Summer Guide 2014

SubZERO Festival

Local arts and music festival expands to a weekend-long event
SubZERO FestivalSubZERO Festival Photograph by Geoffrey Smith II

In a landmark illustration of serious progress, the seventh annual SubZERO Festival will now be two days, Friday and Saturday, June 6-7. With an ever-evolving urban subcultural smorgasbord of creative trajectories, SubZERO already seems much more successful and multifaceted than any of the original SoFA Street Fairs back in the 1990s. I probably just lost 100 friends by writing that, but it's my opinion. Your acreage may vary.

When Brian Eder and Cherri Lakey first steamrolled into downtown, relocating their Anno Domini Gallery into the old Camera One building nine years ago, any seasoned futurist of that block of the street could sense a revolution in the works. Nothing but life-acts of revolutionary stature were soon to emerge. I just knew it. They actually tried getting the local galleries to talk, collaborate, and join together in promoting the area as a whole—something that had never happened here. Gee, what a concept.

When South First First Fridays emerged soon thereafter, Eder and Lakey fostered an ample artists' fair in the adjacent parking lot in order to showcase local creative people who didn't have a place in the modicum of galleries at that time. Initially, it was not spectacular and barely transcended yard sale status, but the STREET MRKT idea, as they called it, simply grew and grew and grew. From one perspective, the SubZERO Festival can be understood as a logical progression from those original STREET MRKT events, which still take place every summer. Compare 2005 to now, and no one can deny that unprecedented success has been achieved.

None of this unfolded in a Western, linear, cause-and-effect fashion, of course. When the ZERO1 Biennial began in 2006, out of a decades-long history of academic arts, technology, new media cultural theory and cyberculture conference-festival crossover events and discussions in the US and Europe, it made sense for ZERO1 to incorporate a street festival of high-tech and low-tech endeavors, as part of how ZERO1 was to wrap a Silicon Valley frame around the whole shebang. In 2008, Eder and Lakey then launched SubZERO as part of that year's ZERO1 Biennial, before eventually spinning off the event into its own entity, somewhat like an island separating from the shoreline. So, from another perspective, SubZERO can be understood as that which took flight from ZERO1, straddled its own trajectory and eventually blossomed into one of San Jose's most anticipated yearly events.

summer moviesSubZERO Festival Photograph by Geoffrey Smith II

Now, for the first time, SubZERO takes place over two days, which should probably cement it as the signature arts festival of the entire South Bay, in my opinion. One doesn't need a music critic to explain how much of a coup it will be for San Jose to have Savage Republic perform live, for free, on a stage, in downtown San Jose. Originally occupying a space-time industrial-post-punk tribal-soundtrack-y percussive universe somewhere in SoCal during the 1980s, they now regularly mobilize their shifting sonic systems all over Greece and other parts of the European underbelly.

That's just one act on one of the stages. There's another stage at the other end of the street, plus a third space in the craft beer area, aptly called The Secret Garden, normally an overpri,ced parking lot and formerly the 401 Club, which burned down about 25 years ago. At last year's SuBZERO festival, the craft beer area proved to be a major winner. It was organized peacefully and respectfully with knowledge, care and pride. Which is great because Eder and Lakey barely even drink, if at all—you don't see them staggering in and out of art receptions after pounding the Chardonnay—and it's quite refreshing to see the organizers actually bringing in Lagunitas to operate the beer component, rather than solicit one more silly mass-macro-whatever and its obligatory Barbie-doll promotional dingbats. Where other beer events have failed in downtown San Jose, SubZERO is succeeding.

But anyway, there's also a lot of local artists and indie vendors participating, in fact, too many to adequately rattle off here. There's high-tech, low-tech, interactive displays, dancing in the streets, live painting, experimental electronics, homemade clothing, indie radio, photography, bugs, monsters, gallery openings and so much more—all, if anything, to celebrate the folks who still actually live and create in San Jose. Whether the politicians care or not, art is here to stay.