On a recent Friday night, up-and-coming Long Beach hip-hop duo the Natives began placing their equipment in a draped corner of Casey Terrazas' living room as nearly 100 friends mingled in anticipation.
Some stood in the kitchen and noshed on homemade hummus and spanakopita, while on the stoop, others sipped craft beer. Still others filled the small front yard of the Fourth Street house known to local artists and music fans as the Porch.
Before the Natives launched into one of their lyrically conscious, DJ-backed tracks, however, a Long Beach police cruiser pulled into the middle lane of the street--ordinarily a buzzkill for any house show. But this isn't your typical house.
Terrazas nicely guided people out of his front yard and into the living room as he went out to greet the officer, who seemed surprised by the orderly crowd.
"The cop looked at me and looked at everyone walking back inside and rolled down her window and said, 'Thanks' and drove off," Terrazas recalls. "We've been very pointed in the past to tell [the local police] it's an art event, it's about the music, and this is what we're doing--just to make sure they know. I don't know if that translates or not, but we deal with the cops at every show, and it's only a 30-second interaction, and then they're gone as long as everyone is inside."
Since 2009, the Porch has been a gathering place for Long Beach's diverse artistic community, the three-bedroom house just off Long Beach's Retro Row hosting free concerts, poetry readings, art exhibitions, listening parties and other creative events that are well-attended by the city's hipster denizens.
Terrazas originally rented his room at the house sight-unseen while still living in Phoenix, but he knew he had moved into the perfect homespun venue as soon as he entered the expansive, high-ceilinged front room and saw its connected kitchen and dining room.
Though his roommates at the time didn't see his vision for hosting concerts in their living space, he soon began to move in those who did. A performance by well-known noise-pop singer/songwriter Emperer X in July 2010 was so spectacular and the response so positive, Terrazas says, that he knew he had to continue hosting shows for bands he admires. (Emperer X soon moved into a tent in the back yard, furthering the place's music cred.)
Because his job finds him spending several months of the year living in the Bay Area, Terrazas often brings down Northern California bands to play, and friends from around the world have performed at or visited the house, adding exponentially to the tangled web of influences that have come through its door.
The real magic of the Porch, though, is what happens when there is no event planned. Most days, local bands use the cleared-out living room to practice and record, and by evening, Terrazas and his current musician roommates, Zach Mabry and Joel Jasper, are often joined by passersby and out-of-town friends on the front porch, where records are listened to and new projects are casually formed.
"That's what creates the community," says Terrazas. "The bands are practicing, and then someone's walking by, and instantly, there's a porch party. Everyone knows they can just come by and hang out and chill and just be welcome. After that, every day for multiple years, people start talking and collaborating. New ideas sprout from the conversations started on the porch."
One of those ideas is the appropriately named Porch Party Records, Terrazas' recently launched label, an organic extension of the music community the house has fostered over the years. The plan is to put out new albums for both Long Beach and Bay Area bands that have played the house and help to sell their friends' previously self-distributed albums, starting with Jasper's dreamy solo EP, Summer Body, which was released under Porch Party Records in September. Early next year, the label anticipates new albums from Rudy de Anda, lead singer of psych-prog group Wild Pack of Canaries, as well as the Natives, who have previously only released digital mixtapes.
The diversity of the acts on the label easily reflects not only the variety of the music Terrazas and company listen to in the house, but also the great mix of sounds that make Long Beach's music scene so unique. "Long Beach isn't just indie music or hip-hop," says the Natives MC Senay Kenfe. "It's all other genres going on, too, and I like that the Porch covers it all. I see what they're trying to do, and I respect that."
Being a hip-hop artist in Long Beach is hard, though. There are few venues in the city that aren't afraid to host a hip-hop crowd, and house shows that exclusively feature rappers tend to devolve into drunken ragers that quickly get dissolved by police.
Other people put on occasional summer shows for local indie and punk bands at their houses, but the continually welcoming atmosphere and supportive energy at the Porch have made it the de facto representative for the positive potential of house-show culture. "Those guys have more enthusiasm and more balls--Casey in particular, with his passion to connect Bay Area bands and us," says de Anda. "It's one thing to play a house show with local bands, but it adds that extra spice when there's a touring band there, too."
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But Terrazas stresses the record label and shows are just two facets of what the Porch is about.
"There is a new pool of talent in Long Beach that is simmering and quickly boiling to the top," says Kenfe. "We're all at sea, but the Porch is developing like a beacon, and we're all swimming toward it."