A local metal photographer gives everything he’s got to cover the scene

Posted on February 5, 2015

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(Photo provided by Adrian Mejia)

(Photo provided by Adrian Mejia)

By Rachael Mattice

OC Weekly

Twitter: @RachaelM_OC

On a warm Saturday in the middle of January, the Airliner Bar in Lincoln Heights is packed to capacity, with heavy metal fans crowding toward the first floor stage awaiting local “menstrual metal” maidens Harlequin to enliven another set during the Metal Invictus show. Squashed in between fans on the left is music photographer Adrian Mejia, raising his Canon over his head in efforts to escape shoving and to capture the snarled hair, sweat and growls of the performing band.

  • Who is Metal Invictus? Read their story HERE

Unlike larger venues, there is no spacious photographer pit in front of the stage, the lighting is limited and stagnant, Mejia isn’t seen carting $10,000 worth of camera equipment and he blends in with the musicians sporting a metal t-shirt and black pants. The seemingly uncomfortable photographer grounds at the Airliner is only one setting for the local Los Angeles and Orange County underground metal homeland for emerging musicians, fans and documenters like Mejia.

Metal music can thrive in any environment that is complimentary to ruckus and noise, but the levels of metal hierarchy can determine advantageous experiences such as theatrics for fans and journalists. Although Mejia, 33, started shooting signed, bigger named bands before the underground, the sometimes pristine surroundings and performances (as much as a metal show can have) were not nearly as thrilling to cover as the backyard shows.

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Earlier that Saturday around dusk before the Metal Invictus show, Mejia’s journey to music photography unfolded in a back alley with helicopters flying overhead and the faint sound of an ice cream truck creeping down a side street. Bringing his love of visual art to the U.S. from Mexico City over 10 years ago, his awakening moment for underground photography came to fruition due to a personal injury.

“A few years ago, I got in an accident, injured my leg and was very depressed,” said Mejia. “My dad gave me some money and told me to go out to a concert. I ended up at this backyard gig and had to go with a walker. I was enjoying the music and realized that all of these backyard bands have the same potential as the big bands. I knew that photographing them was what I wanted to do.”

Mejia’s talent today developed over years of self-teaching and trial-and-error without formal training. Although primed with a background in graphic design from a school in Mexico, his visual products quickly progressed to concert live shots; drum, guitar and bass camera videos, musician profiles, video interviews and posed band album shots in the LA and OC music scene.

Mejia’s shot OC bands such as Xanthochroid, Necroticus, Arachingod, Sacred Ruins, Infinite Death, Madrost, Insentient, Syrebris, Inquisition and Extinction. Over the three years that he’s been covering thrash, black, grindcore, grunge and metal music, Mejia said he’s grown more versatile and has covered rock bands and even pop bands from Japan and Korea. His introduction into the OC scene was supplemental to an industry relationship with metal promotion company Arrogant Behavior, and has covered numerous events at Anaheim’s Mirror Image Studios in addition to other venues.

“Adrian is very humble and treats all bands the same,” said Jesse Goytia, founder of Arrogant Behavior. “He covers gigs for the love of the music and has never asked for a penny from the bands or promoters. His humble heart is what gets him invited back to many events at no charge from many promoters in LA and OC.”

Mejia’s most recent specialty and focus is utilizing GoPro cameras to capture the blast beat speed of drummer’s feet and coordinated hands of drummers. Running multiple cameras during one song let alone a full concert can be time consuming enough, which is why his editing follows simplicity and sticks to the basics.

“The video footage I publish from any of the instrumental cameras is always raw, I never touch the sound or the lighting,” said Mejia. “The professional grade is cool, but my work is all about expressions and my work aims to offer the viewer the real thing and most natural presence. I love the raw sound.”

All of the equipment that is used in his work however, is borrowed from the local OC and LA music scenes and through friends. Sharing a major common denominator with fellow brethren in all metal communities, Mejia has very little monetary funds, limiting access to coverage in distant areas, transportation and even basic living necessities. He’s even slept on the street after gigs because he had no means of a ride home.

“I’m a very broke person. I don’t have a job. I don’t ask for money from any of the bands even when they offer. I don’t want to take their money because for me it seems like I would be trying to buy their talent. Like when my friend gave me her lens to use, it was just to help me. I want to do the same with other people. A band or promoter believing in me is the best payment.”

In addition to the hardships Adrian must persevere through to pursue his passion with photography, the penniless assignments, long hours and personal sacrifices are inevitable in the paths of all in pursuit of music journalism. The self-made nature of the metal industry means paying dues even when one has little to contribute but their ferocity for music.

“A lot of people, fans and bands a like do not see the troubles that most of us go through,” said Goytia. They assume being involved in the metal scene, whether being a promoter, photographer or even a larger band, are raking in the money. However, most of us have to have full-time jobs and suffer hardships and stresses just to do what we love.”

Although his goal to shoot in farther geographic locations still remains, Mejia will be focusing on video band interviews in the upcoming months.

“Covering bands and musicians at the beginning was really for passion. It’s developed into an inspiration to feel my spiritual side. Going to a gig is sharing their passion, but also capturing their energy and filling my spirit with that. That’s why I do it.

The need for Adrian and other music photographers still grows, as the underground bands of today become the names of tomorrow.

“These bands are the musicians that will influence many,” said Goytia. “We need to document our scene because nobody else will. Adrian’s pictures are to the bands and promoters what ticket stubs are to fans. They are our memories of that one time where we had it all.”

 To read the article on OC Weekly.com, visit HERE.

Mattice is a music journalist for the OC Weekly and Metal Insider. She can be reached at rmattice125@gmail.com or on Twitter @RachaelM_OC.

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Posted in: OC Weekly