Rockin’ the cam
DIY mag Sacramento is Burning captures a raucous renaissance in the city’s punk scene
It was June 2017 when Tartar Control—a Los Angeles hardcore band consisting of two “Mormon missionaries,” a cardboard box robot and goofy, unhinged energy—graced Café Colonial for a night. Mid-song, the band used their best ministerial voices to plead for the audience to sit on questionably hygienic flooring. The crowd obliged—but it couldn’t settle down, and for the first time in human history, a sitting mosh pit broke out. It didn’t help that Tartar Control’s singer dove offstage and rolled around in it.
Cam Evans snapped a photo of this insane people pile, where some appear to be swimming. The photo captures the night’s vibe better than your typical band shot. Everyone seems to be having the time of their lives.
But after Café Colonial closed down in November, moments in that janky Stockton Boulevard art complex will now only exist in photos, social media posts or in publications such as Sacramento is Burning.
That’s the name of Evans’ new, one-off 60-page magazine, where the Tartar Control photo made the cover. It’s not just a gallery of cool shows the local photographer curated from February 2017 to August 2018. It’s a portrait of the city’s sometimes-crazy, wildly diverse, alive-and-kicking punk scene.
Plenty of publications in town shine a spotlight on local musicians, but Evans’ publication is strictly photographs. He likens what he’s doing to rock photographer Shit Show Dave, who documents LA's punk scene, and San Diego world music travel-photog Adam Elmakias.
It’s a whole lot of showing, and not a lot of telling.
“His photography is really dynamic and captures the whole atmosphere of a show,” says Alyssa De la Rosa, the bassist for Las Pulgas, who are playing the magazine’s release show at Phono Select Records on Saturday. “Even though Cam doesn’t play music, he’s very much a figure within the music scene.”
In the pages of Sacramento is Burning, people of varying ages, cultural backgrounds, genders and styles blast out punk in dive bars, outdoor festivals and dingy DIY spaces. Photos show Drug Apts. getting psychedelic-weird at Red Museum on 15th Street, Destroy Boys shouting heart-on-sleeve at Blue Lamp on Alhambra Boulevard, and Dead Weight getting communal street-punk sing-alongs going at Café Colonial.
He inadvertently captured the city’s music landscape influx. At least six Sacramento venues either closed or stopped booking live music, including Café Colonial (and its sister venue the Colony next door) and downtown: Starlite Lounge, the punk house Casa de Chaos, Naked Lounge and Station 1.
“It just seemed like a bummer that most of these neat venues closed, since I feel that there are not any good all-ages venues to host local or traveling independent artists,” Evans says. But that's not why he picked the magazine's name. Evans says when he first contemplated the zine last year, wildfires had ravaged the area.
Evans spent the last two years shooting shows in all genres (indie, hip-hop, etc.), but when he decided to make a collection of his work, he wanted to show off the local punk scene because he loved its energy.
“The scene here was just welcoming. I grew up with a little bit of punk music in high school,” Evans says. “It’s an interest for me, especially the whole idea of doing it yourself, thinking for yourself. I really relate to that, especially as a suburban black youth growing up.”
The first show Evans shot was at Café Colonial on January 20, 2017, with the Roughies, Pisscat, Jesus and the Dinosaurs, Public Trash, Dead Fucking Serious and Streetlight Cardiacs. It challenged his notion that Sacramento wasn’t a great live music city. Almost instantly, he felt proven wrong and started showing up to gigs nearly every night.
“I didn’t think Sacramento was a worthy music town, because what do we have here? Cake and Deftones?” Evans says. “It’s almost like eating my own words.”
He had been working part-time and living with his parents in Elk Grove, looking for something to fill his time. Photographing the local scene fit splendidly.
“It was really enthralling to go out and meet other people that were basically into the same stuff that I was,” Evans says.
He estimates that in those 18 months, he’s taken roughly 8,000 photos. Evans distilled those into approximately 70 of his best shots and arranged them chronologically. Further into the gallery, there are more audience photos as he became more interested in shooting every nook of a live performance.
The idea to produce a magazine started last year at the suggestion of Dal Basi, who owns Phono Select Records. The two met during a Baby Shakes show held at the Fruitridge Road store, where Evans was—of course—photographing. When Basi saw Evans’ work, he was so impressed that he tried to persuade Evans to bring prints to sell in his store, or make a zine, which he ended up doing for a modest, self-financed budget of around $100.
“I always encourage everyone to not wait around. Go DIY. Even if it's not perfect,” Basi says. “Zines nowadays are either too fancy or too therapeutic. They're not fanzines. They're not people being so into something that they’re wanting to share it.” It's exactly why Basi is excited about Sacramento is Burning.
What makes Evans’ photos stand out is his ability to go beyond simply capturing action. You can feel a wide range of feelings exuding off his subjects in the micro-moments of his photos.
“He doesn’t always go for the rock star pose shot,” Basi says. “I like the way he captures a lot of people looking down.”
You can find Evans camera-ready at shows. Not every night, like it was when he started—he’s got a full-time job now—but he makes an effort to get out as much as possible.
“I just love doing this. If I don’t make a living off of it, I still want to keep doing it regardless,” Evans says. “Whenever I’m at shows photographing, it’s really just a Zen moment for me.