Fiction, Based on a True Live Music House Show
Written and Photographed by Emma Estrada
A collective started in 2016 in the band breeding grounds of Los Angeles by co-founders Cesar Alas, Kim Reyes, and Nick Waite. Soon after, Redacted branched out to the San Francisco Bay Area and now hosts house shows in the area.
It’s Friday night in Oakland, California—wealthy young millennials party in their renovated buildings previously owned by evicted tenants symptomatic of the city’s encroaching gentrification, and a 15-year-old kid shoots a stranger to join a gang family in his East Oakland hood, and everyone in between takes a deep inhale in honor of the weekend—a break from the toil. Anna is in an Uber coming from UC Berkeley, on her way to a live house music show.
What’s a house show? her boyfriend Gabe had asked her a few hours before. A show at a house, she said frankly.
Sitting in the backseat, her chin is in her hands as she sees pitched tents of orange and yellow blur with the graffitied cement walls, akin to the multi-colored, light-year speed of a space launch. A pressure builds in her temples that matches the acceleration in her peripheral vision. Only 30 minutes ago she was at her friend Minnie’s apartment inhaling marijuana like oxygen and downing cheap whiskey, feeling the burn of both in the back of her throat. Exhausted from various essays and exams, tonight they let go of their worries that accumulate every day like grocery receipts.
Anna Forgets How To Greet People
She forgets how to greet people when she walks past the metal gate and up the stairs to the narrow outside hallway of this two-story apartment building where she meets her first obstacle: strangers. Her calculations deem there is no room to pass by unnoticed, as there is a four-foot gap between the balcony rail and the wall. She walks up to the unknowns as her boyfriend, Gabe, and her two friends Minnie and Scarlett trail behind.
I hope this thing is free, she wonders. Last time she checked, there were five dollars fifty cents in her bank account. Running on empty, scraping together whatever means necessary for food, alcohol, marijuana—these are your college school supplies. Anna is used to the constant rush of worry when she swipes her card or hands over crumpled green papers with printed faces of men she’s never met.
She scans the puckered people shielded by cigarette smoke. A girl with purple hair and blunt bangs speaks to a man in a striped sweater and baseball cap.
“Dude, I’m hyped for forget it. They’re coming out with an EP soon.”
“I know the drummer, Waverly Cook. She’s insane,” he replies with a slur in his speech. He brings a cigarette to his lips, his fingers shaped in an inverted peace sign, accentuated by his chipping black nail paint.
As she approaches, people laugh, throw their heads back in recognition and nostalgia for their shared pasts. They nod ceremoniously in response to the spotlighted storytelling stranger. She wants to be in that group, nodding, baring her gapped teeth they all know so familiarly. She wants to skip the years of necessary time and effort that comes before the closeness. But yet, she has never seen these people in her life, never spoken a word to them. The slouching entourage before Anna strikes her as the people who never kissed goodbye to the angst-ridden middle school days of Panic! At The Disco, skinny jeans and box-dyed hair. She vows to mosh her way towards acceptance and understanding. Anna’s mission will take a lot of beer and awkward introductions. Heading towards the door, she darts her dilated eyeballs among the crowd blocking the entrance, seeking a quick way inside.
“Excuse me…hi…excuse me,” Anna spills out words under her breath and keeps her head down as she enters through the screen door.
She hears the abruptly cut-off hellos as the screen door closes behind her. Turning around to make sure her friends haven’t abandoned her, she sees Minnie, Gabe, and Scarlett calmly exchanging greetings.
Soundproof Rooms and Free Beer
They’re too early to pay the recommended donation of $5 so the trio slithers into the kitchen and grab the beers sitting on the merch table. They taste like bitter herbs but it’s cold to the touch and Anna feels a creeping nag in her chest and throat, a reminder of social anxieties that should have dried out since middle school. Groups of four to five clump in different sections of the kitchen and in the living room slash bedroom.
Later, the door of the soundproof room adjacent to the kitchen opens and the soundwaves of drums and electric guitars reach their ears. A young man of about 18-20 years old, probably a musician from another band, calls people in for the first set. His hair is a yellow-white which accents his black t-shirt and skinny jeans. The space for mobility slowly decreases in the room and the cement walls threaten to cage them in, leaving only their sweat to drink and no one to hear their hunger cries.
Her steadiness falters as she notices the music of the band, hit me, Harold!, has begun. She looks to her left to find Minnie and Scarlett gone, now replaced by a tall slim figure with shaggy brown hair and blue-gray eyes. It’s Gabe.
He yells to Anna, “Hey, it’s an indie, math rock band.”
“I hate math,” she yells back. He returns her joke with a blank stare, his eyelids droopy, his pupils black and distant. She focuses in on the band to temporarily stifle the growing discordance between them.
The Lover Who Thinks It’s All Going Well
That day, Gabe had come up from Los Angeles; he was excited to see her after their traditional time apart. Living in two separate places made Gabe miss Anna even more. As he looks at her now, she is faced forward intent on the music and he begins to stare into her profile; Anna looks like she’s trying to synthesize the sound with her eyes. When he first looked into them, and really looked at her, he saw beyond the green irises speckled with yellows and blues. He envisioned himself in a dream of rivers draped by verdant greens, while she laid down on the untrimmed blades of grass and called his name. Tonight is a good night, he thinks as he reaches to touch her hair.
Everyone seems to know each other. Anna discovers that it’s because the bands are part of a collective called Redacted, made up of emo/math-rock/alternative genres. The shows they put on are intimate and laissez-faire, but they also benefit the bands—it’s a relatively low-cost production and bands can book their own shows, thus marketing themselves.
Vesper Sails, an experimental, progressive-pop band, situate themselves after hit me, Harold! ends and they start to play. The fans up front are the most physical. Their limbs let loose and they sing with the band:
“I want to let you in
I need to make amends
Out lost in waning winds
But you are already gone”
I wish I could let go like that, Anna bites her nails. I don’t want to seem too crazy, though.
The show reminds her of when she used to go to church. During worship, people always lifted up their hands in frenzied praise. She rarely lifted her hands; she didn’t want to seem too passionate and give herself away to the looks and stares of other congregants.
If only she could let go now. Instead, Anna chews her lip and nods her head to the music. Her converse heel taps onto the concrete pavement.
Gabe dances close behind her, holds her hips, and feels her curls brush his face. He squeezes his grip to pacify her quickening pace.
After Vesper Sails, Anna leaves Gabe behind telling him, “I have to go to the bathroom.” His presence combined with the tumultuous tracks cloud her thoughts and threaten to darken her peace of mind. She goes outside for some fresh air and distractions from negative thoughts. Minnie is sitting on the stairwell, speaking on her phone. She argues with her recent girlfriend; they had broken up that month and Minnie was feeling the sweet and sour residue of love and hate, evident in her tone. These types of phone calls are one and the same at parties—people drunkenly vocalize and recycle the same frustrations only to hang up with more questions than answers.
Minnie takes a drag of her American Spirit and speaks with deliberation and conviction into the receiver: “You never gave a shit about me. You’ve turned all our friends against me, and you left me in the dust looking like an idiot.” Ashes fall with every frustrated hand gesture. “No no no. Hannah, listen, yes I miss you, but—wait, Hannah, please, oh, but look what you’ve done to me! No—you know what, I can’t do this.” With her cigarette in hand, Minnie waves to Anna with a drunken smile to signify she’s fine.
Anna flashes a thumbs up and heads inside. Anna shudders at the thought of breaking up with Gabe, she quickly envisions a life without him, and shuts the thought out of her mind.
After drinking another beer, she somersaults up to the feet of a lonely stranger hunched over her phone and says hello. The girl says one of her friends plays in the band.
“I don’t actually listen to his music. I’m just a friend,” she informs Anna.
Supportive friend. Anna thought.
“Why aren’t you inside?”
“I’m tired,” she says.
Anna lets her get back to her device that stole the conversation. She wishes she could have some more meaningful connections at this party, event amalgamation. She awkwardly somersaults backwards and tries to rewind her intrusion.
Observing the merch table, she looks up and smiles at a friendly looking face.
It’s Scarlett. Scarlett knows this scene well—she loves this type of music and is friends with some of the band members. She asks her about the scene.
“The culture behind the local band scene is different and unique because it really depends on which local band scene you find yourself in. People feel like they’re part of a movement. The genres of music vary, but ultimately everyone is really there for the feel of a DIY kind of atmosphere,” she shares with Anna.
It’s an atmosphere Anna feels welcome in.
A young guy with blonde hair and a kind smile shakes her hand to greet her after saying hi to Scarlett. His name is Jacob and he is a singer and guitarist for forget it. Anna asks about his band and he answers her eager curiosity with patient responses, still smiling. He tells her all about the so-called Redacted collective, how he co-founded the band with his brother Connor, and about the music scene in Oakland in general. Being in the collective allows him to put together, play, and attend live shows—a lot of work, but the fulfillment is huge. The connections are good, too.
“We’re able to stay active without having to bend over backward selling presale tickets and other mechanisms through which the ‘establishment’ in live music makes it difficult for young bands to play quality shows,” he shouts to Anna over the music.
The forget it. band member shares that most of the “fans” are bands as well, all contributing to the same idiosyncratic aesthetic.
“If a Facebook event or a flier for a show is in some way tied to Redacted, people know to expect a certain type of experience, or aesthetic if you will. We mainly do shows in rooms that hold about 50 people at capacity, showcasing mainly jazz, math-rock, indie, and emo bands!.”
“That’s awesome!” Anna shouts back.
Meeting Jacob makes up for the lackluster conversations she had prior. After parting ways with him, her mind wanders to Gabe. Is he worried about her? He probably is, she thinks. I’m the worst girlfriend.
Instead of finding him, she spots a red-velvet cake in a bakery box and slowly walks over, looking around to see if anyone will notice the damage that’s about to be done. Anna grabs a fork and digs in. Fifteen minutes later Gabe comes over to pull the weapon away.
“Let’s dance,” he says.
“Okbvdjy” she replies with her stuffed mouth. Minnie comes in and looks wide-eyed at the cake—it’s her turn now. Anna’s still craving something more, something that even cake can’t satisfy.
Forget it. plays last. Scarlett’s favorite band of the lineup—she’s been talking about them all night. Anna feels tired from the dancing and talking; she’s ready to go home. For the last set, she gathers her energy. She turns to kiss Gabe, and tells herself to stop thinking about the future or where they might end up or if they’re conversations are fulfilling enough. She wants to appreciate him and accept his love for her now, in this moment.
Minnie comes back in from her cigarette phone call and cake, and squeezes her way to them among the sweaty, moshing bodies. She looks exhausted too. Scarlett is up front, still shaking her head, still singing to the music—a true fan.
Anna looks around the room. Nobody is outside. They’re all here now, sharing the same breath, the same four walls, hearing the offbeat rhythms and lyrics tackling everyday emotions and life struggles. She lifts up her hands, inhales deeply, and lets her exhaustion and anxieties slip away. She never used to like this music, but seeing it live and meeting some people behind its creation, Anna will be listening more often. Her time here is short—judgments aren’t welcome now.
Listen to the bands of the night here:
hit me, Harold! (indie/math)
Vesper Sails (experimental)
Forget It (post-punk twinkle)
Keep up with Redacted events: