Inside, it's fucking chaos. The whole scene reminds me of archival outtakes from Repo Man, except this time there's no uniformed message of "chaos for fun." It's just a mutant form of hipster debauchery that's both disgusting and liberating. Some troglodyte is snorting what I assume is coke off an old Spanish dictionary and the guy who can no longer wait for the bathroom is pissing off the back balcony in plain view.
Davit Buck, the frontman for local noise-punkers The Homeless Sexuals, just got his armpit unnervingly close to my face (he's not a Mitchum man) as he screams, flails about and generally lives up to his band's MySpace moniker of "full contact rock-n-roll."
Later, he'll make out with my date. Like I said, fucking chaos.
Seemingly a nice little space above Reggae World in North Park, the puerile and the perverted have come out for the most bacchanal of pastimes: the house party. This is the second time I've been here and the second time I've looked for the owner of the place only to be stonewalled. I meet a guy who says he lives there, but he smells the eau du journalist wafting off me and tells me that if I print any details about these parties he'll "stand on my face."
Details and threats aside, it's not a state secret that house parties in San Diego are a dubious and risky affair. Our city is safe, our citizens are underwhelmed and our cops are underpaid. If you have bands play at your party, you risk fines, confiscation of equipment and arrest, depending on how annoyed the officer is. Yet there remains a small, confidential core of houses that, for whatever reason, seem to never get busted. And while they remain underground, sites and message boards like Sandiegocore.com, Thepunkboard.com, Eraza.org and, especially, MySpace are turning these once-secret rock shows into iniquitous free-for-alls.
"A party is, undeniably, a more exciting setting to see a band in," says Zack Wentz, frontman for punk band Kill Me Tomorrow and the more party-friendly electro-project, Tender Buttons. "People can bring their own alcohol, or whatever they like to use, so [they] tend to get a lot looser as a result. It is always fun to feel like you're getting away with something."
I recently saw Tender Buttons for the first time in a house that bordered the canyon in North Park called "Wendy's Place." Unsurprisingly, no one knew Wendy, but the crowd was a good mix of punk-rock kids and bar-bucking 30-something scenesters. While they mixed about as smoothly as gasoline and sugar, there was a loose feeling of camaraderie; it was cool to just let go and be yourself. If you wanted to dance, you could dance. If you wanted to scream and holler to the music, you were free to do so. One of the opening bands--New Yorkers whose official name is an upside-down cross--later told me that they prefer the crowds at house parties because they're always more responsive than the ones in clubs. To a band, there's no greater compliment than people actually feeling the music, even if the payout might not be as lucrative.
For those under 21, the house party affords the right to finally see some of your favorite bands outside the strict "no stage-diving, moshing or fun in general" confines of your average all-ages joint. These kids are the bands' greatest fans, often driving miles out of their way, risking not even finding the place, being kicked out or even a night in jail.
For those old enough to sip an overpriced beer while rocking out to bands like Sirhan Sirhan, you're often caught in the catch-22--that is, the older you get, the less cool it is for you to demonstrate excitement. Better to be a lamb and stand with your head slightly bobbing to the beat.
A house party lets both crowds cut loose without fear of judgment or embarrassment.
I learned about the power of the house party--and the Internet--the hard way. About two years ago, I had now-defunct San Diego band Scarlet Symphony play my birthday party. It was supposed to be fairly low-key, with about 75 people tops. Around 11 p.m. there were five police cars and a helicopter shining a spotlight down onto the 200-plus kids in my backyard.
Looking back, it wasn't that I was uncomfortable with the sheer volume of strangers; it was that I was uncomfortable, period. When I was younger, I would have been right there with those kids, flipping off the flying pork patrol and spouting vitriol at the host for being such a pussy.
Recently reminiscing over a beer with Scarlet Symphony singer Gary Hankins (who now plays in UV Tigers), we both came to the conclusion that house parties certainly serve the purpose. They make those in attendance feel exhilarated and alive. But, like the powder on that Spanish dictionary, they're only fun for a while. Eventually everyone finds themselves back out on the sidewalk heading home or to another party, or being lowered into the back of a squad car.
We all have to grow up. I've seen both sides of the coin, and walking the line between the opera house and Neverland has never seemed so fun.