Oakland Magazine - Go With the Flow

Five years ago, Chris “Chachi” McCumber encountered a group of strangers spinning fire at a festival in Maine. Awed, he approached them and said, essentially, “I want to do that.”

The group was engaging in “flow arts,” a set of disciplines that combine dance with object manipulation and can include juggling LED clubs — Chachi’s prop of choice nowadays — or twirling a flaming staff. According to the Flow Arts Institute, the umbrella term refers to “a variety of pursuits that harmonize skill-based techniques with creative expression to achieve a state of present-moment awareness known as Flow.”

The objects that people use in flow arts are known as “flowtoys,” and they run the gamut from simple hula hoops to poi, which to the layperson look something like weighted orbs tethered to one’s hands with rope. Depending on what’s in their quiver, a flow artist might swing a flowtoy in circles, roll it up and down their arm, throw it in the air — anything goes. Some props are meant to be lit on fire, but many, like the classic circus-style clubs that Chachi favors, are embedded with LED lights, a more practical option that creates dazzling, colorful patterns in the dark.

The vast majority of flow artists partake casually, gathering at events called “flowjams.” Although participants inevitably do watch one another perform, they mostly flow alongside each other, similar to the crowd at a concert or a dance (but more spacious). Largely unstructured, there are currently no flow competitions, and although various styles and techniques exist, there is no formal methodology, either. In short, it’s a way to cut loose. “Watching your friends is better than TV,” Chachi said.

The Bay Area is something of a mecca for the flow arts, with a number of regular flowjams and dedicated spaces. “We’re pretty lucky here in the East Bay,” said Chachi, who helps organize a gathering known as Friday Night Lights with his friend Jacob “Tiktok” Turner (they both prefer to be called by their nicknames). In addition to continuing that event’s six-year run, Chachi works on the production team at Flowtoys, an Emeryville company run by the husband-wife team Prisna and Sean von Stade.

In 2004, the von Stades — who themselves met through a flowjam — co-founded Flowtoys in hopes of nurturing the positive impacts that the flow arts can create. “My motivation for providing flowtoys in the world is inspired by the positive effects I’ve seen, especially in young men,” Prisna said. “Many men are not comfortable in their bodies. They’re not comfortable dancing, but once you put a staff in their hands, they forget about their bodies and focus on moving the staff. Then, shortly after, they start moving their bodies.”

The von Stades ran the first iteration of Flowtoys out of their San Francisco apartment before relocating to a live-work loft in West Berkeley in 2007. But Flowtoys soon outgrew its home, and the pair acquired a small warehouse in the neighborhood, which they built out to house a small production facility with a workshop, office, and studio, where they filmed their own promotions as well as prominent flow artists who came through town. In 2014, the von Stades moved Flowtoys into its current home in Emeryville.

Today, Prisna and Sean continue to run Flowtoys, she in a managerial role and he as the more technically oriented toymaker. Including Flowtoys, five interconnected companies operate out of the Doyle Street location and assist with the production of Flowtoys, which range from LED poi, which is a prop with roots in Maori culture, to the Toroflux, which is described as a fourth-dimensional slinky.

In addition to making performance-ready props for average consumers and professionals —Flowtoys feature in Cirque du Soleil, among other productions — the von Stades use their Emeryville studio for events related to the business. Every Wednesday evening, they host a free, beginner-level, prop-based workshop. Although tutors often focus on poi, martial-arts-inspired disciplines like staff manipulation and rope dart are also in the mix. Then it’s time to play. “It often feels like a family gathering,” Prisna said. “People come together and share skills and techniques and inspire each other.”

Flowjams typically feature music of some kind, and flow artists are a common sight at many concerts and music festivals. “There is something special about dancing with props to your favorite music artist, surrounded by thousands of people who also love that artist, that can’t be replicated at home or in a park,” Prisna said.

However, the relationship between strictly music-oriented venues and flowtoys can be tricky. Some large theaters, such as Bill Graham Civic Center, have issued blanket bans on “objects that can be used as projectiles, such as glow sticks and Poi Balls” (presumably for safety reasons). Chachi said that sometimes security will give him a hard time when they see his clubs, but then loosen up as soon as they see him juggle — perhaps because they’ve realized he’s in control.

“Some venues love flowtoys; some don’t,” Prisna said. “Some venues simply don’t have the space to enable people to spin props safely for both the spinner and other attendees. Some spinners can be careless, other people can be clueless and think nothing of walking into someone spinning a prop. In an ideal world, event organizers would be educated on the benefits of the flow arts, and we could have flow zones dedicated to dancing safely with props.”

It’s not a difficult argument: The flow arts are ostensibly healthy, not just physically but mentally. “It engages the mind and body, and many would say soul,” Prisna said. “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of how many lives it has turned around.”

One of those people is Tiktok, who credits the flow arts with ameliorating his depression. “It got me out of a very dark place,” he said. “It taught me to cope with my life.”

For the time being, flowjams are the obvious solution to avoiding conflict with venues. And pragmatism aside, dedicated flow events yield special results. “Whenever you bring together active practitioners or people who are enthusiastic about any artform, all sorts of magic happens,” said Prisna, adding, “having a space dedicated to the flow arts creates a crucible for learning.”

The flow arts remain largely characterized by exploration rather than mastery. “It is in this untapped frontier that many people are finding their flow, so to speak,” Prisna said. “This will evolve if it becomes more structured, but for now, many of us get to write our own stories.”

Source: http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/March-2019/Go-With-the-Flow/

Oakland's Wormhole Wednesday Is Ending - East Bay Express

The final weekly bass party will go down next month — but the music isn't going anywhere.

By Alison Van Houten

Photo courtesy of Zita Molnar

Stroll down the darkened, bunker-like hallway into The New Parish on a Wednesday night and you will inevitably be greeted by three things: throbbing Funktion-One subwoofers, psychedelic visuals melting on a 3-D projector screen behind the DJ, and the sage-scented fug of a transformational festival. It's Oakland's Wormhole Wednesday.

Last week's event, with glitch-hop producers Freddy Todd and kLL sMTH, marked exactly six years of weekly electronic music shows for Wormhole Entertainment. For many, however, it was bittersweet. The week prior, the production company had made an announcement like a bolt from the blue: The Dec. 26 event will be the last in its run of affordable, inclusive shows that have become something of a sanctum for Bay Area bass heads.

With acts ranging from hyper local — Wormhole has launched the careers of East Bay producers such as Duffrey — to international touring producers, Wormhole Wednesday showcases not only up-and-coming musicians but also visual artists, lighting designers, sound engineers, and dancers (think everything from pop-locking hoofers to elegant troupes of belly dancers), all seeking a platform for their creative work, each equally part of the show as the featured DJs. That's not going away, despite the end of the weekly event. Instead, Wormhole plans to refocus on bigger, more impactful shows.

"Our intention from the start was always to embrace and encourage creativity," the Wormhole team stated in a Nov. 7 email announcing the transition. "It seems that we've been pretty successful in doing that and to know this brings great joy to all of us that have poured our hearts and souls into this project."

Morgan McCloud, who runs the company's street team and manages the live painters and vendors at the weekly event, originally conceived of Wormhole in 2012. Then a young stay-at-home father with a 2-year-old, he was intrigued by a beer garden, Portal, in his new Oakland neighborhood and pitched an event to the general manager. Portal agreed to host on hump day—a slow day for business — and Wormhole Wednesday was born, the moniker a nod to the venue's sci-fi-sounding name.

"I had felt kind of disconnected from the scene, so I was very much seeking community," said McCloud. "From the very beginning, Wormhole was about community building."

McCloud, who has a film background, reached out to Gleb Tchertkov, whom he had met through the San Francisco music scene earlier that year. (Tchertkov eventually cut his teeth as a DJ at Wormhole, under the stage name Krakinov.) Benjamin "Benji" Hannus, who produces music and DJs as Secret Recipe — and who had more experience producing events — was involved with early events as a performer and attendee but did not officially come aboard until later, after Wormhole moved to Era Art Bar and Lounge. Today, the three men primarily run the show, although they're quick to note that the laundry list of people who helped found and grow the company would take pages to name.

The first Wormhole Wednesday, on Nov. 14, 2012, coincided with the birthday of a friend and early collaborator, Sam Lewis. Six years later, on Nov. 14, 2018, it did once again — and the whole crew was older and wiser.

"When we were at Portal, we did a Camp Questionmark takeover that got a few neighbor complaints," said McCloud, referring to a Burning Man camp infamous for blasting bass music. "The following week we still had another event, so I called around and last minute we moved to a Mexican restaurant called La Estrellita. They initially thought we were a small tech meeting, so they were a bit surprised to see us bringing in sound equipment."

After bouncing around Oakland venues, Wormhole landed at Era in late September 2013, then followed the bar manager to The New Parish in late June 2014 after they had begun to outgrow the space.

"When we started Wormhole, and even when we moved to Era Art Bar, we never expected to get more than a hundred people to come out to a bass-music party in Oakland, especially on a Wednesday," said Hannus. "As Wormhole rapidly began to grow, we quickly realized that there was a huge need for this type of event in the East Bay."

The brick walls of The New Parish proved an ideal home, allowing the collective to craft the aesthetic they desired by bringing in their own trippy visuals, artists, vendors, and — crucially — a sound system designed to play heavy bass with clarity.

In June, the Wormhole crew began temporarily hosting shows at Cornerstone, in Berkeley, due to renovations at The New Parish. Despite returning the weekly event to Oakland, however, they continued to book one-off shows at various clubs and theaters in San Francisco and the East Bay.

"The renovations forced us to move to Cornerstone for a while — which was definitely stressful for us — but the main reason we are ending the weekly is to free up time to work on bigger, more exciting projects," said Tchertkov.

The move will grant them more space, yes — anyone who's been to Wormhole's most sardine-packed events, like their Halloween shows, will attest that a bigger space is warranted. The team also hopes it'll enable future shows to be more lucrative.

"Ideally, we'd like to grow the company to a point where it can provide a full-time income," said Hannus. "A big reason for ending the weekly part of what we do is that it has proven to simply not be financially sustainable in the long run, and we want to focus on bigger events that are both more fun for the audience and more financially viable on our side of things."

The collective — which also runs an active record label, Wormhole Music Group — currently has a slew of live shows planned in the Bay Area, including Dimond Saints and Thriftworks at The UC Theatre and Coalesce, a three-night New Year's celebration at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. Produced in collaboration with Cosmic Synergy, it will feature big-name headlining artists like Tipper and Liquid Stranger.

"The one constant in this crazy world is change," read the email announcement from Wormhole. "Energy is never created or destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another. And so, it is with Wormhole Wednesday."