Dennis Lluy of Koo's Cafe Brings a Bunch of Bands to Santa Ana With the SoundDowntown Festival
Dennis Lluy brings a bunch of bands to Santa Ana
Just minutes after he’ll finish this interview, Dennis Lluy has to go to work.
He’s clearing out the Long Beach location of his Koo’s Art Center, which is closing after a five-year run that followed a legendary all-ages-show-throwing streak in Santa Ana. But as they say: When one door closes, another opens. Or, in the case of Lluy’s SoundDowntown fest this Saturday, 10 doors on 10 venues (including a vintage movie palace, a coffeehouse and a university art gallery!) to accommodate upward of 60 bands and DJs and otherwise unclassifiable performers from at least two continents and three countries, all crammed into a 10-hour stretch that will supercharge downtown Santa Ana with the kind of over-the-top explosion of overstimulation that makes Austin’s South By Southwest one of the top musical events on the planet. Even Lluy is a little dazed, he says: “I saw the website this morning and thought, ‘Holy shit—that’s us!’”
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As a transition, it’s something close to triumphant. In 2002, the city of Santa Ana warned Lluy they were about to crack down on the original Koo’s, a former Chinese restaurant that hosted packed underground shows on North Main Street for eight years. In response, he voluntarily relocated to Long Beach, but he found neighbors there less than receptive to the amplified performances that made Koo’s a local name ranked alongside such other Southern California DIY stalwarts as the Smell and the PCH club. But now, Lluy says, Santa Ana is ready to let him play louder. With vital help from the next-gen musos at the Crosby, this third and most-ambitious installment of SoundDowntown came together through what he calls a “perfect storm” of goodwill.
“We’ve got the community to be supportive, the business owners to be supportive, the property owners, the city officials—that’s never happened before!” says Lluy. “I’m actually meeting with the mayor tonight. They’re very excited!”
Lluy likes to play it a little modest—tough economic times make a street festival that could attract thousands to business-dense downtown seem pretty attractive, he says. “My lawyer told me once, ‘When wallets are hit, hearts and minds follow.’” But this third SoundDowntown also boasts diversity, focus, scope and vision for which earlier installments were still reaching. Just added to the lineup are Sweden’s (International) Noise Conspiracy, the first rock & roll band to tour Communist China. And swinging in from the south will be Nortec Collective’s Fussible and Bostich and their Tijuana Sound Machine, whose rule-breaking trans-national beat-smashing makes a complementary philosophical echo for the fest. Also scheduled are the Mexican Institute of Sound, whose moonlighting mastermind Camilo Lara has just released a new album of remixes.
But offering as much of a draw is a homegrown lineup consolidating a new generation of LA, Long Beach and Orange County musicians: the nuked blues of overpowering power trio the Entrance Band, the Mahavishnu-meets-Can jams of Free Moral Agents, the Childish Mummies-like ransack & roll of the venerable Flying Saucers, and the Crosby’s own analog eviscerators Free the Robots.
“It seemed so natural,” says Lluy. “Combining bands such as the (International) Noise Conspiracy from Europe and bands from Mexico and having the locals—the major point is to have the interaction with different cultures and different walks of life.”
“And you see it big at the Crosby,” says the Crosby’s Chris Alfaro, who, with Free the Robots’ band mate and co-worker Phil Nisco, was instrumental in pulling SoundDowntown together. “Random city council members sitting right next to Gaslamp Killer and random kids from Newport and random people from LA . . . It might seem like a weird thing, but it’s not a weird vibe. Everyone gets along.”
For veterans of the old Koo’s shows, that’s a familiar sentiment—and a welcome one. The Crosby kids remember it well—and with SoundDowntown, they’re officially part of it.
“We used to go to the old Koo’s back in the day,” Nisco tells Lluy. “That was our CBGB’s, our Smell.”
“It introduced you to everything,” says Alfaro. “Everything fresh was there. No matter what it was, there was something good. You’d go just to go. It was the only place to find something different in OC.”
SoundDowntown with the (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Nortec Collective, Busdriver, Blank Blue, Free the Robots and more at the Artists’ Village, between First and Fourth Streets and Ross and French, Santa Ana; www.sounddowntown.com. Sat., 2 p.m. $10-$15. Some venues all ages; some 21+.
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