Mixing media and stylishly hip sophistication, Flatblack.net is the online hotspot for cyber surfers trying to catch the new wave of music, art and culture
by Lee Abraham
Being brilliant is simply not enough. That's why the word -struggling- so often precedes the word -artist-. Making a living as a musician, painter, or artist of any type usually doesn't depend on how good you are, it's too often a question of who you know or how much money there is supporting your project. For most struggling -independent- artists that aren't tapped into some high voltage record biz juice or a big bucks sugar daddy, it's next to impossible.
"We watched a lot of our friends that were in different bands and involved with different groups that weren't making it," says Chris Almida of Flatblack.net, an online -lounge- that promotes and showcases musicians and artists. "We saw other bands that we didn't think were as good but had the financial backing that our friends didn't have, who -were- making it. That was something that we were really frustrated with."
That frustration planted the seed for Flatblack.net. A self taught computer whiz in search a birthday gift for his fiancée, dee dee Molnick, Almida created -Flatblack.net-, a website concept Molnick had expressed an interest in starting. Originally intended to help artists and bands network with each other, Flatblack has since evolved into a popular online 'zine and cyber stage for the Las Vegas music and arts communities.
"We are focused on promoting artists," says Almida, "but Flatblack is also a lounge. Kind of a virtual place where you can come to, kick your shoes off, have a beer or whatever, hang out and you can go through the gallery and check out some cool art, you can read something that's really thought provoking or check out some new bands."
Organized into four sections with fancy small case French titles, the Flatblack Lounge features the work of over twenty artists and musicians. -l'humanite- is an area for inspirational quotes and short and sassy insight into the human experience; -la politique- is Flatblack's forum for political discussions. But the real action is over in -la galerie- and -la musique-, two swingin' hot spots for hip cyber surfers trying to catch the new wave of music, art and culture. -la galerie- showcases the work of a variety of visual artists and writers, including videos from local multi-media guru Doug Jablin; abstract paintings by kirby; and hand drawn images by Victoria Traynor, to name a few of the Flatblack artists.
There's also a photo album from the recent Burning Man festival; an online TV show called -LVTV-, -Along the Silk Road-, a metaphysical novel that's being written online with an interesting ongoing interaction between the author and readers; a montage of computer generated images as well as an assortment of poetry, photography, articles, essays and other stylishly hip and sophisticated stuff. Read everything you want to know about The Reunion, Fact Meets Fiction and the Melancholics in the -la musique- section. Eternal Rest from Germany, as well as the earthlings? and Horace Pinker, both from LA, also have sections with bios, album cover art, etc. Several independent record labels and music magazines are also linked.
The site is currently averaging upwards of 50 hits a day and that number continues to climb. Although most computers will handle Flatblack, "You'll have a much better time in the lounge with a high speed cable modem," advises Molnick. In addition to promoting artists online, Flatblack's well oiled marketing machine offers support through quarterly mail-outs, e-mail bulletins, bumper sticker campaigns and T-shirt promotions. When they're not in front of the computer or brainstorming promotion ideas, the two patrons to the arts might be helping out one of their musicians by working the door at a gig or doing the behind the scenes phone work for bands trying to network with each other.
Here's an example of what Flatblack does -behind-the-scenes-: their friends from LA, the earthlings?, featuring Dave Catching, a well connected up and coming rock band recently held a high profile CD release party at the -Viper Room- in LA. Knowing the venue would be crawling with industry types from both sides of the stage, Molnick made arrangements to have two local bands, King Cartel and Ethernet, invited to the event, thinking they would be able to do some effective networking there.
Molnick is also working with Jayme Jacks of the Melancholics, and a few other local writers on an ambitious project that will essentially be an ongoing cyberdrama broadcast through LVTV, featuring local actors and actresses, the music of local bands and locally written scripts. "Flatblack brings local artists together on a variety of projects, not only music, but also trying to mix medias," says Jacks. "The results are always better than any one art form on its own. Personally, I think dee dee is one of the nine goddesses of Greek mythology that overlooks science, poetry, music and life itself."
Jacks isn't the only one that holds Molnick in high regard. In fact, she and Almida are engaged. The two philanthropists met in Colorado over six years ago where Almida was stationed in the military and Molnick was working with her dad's construction company. He's originally from Northern California and she grew up in Southern Cal. After Almida's completed his enlistment, the couple moved to Florida, where they both wrote for a local music and arts magazine.
Looking for adventure, they took off for a stint in New Orleans which was fun while it lasted, but they had their fill of swamp grooves and voodoo gumbo by '95.They moved again, this time to Las Vegas. Molnick's interest in working with artists dates back to her early teens in growing up in LA, where she gravitated to the local musicians and production people, many of whom went on to work with the -Lollapalooza- tour. Her proximity to the ups and downs of talented musicians, some of whom -did- go on to fame and fortune, Green Day, Ben Harper and Jane's Addiction to name a few, sensitized Molnick to the plight of the struggling artist and the tantalizing reality that a few bands actually -do- make it.
In addition to their combined efforts on Flatblack, Molnick and Almida work together in the business world for their Home Gambling Network, which invented and patented a way of conducting online wagering that is used around the world. Having a worldwide vision and business connections to make things happen, Flatblack has been able to promote their artists internationally. -the earthlings?- have sold over 8,000 records in Germany and Europe, due in part to Flatblack's efforts and connections with their friends -Eternal Rest-, an ambient wave band from Germany and their label, Cargo Records.
Local musician, Todd Janko, guitar player for -The Reunion- and -Zen Exit-, was thrilled when he learned that -The Heard-, an online 'zine out of Australia, was interested in doing a feature on The Reunion's music as the result of a Flatblack promotion. "One thing I liked about The Heard was that they are international," says Janko. "They are really open to American artists."
"We love promoting artists online, but we are also looking to sponsor and promote more live events," says Molnick. "Maybe even some live simulcasts through the web site." The first step into the live event forum comes in mid April, when Flatblack will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a multi-media extravaganza. "Since Flatblack is about promoting artists and the arts, we are going to gather the artists and we are going to have a celebration," says Molnick. "The basic theme will be -Art for the artists and the public is welcome-. The idea is to get everybody together, to learn about each other and enjoy each other."
"We'll also invite talent scout people, media, industry people," continues Molnick. "Not only will it be an opportunity for artists to network with other artists, but also to showcase some of the bands and other people that have been very active with us."
"They're doing it from the heart," says Janko. "They're not out to make money with this. They are doing it for the sake of art, almost like a James Joyce kind of thing, and people should check it out."
Almida agrees they're not profiting from Flatblack, at least not financially. "Over the past year, with all the time that we've put in, the late nights 'til three in the morning, I feel like we're the ones that have been the most rewarded," says Almida. "We've been able to meet some really cool people that we kind of include in our little family now. That's been exciting."