Los Angeles Art and Music Scene Suffering Under Pandemic Restrictions
Photo Courtesy of GEORGE ARABJYAN/BASSIST
‘CRAZ BAB’ a self-defined musical cohort of the “absurd” and “unpalatable” had just completed a 3-month-series of arduous rehearsal sessions in preparation for their March 25 debut across various Los Angeles County music venues.
With their pink-glittered-telecasters strapped and their fluorescent-neon synthesizers modulated, the ensemble was nervous but excited to perform and exhibit the monstrous Mary-Shellian musical experiments they had concocted in the deep lairs of their Topanga Canyon musical laboratories.
The unorthodox experimentalism of their first appearance, however, would have to wait, after disaster shook the state of California, on March 20, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued state-wide lockdowns across all non-essential institutions, not least, local Los Angeles music venues where CRAZ BAB had planned to premier their then-new EP ‘Fungal Mariticide’.
“It was a completely perilous and uncertain time when the COVID-19 restrictions were implemented,” David Sterin, frontman of CRAZ BAB told Scriberr News.
“The most overwhelming obstacle presented by the virus was and is the inability to perform, an extremely valuable and necessary tool for any artist. In the time prior to the start of COVID-19, we were planning to perform for the first time, but these plans were unable to come to fruition and they have now, unfortunately, been put on hold indefinitely,” Sterin said.
“It’s really just been difficult for us all.”
To make harm worse, not only was CRAZ BAB unable to perform and begin the inherently difficult endeavor of debut-touring, but one of their own band members had contracted and become severely ill with COVID-19 as well. The band, as a result, couldn’t play, collaborate, or express themselves as a collective for fear of contraction, and concern over the safety of their families; consequently, leaving the band with little means of continuing their pursuit of musical creation.
“In the initial months of the pandemic, one of our group members was positively diagnosed with COVID-19. This rendered us unable to see each other for a long while. Even after our band-mate was healthy, there was an atmosphere of apprehension and even fear among us when talking of meeting up again,” Sterin told Scriberr News.
“Each of our families exponentiated these feelings, and worry of potential cross-infection, especially in regard to our grandparents’ health, resulted in the band delaying for even longer; we really didn’t gather until June once the restrictions were first lifted,” Sterin said.
“Really, this has been a period of quasi-perpetual uncertainty, some days have just felt like a black-hole void, suffocating and consuming all of our creativity and artistry.”
Jonny Cross, drummer of an emerging North Hollywood based 80’s-glam-metal-revival band entitled, “Vulken”, endured similar hardships and paralleled adversities as his band, too, was detrimentally affected by the debilitating ramifications of the COVID-19 lock-down restrictions.
Cross expressed vexation over his band’s inability to play live-shows and conveyed feelings of frustration over the intolerable weight the state-sanctioned restrictions imposed on his band’s future. Vulken, he said, had really counted on live shows for exposure and publicity; live shows were fundamental to the way they, as a band, expressed themselves.
“Ever since the pandemic happened I knew that the music industry would suffer a lot. This took a huge toll because all the venues closed down and standing in a room with someone was scary enough,” Cross told Scriberr News.
“COVID-19 basically ruined live shows for us. It’s important for new and upcoming bands to play live shows in order to get exposure. Our main goal was to play as many shows as we could, to gain a lot of exposure. Sadly, now that all the venues are closed, we will not be able to perform any shows,” he continued.
“There is still a possibility for live streams but nothing beats a live in-person show; it’s really integral to our band’s message.”
A void of live-performances, an assailing plague, and the financial austerities which followed per consequence of the state-enacted COVID-19 restrictions, weren’t the only banes to afflict the delicate lattice of music production across the U.S. throughout this 2020 era of social-distancing. Weaning and developing music students, too, in the midst of their foundational studies, were beset by burdensome odds, a lack of resources and an incontestably sub-par music education built in unprepared and disorganized adaptation to the pandemic’s complications.
George Arabjyan, an ardent rock and reggae electric-bassist, studying music performance at Los Angeles Valley College, was forced to contend with the lamentable reality of his school’s cessation of in-person classes. Arabjyan, as a result, was tasked to teach himself a thorough and proper musical education with minimal help from his formerly in-person instructors.
“Back in March, my bass professor and I decided to switch over to teaching me stand-up bass, and that month … I ended up buying the bass, but had to continue the rest of the semester learning [the] new instrument through zoom,” Arabjyan said.
“I’ve been alright financially through it [even though] after all, I bought a standup bass, which does not come cheap. I am very surprised at how decent I’m doing for almost being self-taught.”
As a result of the pandemic, and his consequent less-than-conventional musical education, Arabjyan now expresses hesitation over pursuing a career in music, citing concern over the utility of the degree in a competitive free-market, and its lack of guaranteed financial security.
“My bass professor would always tell me ‘I’m here to teach you what will make you the most money’. And I didn’t know what that quite meant, but I’m sure that I would’ve benefited more from in-person lessons,” Arabjyan said.
“I’ve definitely re-thought my future with music, and it’s harder now to choose it as a career since music [doesn’t seem] essential.”
Tracy Wong, a Hollywood-based classical pianist from Ohio, pursuing her doctorate at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, conveyed to Scriberr News a searing dichotomy of positive and negative consequences per the pandemic’s restrictions. To her, they have acted as a “double-edged sword” where one edge elicits emotions of frustration and the other opportunity.
“The pandemic and ensuing quarantine have been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’m feeling the pressures and limitations placed on the performing arts like any other musician, … [given that] I haven’t played a live concert in almost a year, I’ve had conferences canceled, [and that I could present a] list of missed opportunities and disappointments [which] could go on and on,” Wong told Scriberr News.
“At the same time, the past year has been such a gift in disguise. It has given me so much more than it has taken from me. In restricting the structure of my career, it has forced me to think about the Why of what I do. Why am I practicing four, five, six hours a day? Why do I think that perfection is the pinnacle of musicianship and the sole thing I should strive for? Why am I not doing anything with my music beyond performance?,” Wong said.
“In 2020, these questions are especially poignant in the face of so much suffering, injustice, and pain. I’ve confronted many unhealthy ways of thinking about a career in music and it’s focused my attention on what really matters to me: the love of music being shared in a tangible way with the mission of improving lives and fostering conversation and open-mindedness.”
Wong, though largely optimistic in her outlook, shared that she wasn’t emotionally impervious to the detrimental effects the pandemics’ constrictive restrictions have had on her.
Wong shared with Scriberr News how difficult it has been for her, in having to move to Los Angeles, a city she’s hardly familiar with, and where she knows nearly none of the local residents, yet is tasked with the onerous endeavor of establishing herself successfully as an artist within the city’s local music scene.
“I have plenty of frustrations, even though I am also grateful for this time. I picked up and moved my entire life across the country to start a new degree during a pandemic in a city where I knew no one. Who does that? I certainly wouldn’t have if I had known that the entire school year would be online prior to locking myself into a lease,” Wong said.
“Probably the hardest part of the pandemic has been to try and sink down roots and establish myself in a new city that’s under lockdown. I can’t go out and meet people in person, I can’t go to concerts, network at receptions, or grab a drink with colleagues. I teach piano privately and have had to do a lot more online marketing during this time for students, many of whom have to get to know me virtually through online lessons rather than in person,” Wong continued.
“Music, in particular, is such a social field; we thrive off connection, collaboration, education, and pretty much everything we do requires interfacing and constant communication.
So, not going to lie, it can be exhausting to continually try and find creative ways around that using technology and social distancing. But I think it speaks volumes that musicians are still hustling, still creating within this time; it’s something that will always be worth the extra effort.”
In the final analysis, Wong concluded with an imparted message of maintaining the courage and forward-looking optimism in times of peril, encouraging all to attempt looking at life through a brighter-lens even when it seems impossible to do so.
“I think we’re as isolated as we decide to be. For every loved one that we cannot see, we also have a loved one who we put the effort into keeping in touch with, no matter what the circumstances. For every project that couldn’t happen because of the pandemic, there’s a project just waiting to be discovered and fostered through another avenue,” she said.
“With limitations and scarcer time or resources, we start realizing what is truly important and worth investing in and what is deadweight or unhealthy. I think it’s all about perspective and reframing things in a way that keeps your momentum up and your morale high. I can’t speak to anybody’s experience except my own but I truly hope that we can take this historical time, for better or worse, and give it personal depth and meaning.”
Wong is due to release several new music videos throughout the months of January and February and will premier the composition of a fellow composer colleague in 2021.
You can keep track of her artistic journey via Social Media at:
Vulken similarly plans to release an EP sometime in 2021, in which they will attempt to release “some bitchin’ kick-ass-music” in the spirit of Mötley Crüe and other 80’s glam-metal greats.You can follow Vulken and purchase their EP through the bands Instagram at: @vulkenboys