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A town, two buildings, and a particular time
We didn't know how lucky we were back then
The crowd is getting antsy. It’s the spring of 1999 and my band Pressure 4-5 is prepping to play a show at 6694 Del Playa Dr in Isla Vista, California. The knee-high wooden deck in the front yard makes for a perfect stage. Playing shows every three or four weekends is one of the perks of living upstairs here.
According to the flyers we stapled on the power poles around town, we were supposed to start our set already. But we kept tripping the circuit breaker during soundcheck. Our guitarist Mark is driving to our practice unit a few blocks away to get the power strips we forgot.
The great thing about playing on Del Playa is that there are always people walking by who stop to watch us play. It’s the most popular street for house parties on Friday and Saturday. There have been nights where we’re playing in front of 500+ people spilling out into the street. Our singer Adam gets the whole crowd to jump along to our music in unison.
With the power issue fixed, we finally start our set.
Our diehard friends and fans are right in front—their shins pressed against the edge of the deck, singing along and bobbing their heads. After the first chorus of our opening song, a larger crowd starts forming around them.
We’re in our element now. I could get used to this.
Late-90s Isla Vista was a petri dish—growing mold in unkempt student houses and developing burgeoning musical talent, as well.
The local bands practiced in a couple of run-down two-story storage unit buildings on Seville Rd. The late owner Sid rented the rooms and garages out to bands on the cheap with the agreement that nobody would live in them. But some broke musicians still did, of course.
Even a few major label-signed bands practiced there at the time, such as Ultraspank and Snot—and many before them. Those of us who had ambitions beyond playing the next Isla Vista house party looked up to them. They were our mentors and we jumped at any chance to chat with them or sit in on a practice session and ogle at their superior music gear.
We eventually signed a major label record deal ourselves with the now-defunct DreamWorks Records.
We upgraded our music gear. We recorded a full-length album and shot a video on a soundstage at Universal Studios. Some of our fellow Isla Vista band friends were even in the simulated crowd for the video. My brother would’ve been one of them, forever captured on film in his big brother’s debut music video. But he and his friends got bored waiting in the holding area for all the extras and they snuck into the Universal Studios theme park to go on rides instead.
Like those other signed bands, we kept our practice unit. And, in turn, we became mentors for the next batch of up-and-coming bands.
Our first single, Beat The World, debuted on radio and MTV only a few days before 9/11. Yes, that 9/11. It put a damper on our promotional efforts, to say the least. We toured on Ozzfest and other North American tours for the better part of a year and a half. But our album sales were lackluster and the advent of Napster quickly started changing the music industry.
It was a formative time in my life—one I still look back on fondly. Isla Vista is a unique place. It's densely populated with young people trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. I had dreams of becoming a rock star back then. That didn’t work out, yet it gave me the confidence to put myself out there and share my creative work publicly. Nowadays, that creative work is my writing.
The wooden stage in front of my old Isla Vista house is gone now—replaced by drought-friendly plants and a short stucco retaining wall.
The practice units have been leveled and replaced with a live/work building called Icon Gardens.
I’m certain that the mold is still growing in unkempt student housing.
I wonder what impact COVID and remote learning had on the music scene there. I hope it will flourish again like it did 20+ years ago. But who knows. Maybe the stuff that made Isla Vista special for bands back then has changed too much—just like the rest of the world has.
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