Livening up his Saturdays

Times Staff Writer

FRANKI CHAN is not a screamer. But that didn’t stop the mild-mannered DJ and promoter from losing his cool last year at one of L.A.'s slickest venues, the rooftop bar at downtown’s Standard Hotel.

“We basically had a blowout that night,” Chan says of his October face-off with his former business partner, celebrity DJ Steve Aoki, over a disputed booking. And while most in the crowd of curious onlookers knew Aoki as a magazine cover boy, fewer probably recognized Chan, part of the team that built Cinespace Tuesdays into a nightclub destination for scores of American Apparel-wearing indie rockers.

Chan not only went his own way after last year’s breakup, he competed head-to-head against Aoki, building a weekly Tuesday throwdown called Check Yo’ Ponytail into a raucous party at the east Hollywood venue Safari Sam’s.

“Everyone thought we were crazy to do a party on a Tuesday up against Steve,” Chan says, “but it worked.”

Now Chan and the chain-smoking, white-belt-and-owl-pendant-adorned masses are moving to a larger venue, the 600-capacity Echoplex, for his DJ- and live music-driven promotion. The new Check Yo’ Ponytail will be a twice-monthly affair, on Saturday nights, allowing the promoter to bring in bigger talent.


The move punctuates quite a run for Chan (born Franklin Hartzell), who moved to L.A. just three years ago from Seattle. Since then, the 28-year-old has made a name for himself by amassing a loyal army of fashionable 18- to 30-year-olds via his parties at venues such as the Standard, the Beauty Bar, Joseph’s and Cinespace.

The bespectacled Chan, who looks more like a Web designer than one of the leading players in Hollywood’s burgeoning indie-dance scene, is all about building upon the Eastside’s seemingly insatiable appetite for dance parties with an indie-rock edge.

“I like making people dance,” he says between sips of coffee at a Cahuenga Boulevard restaurant.

His heady mix of electro and danceable indie-rock (spiked with the occasional retro kitsch) is a far cry from his music roots. “I used to be a punk-rock kid,” says Chan, who transitioned out of gigging with bands to booking them after inspiration struck one night at a basement party in Bellingham, Wash.

“Everything happened kind of naturally,” he says of his transformation from rocker to promoter-DJ (he also now runs the I Heart Comix record label on the side, which has become hot, thanks to breaking Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim). “If you’ve ever been to a basement [rock] show, the energy there is incredible. You know ... kids hanging from the ceiling going nuts, dancing and stage diving. When I left my band, I was always really inspired by that scene and the whole DIY network and wanted to do my own thing.”

In Seattle, Chan was given the opportunity to help book bands at Graceland, a mid-size venue in the Emerald City’s Capitol Hill district. “I would literally be there 10 to 16 hours every day,” Chan says. Homeless at the time, he actually finagled quarters in the form of a tiny apartment above the nightspot.

Naturally, Chan worked his new home to his advantage. “Basically, there was a rock club on the first floor, and upstairs we began throwing these illegal after-hours parties right next to my place,” he says. “I would DJ at all these parties, and that was where I really got my chops.”

Not only did Chan gain formidable skills behind the turntable decks at Graceland’s infamous Egg Room, but also he learned valuable lessons as an intern talent buyer; booking bands like Death Cab for Cutie and the Shins -- connections that now serve him well for Check Yo’ Ponytail.

Even his old partner recognizes Chan’s nose for landing up-and-coming acts just on the verge of breaking with the “cool kids.”

“He’s a pretty good talent buyer in general, and that’s what’s really important: getting quality acts,” Aoki says.

Securing big-name guest DJs and bands is just what Chan did (along with Dim Mak records founder Aoki) for years. Together, the two owned the grittier side of the Hollywood nightlife scene by tapping big names (such as members of Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and even Lindsay Lohan) to spin at their Cinespace and Beauty Bar soirees.

But things went sour.

“They fired me,” Chan concedes. “The way I see it is that everything that was happening at the time just happened too fast.... What made us good friends and business partners at first actually held us back as time went on.”

The last six months of the former friends’ tenure at Cinespace, they did not speak at all.

“It wasn’t fun for anybody,” Chan says. “At the same time, no one wanted to give it up because of the money involved.”

“I don’t want to slam him,” says Aoki, who is now often name-checked in gossip columns like the New York Post’s Page Six and is regularly flown around the world as a celebrity DJ.

“We just didn’t get along after a while. There’s room for everyone [in this scene], and I wish him the best.”

Instead of trying to break into writing graphic novels as a career (Chan loves comic books and has long dreamed of working in the anime/comic world), he decided to launch his own Tuesday promotion.

“Franki basically helped put us on the Hollywood club map,” says Sam Lanni, owner of Safari Sam’s. “His demographic is hot, and really not much gets done here unless the hipsters are with you. From that, we were able to garner the trust and availability with the agents who control tour dates.”

Indeed, Chan persuaded some fairly big names in the music world to play Safari Sam’s -- a 450-capacity room located in a strip mall -- including English alt-radio darlings the Kooks, buzzing Parisian DJ duo Justice and YouTube favorites OK Go.

“Not only did we prove our point,” Chan says, “but honestly, I feel like we are dealing with weekend-sized bands and crowds now.”


Check Yo’ Ponytail

What: DJ set by Green Velvet; live sets by Guns N Bombs and My! Gay! Husband!

Where: The EchoPlex (beneath the Echo), 1154 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday

Price: $16

Info: (213) 413-8200;