Josh86 uncovers possibility in the least likely of places
Text by Carmichael Doan || Images by Maxfield Terrell Smith
It seems like everyone knows Josh86. His name is infamous in local punk rock circles. Amid the hordes of the angst-filled and politically aware, he has been a cornerstone for the better part of the last two decades. His first band, 86 List, from which his stage name is derived, was formed in 1999 as an outlet to express the joy and gratitude of being a partially matured, blond-haired, ex-child model living on the North Shore of Oahu.
As the son of a Californian surfer who relocated to Hawaii for waves, Josh Hancock was raised in the cradle of surf and skate. His connection to punk was a natural one. Ensconced in the surf scene, his interest turned to skateboarding when the surf was down. Skateboarding has always promoted itself in videos that prominently feature punk rock. The synergy of energy and sonic blast resonated deeply with Hancock and made him a happy boy.
Hancock would hear local bands practicing in his neighborhood and could sense that the music had power. It was something primal and real. It had the capacity to drive the masses into a rollicking shitstorm of stomping madmen, and yet at its core, the messages were clear and driven. Punk rock challenged the status quo, spit in the face of authority, and shouted that it was okay to be different. These were not just empty shrieks, but resonant ideals.
Tearing through the local punk scene as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Hancock made a name for himself in a way few have before. Where the punk rock scene made its impression on him, he found that he was now the one leaving his own fingerprints in the minds of the punk fanbase. His shows ate up the energy of the teenage fans and spewed it back out a hundredfold. This was the Bush era. This was post-9/11 angry America. There was a palpable climate of rage, fear, and anxiety. People were ready to give back hell. The 86 List became a reflection of that.
While continuing to deliver epic, mind-shattering messages of hope and perseverance, Hancock took on a Clark Kent-esque existence that involved working as a busser and back-of-the-house servant in random food service jobs and promoting punk rock within the local music scene. He found a way to balance making great music and being an outspoken voice while the rest of us stumbled through the banalities of everyday life wondering what the fuck was happening in our own fragile worlds. During this time, he also started a nonprofit focused on delivering quality music to all ages, called Unity Crayons, and moonlighted as an actor in commercials and television series such as Lost. He was a busy little bee, and as he trudged through this dual existence, he found himself being pulled further into the most vibrant urban scene in all of Hawaii: Chinatown.
After the inception of 86 List, the punk scene in Hawaii began a gradual shift. Shows moved from shoddy shitholes like abandoned churches in the middle of Haleiwa to Honolulu’s dive-bar scene. Hancock rode this immense surge, constantly engaging the mesmerizing climate of downtown Chinatown. Performing regularly in the area, he was exposed to the abundance of homeless people dangling their fancy bits about and the dodgy characters lurking in the shadows of alleyways and stoops, but he found a surprising beauty in the nature of it all. It was the odd juxtaposition of culture, poverty, grit, and possibility.
As a musician in a multitude of bands, including Black Square, Hancock would routinely finish a show in Chinatown and end up chatting with friends in the music scene about the lack of late-night eating options. He had toured the world and found the desolate climate of late-night downtown Honolulu comparatively puzzling. On one such occasion, he found himself speaking about it with Serena Hashimoto, a professor at nearby Hawaii Pacific University and a longtime friend from when Hancock was just an upstart revolutionary. She had initially started following Hancock and his music as merely a fan, but had grown close over late nights of contemplation and debauch. Their relationship progressed as he realized that he not only trusted and valued her thoughts, but that he also relied on her intuitions. This back and forth had recently culminated in Hashimoto becoming the band manager as well. It was during these late-night conversation that the two began to consider hypotheticals and pour over the logistics of filling what to them was an obvious vacuum in the Chinatown scene conversations.
These ideas came to a head in 2011 when the two decided to combine their interests in both food and music. Hancock and Hashimoto bought, repainted, and rebuilt an old Thai restaurant, turning it into the Downbeat Diner, a spot where patrons could refuel with a traditional high-calorie meal that was affordable and delicious after a late night out. They centered its eclectic style around their love for music. Two years later, the adjacent hair salon was put up for sale and Hancock and Hashimoto saw an opportunity to inject their Downbeat venture with even more personal flavor. They snapped it up and turned it into the Downbeat Lounge, a bar and music venue where Hancock could use his passion for music and promotion to bring in live music and give exposure to bands he believed in and admired.
But the two weren’t content with their stamp on Chinatown yet. In November 2014, they took over controlling interest in Mercury Bar and converted it into a billiards hall and pub, naming it Proof Public House. The pair was determined to keep alive an establishment that had nurtured their own interests while creating a setting that was different from other pool houses and bars. Combining the two, and throwing back to traditional European style public houses, they decided on a simple premise: affordable beer options, pizza by the slice, and a casual setting for those wanting a laidback spot to socialize.
All of their establishments are a reflection of Hashimoto and Hancock’s interests, beliefs, and tastes. They are venues where punk music, food, and unique style coalesce into something different and vibrant that had yet to be seen in Chinatown. Ultimately a part of the greater community, they are genuine throwbacks. They harken back to that late-’90s era of being different, being steadfast, promoting excellence, and not caving in to what the fuck everyone else thinks they should be doing. In a sense, their small piece of Chinatown has effectively 86’d the idea of being told who and what to cater to.