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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
IN LIVING COLOR: Among the Living guitarist Tom Arnott, left, and singer/promoter Spencer Biddiscombe at the 418 Project, where Biddiscombe is putting on an all-ages show with 13 bands this Saturday

The Scene King

Santa Cruz's punk rock savior

By Curtis Cartier

SPENCER BIDDISCOMBE is a stout, well-mannered 27-year-old who is known to just about every concert-going local under 21 as the driving force behind the Santa Cruz punk scene. For 13 years and through three bands, the music promoter and singer for hardcore set Among the Living has organized shows, assisted fledgling bands and helped turn the funky Front Street venue the 418 Project into a home away from home for a new generation of music fans.

"Do it yourself. That's what I'm all about, and I try to teach that to the young kids," he says. "Santa Cruz has always been a been a tough market for punk bands, especially if you're young. We just try to give everyone a chance and a place to play, even if you're 14, 15 years old. I think that's how you build something that's more real than what you see at a lot of other venues."

Biddiscombe's latest effort is a massive 13-act showcase going down Saturday, Dec. 12 at the 418. Billed as a CD release show for Among the Living's newest self-titled and self-produced album, the showcase will feature hours of punk, hardcore and metal music, all for the bargain price of $10. Ages in the lineup range from 15 and 16 (metal and pop punk bands Ecophagy and Blitz Battalion) to veteran thirtysomethings (Nations Afire). For Joel Rosenberg, Ecophagy vocalist and ever-present 418 concertgoer, it's shows like this that define the local punk scene.

"I don't know if Spencer knows this, but without him and his old band At Risk, I probably wouldn't be into this music and I wouldn't be in a band," says Rosenberg. "He does more for the local scene than probably anyone, and he doesn't get enough credit for it."

Biddiscombe and the 418's reputation extend much farther than Santa Cruz. He books emerging bands from Salinas, San Jose, Watsonville and all over the Bay Area, as well as national touring acts like Tiger Army, Rise Against and Agnostic Front. Jeremy Lux of East Bay hardcore band Wolves and Thieves, who's making the drive south to play Saturday's show, says if more people took Biddiscombe's lead in promoting local shows, emerging bands would never be without a place to play.

"That's what's so great about punk rock and DIY—anyone can do it," he says. "Anyone can find a small venue and start something. And with all-ages shows, you always know people are there for the music and the message, and not just out to party."

The 418 Project likely has the strangest operations schedule of any venue in Santa Cruz. Besides serving a steady stream of hungry customers spicy Indian fare at the Jumping Monkey Café, the small wooden-floored venue can host a yoga class, a Wiccan prayer rite and a pop punk show all in a single day. As an all-ages, nonprofit business, this also includes the strict enforcement of a prohibition on drugs, alcohol and smoking. For Biddiscombe, this can mean occasionally functioning as a baby sitter.

"Half my job, a lot of times, is just walking around making sure no one is drinking or smoking," he says. "But it's really important, because all it takes is one time for the cops to show up at the wrong time, and if a bunch of kids are drinking then we could lose the only all-ages venue in town."

Most the kids, however, know that staying out of trouble at the 418 is vital to keeping it open and available for their weekend hangout needs. And with the downsizing of Laurel Street's Teen Center a block away, more youngsters are counting on its cheap entertainment to keep them occupied. Ana Marden, the 418's executive director, says she prides herself on being able to offer a safe, drug-free place for teens to express themselves. She also says that she couldn't do it without Biddiscombe and his organic connection with the local scene.

"Kids in Santa Cruz don't have that many places to hang out in the evenings anymore, and, you know, going to a show is, a lot of times, cheaper than going to a movie," says Marden. "And Spencer is just one of those guys who everyone knows, and who the young kids look up to. We get a lot of bands interested in playing here because of his efforts. I'll tell you one thing, I breathe a sigh of relief when I know Spencer's on the scene."

AMONG THE LIVING screams along with Wolves & Thieves, Ecophagy, Sick Mess, Nations Afire and eight other bands on Saturday, Dec. 12, at 6:30pm at the 418 Project, 418 Front St., Santa Cruz. Tickets $10 at the door, all ages.

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