[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
The Iheartcomix offices aren't short on symbolism. For one, the Echo Park event production company and record label operates out of an unfinished underground basement. The location choice makes sense the same way that Scrooge McDuck was fated to conduct business from the inside of a giant money bin.
No sign advertises the existence of one of L.A.'s best independent party-promotion firms. A large wooden door is unmarked, smothered in graffiti, and adorned with metallic-black tree limbs and leaves. If you're inclined, you could say it represents the outward sprawl of Iheartcomix over the last nine years.
There's also a giant pink dollhouse in the bushes outside. I have no symbolism to offer here.
“Someone abandoned it a few weeks ago,” IHC founder Franki Chan says, laughing and opening the door to his office/apartment. There are turntables, vinyl, a DJ riser and four employees pecking at MacBooks. “Hopefully, whoever left it won't kill us all.”
IHC has evolved from a weekly party at Hollywood's Beauty Bar to a multimedia mini-empire encompassing several popular club nights, a marketing division and a video production team. There's Check Yo' Ponytail at the Echoplex, as well as IHC Sundays, a dance party at Drai's in Hollywood (which moves to LURE on Oct 13). Chan booked acts like Skrillex and Diplo long before they were brand names.
“I think of it as a live magazine. There's a visual, film, photo and live-music element to all our parties,” Chan says. Bespectacled, wearing a navy baseball cap and Flume T-shirt, the 34-year-old looks a half-decade younger, save for the flecks of gray in his beard, which perhaps emerged from booking 100-plus shows a year.
“Every production is curated around one artist,” Chan says. “But it's not necessarily about tailoring parties to one genre or sound, as much as the energy and feel of each booking.”
Despite sharing the same surname as a certain martial arts star, Chan isn't Asian — a twist similar to the Seinfeld episode in which George's mom is shocked to discover that Donna Chang isn't Chinese. Raised mostly in Bloomington, Ind., Chan acquired his nickname during the two years he lived with his naval officer father in Okinawa, Japan.
“'Chan' means 'friend' in Japanese, and my Okinawa friends all called me that,” explains Chan, born Franklin Hartzell. “But when I got my first email address in 1996 and started booking shows, everyone assumed Chan was my real name. It just stuck.”
After high school, Chan drummed for a touring punk band called Operation: Cliff Clavin. Upon their demise, he moved to Seattle, working as an assistant talent booker. He moved again, this time to Los Angeles in 2003 to pursue a lifelong dream of being a comic book artist (he still hand-draws each IHC show flier).
The comic dreams were put on hold when he linked with Har Mar Superstar and Steve Aoki to throw the now-legendary Thursday-night Fucking Awesome parties at Beauty Bar. Between 2004 and 2006, Chan and Aoki forged a successful DJ and promotion team that helped introduce hip-hop and dance music to once-snobby punk and indie kids. It lasted until they had a falling-out over creative direction.
Since the breakup, Chan's business has grown to six full-time employees who help him do everything, from shows and marketing to special events programming for Pabst, Skyy Vodka and Beats by Dre. There's a Pitchfork TV web series, Live From Check Yo' Ponytail, and plans to finish a full-length documentary partly based on CYP's 2011 national tour (a Kickstarter launches next month).
“I see us going somewhere between Vice and Fader … events, marketing, national tours, a Check Yo' Ponytail Festival,” Chan says, eyes widening as if to reflects the panoramic sweep of his vision. Then he smiles and adds: “Oh, and I see us moving out of this dungeon, too.”
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