Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Younger Lovers Make Punk Rock That's Lighthearted and Inclusive

by Madeline Wells
Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 3:55 PM

Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers performed at the Ivy Room on Friday night. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers performed at the Ivy Room on Friday night.
“Don’t you love when rock 'n' roll musicians pretend like they have the hardest job in the world?” Brontez Purnell, frontman of garage rock band The Younger Lovers, asked the crowd Friday night at the Ivy Room in Albany. “Like, girl, come on. Calm down.”

Purnell, dressed in a sensible cardigan, button-down, and chunky hipster glasses, may play in a rock band, but he certainly doesn’t take himself too seriously. Telling hilarious tales of the inspiration behind his songs, teasing his bassist for “fucking white boys,”
accepting drink after drink from the crowd, and making fun of himself for forgetting the chords to songs, he turned the ordinarily white and male-dominated space of punk music into something lighthearted and inclusive.

Growing up Black and gay in small-town Alabama, Purnell found a community in the riot grrrl scene, playing in punk bands and writing a humorous 'zine about his sexual experiences called Fag School.
He eventually moved to Oakland, earning a reputation for his outrageous stage presence in queer electro band Gravy Train!!!! before starting The Younger Lovers in 2003.

Since then, the band has developed its sound, Purnell’s loose drawl racing over straightforward guitar chords in a style that pays homage to surf, punk, and soul. If you listen closely to the slurred-together lines, you’ll be charmed by grimly funny relationship tales and other escapades — stories that were surely tragic at the time, but become entertaining through a bitingly good sense of humor. Upbeat and concise, most songs are punk through and through, clocking in at two minutes or under.

After some extended technical difficulties with a malfunctioning guitar cord and some jokes about erectile dysfunction, The Younger Lovers opened with “Sugar in My Pocket,” an urgently saccharine love song wrapping up after just one minute and 30 seconds. A few
minutes later, the band was already almost halfway through its setlist, playing “Tight Fade,” a relatable song about getting a haircut as an attempt to fix your life: “Something had to change so I cut my hair/I had to rearrange so I cut my hair,” Purnell sang.

What the band lacked in polish they made up for in banter. Purnell had no shortage of quips targeted at the too-serious white indie bros of rock music throughout the show. Before launching into “Poseur” toward the end of their set, he told the story of an “indie
rock threeway” gone wrong, something that he said happened to him seven years ago but still haunts him to this day. Upon meeting the third person participating, Purnell said he asked the guy what his favorite band in high school was, and he replied, “Modest Mouse.”

“I’m just like, fuck, he listened to Modest Mouse. And I’m supposed to get a hard on?”

White rocker boys could stand to learn a thing or two about punk music from Purnell.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Boss Robot Hobby in Elmwood Closes After 15 Years in Business

by Madeline Wells
Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 10:28 AM

Boss Robot Hobby owner Johnny Williams. - BOSS ROBOT HOBBY'S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Boss Robot Hobby's Facebook page
  • Boss Robot Hobby owner Johnny Williams.
Boss Robot Hobby closed its doors this weekend after 15 years in business. The tiny store in Berkeley’s Elmwood district was stocked to the brim with remote-controlled cars, airplanes, and helicopters, as well as vintage Japanese toys and comic books.

Owner Johnny Williams was inspired to open the store when his 6-year-old son begged him for a remote-control toy boat. After finally giving in and shelling out the $40, the boat turned out to be a disappointment. His son told him that “the packaging was better than the toy,” said Williams.

This got him thinking: Were there better products out there? Underwhelmed by the results in his search for reusable and reparable toys, Williams decided to open Boss Robot Hobby.
“I wanted to create something that was reminiscent of things I saw and experienced as a kid,” said Williams. “I just used to hang around places until someone taught me something.”

The store aimed to be a welcoming, stimulating space for kids and adults alike, with a race track upstairs for children to play with after school and collectible art toys that appealed more to the older crowd. Williams even organized informal events outside the store, meeting with groups at the Chabot Space and Science Center or the Berkeley Marina to race remote-controlled cars and fly airplanes.

“It was really groovy,” said Williams. “We would have everyone from police officers, fire department people, doctors, to just every kind of person out there doing remote control.”

Boss Robot Hobby closed due to unanticipated changes with its main supplier, Hobbico, one of the last employee-owned American hobby companies. Hobbico recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a lawsuit for patent infringement by Traxxas, another hobby toy manufacturer. Williams said Traxxas' products aren't as good as Hobbico's, and Boss Robot Hobby prided itself on selling durable toys, instilling in children the ideals of lasting value and reusability.

Williams said he's unsure what’s next for him, but that opening another business in the same space is within the realm of possibility. His wife, Doris Moskowitz, owns Berkeley’s beloved Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue, so business runs in their blood. But for now, he’s just happy to have had 15 fruitful years with Boss Robot Hobby, a business that not only endured the recession, but actually grew.

“I got to meet a million people, changed people’s lives, and a lot of people that generally wouldn’t have hung out together got to mix,” said Williams. Folks from all over the East Bay found a special community in the space. His impact was tangible: some children who were customers have gone on to pursue engineering and other relevant fields, and he even had the rewarding experience of working with developmentally challenged kids to find things they could build and engage with.

He doesn’t see the end of the small but mighty store as a failure; rather, he sees it as an opportunity for something new and just as wonderful to happen.

“I feel really proud and really lucky,” said Williams. “These experiences changed my life.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

Oakland's Fresh Jamz Party Will Celebrate Its Ten-Year Anniversary at a New Venue

The beloved happy-hour party is taking residence at The Legionnaire Saloon

by Azucena Rasilla
Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 12:14 PM

DJ Delgado and DJ Odiaka at Fresh Jamz' second anniversary party. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DJ ODIAKA
  • Photo courtesy of DJ Odiaka
  • DJ Delgado and DJ Odiaka at Fresh Jamz' second anniversary party.

A lot has changed in Oakland in the past decade since Odiaka Gonzalez (DJ Odiaka) and Peter Delgado (DJ Delgado) started the Fresh Jamz party. The Town certainly wasn’t the food mecca it is today, neither did it have a vibrant and eclectic nightlife — to the contrary, people in Oakland were struggling due to the recession, and businesses were failing.

DJ Odiaka knew that a party was needed, one that would cater to educators and those working in nonprofits (Delgado and Odiaka both work in these fields respectively), a happy hour party where people could relax and de-stress. One day when Odiaka, his then-girlfriend (now wife), and a group of educators were hanging out at the Parkway Lounge, the idea of Fresh Jamz came to life.

On the verge of the 10-year anniversary of this Oakland nightlife favorite, the Express chatted with DJ Odiaka about what Fresh Jamz has meant to Oakland’s nightlife scene. We also talked about the changes and bumps along the way after the abrupt closure of The Night Life, the venue where Fresh Jamz had set roots for more than five years, and the up-coming new residency at The Legionnaire, starting with the anniversary party on Friday, Jan. 26.

The first half of Fresh Jamz' residency took place at the Parkway Lounge on Park Boulevard, but the DJs weren't happy with the situation. “We decided that we needed to find another location, and we ended up taking a year off,” said Odiaka.

When The Night Light opened in Jack London, Odiaka saw the perfect opportunity to bring Fresh Jamz to a new location. “I knew Doug [Kinsey, former owner of the now-closed venue] from him working at Radio and Kitty’s,” Odiaka said. “He loved the idea of bringing a party with an already established crowd to this new spot.”

Fresh Jamz at The Night Light - PHOTO COURTESY OF DJ ODIAKA
  • Photo courtesy of DJ Odiaka
  • Fresh Jamz at The Night Light

Fresh Jamz was one of the most successful parties at The Night Light. Happy-hour aficionados knew that the fourth Friday of every month was the time to relieve stress and let loose.

In between the monthly happy hour parties, a new idea arose — a daytime weekend party at Lake Merritt. “A lot of the folks who come to Fresh Jamz are on a school calendar, so the summer was always kinda weird with having the happy hour party,” he said.

So far, they have done four parties at the lake; the one last summer had more than 400 people in attendance. He explained that obtaining permits has been a challenge. “It’s one person doing the permitting for all the parks and recs; I understand why it’s hard, it’s inadequate, being paper forms and not an online system.” Still, these bureaucratic obstacles won't derail another party at the lake planned for this summer.

When The Night Light abruptly closed last September, the week the monthly Fresh Jamz was supposed to take place, the team was left scrambling and ultimately decided to forgo that month’s event. The DJs were left wondering what the fate of the party would be.

After a much-needed break for both DJs, Fresh Jamz is coming back stronger than ever.

The party is officially re-launching its residency at its new location, The Legionnaire, and moving to the fifth Saturday of the month. That means this year they'll host five parties at the Uptown venue, plus one at Lake Merritt and pop-up parties throughout the year — the first one will be at Off The Grid at the Oakland Museum of California in March.

DJ Odiaka and DJ Delgado remain committed to Fresh Jamz being a community party, a special place for educators and those working in the nonprofit sector to decompress and mingle with friends.

As for what’s next for Fresh Jamz. Said Odiaka: “I want to see how we can use this platform to help — what are some causes that are dear to our heart that we can help educate on and support. How we can highlight other businesses, expand people’s horizons of Oakland.”

Fresh Jamz' 10-Year Anniversary will be held Friday, Jan. 26, 5 p.m., at The Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, DJOdiaka.com

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

OP-ED: Feelmore Is More Than Just a Sex Shop

by Nenna Joiner
Wed, Jan 10, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Nenna Joiner is the founder of Feelmore Adult Gallery, located at 1703 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.
  • Nenna Joiner is the founder of Feelmore Adult Gallery, located at 1703 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland.
People often associate sex stores with self-gratification, sex education, or taboo, but at Feelmore, it’s always been about more than just sex.

Before owning a brick-and-mortar retail store, I had a dream that I owned a sex shop. The following day, I went online and purchased about a hundred pieces of porn and sex toys, and I began selling dildos and vibrators out of the trunk of my 1993 gold Toyota Camry on the street corners of downtown Oakland. Selling sex toys allowed me to overcome my personal fear of the stigma tied to sex and sex work. It allowed me to develop meaningful ways to talk about topics such as sex, race, body image, and politics. While retail stores continue to close in downtown Oakland, Feelmore is still thriving, creating a space for people to shop comfortably and discretely. We’re also a date stop for couples who don’t drink. It just so happens that the late-night store that welcomes people is a “sex shop.”

Feelmore is the keeper of secrets such as: insecurities, infidelities, and sexual expression. Our ground-floor location represents a twilight zone for unlikely encounters and friendships to crystallize and collisions to occur. We make it part of our business model to hire Oakland residents referred by friends or family, as we want patrons and visitors in downtown to feel at home. The sale of each item is a story in waiting, a teachable moment to all parties involved.

Take a soft pack or a cock pump, for instance. From the perspective of a cis-gendered heterosexual person, the soft pack or the cock pump could be viewed as a novelty or an obscene sex device. However, for an individual transitioning from female to male or a lover experiencing impotence, those products can make a significant difference in their lives. We’ve had lovers of #PrisonBae come in on date night using FaceTime. A father has come in to buy his daughter Unicorns Are Jerks, which is a coloring book he thought would be a great way to have an open- ended conversation about sex. An abuelita has come in several times with a handwritten request to purchase her grandson’s masturbation sleeve.

The longer we are in business — Feb. 14 will mark our eighth year — the more we see our clients changing their relationship to sex and intimacy. It is an immense privilege to know that they choose to support us over our competitors because we meet their diverse needs. It is humbling for someone to trust you with some of their most intimate, private thoughts, knowing that we will never share them — and we never do. At Feelmore, we take pride in honoring every voice, free of judgment. We seek to build a sense of real community and belonging in a city that has endured and — continues to undergo — many uncertainties.

As an active community leader and small business owner, I adamantly believe that staying in business is important for Oakland’s morale and self-esteem. Preeminent scholars who have written about Oakland have emphasized its timelessness, resilience, grit, and determination to survive. Oakland is the City of Grit! Conceived and raised in the stomping grounds of Oakland, Feelmore is redefining the retail experience for the city, small business owners, and community residents. Feelmore is extremely excited to launch new products, workshops, and talent in 2018. Keeping with our tradition, we aim to preserve and build upon the hometown feel Oakland is known for.

At Feelmore, it’s about more than just sex — it’s personal!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Family, Friends, and Fans Pay Tribute to Rod Dibble, Oakland's Pianist

by Rick Paulas
Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 5:21 PM

  • Rick Paulas
  • RIP
A memorial was held at The Alley over the weekend for Rod Dibble, the dive bar’s resident pianist since 1960, who died on Dec. 18 at the age of 85.

Scattered through the business card-heavy detritus stapled to the walls of the Grand Avenue's beloved bar were old photographs of Dibble: There was a shot of him in 2010, celebrating 50 years behind the piano with a neon green krazy straw shaped like a music note. And there he was, waving with a joyous smile from his perch as he held mass to his karaoke congregants. And in the bar’s rarely visited afternoon hours, it was even light enough to see some of the usually obscured wall junk — including that banner on the back wall celebrating Dibble’s 66th birthday with the self-evident claim that “He’s incred-DIBBLE!”

For someone who once said he’d “be very happy to die right behind this piano here,” it was a fitting presentation, almost as if Dibble had merged with the bar itself in his afterlife.

On Saturday afternoon, the first day of the weekend-long send-off, there was a long spread of finger sandwiches, “piping-hot” wings, and snacks gracing the ancient bar, as Bryan Seet, one of Dibble’s two replacements, tickled the ivories. Friends, family, and fans of the iconic Oakland musician gathered around the piano, trading songs from the Great American Songbook and stories of the great man himself.

“Singing here around this piano was the first time I ever sang in public,” said one reveler, before launching into an old standard, then bringing in his saxophone for accompaniment.

Among the memorials on display were pages and pages of printed memorials from The Alley's Facebook page; it seemed like everyone in the city of Oakland had been touched, in one way or another, by this scene that Dibble created. There was also the hefty tome of laminated press that might as well double as a memorial to papers and writers long gone.

There was no shortage of ink spilled on Dibble’s unique place in Oakland culture over the years, including a '71 Oakland Tribune piece by Perry Phillips for his “Night Sounds” column, calling Dibble one of the only “pianobar artists still around from my early days on this beat.” And there was a pull-quote from an old profile by local writer Pat Craig, with Dibble stressing: “I'm not the piano man. God, if somebody calls me piano man, I tell them I'm the pianist, my name is Rod Dibble.”

But the most dominant element of the afternoons in The Alley were those songs, constant and pure as they ever were, even if the notes behind them felt a little heavier than before.

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