At 8 p.m. last Saturday, FUNZONE, Santa Barbara’s only DIY music venue, was converted into DRONE ZONE, a 24-hour ambient/drone music and art workspace featuring the talents of over 20 bands and community members. Over the course of an entire day, visitors drifted in and out of the small garage behind the East Beach Batting Cages, some visitors sitting inside on the floor or in lawn chairs, while others clustered outside, painting, reading, and mingling with old and new faces alike.
The event was a far cry from usual FUNZONE shows and just as experimental as the music it featured. Event programmer and performer Spencer VH (short for Von Hershman) explained his reasons for hosting DRONE ZONE.
“Very few people have access to 24-hour spaces that are public,” he said. “This is common in LA, and I wanted to bring Santa Barbara something that doesn’t exist here. There’s a decent small community that makes experimental music, and making something special gives bands a chance to get attention.”
Von Hershman went on to explain that it was essentially just something he wanted to try. “When there’s no money tied in, you don’t need to worry about attendance as a factor in putting on shows,” he said.
The event was coordinated via a Google Doc with 20 open time slots inviting any interested bands to participate in the event. Evidently, FUNZONE had no problem finding enough bands to fill the 24-hour period, attracting musicians from Santa Barbara and neighboring areas.
One of the more notable performers was Randy Randall, a guitarist and half of the influential noise-rock duo No Age. Randall’s 45-minute set was a free-flowing continuum of sound without any boundaries, bringing something truly special to the event. He evoked a slow-building, mellow soundscape, with no hint of the harshness No Age is known for, while 15 or so people sat on the floor, lost in deep contemplation.
After his set, Randall sat down with me for a short interview. When asked what it was that brought him all the way from LA back to FUNZONE, he responded that he “had such a fun show,” referencing a performance he played in January with Dean Allen Spunt, his No Age counterpart. “It was the pleasant memory, I guess,” Randall said. “I wanted to think of reasons to come back.”
It was a particularly special treat to see him perform, as Randall doesn’t perform solo very often. He only performed solo ten times in 2016, and this was his first solo performance this year. “It’s usually random, nothing I set out to book,” Randall said. “Usually it’s friends. Someone has a cool art show.”
He mentioned that besides a 24-hour telethon, he has never played at an event like this. “I like different kinds of spaces,” Randall said. “Bars are what I like to call the ‘black box.’ It’s four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Those places have their own ritual performance; it’s a known entity. In spaces like this, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Playing at FUNZONE, and the community, are not the same as touring in places like New York or Austin, where this has to be planned out. FUNZONE is more like a backyard.”
Randall left with the exciting news that he had finished mastering No Age’s new album just that day, and that the album will be released this coming fall.
After Randall’s performance was multi-instrumentalist Avi Buffalo, who has also played at FUNZONE in the past. Avi Buffalo returned on Saturday after randomly meeting electronic band Corbo, who happened to be playing at the event and encouraged Avi Buffalo to do the same. Avi Buffalo stated that he’s played at 24-hour events like this before, such as at Pehrspace, an all-ages DIY venue in LA.
Avi Buffalo followed Randall’s set with electronic-tinged indie. He took a more minimalist approach to ambience, experimenting with psychedelic drone and rapid-fire strumming. His hands were never unoccupied; he frantically pushed buttons and adjusted knobs in order to create a spacey atmosphere, complete with old computer and robot noises.
When asked if he was going to continue putting on events like DRONE ZONE, Spencer VH responded, “In Santa Barbara, yes. Here, no. I want to branch out.” He explained that five or six DIY venues were active in Santa Barbara when he was growing up there. Now, FUNZONE is the only one.
“Santa Barbara has a space problem,” Spencer VH said. “FUNZONE won’t be around forever, and if you can do more events, hopefully you can get more people involved and bring new people to the community. Anyone with a space can do this. Lots of young people come to shows, and I want to get them inspired to do something like this after I’m gone.”