Live sound engineering is a thankless task. When there's a lousy gig, say, bad turnout and no drink tickets, musicians often displace their frustration onto the soundperson. Cue the disappointed bandleader: "I couldn't even hear myself up there." But when there's a good gig, the club crammed with attentive listeners who buy merchandise, for instance, musicians rarely credit the soundperson. The satisfied bandleader likely attributes the evening's success to his or her onstage magnetism and spirited performance.
Then there's Christian Lunch, who has mixed and managed sound at haggard Telegraph Avenue bar the Stork Club nearly every night since 2000. Local musicians know him by his look: stringy hair and a black leather cowboy hat, Bad Boys Bail Bonds lanyard and a black tank top. He's also known for recording every set. And though plenty of upstart bands play for few onlookers at the Stork, none of the honest ones complain about Lunch.
On a walk from the Stork to the liquor store for coffee and cigarettes, Lunch, 58, told me about moving to Berlin in the late-Seventies, playing in German new wave groups such as Palais Schaumburg, and releasing a slew of synth-laden post-punk under his own name. The Witch Trials, an unnerving album and catalog highlight from 1981, was the result of a spontaneous collaboration between him and members of the Dead Kennedys.
In 1996, he returned to the Bay Area, where he grew up, to work in the video game industry. While barhopping with a drawing club called the Sketch Pistols, Lunch noticed that the Stork, then on 12th Street, needed a soundperson. Until 2011, he padded the job with a gig doing sound at Burning Man. "I was their last artist/engineer," he said, noting how the field has professionalized. "They used to like the way I could do things here, with little to no money and a lot of improvisation."
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