These are some troubling times. This winter seemed extra oppressive, dragging even the most cheerfully stalwart amongst us into at least a short period of malaise. Turning on the evening news lately can be catalyst for a full-blown panic attack.

We need something good to happen.

We need community.

We need a barbecue.

A barbecue? Next to the blossoming of Erigenia, I can’t think of anything that is more a harbinger of springtime than a barbecue. So, yes, we need a barbecue, and I personally like my barbecues served up with a heavy dose of rock and roll.

Enter renaissance man and self-described 17-year “rock n’ roll lifer”, Conan Neutron and PRF BBQ West. You might be familiar with Neutron from his many Bay Area musical associations: Replicator (2000 – 2008), Mount Vicious (2008 – 2009), Victory and Associates (2009 – 2014), and his current outfit, Conan Neutron and the Secret Friends.

Or maybe you’ve heard his podcast Conan Neutron’s Protonic Reversal on Radio NOPE.

Or maybe you’ve worked alongside him at political involvements such as Kaplan for Mayor or the Oakland Warehouse Coalition or read his online Voting guide for every election.

Or maybe attended one of his “Noiserock Picnics” at Toxic Beach and Potrero Del Sol Park in years past. Sort of a Jurassic-era antecedent to the PRF thing.

Or maybe you’ve seen him at shows.

Currently, Neutron servers as the, “primary organizer, ringleader and supreme allied commander of rock,” for PRF BBQ West, an annual event bringing rock n’ roll to the people of Oakland. This year, PRF BBQ West takes place April 21 – 23.

I interviewed Neutron to get the whole story.

The Bay Bridged: How long have you been involved with PRF BBQ?

Conan Neutron: Almost since its start in 2010 in Chicago; first as a participant, then as a helper, and then organizer. Then we launched the West Coast version of the PRF in 2014.

TBB: What exactly is PRF? I read there’s a connection to Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio, but the particulars are unclear. Maybe purposefully so?

CN: Nobody is necessarily being evasive! It’s an easy and quick story. It’s a community of like-minded and motivated people who got together on the online message board (yeah, I know) of Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio forum. At some point somebody said, “Hey, let’s get all of our bands together and do something cool.” Lo, they did. Then it was done again, bigger and better, and the circle expanded a little bit, and again, and another one in a different location, and then another one.

[It was] slow growth, completely unconcerned towards profit or commercial success and exclusively focused on putting together the best, most pure, and awesome time possible for a very specific group and type of person.

The way I initially described it is a group of people that are the “that guy” or “that girl” of their specific town. Meaning, the person you must want to hang out with that is firmly dedicated to Doin’ Thangs (™) in their own scene and making awesome stuff happen. That’s coming from a touring perspective, mind you.

That’s still the case, but with social media being what it is, we’re all a little closer now. It’s a gathering of friends and future friends with a pretty low barrier of entry.

TBB: And all the proceeds from the event do to the restoration of Mosswood Park?

CN: Yes, all proceeds after costs will get donated to Mosswood for rebuilding efforts currently underway after the horrible fire they suffered in December. Presales are absolutely recommended, as it helps defray the costs of putting the thing on, which ain’t cheap.

TBB: When I proposed covering PRF BBQ West to my editor, she said, “What’s that?” It’s an awesome event. How come more people haven’t heard of it?

CN: I’ve got The Germs playing in my head now. “What we do is SECRET! SE-CRET!” Nah, not really. Again, there’s absolutely zero desire to commercialize this or turn it into something merch. It’s basically a huge party full of bands playing at, with, and to each other. It’s a warm and friendly environment that has largely grown through word of mouth. That is intentional. Aren’t there enough of these things that walk around with a figurative megaphone yelling, “ATTENTION! ATTENTION! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!”? Man, I sure think there are.

It isn’t for everybody, but a lot of people that do find it suddenly find themselves in a home that they didn’t know they were looking for.

TBB: How would you describe PRF BBQ to someone who has never been involved?

CN: It’s the only place you can strike up a conversation with almost anybody there and know that they are probably a really awesome person that does wonderful things. They might be shy, they might be brash and bold, but they will be neither dull-eyed nor dull-witted. Lots of great bands that do not strictly follow any genre or sound. The genre and sound is: “good.” Every band does their own thing and does something different.

TBB: How are bands selected to play PRF BBQ West?

CN: It’s open submissions, but again, it’s an expression of community first. Those that are part of that community always get first priority, as are those whose interested in the event extend to helping out rather than just showing up to play. We have to turn away bands every year, and I hate doing it, but there are only so many slots. Also, not every band is appropriate to play. That might sound elitist, but that is how it’s done, son. This isn’t something to boost your career, get the hell out of here with that!

TBB: The PRF BBQ West website hails this event as a “celebration of community.” What makes this a community event?

CN: The heart and soul of the PRF is a tight-knit group of people who do creative things at, with, and to each other. It’s a geographically diverse crowd that seems all the more physically close thanks to the power of the Internet. There are in-jokes and esoteric interests like anything, but if you aren’t a total dick you can find a foothold. It’s really difficult to describe until you go to your first one. It sounds culty; yeah, I know. My experience being around such awesome people and music is that it makes me want to work harder at doing awesome things. So, if that’s a cult, it sounds like a pretty good cult to me.

“The genre and sound is: “good.” Every band does their own thing and does something different.” – Conan Neutron

TBB: What is it about Oakland that makes it a good fit for this event?

CN: Oakland shares a lot in common with Chicago. Both are very working-class cities with a long history of uncompromising and somewhat artsy noisy rock. Oakland, despite the best efforts of some to dot-com-ify it, is still a supportive environment to be able to create your own thing, while still being in a major metropolitan area. It’s also been my home of 22 years and I run the thing, so you’re in my house (laughs). For a little while longer at least.

TBB: Speaking of cults, let’s talk politics. You’re a pretty political guy. Is there a political element to PRF BBQ?

CN: Only so much as the people involved are very savvy, critical thinking individuals who are currently in a state somewhere between resting panic and dread and outright torch-lighting civil disobedience. I’m sure some people get a kick out of seeing Hot Dog and the French Fries play their safely consonant-friendly garage rock songs as pure escapism. That’s not our thing. By the same token nobody needs to brashly be singing: “This song is called Alternative F**ks, and it’s about our liar of a President.” We get it. The bare minimum of engagement is a little sharper than most.

TBB: Your band is slotted to play. How hard can we expect our socks to be rocked off?

CN: Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends are indeed slotted to play. This is an exceedingly rare appearance, the fourth-ever Bay Area show with half as many albums and another 18 or so songs in the pipe to be released in the next two years.

The music we make is not even remotely in vogue with Bay Area tastes, so it probably doesn’t mean much to most people. Especially since our “members of” famous dude Dale Crover is filling in on drums for Redd Kross for the date. However, Secret Friends is “always different, always the same,” which seems to be a hard thing for people to adjust to. It’s not how your typical band operates, and it’s a lot to parse in a busy world.

Shows and tours are purely adventure-based and should be treated like comet sightings, instead of “I’ll catch the next one.” They aren’t, but that’s how it SHOULD be. (Laughs.)

I’ve been making records and playing shows here since 2000, but I think it’s fair to say that other than a few months over the years what I do has always been more popular elsewhere. I think that’s pretty common though. The Bay Area is an embarrassment of riches for great bands, and also a complete embarrassment by just the number of bands vs. the amount of people that want to see them. When you have absolute zero desire to play the game, you’ll get missed completely and probably dismissed as another band with a long and hard to remember name. I can’t say I care too much about that, but those are the facts. I stand by the work, which is better than it has ever been. I just have zero desire to evangelize to people about how they should be paying attention to it. The work is there, it may not be for everybody but the people it *IS* for it means a lot to. I’m totally cool with that.

TBB: I love a good surprise. Anything else you want our readers to know?

CN: It’s all ages on Saturday and Sunday, so rocker parents can and should bring their kids. Expose them to some loud freak-o rock that goes beyond what is pushed incessantly by the many styles of media outlet. It’s a good time in the park, over by sundown and, geez…proceeds go to a pretty good cause. Sounds OK, right?

PRF BBQ West is April 21st at the Nightlight and April 22 – 23 at Mosswood Park. Presale tickets are available online.

Mosswood Park
April 21-23, 2017
12pm, $10-40