The aural, visual experience of a Beat Theatre show is unlike your typical cinematic live re-scoring event. You take a classic art house/avant garde film and pair it with the sounds of original beats made by underground beat producers, and you get a hypnotic, ultra-sensory experience that connects sight, sound, and mind.
While the beat scene remains fairly under the radar from its mainstream-EDM counterparts, local beat artists consider Beat Theatre to be a space for inspiration and connectivity to other artists, while for the performers themselves it's a place to give their bedroom compositions some exposure.
Dating back to 2013 in Long Beach, Beat Theatre shows have always taken place at smaller venues like houses, cultural centers and dive bars, but tonight they'll be making their actual theater debut at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana with a grand pairing of the 1989 Alejandro Jodorowsky film Santa Sangre, featuring the musical talents of DJs Afta 1, AshTreJinkins, Eludem, Gabonano, and Memesy.
Beat Theatre is only over a year old, but founder/organizer Tony Damico admits the idea for a music-plus-film event has been swimming in his head for a lot longer. Damico, a Long Beach transplant from Arizona, became involved with community organizing and pondered on what could be done with the screening room at the Cultural Alliance of Long Beach, a non-profit art center. Damico was also moved by Long Beach Cinematheque's Logan Crow (also the director of the Frida Cinema) putting together a live re-scoring of the 1946 Jean Cocteau film Beauty and the Beast.
"It didn't seem practical to do that kind of event very frequently, where they spent countless hours preparing and actually creating a score, but I wondered how it would work using beat makers as the artists," says Damico. Damico had already been making beats on his own since high school, and being aware of the clandestine nature of the beat scene anywhere, he knew it would be something different for audiences, as well as a unique opportunity for producers to play their beats in public.
So Damico and friend Josh Ramirez, aka Josh Jetson, a fellow producer, launched Beat Theatre at the Cultural Alliance for what was meant to be a monthly screening series that featured a different film re-scored by a different group of producers each month, later occurring quarterly. Along the way, they met Rene F.Chargois at a Beat Theatre screening of the anime film Akira, who became the third member of the team to help organize future screenings.
Chargois, although not an artist himself, maintains some of the social networking, outreach, and fills in any gaps of planning when Damico and Ramirez are busy preparing sets. He shares a mutual love of the beat scene, and sees Beat Theatre as one of the last bastions of experimentation for the scene. Ramirez produces and also fills in as one of the main sound engineers, taking care of the technical side of shows to make sure things run smoothly.
While some artists feel comfortable preparing for their set prior to the show, others feel up for the challenge of improvising on the spot. "On one hand I felt some artists would be really excited to spend a lot of time preparing for it and would love to be meticulous with the right sounds for the right scenes and transitions, but also for some artists it would be amazing to have them come play and maybe not even be incredibly prepared for it, and I think for the last year we've seen an incredible mixture of the two," states Damico. Over the past year, Beat Theatre has enjoyed featuring relatively well known DJ's like AshTreJinkins, Zikomo, Mndsgn and Co.Fee play along such films as Fantastic Planet, Taxi Driver, The Shining, Rashomon, and Metropolis.
Now with this move to the Frida, Beat Theatre seems geared towards more exposure in Orange County, despite smoothing over some of the ruffles that come with screening at a legit film theater instead of a community center. "Now we have to actually get the licensing for the films for the screenings. Because of that, this could be seen as more of a film event, when really want it to be a film and music event," says Chargois.
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There's also the issue of utilizing the sound system at the Frida. "We're tinkering with surround sound and how to mix for surround sound. But it's cool to see what kind of things we can tinker with, and working with the Frida in the long term is going to be an interesting opportunity," says Damico.
Beat Theatre will resume its quarterly series at the Frida, but maintain its original fanbase at Long Beach with pop up shows and smaller shows in between. More than anything, it's a major step to bring the beat scene more exposure, and to bridge that world with the film community here. "I don't know if we've really tapped the film audience as much as we really could, so it's been cool to build the community of beat makers, but there's that other end of it where we want to reach out to the film community," says Damico. Chargois agrees, and adds, "it's a fresh spin on classic films, the film community would really appreciate it."
Beat Theatre and The Frida Cinema presents Santa Sangre, an Alejandro Jodorowsky film re-scored by Afta 1, AshTreJinkins, Eludem, Gabonano, and Memesy. For more information and tickets, go to the Frida's Beat Theatre event page, and follow Beat Theatre on Facebook for future screenings.