APAHM - INTERVIEW: MOONROOM

During this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’ve had the pleasure of working with moonroom. moonroom organizes an annual event called #APAHM PHASE, an #AAPI (Asian American/Pacific Islander) alternative arts series. It is now in its 3rd season of showcases highlighting AAPI artists and AAPI-fronted bands across Southern California in celebration of APAHM. This year’s theme is 'Confluence' as we look to continue improving and reconstructing representation of Asian Americans in Western culture. Over the last 2 years, PHASE has quickly become a singular force for the AAPI community showcasing more than 80 AAPI artists across more than 20 music and performance arts showcases from Los Angeles to San Diego. 2019 expands with an even more diverse slate of programmers, events, and participating artists.

Through KXSC’s own APAHM initiative, I featured the artists that are involved with the moonroom showcases on a special AAPI edition of my show during 24-hour programming this spring. I also got to work with moonroom to organize a show at L.A.’s legendary DIY venue, The Smell, with New Fossils, Siam Jem, Young Lovers, and Tomemitsu; all of which are local Asian-American musicians. I wanted to know even more about moonroom’s inception and process, so below is an interview with moonroom’s very own, ETA.

Hi, could you please introduce yourself to the readers?

Hi yall, I'm ETA - the preliminary conduit for moonroom.

Where are you from? What do you do/what have you done (jobs, titles, roles)? Any other introductory details about your background that you’d like to include about yourself and what you’re involved in?

I'm an imperfect person, and perhaps a newer soul, that believes in a culture that considers context, acknowledges, forgives, and helps rehabilitate and heal. Otherwise, I prefer to keep talk about myself to a minimum in relation to moonroom. moonroom may not be a collective, but it's a collective experience that relies greatly on the participants and their emotional investment and that's what I try to keep the narrative around.

What is moonroom and what is the idea behind the name of this collective?

moonroom was partly a reference to a conspiracy theory (or allusion, depending on your view) surrounding Kubrick, US history, and certain scenes from The Shining.

When was moonroom founded? Why?

The 2016 Chinatown Moon Festival in Chinatown LA. The live music stage curated by Buzz Bands LA had 4 white 'indie' bands showcased and, more critically, zero leading AAPI presence on the lineup. A few months after, ideas began emerging for the first APAHM showcases in 2017.

What are some difficulties that are involved with organizing such a major series of events? If you were able to, how would you want to improve your operations? What are resources moonroom wants/needs?

moonroom acts and reacts in a fluid way which allows the alignment of so many showcases to be possible. It can adjust to help create the most practical outcome. But, as an entity with only one current person, it's been hard thus far to be efficient across several concurrent needs (especially during the planning stages). As a result, the potential ceiling for the overall series becomes lowered. Most of the energy is expended just trying to ensure the showcases actually come into existence that unfortunately many aesthetic and creative goals fall by the wayside. In the future, a few peers helping with creative and graphic design needs and with experience locating and securing grants would both be a major boon and help enable a fuller experience for the participating artists and attendees.

This season, Zhao came in last minute to help create the main flyers and contribute some administrative assistance. Even that amount alleviated so much of the burden. Zhao was a first-time participant in PHASE last season and since then, they've attended several showcases with an open curiosity and no genre preference. For any person curious how to best utilize PHASE artistically and communally, they should reach out to Zhao (@zhaomusic). At its core, PHASE is a platform for us to connect and mobilize with AAPI peers, resource-share, and expand our creative and collective horizons. It's a transactional relationship that we can all contribute to making more meaningful and propitious, for ourselves and for the culture. I really implore participating artists to attend more than just the showcase they're performing at, especially if they're younger in their creative arcs.

It’s been a pleasure working with you both through KXSC and my own DIY company, SleezeHog Productions. It’s been very inspiring to see what you are doing for AAPI culture in an environment that is heavily dominated by white, cis-hetero males. My own personal goals also involve creating a platform for marginalized artists and seeing you make your mark has been empowering. What are some of your own influences and inspirations for the work that you do?

All we should wanna do is help people feel at home with themselves sooner than we did. I grew up an advanced athlete in a white cis-hetero dominant suburb and a 1st gen Vietnamese-American in Western pop culture and media.

As an active participator in the local LA music scene, I’ve noticed underrepresentation of AAPI on stage as well as in the audience. What are your thoughts on how an individual can change that?

Who else is gonna put us on if we don't? We need to create those spaces ourselves in the scenes we choose to participate with/in. But, not every event or show has to be overt like PHASE. For instance, this underrepresentation seems most obvious in the local gentrified 'indie rock' zones of Echo Park-Silverlake-Highland Park. Many of us regularly book or play there (or have friends that do) and sometimes there are commercial considerations that affect curatorial decisions, but being more mindful or proactive to suggest or book QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) acts can go a long way in deconstructing those white (cis-hetero) status quos. The same applies to what we promote on other mediums or platforms (socials, radio, etc.) - we have to apply that extra effort in putting on diversity and we have to elevate white allies to a similar standard of intersectional awareness and accountability.

Where do you discover AAPI artists? How do you think we can get AAPI into the scene? Or do you believe that we are already here, just unseen? How can we either as an audience member or an organizer change the climate/culture of local music/art to better accommodate AAPI people?

The first PHASE there were 25 artists and bands and a few played multiple showcases out of (perceived) necessity. Over the last two seasons alone, there have been over 120 participating artists and bands. moonroom tries to limit artists/bands to one showcase each per season to increase inclusivity and involvement. There's an abundance of local Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American talent across the musical spectrum. Once you set your mind to that specific frame of mind, it's actually overwhelming how many. Every AAPI artist/band knows at least a couple more AAPI artists/bands, so discovery has become this self-perpetuating rabbit hole of referrals, word of mouth, and being curious and discerning on IG.

To the point about changing climate and culture as an organizer, for moonroom, it comes down to having meaning and intention. Music is a unifying force and such a powerful vessel for socio-cultural, emotional, and existential exploration and change, so why limit its power and scope to a causeless event? There are so many injustices in this world to rally around. As an organizer, you can help impact change, even if it's for an ephemeral moment. That impact shows even in the minutiae of what playlist you decide to have going on between bands, what venue you choose, or what white cis-hetero local music blog you spend energy contacting for press. We all have to balance a degree of commercial consideration, but being aware of the expressions of solidarity we have the ability to exercise is vital.

moonroom always seeks out allies for events or ways for an event to be more dynamic. Whether it's asking a collective to co-present, asking if certain performers on the bill wanna collaborate on a special set, having exhibited art, tabling, visuals, etc. There are so many ways a show can transcend into something multifaceted, bridge communities, and help put more AAPI artists on.

The way I discovered moonroom is by attending a PLAG panel called “Getting Your Band Booked.” I attended not as an artist trying to get booked, but as someone who is a DIY organizer/promoter wanting to learn more perspectives. After the panel, Katrina from PLAG e-mailed attendees a comprehensive list of recommended venues and promoters to work with. Among the list, I found moonroom with a note that y’all highlight Asian-fronted artists. That is when I decided to reach out! How do you usually get the word out about moonroom? What are some other organizations that you love to collaborate with?

Thank YOU for reaching out. You put on one of the most endearing showcases this season <3 moonroom has evolved in a very organic way. Truthfully, this was the first season there was any thought beyond a whim to pursue it longer-term. In previous years, it's been difficult for me to reconcile time and energy for my own art and well-being, but this year I've drawn some boundaries and found some meeting points. And with a community emerging around PHASE, I'm finding a clarity and sense of purpose with it.

What is moonroom’s relationship with PLAG? What spaces/community organizations do you recommend for AAPI to get involved in?

PLAG (@plagpresents) has been a fixture for some time now and they really do great community work between educating, presenting panels and workshops, doing showcases, being open to assisting QTPOC. Last season, I reached out to them to co-present a couple womxn-fronted showcases for PHASE and they were beyond receptive.

moonroom has grown in large part to its allies and participating artists. PHASE has been fortunate to attract kind, inclusive individuals that have been reliably up for the cause such as Girl Underground Music (@girlundergroundmusic), a rising LA-based music blog with thoughtful editorial, and OnThree Management (@onthreemanagement), a local artist management, booking, and consulting boutique - both founded by strong, caring, concerned womxn. moonroom highly encourages artists and bands submit their new material to Girl Underground Music and another of our editorial allies, Week in Pop (@weekinpop). So much fondness for all of them.

A lesson from this season for me is to continue seeking allies and collaborators within my immediate artistic communities. PHASE has gotten more support from intersectional allies and creative collectives than more established organizations dedicated to AsAm causes. Yes, PHASE is meant to increase visibility, but ultimately, moonroom finds greater importance for bridging artistic and marginalized communities than something one-dimensional. You can usually sense when an organizer or space takes care and has an inclusive, collaborative, cause-oriented approach, say like Athame (@athame_records) and Chewing Foil (@chewing_foil).

This year is looking to be one of the biggest ones yet for your APAHM PHASE series. As you are growing in areas outside of LA like Long Beach, San Diego, Orange County, etc., what are your goals for moonroom in the future?

Quantifying goals for moonroom is a difficult meditation. Hopefully with each PHASE, moonroom continues connecting more individuals, bridges more allies and communities, and creates more channels and spaces that benefit the participating artists and qtpoc community en masse. That's all I see clearly at this moment in time.

Any last comments you’d like to leave the readers with?

Some of the initial motivation for PHASE was partly to help put on my personal music project, but since removing that element of self-promotion, PHASE has become such a purer, more rewarding experience. Be mindful.

Thank you to all the curators and participating artists. Individuals will often thank me, and it's still strange to me because it takes their trust and willing openness to make this series happen, and I'm very grateful for that. Thank YOU.

Feel free to talk about anything else here! Plug your social media, websites, upcoming events, etc. here.

Our APAHM PHASE Closing Weekend will be amazing w/ showcases by Zhao, Zoom Lens, and Kohinoorgasm - 6.6-6.9 - Please pull up and support. 6.8 will be an online observation workshop where we'll ask for just a few moments from allies to help enrich PHASE and its communities. For more insight @moonroomie | venmo: @moon room

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/etawashere/playlist/642wU6hnnsEzTJPakVE23B?si=DlDK7_eMRyWup1v4mIHavw

Natalie Lee, Staff

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