By Simone Whalen-Rhodes
“Let’s go to the basement!” I declared over the loud band that is already playing at C.A.F.E. Infoshop as I approach Emelia Sci-Fi Caper’s bassist and front lady, Sam, who plays lead guitar, and Jorge, the drummer.
The Sci-Fi Caper band members are hard to find all in one place since they don’t all live in Fresno. Jorge, who lives in Mendota, regularly drives up to play shows in Fresno. As we head downstairs, he says to me, “The basement creeps me out.”
True enough, more than a few rumors have been passed around about hauntings of the China Town underground system, and for good reason. The underground system full of tunnels leading from the basements has had a long and strange past with gambling, opium dealing and prostitution in the early 1900s.
We descend the creaky wooden stairs to the basement filled with Christmas tree lights and smoke. As we begin our interview, the vibrations from the band playing above can be felt through the ceiling. This eerie spot happens to be the same place I first saw Sci-Fi Caper preform.
Some of Fresno’s best kept secrets are waiting just under the surface. Many people in Fresno have never heard of the underground tunnels or Sci-Fi Caper. Although Sci-Fi Caper is a shining example of something good blossoming in Fresno, the tunnels may be a part of history we choose to ignore. It’s not all about the Chinese being model citizens and coming here to build the railroads. This was gritty Chinese history.
While the three members of Sci-Fi Caper nudged onto an old black futon in the basement, you could see the history written on the walls around us. It’s sad that these places have been left to rot, but with the music, friends, and laughter this place has been given new life. To learn more about the underground China Town tunnels, you can view a short documentary at youtube.com/watch?v=4cAZCYBe-UI.
The band is all smiles and modesty while I praise them on their talent. I don’t think any of the band members expected to become famous in Fresno. Emelia is wearing her hair black and straight with big blue-rimmed glasses. Her old-fashioned black high heels, pleated skirt and pink bubbly cardigan mirror the band’s twee sound.
The twee punk sound was new to my ears when I first encountered Sci-Fi Caper more than a year ago. Twee punk can best be described as cute with relatively simple and fast songs. “Sappy love songs come really easy,” Emelia giggles. Think early 1970s pop punk like The Ramones or more current examples such as Shonen Knife and Best Coast.
Anthony Dugan, one of Sci-Fi Caper’s top fans, states, “They are cutesy without being annoying or gimmicky.”
I was unsure of what I was hearing, but Sci-Fi Caper quickly won their way into my heart. The band’s ability to have the widest demographic and most palatable of sounds in the Fresno Friendcore scene has gotten them shows up and down California and featured on recordings.
Emelia and Sam have a calm comfortableness with each other from being partners for 12 years. Sci-Fi Caper had been a side project after Sam played in various bands for the past 12 years and got tired of dealing with intra-band drama. Emelia picked up a bass, and they began playing together.
Emelia remarks, “We posted a few songs on bandcamp.com and didn’t really think about it for a while. When a promoter, Samantha Retton, contacted us to do a show, we thought well I guess we better do something.” If it had not been for their music being out there online the band might have ended before it begun.
Sam and Emelia felt they needed a drummer so contacted the only drummer they knew at the time, Sam’s high school friend Jorge. When I asked Jorge how he joined the band, he said, “I had no idea, I thought I was just playing one show, then that turned into two, three…”
One of the band’s most enjoyable experiences was trekking up to Berkeley with several cars full of people to play at the Gilman. “It felt good; people can see us two times a week in Fresno. When I looked up when I was on stage I saw my friends in the crowd, too wild,” Emelia reminisces about the show. The Gilman is a legendary venue that helped start bands like Green Day and Operation Ivy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Emelia’s partner and bandmate Sam doesn’t believe her when she says she was a shy teenager; now she performs in front of crowds at the Gilman. She writes and sings for the band; I always admire a strong female lead. Her lyrics touch me as a fellow Fresnan when she sings of the discomforts of summer, “Don’t you find in the summer time you sleep all day and we stay out all night.”
And of course, “I don’t know where you want to be when it’s 112 degrees.” Being able to relate to her songs is just one of the many perks you get from listening to local music.
Dugan also remarks that that Sci-Fi is “punky but does not take themselves too seriously, they are always welcoming.” Dugan moved to Fresno more than a year ago and decided to go to a show in Fresno for the first time. He went to Sci-Fi Caper’s first show with their drummer at the Bel Tower; he said he knew Sci-Fi was a sound he loved. He went and talked to them after the show and ever since has been an avid fan and goes to all the shows.
“I’m glad people can be so responsive, it’s good to get feedback. Fresno is accepting us,” Jorge comments.
While the Friendcore community loves Sci-Fi Caper, it is also worth remarking that Sci-Fi Caper loves us. Part of their charm as talented musicians is their humbleness and love for the Fresno music scene. Sci-Fi Caper will let you borrow their bass amplifier if you are in need, they will give you free CDs of their band and cute pins for free!
You will see their smiling faces while all the other bands play at one of their shows, and they even go to most shows that they don’t even play at. They appreciate that Fresno is supporting and accepting them, but we are glad that they are always there to support the Fresno Friendcore music scene.
And while the locals recognize this, even touring bands do as well. Adam Prairie, the lead guitarist/singer for the Hoot Hoots, who are from Seattle, commented on Sci-Fi Caper and Fresno Friendcore:
We’ve had a great time both times we’ve made it out to Fresno; both have been at C.A.F.E. Infoshop. And we played with Sci-Fi Caper both times, with who we are madly in love with. Fresno is a town that pops in people’s head as a stereotypical great place to tour. The people determine the quality of the scene; they are so welcoming every time at C.A.F.E. Infoshop.
You can listen to 15 amazing tracks at sci-ficaper.bandcamp.com. Learn about upcoming shows by liking Sci-Fi Caper on Facebook.
Simone Whalen-Rhodes is an engaged member of the local music scene. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.