If there's one thing that music-obsessed residents of the San Fernando Valley learn quickly, it's that your search for live music will frequently lead you over the hill. There's no shortage of musicians whose roots are in the Valley or who currently call one of the many neighborhoods within it home, but places to play outside of your parents' garage or your friends' backyards are few and far between.
“The way they built it is isn't meant for people taking the bus or walking down the street to walk into a live music venue,” says Jose Varela (aka “Cutty”) of punk-tinged, retro rock & roll outfit Cutty Flam, from Canoga Park.
On Friday, Sept. 29, Cutty Flam joins a lineup of artists who were either raised in the Valley or reside there to play the Van Nuys Arts Festival. The event, presented by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and producers Champion City, is intended to shine a spotlight on the creative spirit of this large and often overlooked section of Los Angeles. Part of that is through music.
Cutty Flam is about as Valley as it gets. Guitarist/vocalist Cutty and bassist/vocalist Luis E. Chavez (aka “Chewy Lewy“) met as kids while skateboarding at a local DMV. They lost touch in high school but reconnected at Pierce College. Cutty and drummer/vocalist Ashley Stuart (“Bang Bangs”) met in English class at Taft High School. They film their videos in the Valley, spinning suburban sci-fi tales with a quirky mid–20th century vibe. The Van Nuys Arts Festival presents a rare opportunity for the band, whose latest album, Shapes of Sound, was released on Burger Records, to play on home turf. “It's bringing awareness to artists in the San Fernando Valley and also connecting us to the heart of L.A.,” Cutty says.
The Van Nuys Arts Festival isn't just about music. There will be visual art and local history on display, plus a beer garden featuring 818-brewed beverages. But music is integral to the event. Artists on the bill also include former Los Abandoned frontwoman Maria del Pilar, Tarzana-based jazz musician Mark de Clive-Lowe and electronic music artist SFV Acid. There will also be a silent disco, where people dance to tunes pumped through headphones, helmed by hip-hop–inspired community outreach group Gr818ers.
“The influence of the San Fernando Valley is often put to the side and not mentioned when you mention L.A. contributions to arts and culture,” says Erika Nuno, managing partner of Champion City. “The reality is that the San Fernando Valley has so many legends on its own.” She mentions Ritchie Valens, the early rock & roll star who tragically died in a 1959 plane crash. Valens' legacy lives on here, where there's a recreation center named for him in Pacoima and a portion of the 5 freeway that will be dedicated in his memory. Nuno points out that his influence also lives on in Cutty Flam, who have incorporated early rock & roll style into their own sound.
Maria del Pilar, who is currently finishing work on her next solo album, spent her formative years in Van Nuys. She was 9 years old when her family settled in the neighborhood after immigrating from Chile, and she lived there until she went to study music at California Institute of the Arts. It was her childhood neighborhood that inspired a hit for her former band, Los Abandoned: “Van Nuys (Es Very Nice).” (Maria del Pilar was known as Lady P. during her days with Los Abandoned.)
“For me, I wanted to describe through music and words the experience of what it was like to be an immigrant kid in Van Nuys,” the singer says by phone. “It's a pretty good description of what Van Nuys was like at that time and I think continues to be.”
When she was in high school, Maria del Pilar played in garage bands in the Valley. Later on, Los Abadoned played their first show at CIA in North Hollywood. More recently, she performed with Las Cafeteras at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. But, like Cutty Flam, this is one of the few opportunities she has to play in this neck of Los Angeles.
It's not just a chance for people to play music in the Valley; Van Nuys Arts Festival presents an opportunity to bring in people from outside neighborhoods for a visit. Over a phone call Cutty Flam drummer Bang Bangs mocks the disappointment she hears in people's voices when they say they have to go to the Valley. “We're like, it's not that far, guys,” she responds.
There's the perceived distance to the Valley that may keep people away. Plus, there are the stereotypes of a sleepy suburb. “They think we're like this humdrum town where people mow their lawns and wave at each other and say, 'Hi,' and then go to work all day,” says Cutty. “There are a lot of really cool people out here, and they just don't realize it.”
Van Nuys Arts Festival, Fri., Sept. 29, Van Nuys Civic Center, 14410 Sylvan St. The free event runs from 6 to 10 p.m.