It's 9:30 p.m. at the Village Shops, one of those recurring Southern California shopping centers that can make walking through Orange County or Long Beach feel like passing through video game barriers, constantly reset, doomed to browse the same street over and over again in some suburban matrix. And amidst all this, like a blip in the code, is the Wax Museum.
Don't look for a sign–there isn't one. No banners, no block neon lettering. The only marker is the swarm of kids on the curb, smoking, chatting.
The first band is about to go up–Cortaud and Bobtail. Few kids know the name, even fewer have heard the songs, and that's the point. The Wax Museum serves as a brick and mortar Brooklyn Vegan, a space for Orange County kids to discover new music. Shows are every night of the week, excluding Mondays when they host volunteer meetings/barbecues at noon.
To the 18-and-under crowd, this place is invaluable, ethereal and immediate.
"This could all be gone tomorrow… Cops could just descend on this place," Josh Solomon from LA based Young Lovers says. It might come off a little overdramatic, like a group of bored white suburban kids recently watched The Decline of Western Civilization. But look no further than the vice squad raid on DIY space the LA Fort back in 2013 to see that this scene, the fear is warranted. Already, the venue is starting to make legitimate, well curated noise in the DIY scene, though twentysomething owners Dillon Baker and Nate Hubble would have you believe otherwise.
"We aren't legitimate," Dillon says plainly, "It's all an accident, it's all luck, it's all timing."
A few months ago, the Wax Museum stood as the brilliantly/terribly named Vapes of Wrath. After Long Beach's 2014 ban on E-Cigs, the owner told Hubble, then an employee at the shop, that he had three weeks to turn it into a music venue.
Hubble brought in his high school friend Dillon, a local bike mechanic, who had put out a few tapes under his own label Earwax Records. Together they stripped the shop down to its bones, brick wall and exposed pipes. A ratty couch in the corner looks like it was pulled out of a local kid's basement during a sweaty house show. The stage is a quarter pipe topped with astroturf — if a band has more than three members, chances are at least one of them is playing on the ground. Cortaud and Bobtail unleash a riff-heavy drone of a set — ear splitting and entirely improvised.
This is the sort of no-frills music that epitomizes the Wax Museum, a complete disavowal of aesthetics. The next band breaks out an electric fiddle. A few nights ago, the crowd was sent into awe when a kid played two trumpets at once.
As owners, Baker and Hubble's plan is simple: to maintain, to keep the lights on without bloating to the size of those local behemoths. "For all the dudes who can't get in contact with the people who book real venues, play here," Baker suggests. His booking policy is a local band's wet dream. "If you can find three other bands to play with you, you've got a show." You don't have to "know a guy." You don't have to contend with the dark lord that is pay to play. As for bigger bands, Baker's stance is firm. "If you don't want to come and play music for the kids who give a shit about your music, then who the fuck are you playing for?"