Twelve years ago, Eric Howarth was living in San Francisco and running a label called M-Theory Records, which released albums by Slackjaw, Alien Crime Syndicate, Mars Accelerator, his band Suplex, and, later, Congress of the Cow, featuring members of San Diego’s Inch and fluf.
Howarth, disenchanted by the Bay Area’s dot-com culture, considered relocating to San Diego, a city he’d visited once on a college-sponsored trip as a freshman in L.A.
“San Francisco turned into a really weird place during that time,” Portland native Howarth recalls at Gelato Vero coffeehouse in Mission Hills. “It lost some of the charm that made it San Francisco in the first place...and San Diego seemed really cool and beautiful.”
When a friend mentioned he was getting a job with a computer business in San Diego that was looking to hire another person, Howarth decided to make the move. Before leaving, he gave a talk at the North by Northwest music conference in Portland and, afterward, was approached by Jason Riggs of 91X. Howarth told him he was about to move to San Diego and would be in touch. Shortly after arriving, Howarth stopped into PB Bar and Grill for lunch and there was Riggs, doing a remote broadcast from the bar. By day’s end, Riggs had secured him an apartment next to the one he shared with his brother.
“For whatever reason, I was supposed to come to San Diego,” a neatly mohawked Howarth laughs. “It doesn’t make much sense.”
Fate conspired in Howarth’s favor once again a year later, when the severance package from his computer-sales job amounted to the sum he would need to open M-Theory Records at 30th and Juniper. Inspired by the independent record stores of Portland and San Francisco, M-Theory spent five years in South Park before moving to its current Mission Hills location at Washington and Goldfinch. In 2009, Spin magazine called M-Theory “one of Southern California’s best.”
“San Diego by nature is under the radar,” Howarth says when asked why America’s Finest City hasn’t received the same national attention, musically, as San Francisco or Portland. “It’s the sleepy brother or cousin to L.A. I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. I don’t think the fact that San Diego hasn’t been put on the map, so to speak, is a reflection of whether the bands are great or not.”
Having befriended Brooklyn alt-rockers Nada Surf at an in-store performance, Howarth took what he learned from M-Theory Records in San Francisco and, in 2007, started Hi-Speed Soul to reissue a decade-old, out-of-print Nada Surf EP, Karmic. Hi-Speed Soul (the name is a Nada Surf song title) has gone on to license two out-of-print records by British band Swervedriver for reprint and press albums by several San Diego bands, including Sirhan Sirhan, Nervous Wreckords, and Lady Dottie and the Diamonds. Howarth also manages the Black Heart Procession.
In January, Howarth sold M-Theory to the owners of Gaslamp nightclub Fluxx and started promoting events as Daydream Nation Presents. He hired Owen Salerno, former promotions director at FM 94/9, to assist him in producing Fluxx Live, hosted by Tim Pyles, which kicked off in June with performances by Dirty Sweet, Scarlet Symphony, and the Howls. The Live series sees the nightclub drop the downtown dress code and drink prices to cater to a crowd more accustomed to venues such as the Casbah.
Now approaching its sixth showcase, Fluxx Live has hosted performances from Mix Master Mike, Hyena, Shark Attack, the Silent Comedy, Jared Mees and the Grown Children, Little Hurricane, and Transfer (which was recently invited to join the Killers on tour in England).
“Everyone I talk to who comes says, ‘I thought it’d be one way, but it’s totally different,’” says Howarth.
Fluxx’s byline is “a club in constant change,” a reference to the fact that the interior décor gets overhauled monthly. The most recent theme was Mysterium, a surreal amalgamation of Gothic candelabras, pagan iconography, electric dreamcatcher video screens, and part-lounge, part–log cabin ambiance.
“Fluxx is definitely our home base for any shows in that capacity range [900 people],” says Howarth, regarding Daydream Nation Presents. “It’s an amazing venue, and we love working with the team there. With that said, we are looking to put on shows at smaller or larger venues when the opportunities arise, or on the weekends when Fluxx is not available for live shows.”
Howarth is putting more focus on the record label now that M-Theory is off his plate, anticipating a vinyl release from local indie electro-duo Hyena (Oct. 15 at Casbah), a vinyl reissue of Afghan Whigs classic Gentlemen, and vinyl versions of Swervedriver’s Mezcal Head and Raise. The label is also looking to take on more bands for management and expand into TV/film licensing for bands outside of the current roster.
“I love M-Theory, but I’m surprised I did it for eight and a half years,” Howarth says. “That’s quite a long time for me to be focused on the same thing. I’m still over there all the time, though — either consulting or satisfying my vinyl addiction. But it’s been fun redirecting my attention on new challenges with the label and concert promotion.”
Dan Black, White Apple Tree, and Lesands headline Fluxx Live October 17. ■