Picture it: On the sweaty, intimate top floor of the Legionnaire Saloon in downtown Oakland, hip-hop producers, jazz musicians and electronic artists mingle and dance. From its founding in 2013 through the months just before the pandemic, Smartbomb was where the Town’s experimental creatives could meet each other and check out new acts. So when everything went awry in 2020, the crew had to figure out how to keep the party going.
That’s where Smartbomb’s livestreamed artist showcase, Video Home System (VHS), came in. Rather than simply performing on Zoom, the crew made it a whole production, with digital visual elements accenting footage of stripped-down home concerts: Think NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, but with special effects, and in the corner of the artist’s bedroom.
“The Video Home System project was our beacon of light. We hung onto it,” says Asonic Garcia, who founded Smartbomb alongside his then-band members from the experimental hip-hop group Secret Sidewalk. (He left the group in 2015.)
“As the world started to open up, we looked back, like, damn. We were very thankful that we all banded together during that time instead of getting more divided.”