There’s no doubt that mainstream cultural heritage events promote understanding, acceptance, and engagement within our communities, but it’s important to make sure that they don’t become a once-a-year novelty. These events should ultimately be celebrations of the members of our society who come from those cultures and not just an assembly of food trucks and “costumes.” At least, this is the sentiment behind the APAHM (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month) Showcase Series which will be taking over Southern California’s underground music scene for the next few months.
Currently in its third “Phase,” the series was started by the moonroom music collective in 2017. While it’s grown exponentially in such a relatively short time, moonroom’s founder, who goes by “ETA”, remembers the early, much smaller, days. “There were seven showcases that I worked with another local collective, Redacted, to curate throughout May, which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, that year,” they explain. Those showcases proved to be the perfect starting point for a bringing together Asian American-fronted bands and allies.
“A lot of the participating artists that year weren’t even aware of an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month or the acronyms that are used, and honestly, it was also new to me,” they admit, “But everyone was really enthusiastic and it kinda brought them closer to their heritage and to their own personal identity. That was really cool to see.”
Thus, it seemed only natural that the series would grow the following year. Anticipating this, ETA enlisted some help. “In Phase Two, instead of trying to do them by myself, I reached out to various individuals, artists, collectives, and organizations, and asked them to each curate one event,” they say.
This helped the series expand, not only in terms of artists, but also venues and regional reach. It also meant that more people were getting involved and that a community was emerging around the series. “I became a central organizer while the curators were throwing their own showcases,” ETA explains. “With that formula, we went from 7 showcases in the first Phase, to 14 in the second. And the diversity totally increased. There were 20 performers during Phase One, and three times as many in Phase Two.”
This year, the series’ roster is more diverse than ever, something that ETA maintains, makes it distinct. “There are cultural events everywhere and there are cultural music fests, of all sorts, within the AAPI (Asian American & Pacific Islander) community. Most of those are pretty mainstream,”they say. “This one is significant because it welcomes all genres, all backgrounds, all orientations into the overall series. There’s space for everyone, it’s really inclusive.”
The lineup for Phase Three of this series includes everything from ambient and shoegaze artists to beatmakers and rappers. The atmospheric Young Lovers, EDM producer All Hell Breaks Loops, and evocative vocalist Kelleia, are just a handful of this year’s performers. Local indie rockers, Luke Loww, will be kicking off the Orange County leg of the series on May 10th, at the Garden Amp. In short, this Phase highlights real, contemporary AAPI artists, not just traditions of the past. It’s also worth noting that not all curators and community allies are AAPI. “Many of them come from various ethnic backgrounds, but they understand and share the common goal of solidarity with POC and LGTBTQIA communities and increasing diversity,” says ETA.
Whereas the series originally mainly took place in Los Angeles and a few Orange County venues, it now hosts showcases in most of Southern California’s underground music hotspots. Dates in both Pomona and San Diego have been added this year, with over 20 showcases booked throughout the summer months. ETA attributes much of this growth to an increase in bands and bookers who have been willing to help. “There’s been a lot of resource sharing, and that’s really at the core of what this series is about: helping everyone involved and highlighting more people of color, ” they explain. “Elevating the level of representation in our local scenes.”
Perhaps Phase Three of the APAHM Showcase Series can best be described by its name: Confluence. “On a project level, confluence [means] taking what’s transpired over the past two Phases and putting it together. But on the level of being an Asian American,” ETA continues, “That experience, confluence, comes from all the constructs that an Asian American inherits and cultivates while growing up in the United States. That’s Western experiences and media, but also ancestral experiences and what they’re learning from their parents and grandparents. That person has to take all of those influences, the ones they welcome and the ones they don’t, and put it all together to find their own voice. That’s the confluence of being an Asian American.”