Cameron Rath is a Charles Manson look-alike with a degree in urban sustainability. He's the mastermind behind FMLY, a gang of eco-conscious punk kids who put on bike rides and concerts in unlikely spaces.
A typical FMLY ride, held once a month, features 300 folks on bikes tearing ass along a nebulous path usually bookended by Culver City and West Adams. They hit the road in search of four or five under-the-radar bands that Rath has equipped with generators in the empty corners of the city — such as a derelict shopping mall in Inglewood or a corporate cul-de-sac vacant after business hours. Like a treasure hunt on wheels, the riders take in half-hour sets from noiseniks like Professor Calculus or krautrockers like Religious Girls. After they've been whipped into a frenzy they hit the streets again, on their way to the next stageless miniconcert. “I have a loose definition of 'public space,' ” Rath says.
FMLY doesn't stand for anything — the tight-knit group's members simply see themselves as family. Perhaps their greatest triumph has been putting together all-ages shows in a city where such events are scarce. How so? By getting rid of the venue altogether. Now in its fourth year, FMLY Fest, like the namesake rides, is held at off-the-radar spots. Last year it was in a geodesic tent outside a vegan cobbler stand at Venice and La Brea, and this year it will be at Catnap, a community-sponsored rec center on Spring Street, on Dec. 29 and a Chuco's, a sprawling warehouse complex near the Chinatown cornfields, on Dec. 30.
Rath has booked four dozen acts, including psychedelic knuckleheads (Vacation Dad, W-H-I-T-E), let-it-rip garage revivalists (FIDLAR, M31, Cosmonauts), Smell-style indie acts (So Many Wizards, Pangea) and a surfeit of synth-heavy dance music. What these groups lack in common musically, they make up for in the “do-it-together” FMLY ethos.
“There's a special kind of energy that comes from not having a venue,” says rapper Ryan Pardeiro. As one half of multimedia duo Kid Infinity — FMLY vets who are playing their second fest — Pardeiro released “The End Is Never Now” in June in honor of the resourcefulness that has become the hallmark of the FMLY Ride. (Sample lyric: “Take all that wasted trash, it's not nothing/Build it into something fresh that means something.”)
“When there's no stage, no cover and no expectations, anything can happen,” he adds. Put another way, if the cops can shut down your show at any moment, why wouldn't that guy in a nun costume crowd-surf?
Rath pegs the birth of FMLY to an edition of Gainesville, Fla.'s, Total Bummer Fest in 2008. Inspired by the musical occupation of storefronts and warehouses, he and a group of friends resolved to export that spirit back home.
FMLY has since been repped by maybe 10 other mischievous show throwers from California to Paris, and FMLY Rides have hit the streets of Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
Rath strives to leave every alley just as he found it, and to that end, will power this year's FMLY Fest with four mobile solar generators housed in 5-foot-tall Stanley toolkits.
“[T]he institution basically ruins everything that's so great about underground culture,” says scene stalwart and current Pehrspace programmer Sean Carnage, who will host show-throwing workshops at the fest. “What FMLY has shown me is that you can create a happening without it. You get your friends, you have some newcomers, they have this experience, and when it ends you go your separate ways. To me, that kind of party is the ultimate anarchist gathering.”