of that tiny artist's loft they share, through the 300 square feet that's both headquarters for Catalysis Multimedia Inc. ("Yeah, that's us," says Ahmad) and living space for two, all the way down to the street to hit a show. Maybe they're after a show by an unknown band such as the Slippers, Pussycow or Witchhazel; maybe they're after a DJ set by Sonic Dread or Qwana Parker. Maybe they're just off to someone else's loft to kick around setting up a drum circle, gently critique a new slice of art, or maybe just hang out. The point, they say, is that something is going on in Long Beach.
"We can feel it pulling together," says Daen. "Right now, the identity Long Beach has is kind of struggling—but the timing [for Catalyst] seems to be very good."
Their best argument will be the free show they're doing this weekend to celebrate publication of their first issue (15,000 copies of 16 pages, all free). Besides At the Drive-In alums De Facto, they'll present the always-powerful Alleged Gunmen (in their first show in months), and up-and-coming hip-hop band the Felix Structure, along with an art auction to benefit an after-school program for local kids and sets by DJs RAW, the Almighty Nectar, Qwana Parker and Sonic Dread. And everybody doing anything there is a Long Beach local.
"A lot of people don't think about Long Beach," says Daen. "It's just a place between OC and LA—I used to think that before I moved here. You gotta get off at the Seventh Street exit or the 710 [freeway], you know? But we're announcing that there's a big scene coming up here—it's about to blossom. And it's starting something big."Release party forLB Catalyst at Long Beach Promenade Amphitheater, on First Street between Pine Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard, Long Beach. Sun., 2-7 p.m. Free. All ages.
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