In 2003, a few bands hiked up to a large eucalyptus tree in the Box Springs mountains of Riverside and put on the first Cochina Festival. They called it pre-rock, an event free from establishments, stages, electricity, security, and everything a corporate music festival implies. Bands played with toys instead keyboards, sipping lemonade instead of beer. This weekend, the 7th Annual Cochina Fest gathers at Higgenbotham Park in Claremont, continuing its celebration of D.I.Y. ethics. This year, Big Whup, Moses Campbell and Whitman are headlining. Founder Chris Whitman talks to writer Daiana Feuer about the festival's history and future.
OC Weekly/Daiana Feuer:What is the most creative instrument substitute you've witnessed?
Chris Whitman: Last year there was a black metal band from Tuscon, Arizona, called Serows. They had one guitar and costumes and led people on a trip through the park. It was really theatrical and the guy sang the story as it was happening. Absolutely nothing like what they sound like normally. A lot of bands just strip down the drums or do battery-powered amps or bring glockenspiels. The more creative you can get the better.
Do you need permission from the park to put this on?
I haven't. Last year was the first time cops came but didnt shut us down. The band playing sounded almost as loud as they normally do because everything was on batteries and they had a loud drummer. And they decided to play in the park bathroom which amplified the sound even more. People don't bring alcohol since its a public park. I like it as a guerrilla thing, so it has to be contained.
Why does Cochina take place in Claremont?
It originated in Riverside at Islander Park, which isnt what you picture when you think of a park. It's a dirt area at the bottom of a mountain. There's one tree. You had to hike 3/4 of a mile to get to the tree, which was fun, in a way. Then it moved to Claremont, which brings a good mix of people from Riverside, Inland Empire, Orange County, and L.A. It's a neutral territory. If I tried to do it in Griffith Park it would get shut down right away.
Are performers encouraged to find weird locales?
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It stays in a general area for the most part, by the food, but people play all over the place. It helps things flow. There aren't multiple non-stages at once, and there's a big variation in the length of sets and types of bands.
What is the shortest set in Cochina history?
This noise band called Tik///Tik. He had this beat driven noise stuff playing off batteries and a microphone that he just screamed into intensely. It was a fulfilling five minutes. He got a lot of performance in that. It's a genre that shouldnt be drawn out a lot of time. Actually, I feel that way about a lot of music. If you cant get your point across in twenty minutes....
Should all music have a point?
Maybe not everyone has one specific reason but I dont listen to anything that doesnt have some sort of purpose or statement behind it. For something to be good the person has to care about it.
Has this experience affected the music you make as Whitman?
It's eye-opening to see what you can do without relying on conventional things, even if it's sounds or how you're making those sounds. Most of what I do musically is unconventional anyway. When bands change things up for the festival, they reach deep into the song or set and discover new things. Some people have been inspired by the festival and do similar things other places. That is an accomplishment because people shouldnt rely entirely on venues to say if you can play. Taking away everything you think of as a concert, including electricity, proves you dont need to rely on establishments. That's what D.I.Y is.
How far will Cochina Fest go?
Eventually I will hand it off to somebody else and they can keep it going. I want to make it to ten years and go from there. I think it can continue without becoming what it is trying to be the opposite of. Right now it costs me 50 to 100 dollars promoting it. Everyone plays for free. It's about having a good time, playing music for each other, and not really anything more than that.