We’re perched on green chairs outside of Starbucks at the intersection of 4th and Broadway in Downtown Santa Ana. The bright afternoon sun glares off the windows of aged buildings and Chris Alfaro, the man behind Free the Robots, grins behind black sunglasses. Cars drive pass us; we catch snippets of different radio stations fading in and out of ear shot, and the loud hum of various conversations throb in the air. Arguably, it’s not the most serene place to conduct an interview but for Chris it seems ideal.
Just a few steps behind us is the Crosby, a restaurant/dance party that Chris partially owns and around the corner is The Grilled Cheese Spot, another business venture that he also runs with his good friends. Suddenly, our location doesn’t seem so peculiar.
Santa Ana-Bred Free the Robots: I was originally born here, kinda moved everywhere in Orange County, then decided to come back – it’s my earliest roots. Santa Ana has a different energy than the rest of Orange County. I’ve pretty much lived everywhere – Irvine, Tustin, Garden Grove, Huntington, Fountain Valley. Living in other places, it wasn’t really inspiring. You don’t see stuff. Everything can be so flat in Orange County. I’m more attracted to cities and Santa Ana is our city.
Music Fueled Food Free the Robots: We opened the Crosby in 2007. . . 2008? We’re having our 5-year anniversary April 1st. It’s a big blur. [laughs]. It’s crazy to think that so much has happened since then. That formulated out of me and a group of friends — we wanted to finally just do something. We were at the age – 20s – “We know a chef, we’re into music, the arts, we’ve got this community behind us, let’s come up with a plan and see how it goes.” The plan worked and we’re still here. There’s three of us who originally started it. My buddies Phil and Mark. We knew each other from doing music together back in the day. Everything just fell into place; these are all my best friends. It’s cool. We want to build with the area. We’re not trying to change things. Everyone knows everyone and there’s a really cool collaborative energy. Music culture to me, that’s what kept me sane. I come from a left field, experimental thing that came out of Los Angeles around the mid-2000s and it sprouted from friends, growing up playing, I grew up dj-ing with people like the Gaslamp Killer — essentially that world’s biggest DJ, he’s awesome.
Free the Robots is . . . Free the Robots: Obscure stuff, and that’s kind of what Free the Robots is. I grew up listening to hip hop but making beats I really got into jazz and psychedelic rock, weird international Turkish, French gypsy jazz, even new French. I love what the French have been doing from the beginning. It’s an amazing culture. On NOT being a Rockstar Free the Robots: This is going to be my. . .8th time going to Europe? The weird thing is, it is kind of left field music and my audience exists more internationally. My smallest audience is my home town, ha! It’s cool. I can come here and go to work and bus tables and you know, it’s like living two separate lives. It keeps me level-headed. I’m not about to go home and try to be a rockstar. When I’m home, I’m home, no one knows me as anything other than Chris, that guy from Crosby haha. Myspace & the Suburbs Free the Robots: France is probably the biggest, which is amazing because I love Paris. The UK, Amsterdam and parts of Eastern Europe. It’s cool. Once again, the scene that came out of Los Angeles, the Low End Theory-type stuff, that’s really well accepted on the global stage. A lot of people consider the Crosby the little brother of the Low End Theory in Orange County ‘cause we always have the artists come out of there and play here. There’s not many places. Once again, in America it’s a very small cult but it’s getting bigger. It’s not really a genre; it’s an approach to music. I’d say it all started in Myspace days, people in their bedrooms just making beats in their rooms, influenced from anyone from Neptunes and Timbaland to old psych music. They create this nerd music out of their room and the cool thing is it’s honest music. When you make it honestly just to make it, that’s when the good stuff, the real ideas come out. That’s when some kid from the suburbs can make something cool out of his room, like me. I was living in Tustin, in my bedroom and Myspace came out and you’d have a global audience. Thank Myspace for that.
Defining the “Low-End Theory” Free the Robots: A community of off-beat artists that just came together, mostly met each other on Myspace and formulated one of the most progressive, new movements in music in history. Sausage Fests Free the Robots: I played my very first show at the Low End Theory in LA in a really seedy part of town and that’s when it was 40 people at the club and there would be no girls. If there was a girl it was some pissed off girlfriend, like, “Why are we here?” You know? But it was cool. I was a true nerd thing and now it’s exploded. On living the jetsetter kinda life in Europe Free the Robots: I almost feel as if I don’t deserve it. Everything’s totally hooked up and everyone’s so nice. It feels like that’s where I actually should be but we have a mission here. I always get homesick. You always gotta come back to home; I’m still a tourist out there. On Amsterdam Free the Robots: If you were going to Amsterdam, you’d probably end up going the Red Light District where all the tourists are. People forget the rest of Amsterdam and how amazing the culture is, the parks, the music, the good bars. Amsterdam is my second home. We work a lot with Obey and the European offices of Obey are in Amsterdam and we rent bikes for 25 bucks at this thing across the way. I took my business partner with me last time, Phil – he sometimes plays keyboards with me live – and chilled, smoked weed, ate really good food and hung out with friends.
Next week he’ll be in . . . Free the Robots: France, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Amsterdam, Denmark. 3 weeks. You don’t really sleep much. The French are actually really, really nice people. Free the Robots: I think people who talk bad about France don’t really understand the culture. I think some of the most open and friendly people are Parisians. Yah, they make fun of Americans but what’s not to make fun of? On being the underdog. Free the Robots: They (the French) love American artists; they like American subcultures; they’re all about the underdog. That’s why we get so much love out there on our scene, because we are generally the underdog. He loves Toronto because Canadians are polite Free the Robots: Last time I went was in 2010, also a tour, played at this place called backspace, backstage? Toronto has one of the best music scenes I’ve ever experienced. East Coast Canada is cool and the audience is super polite, open-minded. To his fans overseas: Free the Robots: See you next week . . . FREE THE ROBOTS//// Facebook //// Twitter PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL NG