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CoolWorld: DIY Punk Meets Glam in L.A.

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CoolWorldParty event co-founder Jeff Galvan. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.

A Southern California winter means chilly weather without snow. On a recent evening in Los Angeles the coldness creeps into Human Resources, a mainstay of the CoolWorldPartycollective. That does not stop the attendees from dressing in their unmatched fashion. The bartender is dressed like a nun and another attendee looks like a member of the "Lost Boys" cast. The audience is diverse; some seem as if they are in high school, others appear as if they have recently retired. Even if some of the attendees bear dramatic attire, no controversy occurs. This is the essence of CoolWorld as goers are always ready for a good time sans drama.

CoolWorld came to life shortly after Jeff Galvan moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area in 2010. He was disheartened by the idea that Los Angeles did not have much to offer queer artists and event attendees. After meeting Oscar Santos, both played several shows together. Soon after, they decided to start an organization that facilitated interactions for marginalized artists. Santos said they originally wanted to form a space "where people like us could hang out." Both took inspiration from different organizations. Galvan was inspired by Club Feral in San Francisco. Santos was inspired by Wildness, which was an underground dance party at the Silver Platter bar in L.A. "It was a really cool place to see experimental stuff [by] people of color, run by people of color -- that was an inspiration for me," Santos says. "That party had died a year or two before we did CoolWorld."

CoolWorldParty crowd. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.

CoolWorld is unapologetically DIY, often presenting experimental acts without having a formal place to call home. The organization hosted their first show in Galvan's living room then another at the Five Star Bar and has continued to hop around from place to place. "We have done a bunch of house parties. That is where we love to be," Santos says. "One thing that makes us different than other parties is that we have always worked on a donation based scale."

Santos goes on to explain how the DIY nature of CoolWorld can be challenging. "Sometimes we cannot afford to pay people a certain guaranteed amount but at the same time [our] shows are accessible for a lot of different people to come. Not all parties are free in L.A., actually very few are free or donation [based]."

"I really like to have donation [based shows] because everything in this city just revolves around money," Galvan adds. "A lot of young people in the city actually do have money, [but] they would rather drop money on a sandwich than on amazing performers that could possibly change their lives."

CoolWorldParty bartender. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.

Santos and Galvan say they were fortunate to run into Carlos Morales at a backyard gig. Morales DJs most of CoolWorld's events, he brings a hard techno and retro new wave soundtrack that blends well with the overall experimental attitude of the organization. He also shares their enthusiasm for grassroots events. Morales recalls his first few times with CoolWorld: "I was just so amazed by the party. I haven't been to anything this great since I was a teenager in the backyard scene. It was just like insane. The music they were playing. The bands that were playing. It was a good mix of DIY backyard culture that I basically grew up with." This attitude that CoolWorld runs on gives it their specific brand of punk. It is a mix of 1980s DIY rock ideology and glam aesthetics minus the machismo.

CoolWorld is conscious of the fact that it is strongly influenced by people who do not identify as women, Santos and Galvan. Although this is the case, they often book female performers like in their last event, which featured Sarah Gail Armstrong reciting poetry that dives deep into her sexuality as a Black woman. This interest in promoting women seeps into the very imagery that CoolWorld uses. "We are into putting those figures forward. So there is a lot of strong female mutants or monsters or something. We try to not make it exploitative," Santos says. CoolWorld curates with a kind of subconscious activism, not explicitly outward about its activism yet they book shows that primarily center around queer folk, people of color and women. Galvan says, "We are not labeling queer at all or straight, gay, bi, green, black, white, orange. We don't like to label anything -- even queer." Santos adds, "No boxes."

Installation by Jeff Galvan. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.

When asked whether they feel if CoolWorld is set apart from other DIY organizations Galvan says, "Yes, for sure. We do stuff that other people obviously do but we have our own DIY thing. Our Halloween party is one of the better DIY underground Halloween parties or party that you can go to if we are having one."

Santos says, "I have been inspired throughout my whole punk playing days, since I was 15, by people who have been doing shows. I have always met underground promoters, people who do their own nights, people who throw their own parties. For me CoolWorld is a part of that same thing. I think we do have a connection to other DIY organizations here in L.A., in the world, people we have met internationally." This kind of cosmopolitanism is easily seen at CoolWorld events where there is indeed an element of openness.

Santos and Galvan are humbly aware of the importance that their organization has on their community. When questioned if they are interested in establishing a lineage, Galvan replies, "We are already doing that."

Santos says, "I think we have served a special role for people here in L.A. and for touring acts. I think we are a part of the grand punk family." The punk attitude seen at CoolWorld events does not rely on pink Mohawks and tight jeans ripped at the knee; it relies on pro-plebeian [ideals] and a open-minded approach to DIY. It is often times difficult to find punk organizations as open and free and celebratory as CoolWorld. Often times there is an antagonistic element to punk organizations. Instead of celebrating the identity of marginalized groups, there is a bitter attack on power structures. CoolWorld takes activism to a completely new and revitalizing level. It does not let queerphobia, racism and misogyny make them glum. Instead, there is a truly vivacious energy at CoolWorld that swaps picket signs for retro records, angry mosh pits for synth pop dancing and fury for cheer."

Scourge playing a CoolWorldParty event. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.
Installation by Jeff Galvan. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.
Scourge playing a CoolWorldParty event. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.
CoolWorldParty DJ Carlos. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher.

Top Image: CoolWorldParty event co-founder Jeff Galvan. | Photo: Courtesy of Cynthia Maher

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