UNITY CRAYONS

all ages welcome.

Words by Naz Kawakami // Photos courtesy of the Unity Crayons Archive

Words by Naz Kawakami // Photos courtesy of the Unity Crayons Archive


In my youth, I was not cool. I thought I was, but I assure you I was not. And to be fair, looking back, the local bands that I worshipped weren’t either. Their complexions mirrored the flaws of my own, and their technical skill only barely qualified them as musicians. But their songs were fast, and their lyrics were sharp. And when they screamed out their angst, I screamed along. And for those brief moments, the room felt like home.

For an acne-ridden, cargo-pants wearing pre-teen like me, a local non-profit called Unity Crayons (UC) was a messiah, bringing gospels of jumbled guitar chords and punk rock to the youth any way they could. Founded by Josh Hancock and Jake Foster, UC was about throwing shows for the kids in a safe, alcohol and drug-free environment, despite having virtually no money and one of the moodiest PA’s ever to exist. In UC’s tragically short tenure, they tirelessly threw all-ages shows as often as they could, wherever they could—churches, parking lots, cramped coffee shops—wherever.

UC was a savior for a punk scene that has had a hard time digging into Honolulu’s Jawaiian contemporary. It provided a place for the youth to be with peers who understood them, to experience the music that united them, and, if so inclined, take it upon themselves to form a band and lead the charge.

for an acne-ridden, cargo-pants wearing pre-teen like me, a local non-profit called Unity Crayons was a messiah...

UC was hated by parents and cops alike. Its very existence was continually under fire, which only added to their continually-increasing level of coolness. They relished their societal rejection, pulling the youth even closer into its tightly-knit community, and all for the greater good. In one of the most paradoxically punk gestures I’ve ever witnessed, UC was a non-profit charity. The entirety of their profits (if there were any) was donated to causes like the American Cancer Society, Red Cross, or any number of adored organizations—a perfect “fuck you” to those individuals who chose to hate them for what they looked like as opposed to who they were.

However, the UC dream was short lived. According to co-founder Josh Hancock, UC was declared dead in 2007, a mere four years after its inception, due to its aging performers and, more importantly, its aging fan base. Kids weren’t coming out like they used to, which made the all-ages show an unnecessary mission.

So, what happened? Where were the kids? Where was the next wave of motivated youngsters with Rancid T-shirts who needed to sing to you how they felt? Had they lost interest? Had they perished at the hands of internet culture and the smartphone? Had they gone the way of MySpace, a social media platform that so deeply integrated music into their model that when a page was clicked the user didn’t even have a choice in hearing it or not?

Maybe it’s the absence of venues. With the collapse of DIY promoters like UC, shows stopped happening in minor-friendly places like rec centers and cafés. They quickly moved to bars and pubs where your age decided if you’d get a glimpse of alternative culture or not. The music became secondary to the bar and, while it was still possible to catch the occasional all-ages gig or see big headliners through BAMP, the lack of places to listen and play and interact deprived the youth of their most rebellious creation: good ol’ punk rock.

When I was young, I didn’t go to house parties. I wasn’t invited to house parties. Dark rooms with low ceilings, packed to the brim in discontented bodies where the air is thick and it’s impossible to breathe—where lyrics of strife and struggle rang out into the night through the throat of someone who felt the same way I did—these were my parties. This was my home. It is sad to think that the angst and catharsis and experiences that helped to shape me is largely lost on the generation below; that they won’t ever be given, or perhaps aren’t interested in receiving, the very thing that helped to form and nurture generations of despondent youth for the better.

I don’t want to be the bitter 20-something year old man that tells kids how great his generation is and how much theirs sucks. Not everyone is going to like my music and I won’t like theirs. So, instead, I’ll tell them what Unity Crayons and the music scene of my youth taught me:

If you want to do something, just fucking do it. If you want to play a show, play it anywhere and everywhere, over and over again. If you want to be a DJ, then buy/borrow/steal a turntable and never turn it off. Even if the cops hate it, your parents don’t understand it, you’re dead broke, and people are telling you “No.” You can do great things for yourself and those around you.

Unity Crayons didn’t just make me sentimental for fast music and poorly ventilated rooms, that was just the aesthetic of the vessel. They had a mission without any means and still got the job done. Unity Crayons instilled in me a punk-rock, Do-It-Yourself work ethic, to pursue and accomplish whatever the fuck I want despite the odds and the naysayers, and that's a gift I'm grateful to have received.