Rocha of CBN Says the U.S. DIY Scene Is Only Getting Stronger

CBN Photo courtesy Rocha
Omaha-based project CBN, which combines power electronics with drone, has been on a nationwide tour with Filth from Denton, Texas, and Gnawed from Minneapolis. For years, the bands had crossed paths on the DIY circuit and online. One weekend, they happened to be in the same place at once and discussed hitting the road together.

CBN is the solo project of Rocha, an artist who has been involved in booking shows at various DIY spots in Omaha for several years, including West Wing, a venue housed in a building where indie label Saddle Creek got its start.

As with most cities in America, Omaha has had a long tradition of musicians and other artists establishing spaces where art doesn't need to adhere to conventional standards of quality. These venues have engendered a vital creative subculture where new ideas germinate, develop and spread, creating movements that have shaped creative culture.

Ahead of CBN's show at Handy Diner, on Friday, February 24, we spoke with Rocha about his take on the ripple effect of the Ghost Ship tragedy and the seemingly sudden rise of racism and the self-described alt-right movement, a blend of conservatism and white supremacy, that has had a chilling effect on the DIY world.

Westword: In Denver, you're playing Handy Diner. Are you mostly touring DIY spaces? Has the tour been affected by what's been going on?

Rocha: DIY spaces is all we've been doing. Everyone's been trying their damnedest to function, and it's not put a halt on the tour.

At home, have you been hit by that wave of people reporting DIY spaces nationwide?

We had a scare. I run two DIY spaces: Milk Run and Neo. Myself and four females run those spaces. The only thing we've been affected by recently is a racist landlord, so we're getting a new spot. She came to a rap show we had, and all the artists were black and she got weirded out, and she went to the cops saying people were underage drinking and smoking weed. The cops started investigating and found out there were no minors there and no one smoking weed in the building, and she got embarrassed and didn't communicate with us for a couple of weeks. So she called my partner while I was on tour and said she didn't want to have anything to do with the arts and wants us out of the spot.

She was in the closet the whole time and taking our money. Then she inquired about what we do and randomly appeared at that all-black rap show and got sketched out. We put two and two together.

Do you run into racism much in the DIY world?

Not really. To be honest, I've never run into that issue. Especially since we've been running that spot successfully for a year and a half now. And we're carrying that spot on in a new building.
click to enlarge CBN - PHOTO COURTESY ROCHA
Photo courtesy Rocha

Do you specialize in genres at your spaces?

We cover everything. We do avant-garde, jazz, indie, punk, hip-hop. Essentially what we're trying to do is facilitate a new community spot for the youth. A lot of us that have been doing this for ten or fifteen years know there's not much for the youth to look forward to. So we have this space to foster them starting their new bands and practice there. I don't subscribe to this whole “safe spaces” thing, but basically that's what I'm about. It should be obvious it's about those things without having to say it. If there hadn't been places like the Ranch Bowl growing up, I wouldn't [be doing this]. But on a more intimate scale, of course.

What kind of spaces do you run?

It's basically two stor fronts. Milk Run is a more intimate spot. If there's a bigger draw, we could put the bands in Neo. They're adjacent to each other. We keep up with our taxes and safety issues. We're all up to code with everything. My partner took the approach of trying to do this as much as a business as possible. We ran it as two art studios, essentially, in downtown Omaha.

You don't run into racist stuff at the shows on tour?

On tour, no. At home, there's American Vanguard. The kid that was trying to head it in North America is from Omaha. He was recently outed, and he's disappeared from alt-right Subreddits and his YouTube page, and various other things he had going on have been deleted. He's trying to get through school right now, and he's kind of changed his colors. He pulled a couple of publicity stunts and took this alt-right flag to a bar in Benson and made a bunch of people pose with it saying it was for veterans and put smiley faces over their faces so you couldn't tell who they were. Then he blasted it as if all these people in Omaha were with the alt-right, but none of those people were affiliated with that.
click to enlarge Cold Blooded Satanists (Rocha/CBN on right) at West Wing in Omaha, October 2014. - TOM MURPHY
Cold Blooded Satanists (Rocha/CBN on right) at West Wing in Omaha, October 2014.
Tom Murphy
Has he affected the DIY world in any way?

No, but it put some fear into younger kids, because they were worried about some white-pride kids trying to show up to the venues for anti-fascist events. But we've never had any problems. I believe most of those people are just Internet personalities. There's no action.

Has the DIY and underground touring circuit changed for you in the last couple of years since various spaces have experienced some harassment?

I would definitely say throughout the Oakland tragedy and all the scare stuff that's been going on, the community has become stronger, because everyone's more hungry to keep going.

CBN  plays an all-ages show with Filth, Gnawed, Polyurethane, Oryx and Body Void, Friday, February 24, at 8 p.m., at the Handy Diner. For more information, call 619-730-5264.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.