There goes the neighborhood: LA Times’ Brand X says goodbye

Yet another news publication has bitten the dust.

Its not quite the headline-breaker like Rupert Murdoch‘s recent folding of the News of the World, the 168-year-old British tabloid that has received allegations for hacking into the cellphone of a murdered schoolgirl.

But, the free, LA Times-owned, weekly arts, entertainment and culture magazine known as Brand X has been a staple in the Los Angeles youth scene for a few years.

And by youth, I mean the twentysomething hipster population that has taken over spots like Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and West Hollywood.

Its strongpoints, at least to me, were extensive reporting on the rising Los Angeles craft beer movement and its coverage of the indie music scene.

There is, however, a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times Media Group also announced in a memo that it will be expanding its roster of community newspapers.

I interned at Brand X (formerly thisisbrandx.com, the site was taken down July 8th) when it was still Metromix Los Angeles (formerly la.metromix.com, folded into the Times, then morphed into Brand X). This was back in 2009 and was my first of three journalism internships after college.

I was really going to miss the weekly tabloid, as I’m moving (back) to the Bay Area in a few days.

But now, everyone will miss this fun and edgy guide to what’s what, who’s who and what’s happening in LA.

I’m sure it was only a matter of time.

Best of luck to Deb Vankin, Alexandra Le Tellier and the rest of the staff with their new roles at the Times.

More information check out LA Observed‘s coverage.

One of my first non school-related publications was on Metromix.com in 2009. The short blog contribution is below:

Published on Metromix.com in 2009.

Give this band some press: Let’s Drive to Alaska

From left to right, Let's Drive to Alaska is Marisa Kirtland, Chris Garcia, Cris Holguin and Patrick Haag.

Orange County indie up and comers Let’s Drive to Alaska are an experiment.

An experiment that explores the art of sound creation and manipulation.

Moody synths meld with glitchy beats and melodic strings to create an introspective and atmospheric arrangement. Throw in a dash of post-rock sensibilities and you’ve got Let’s Drive to Alaska.

Think From Monument to Masses meets The Notwist and the softer side of Explosions In The Sky. Music you can think to, write to, sleep to and even wake up to.

The Whittier-based instrumental outfit Let’s Drive to Alaska has become an OC mainstay throughout the last six months, making an impact on the local scene with well-honed live shows that draw a good crowd even on a Monday night.

The band’s May 23rd performance at Fullerton’s Commonwealth Lounge, where I caught them live, was no exception. This is a tight group — band member Cris Holguin says they practice three times a week, upwards of five hours at a time.

Yet no one is talking about them. You can find LTDA on Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Soundcloud, but a quick Google news or blog search leads to links mostly related to, of course, Sarah Palin.

LDTA is a distinct breed of band, where the music stems from one person’s creation.

It’s like Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor’s industrial rock collective. Reznor writes and records most of the music but brings a full band on tour. Conor Oberst, frontman of Bright Eyes, and Zach Condon of Beirut have similar strategies.

In this case, it’s 23-year-old Chris Garcia…at least for now.

LTDA has seen a few different lineups, and the current four-piece is just Garcia’s latest efforts to realize his musical visions.

Garcia, who started making music on his laptop in 2005, has held many monikers for his eclectic musical projects. He has The Coherent Mammals, an ambient group not too dissimilar from LTDA and the more guitar-driven The Golden Tongues, to name a few.

With the latest incarnation, Garcia has brought on solid talent for a more permanent arrangement: drummer Pat Haag (ex-Mississippi Man), sampling and effects artist Cris Holguin and violinist/celloist Marisa Kirtland.

But the still-fresh group has yet to face it’s biggest challenge — winning over the toughest crowd to date: LA hipsters.

The band knows that pull in Orange County means nothing in Los Angeles and that it’s not unusual to play to an empty audience the first few shows.

They’ll find out soon enough as their first LA show is at The Airliner Monday night.

Right now, the group is putting finishing touches on a new EP, “Floating Mammoths.” This will be the first recording to feature the current lineup.

And while the album is almost in the bag, Holguin says he is working on a groundbreaking visual set to sync up to the music during live performances.

And if you’re curious about seeing Holguin on stage hooking up his effects board to a 20″ white iMac instead of a laptop, you’ll have to ask him about the first Let’s Drive to Alaska show for that story.

Check out a track from Let’s Drive to Alaska:

Pictures from the Commonwealth Lounge show HERE.

You can watch an interview with LTDA frontman Chris Garcia here:

Genre: Electronic/Experimental/Postrock/Electronic

Urban Outfitters goes to Israel!

Israel
I recently came across the new Urban Outfitters Early Spring 2011 Catalog and started flipping through.

Didn’t take long for me to realize I recognized some of the locations in the photos.

Turns out the photos for the hip clothing brand’s latest fashion catalog were taken in ISRAEL.

I wouldn’t venture as far as saying Israel is my homeland since I’m not from there, but it is close to my heart.

I traveled to Israel in October on a birthright trip with about 16 fellow Jews from the Los Angeles area for a 10-day experience of a lifetime. And the best part? It was free. Sponsored by Jewish organizations, private donors and the government of Israel, these trips have been going on for about 10 years.

Specifically, Urban took its models, clothing and photographers to sunny Tel Aviv, Israel, which is sister cities with Los Angeles and has been referred to as a mini LA. Tel Aviv was beautiful, relaxing and of course…urban (seriously). On my trip in October, Tel Aviv felt like a vacation in between an educational journey filled with long hikes, early morning expeditions, camel rides and nights spent in a Bedouin desert tent.

Below is the shot from the Urban catalog featuring an interesting red sculpture. This is right across the street from the Grand Beach Hotel where I stayed. My picture from there follows.

Tel Aviv, Israel. Courtesy of Urban Outfitters Early Spring Catalog 2011.

Sculpture by the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

Interesting to note, Urban Outfitters’ relationship with Israel isn’t exactly untarnished.

In 2008, they sold keffiyehs, those Middle Eastern scarves that conjure the image of Palestinian leader Yaser Arrafat, according to fashion blog The Gloss. The scarves were a bestseller – in fact I have one – until Jewish blogs accused Urban of an anti-Israeli political agenda. The apparel company eventually gave in and stopped selling them, though they still offer similar items.

In addition the keffiyeh fiasco, Urban has no stores in Israel. That makes the exotic locale of Tel Aviv an interesting choice, as the company has been criticized for its lack of presence. H&M opened in Tel Aviv in 2010 and several pro-Palestinian groups attempted to boycott the chain. The Gloss says Israel does ship to Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.

So why Tel Aviv? It’s simple, according to Urban’s facebook page“We were craving some warm weather, so we headed to sunny Tel Aviv with photographer Marlene Marino to shoot our early spring catalog.”

Find photos from the shoot HERE. Check out my photos from 10 days in Israel HERE.

A sampling of my shots below, taken on a Canon XS DSLR:

The rest of my Israel photos HERE, Urban Outfitters’ Tel Aviv shoot HERE.

Shiomo Laha Promenade in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

The Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

Downtown Tel Aviv from rooftop. Photo by Daniel Ucko

Banksy graffiti art in downtown Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko

A taste of Israeli life in downtown Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Ucko.

The CoCo and Leno Show

Like all major affairs in the media, the bout between NBC’s late night hosts Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien spurred a good deal of creative heckling in the month of back and forth over the future of “The Tonight Show.”
Every time something big goes down with major celebrities, the mass media is just one of the parties involved in event-naming, fun-poking and marketable mockery.
TeeFury.com sold a “CoCo and Leno-head” T-shirt for one day only on January 16.
Hollywood blog The Wrap dubbed the incident “LateNightCrisis 2010” and Examiner.com went with “Late Night Gate.” Even MTV joined in on the fun, featuring a battle of comic book cameos.
And we can’t forget “CoCo,” Conan’s first nickname in his 17 years of television. “I’m with CoCo” spurred Facebook groups, Twitter conversations, an epic-looking graphic and even a rally in the rain outside NBC’s Los Angeles studios.
All from those in support of O’Brien staying on board at NBC.
And people call our generation apathetic.We mobilize when we need to, in support of those we believe in and against what we don’t.
But it’s important that we remember to utilize the tools of the Internet and social media to spur real-world change, because, frankly, nobody ever won a war by creating a Facebook group.

Video of the Conan Rally in LA this past Monday:

From bees to bibles: real life comedy…in picture form

1. The bottom of my bill from an LA diner after going to a taping of Real Time with Bill Mahr. Apparently the servers take anything as payment — ass, cash or grass!
2. If you look closely at your Metrolink receipt, it’s really quite insulting. 1 round adult? At least I’m not square…
3. #4 getting arrested.
4. A Spidey impersonator at Hollywood and Vine over summer: Caught in a legal web
5. Good to know the staff at LAVENDA is Asian and Latina. Just another sign that people only seem to be comfortable around their same kind.
6. Free shower parking??! No way! I’ve been looking for somewhere to store my shower! Oh wait…wait…what the fuck is this place? Come and enjoy a free shower and parking? $10 off one hour? Something smells fishy here, LA…
7. / 8. These two go together — The Carl’s Jr. at Brea Mall got an award of excellence in 2007. Yet right below that is a sign saying some of the food ingredients may cause birth defects or significant harm. Yikes. Not sure how excellent that really is.
10. Apparently the honey at WINCO Foods is VERY, very fresh…
11. Taken at my girlfriend’s old church/Catholic middle school — gotta make the bible thumpers happy somehow.
12. / 13. #FAIL — here’s one for the failblog. The meters at Cal Poly Pomona read “FAIL” when they’re out of order. Now THAT’s comedy.
14. These two chairs have been sitting on top of my kitchen table for nearly a month now. My God-forsaken bitch of a roommate told me before I left for a weeklong trip that I needed to clear my things out of the common areas of our, er, his house. He moved some furniture around, bought one of those Roomba iRobot vacuum cleaners, and didn’t clean a fucking thing. But he kept the chairs on the table. Idiot.
15. Always funny — Super Trooper’s Farva LIVE at Brea Improv last night, telling a story about full frontal nudity. Nearly everyone in an audience of strangers has seen him naked, since we’ve all seen the powdered sugar shower scene from Super Troopers. Rad.

An epidemic of [swine flu] fear

I just got vaccinated today at Cal Poly Pomona’s Student Health Services.

It was free, and despite the concerns over the mercury thermosal (used to preserve the vaccine and prevent germs) and the minute chance of autism, I took the plunge.

It was the injection and not the nasal spray, but it was painless — other than a sore left arm, which is standard for all shots.

Maybe it’s my laid-back northern California nature, but I’m really not too worried. People have been getting vaccinations all through their lives, and not until there’s one for this new case of H1N1, or swine flu, does everyone become a cynic.

WIRED magazine had a cover story last month called An Epidemic Of Fear that is an enlightening read. The jist? Like with all controversial topics, there’s a plethora of misinformation that floats around, much of it coming from bias sources with a stake in the game. Jenny McCarthy is one advocate linking autism to vaccinations, despite evidence that proves otherwise.

The article reads:

The parent who reads what Jenny McCarthy says and thinks, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t get this vaccine,’ and their child dies of Hib meningitis,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s such a fundamental failure on our part that we haven’t convinced that parent.” Consider: In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever.

If you want to prove me wrong, go read this: http://bit.ly/5PughD. I don’t doubt that there’s research and studies to link vaccinations to autism and other harmful things, but contracting swine flu is pretty harmful too. Perhaps less severe, but I’ll take my chances and avoid the current pandemic.

from wired.com

I did a feature on swine flu concerns on college campuses recently for 89.3 KPCC.

DOWNLOAD THIS MP3:
http://www.box.net/shared/ng7bgol919

[file name = swine flu college mixdown]

It’s my public radio debut and I don’t have mp3 uploading capabilities on the blog just yet. Here’s the script:

H1N1 – the “swine flu” virus – is hitting young people especially hard.  That’s why local college campuses are on guard.  But getting students to take the “swine flu” threat seriously can be a challenge.  Reporter Daniel Ucko has our story from Cal Poly Pomona.

Daniel Ucko: It’s lunchtime – and thousands of students are roaming the Cal Poly Pomona campus. It’s “university hour” – with no classes in session. Think recess for big kids.

Ucko: It’s the perfect time for Student Health Services workers to pass out fliers that remind people to practice basic hygiene to avoid the flu. But it’s a tough sell.

Eric Au: I’m actually not too worried about it.

Ucko: Cal Poly junior and graphic designer Eric Au says he’s not worried about the “swine flu” even though faculty and students file in and out of his campus office all day. He admits that where he works, germs spread easily.

Au: Anytime flu season comes around or something, we always have that talk in a meeting. And so if this is indeed still flaring up, we’re definitely gonna talk about it here.

Ucko: David Patterson is doing more than talking. He’s Cal Poly Pomona’s director of environmental health and safety.

David Patterson: I would say we have to plan for the fact that we will probably see some cases on campus.

Ucko: There’s only been one confirmed case of H1N1 at Cal Poly Pomona. But it’s hard to say for sure. The campus health center no longer tests for the virus. New guidelines from the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say test only if a patient is hospitalized. The CDC says health officials should instead focus on treatment and containment. David Patterson.

Patterson: It’s the same thing if you live at home and the same thing if you go shopping down at the mall. An old adage I’ve used for years and years is to keep four feet most of the time between you and other people. Avoid sneezing or coughing on people by covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. You know, frequently washing your hands.

Ucko: Next week, Cal Poly Pomona will host one of LA County’s H1N1 vaccination clinics. The university has a “swine flu” web page that answers basic questions about the virus, and debunks myths – including one that got some play on campus.

Ucko: The agricultural school has about 10 pigs in its swine unit. Despite a campus rumor, you can’t get “swine flu” from these specially bred Cal Poly pigs. But grab your little brother’s piggy bank while he’s sick in bed – and you just might get it.

Patterson: Pretty much the same thing we’ve heard again and again.

Ucko: Cal Poly Pomona health and safety director David Patterson.

Patterson: The issue here is that this is the flu, and given the current severity that CDC’s reporting on the H1N1, it’s a fairly mild version. So it’s as much the same precaution as for any flu or any diseases. It’s all about protections the individual can do or things the individual can do to reduce their chance or risk.

Ucko: Of particular worry on campus are dormitories, shared bathrooms – and, of course, frat parties.

Nick Spagnola: I’ve made a joke that I think that there’s going to be a correlation between the spread of swine flu and the amount of frat parties attended by freshmen.

Ucko: Senior Nick Spagnola is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He thinks the H1N1 virus will spread when partygoers share drinks. But he says there could be an upside to an outbreak.

Spagnola: Oh absolutely! If it becomes like a serious thing, I intend to miss class a decent amount. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to lie to teachers or any sort of administrator or anyone listening, but if I was looking in my arsenal of excuses, “swine flu” would probably pop up there.

Ucko: Cal Poly Pomona anticipated a pandemic of phony “swine flu” absences. Professors will post class notes online for students who really are sick – but those students will need a note from the doctor.

Pomona’s Big Changes

downtown-pomona-fox-theater

The Fox Theater is one of the newer attractions in a revitalized downtown Pomona.

Pomona is working to change its reputation from the inside out.

A city known for gang violence and graffiti has been working to revitalize the downtown and breathe new life into an area that has fallen apart from years of neglect.

A revitalization effort has started turning Downtown Pomona into a vibrant community of galleries, restaurants, bars and clubs.

For some, it’s an “island of safety” within Pomona.

But residents are unsure about what’s next. The Downtown Pomona Owner’s Association, a group created to improve the business district, has helped to usher in the facelift.

A.S. Ashley, a local artist, resident  and chair of the Pomona Arts Colony Association, says that what’s good for the city is good for the district and what’s good for the district is good for the individual.

“It’s taken decades to get it to this point where it is actually living,” Ashley said.

The downtown is creating new impressions on locals who used to stray away from Pomona for fear of their safety.

John Clifford, who writes for various Pomona blogs and is vice chairman for Friends of the Pomona Fox, said he used to spend all of his time in Claremont because Pomona was “downright scary.”

“There’s been no life in Pomona for a long time,” Clifford said.

Pomona, the fifth largest city in Los Angles County, suffers from reoccurring gang violence, prostitution and homelessness.
Pomona’s crime rate is 1.31 times the national average, and violent crime is more than double that of neighboring cities such as Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and Claremont.

Of major concern to citizens is that Pomona police close only 44 percent of their homicide cases, compared to 70 percent nationally.

Residents have written submissions to the local newspaper, calling “abusive police practices and individual police misconduct” reasons for not solving murder cases.

This is in a city of around 155,000 that is reported to have 21 documented gangs and 1,320 gang members as of 2006.

Clifford first experienced Pomona in 1972, when he first came to town to work on a political campaign. His office was in the Second Street Mall, the commercial hub of Pomona Valley until the 1950s.

“Buildings were vacating, long-term businesses left town, the mall was rife with gangs and graffiti and all kinds of problems,” Clifford said.

Second Street was home to a thriving post-World War II suburbia until the 1960s, when shoppers were drawn away to the newly built Montclair Plaza and Eastland Mall in West Covina. Pomona attempted to compete by creating of a new kind of pedestrian-friendly mall, but the project failed by the early 1970s, leaving many of the businesses vacant and the streets empty.

Deterioration continued as rents plummeted and lower income individuals moved into the area. The population is now around 65 percent Latino, a historically lower socioeconomic group according to the Census Bureau.

Today, Clifford and other residents are comparing downtown Pomona to Old Town Pasadena, Long Beach and even Hollywood.
The common thread within these cities is a downtown revitalization effort in the form of a Property and Business Improved Business District, commonly known as a PBID.

A PBID forms when businesses get together and agree to pay fees for special benefits the city can’t afford.

Those benefits include security, maintenance and promotion.

The district was recently renewed for 10 years, with a $712,000 budget for the first year. Much of the money goes to security, with the rest devoted to street improvements, marketing and professional services.

Business owners are assessed based on the size of their property.

Carolyn Hemming, district president, said the additional taxes have helped the area succeed.

“The DPOA is cleaning up the reputation of Pomona,” Hemming said. “Now it’s a destination.”

Hemming says it has taken a while for people to start feeling like they could come downtown again, and the improved district has been the catalyst in developing the community of unique shops and entertainment.

“I really want to see this place succeed,” said Hemming, who was born and raised in Pomona.

The improved district is bordered on the north and south by First Street and Mission Boulevard, and on the west and east by South Rebecca Street and South Eleanor Street, respectively. Garey Avenue runs through the middle.

David Armstrong, a downtown property owner, wants the city to create laws and ordinances to govern the maintenance, making sure businesses are held accountable for their own trash.

“It’s really up to the City Council to support the P-BID with laws and ordinances that will benefit everybody.”

Armstrong said he has seen the downtown change drastically from a family-oriented daytime business district to a nighttime entertainment atmosphere.

He’s concerned the city needs to better prepare for the newfound crowds coming downtown at night.

“If you bring three or four thousand people down here at a time, you’re going to have a certain amount of problems,” Armstrong said, mentioning parking and cleanup.

These are all good problems as far as Hemming is concerned.

“I’m happy to see trash because that means people were here,” she said.

Hemming, who has owned a shop downtown for more than 20 years, said she used to keep a shotgun and handgun ready at all times.

“Now that isn’t the case,” Hemming said. “I leave them at home where they’re not needed.”

The district has made progress in cleaning up the downtown and meeting business owners’ needs, adjusting trash pickup cycles for people like Armstrong.

The Pomona police have also been active in recent years, making efforts to address the gang problems.

The police department’s primary focus has been enforcement, to catch criminal gang members, and prevention, to steer youth away from getting involved.

Violent crime was more than double in the 1990s compared to what it is today.

Andrew Kanzler, a Cal Poly Pomona student who lives in south Pomona, sees the overall improvement as a step in the right direction.

He goes downtown regularly and has started to bring his friends.

“The city obviously needs help,” he said. “And I think by amping the businesses that have the most traffic, which is the downtown area, that will be able to pump money back into the city.”

Pomona’s connection to higher education is ample, with Cal Poly Pomona, Western University and DeVry University located within the city and plenty of other colleges nearby.

Most of Western University, located centrally downtown, was carved out of the new district map because the university handles its own security and promotion. But Senior Vice Provost Greg Guglchuk said that the school is onboard with the changes.

Cal Poly Pomona’s presence in the district is marked by its downtown center, which hosts galleries and children’s events.

However, Kanzler knows that many of his fellow students aren’t interested in what Pomona has to offer.

“People go to our school and they’re expecting two things. Some people … like the quietness of it. Some people … want more. If the downtown grows, that will provide what is missing on campus, but also keeps the people that want the quiet campus happy at the same time.”

The previous City Council helped modernize Pomona a few years ago through installing wireless Internet access in a mile radius downtown.

But memories of children like 3-year-old Ethan Esparza, who died in a gang-related drive-by murder in 2006, remind residents of what’s going on in the rest of the city.

The Pomona police have developed the Gang Resistance Education and Training program to work on discouraging gang involvement and deglamorizing the behaviors glorified in movies and media.

As the city tightens its belt to balance its budget for the state, essential programs and services are being cut, from tree trimming and street cleaning to fewer police on duty.

With the downtown district renewed, a friendlier Pomona is starting at the heart of the city.

Clifford thinks Pomona is near tipping point, and that is has the downtown has the potential to flourish and give hope to the rest of the city.

“Today you can go downtown [in Pomona] on the second or fourth Saturday and the place is jammed,” Clifford said. “People are walking – it’s very pedestrian orientated and it’s absolutely wonderful.”