Smells Like Teen Ambition 

Oakland's iMusicast wants to be all rock 'n' roll things to all rock 'n' roll young'uns.

"Man, I'm really glad I wasn't attracted to any of the girls in there," noted Down in Front's twenty-year-old companion as we emerged, unscathed and unaccompanied, from an evening at iMusicast. He is indeed fortunate -- any untoward advances on his part would've landed his ass in the pokey.

Anyone out there lose a teenager? Twelve to eighteen years old? Tech-savvy, punk-rock-oriented? Equally enamored of the chat room as the mosh pit? You'll probably hunt down the little bugger at iMusicast, an ambitious East Bay multimedia studio and concert venue that prides itself on versatility: The iMusicast folks'll produce your album at the in-house Skyline studio and throw your CD release party, which they'll globally webcast live at iMusicast.com and then package as a DVD, which, if you're lucky, might get released on the upcoming iMusicast label -- its first release, a sixteen-band, sixteen-track DVD sampler called Live@iMusicast, is out soon.

Bitchin'. But what might really make iMusicast famous is the joint's uncanny adolescent magnetism: Last Saturday night between five hundred and seven hundred young'uns mashed through the doors for L3 -- Live, Loud, and Local -- a concert series spearheaded by Oakland punk rockers the Matches. Hundreds more caught the webcast. And evidently, the Matches are about to get signed and pampered and slathered in nubile young ladies and transformed into All-Powerful Big Whompin' Rock Stars (A-PBWRS).

It's O'Doul's Time.

"A music scene has popped up here that VC money can't buy, and grown-ups can't make," explains iMusicast founder and CEO Bryan Matheson. "It happened because it needed to happen."

Bryan is a tireless 46-year-old self-promoter given to bouts of hyperbole. Take, for example, his assessment of the Matches' current business situation: "Every label's just beggin'. Picture their manager trying to walk with four, five guys grabbing at his ankles. There's deals on the table."

Come now.

"Uhhhhhhhhhh, yeah," says Matches frontman Shawn Harris, laughing nervously. "Since we've been on tour, I guess around June, a bunch of interest really started to pick up. They started comin' to shows, followin' us. We got a lot of free meals out of it."

Yeah, fantastic, but who ya gonna sign with?

"Ummmmmmm. We've got some really good options, and right now we're still working it out."

We report, you decide. But judging from the insanely enthusiastic hordes of mid-pubescence crammed into iMusicast last Saturday night, something's going down -- the Matches headlined a six-band bill with Red Bull-fueled party punk exuberance showcasing both the band's youth (Shawn is only 21) and considerable experience (the band is five years old -- they called themselves the Locals until some similarly named Chicago chumps played the "Cease and Desist" card). The Matches fuse innocence with intensity remarkably well: Shawn's mohawk makes his allegiances clear, but if you're looking straight at him, his coif confined to a hair's-width stalk on his head, the dude looks like Alfalfa.

Yes, there's a strong Little Rascals "Let's Build a Punk Rock Clubhouse!" vibe to iMusicast, even though Bryan is quick to point out that the venue will book anyone -- hip-hop, reggae, acoustic folk -- and that he really considers the club an "afterthought" compared with the label, the studio, the DVD capability. He plays up the webcast angle, gleefully noting that someone from Hong Kong caught the L3 showcase. Though he'd prefer to be known as a multimedia supergenius -- "You play on our stage, and your reach is global, and instantaneous," he boasts -- Bryan will mastermind the Punk Rock Clubhouse too: "Parents come up to me and say, 'Oh my God, this is the coolest thing. Thank you for doing this. We're happy to drop our kids off here. They think it's cool, and we think it's safe. '"

Indeed, safetywise, given the lack of alcohol sales, the worst thing that can happen to you at iMusicast is one of the joint's several mounted TVs falling on your head. As many as eight cameras -- a few stationary, the rest manned -- capture the onstage action, which gets mixed and recorded in the upstairs control room as Bryan schmoozes whatever label guys happen to wander in. He mentions that Epitaph boss Brett Gurewitz stopped by during the Matches gig, and claims former Def Jam mogul Rick Rubin took the plunge a couple weeks ago.

Bryan has an instant pitch for any big-shot label people: "As soon as they sit down in the control room, I say [snap] 'Your bands. In here. Packed house. On DVD. iMusicast. Let's rock it. '"

So that's his angle: Tech-happy businessman combining every element of a band's promotion under one roof. For him, iMusicast is the culmination of his lifelong love affair with the music biz -- in addition to running Skyline (since '93) and the iMusicast venue (since January 2000), he's also been a singer with "a million" bands (mostly funk/R&B); he currently lends his pipes to Berkeley's Pacific Mozart Ensemble, due to play Berlin in November. He's a multitasker with the ultimate multitask, and he's damn proud of it: After the dot-com bust, "I can't believe I'm still alive," he says. "It's validation of our business model. It's proof that I'm not crazy, and that this is a worthwhile thing, 'cause it's starting to blow up."

Screw the business model. The kids on Saturday just wanted to blow up. Though the Matches stole top billing, Bay Area pop-punkers Locale A.M. played right before 'em and induced far more crowd hysteria. Once you overcome that Creepy Old Fogey feeling -- apparently some sort of death ray has reduced the Locale A.M. guys to one-third their actual size -- it's the enthusiasm that strikes you the most: more pogoing and joyous elation than 2,000 Interpol shows combined.

After the set, it was time to sample iMusicast's most ingenious feature: the chat room. Several computer terminals in the venue plug into it, and anyone tuning in or rocking out online can jump on too. It's a direct line into the crowd's collective subconscious -- ever wonder what that weirdo next to you is actually thinking as he's headbangin'?

So let's try this out.

IM_chill1: "Hey, how old are the Locale A.M. dudes?"

Jeeeee: "Who cares? They suck."

God bless technology.

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