Chinatown's Firecracker Poppin'

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The word is out, finally, on the underground scene at Firecracker in Chinatown, a spirited tribal gathering that transcends genre or trends.

Once a strictly word-of-mouth gathering at the Grand Star lounge in old Chinatown, Firecracker is a revolution of sorts in a city rife with clubs built on image and attitude.

Firecracker's promoters, Lisa Yu, Daryl Chou and Jim Kang, took a landmark Chinatown locale, flooded it with a truly diverse club crowd and laced it with a steady dose of urban art, spoken word, hip-hop, street culture and jazz. Being colorblind is de rigueur at Firecracker, and the result is an atmosphere the likes of which is rarely witnessed in L.A.

The turnout and vibe seen at Firecracker have proven to be an inspiration to more than its legion of fans. A documentary about the club is in the works, and a local artist, Chaz Bojorquez, known as the godfather of West Coast graffiti art, has exhibited his work in the lounge. "Chino Latino," his assemblage of chiseled letters and calligraphy, was directly influenced by the diverse scene at Firecracker.

Exhibiting work, both visual and perfCF A ormance-based, from local artists was one of the reasons Firecracker was started. It began as a onetime poetry slam party for friends, gained a loyal following, and recently had its two-year anniversary. Promoter Jim Kang explains, "We wanted to form an intersection of literary arts, new media, vocal talent, poetry and film in a socially enlivening kind of place."

During most of the semi-monthly Friday sessions, you'll find the Grand Star lounge packed to the point that compatriots spill out into the alleyways as the night wears on. Inside Firecracker, a mix of the past and present seems to unite everyone. In the retro-red Grand Star lounge is a jazz trio made up of Yasuko Kawano, bassist Al Hines and drummer Ed Hinton, downstairs. Upstairs, the "Firecrew," deejays Wing Ko, Logic, Positron, Eric Coleman, Alfred Hawkins and Chris Boogie, help keep the dance floor moving at a steady pace.

"The aesthetic is real hip-hop music, not the fake corporate stuff," says KCRW's Garth Trinidad, who's also been a guest turntablist. "You never know when any of those cats get daring and throw in some surprises." Past deejay guests include Raymond Roker, founder of URB magazine, J-Rocc, Jun from Bossa Nova, Supernatural, Daz and Umoja HiFi. Promoter Kang says that when he's working the front door, he sees the whole thing come together. "The jazz band's playing the standards downstairs, they play things from the bebop era and all kinds of groovy stuff and they end with Frank Sinatra. They're influencing the guys upstairs and there's mutual understanding. You have hip-hop music upstairs drawing the crowd from downstairs, and it flows through this space."

Crossing lines, whether it's color, music, neighborhood or style, is inevitable here. Firecracker regular Christina Ochoa, who works at the arts center Self Help Graphics in East L.A., explains, "The energy at Firecracker is vibrant, there's a pulse to it we're attracted to .... It's a good feel; it's like a familia, it's family oriented there in a sense. That's why Chaz got inspired to do the 'Chino Latino' painting. It was the energy. It's what was happening in L.A."

That was the energy Kang had in mind. "L.A.'s such a sprawling metropolis," he says. "You're either merging on the freeway lanes or in the malls. I wanted to create a place that truly represented the demographics of L.A."

In a city that's known for subdivisions, tracts, neighborhoods, freeways, where going from one locale to the next requires decoding the Thomas Guide, Firecracker defies convention. And if you look close on a Friday night, you'll get a near-perfect, almost futuristic vision of L.A. and its inhabitants commingling in a space that draws inspiration from the past. * Firecracker, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., first and third Friday of every month at the Grand Star, 943 N. Broadway (at College Street), Chinatown, downtown Los Angeles. 21 and older. $8 to $10 cover. (626) 454-7447.

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