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High-tech, low-life: Inside the Mission’s secret cyberpunk fanclub

An illustration of founder of Cyberpunk Cinema, Tosh Chiang, and founder of Thrillhouse Records, Fred Schrunk, driving the iconic motorcycle from Akira, a featured film at Cyberpunk Cinema. ILLUSTRATION BY JEREMIAH WILLIAMS. ALL PHOTOS BY ANGELICA WILLIAMS.


Akira’s opening scenes establish the setting of the grimy dystopia of Neo-Tokyo. A once-shiny city turned desolate, as questionable hero Kaneda races through the city with his biker gang while riding his iconic, blood red motorcycle. Kaneda’s bike is sticker-ridden, and looks bound to fall apart at any moment – yet it’s the envy of all his comrades. Kaneda’s aesthetically cool bike has been the fancy of fans of the film for decades – including fans sitting in the dive bar Knockout, located in San Francisco’s Mission district; a bar that screens cyberpunk movies every second Monday of the month. With its techno-junk charm and rugged punk look, Kaneda’s bike encompasses the aesthetic of the cyberpunk genre in a nutshell: lots of grit.

Cyberpunk, formerly relegated to the depths of William Gibson science fiction novels, has attained cult status among sci-fi fans. Typically focusing on gritty, low-life realism in a hyper-technological futuristic society, cyberpunk is grungy in all aspects but the name.

Tosh Chiang organizes the monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night at the Knockout in San Francisco's Mission District.
Tosh Chiang organizes the monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night at the Knockout in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Perched on the cross streets of Valencia and Mission is Knockout, a modest-looking bar that is hosting its monthly Cyberpunk Cinema night. Inside Knockout it’s quiet, contrary to other bustling Mission bars, and full of attentive locals simply looking to enjoy a movie and sip on a brew or two. Knockout’s event is unique and singular to its neighborhood, and a night dedicated to weird, often-forgotten science-fiction is nearly unheard of in the Mission – until Cyberpunk Cinema happened. This particular night’s feature of choice is Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 gritty post-WWIII anime Akira.

Films such as Robocop and Total Recall brought the cyberpunk genre to commercial success, films that Cyberpunk Cinema organizer Tosh Chiang would label as “mainstream” choices rather than “integrity.”
“We always try to choose a movie you would wanna watch in a bar,” says Chiang, noting that a crowd wouldn’t show up to watch cult-Japanese cyberpunk film 964 Pinocchio, but they would for say, Blade Runner. Chiang switches between these two “types” of cyberpunk films every month for the Knockout event.

A small gathering of people enjoy Akira at Cyberpunk Cinema night. PHOTO BY ANGELICA WILLIAMS.
A small gathering of people enjoy Akira at Cyberpunk Cinema night.

As Akira is projected on a wall in the darkened bar, the occasional text will scroll by the top of the screen to encourage the crowd to tweet facts or reactions using the hashtag #cyberpunkcinema. Tweets, and written text from Chiang himself, scroll across the screen during various points in the film: from facts about the film (“The creator of the film and manga didn’t know about cyberpunk before making Akira”), to notifications about the free popcorn going haywire coincidentally during a climactic scene (“Much like Akira, we need help controlling the popcorn”), and to general humor (“Where is Godzilla when you need him?”). Crowd participation makes Cyberpunk Cinema feel more like a community event, rather than simply watching the movie at home.

Cyberpunk Cinema collaborates with local punk-vinyl enthusiasts Thrillhouse Records, that host the event at Knockout every second Monday of the month. Fred Schrunk, the founder of Thrillhouse, bartends regularly at Knockout and collaborates with Chiang, fellow Thrillhouse volunteer, in hosting the event.

A typical night at Knockout is uneventful. On any other Monday night the bar is nearly empty, with only a few folks, Chiang included with Schrunk bartending. They retell familiar stories and talk animatedly about music and films that they love. Chiang and Schrunk have been friends since 2005, when their respective bands Crimewave and Robocop 3, eventually decided to embark on a joint tour: Crimecop.

The status of the punk scene, apart from cyberpunk, in the Bay Area is alive and well, surviving the internet age in surprisingly unique ways. Schrunk started the volunteer-run, non-profit Thrillhouse Records, and continues to run it in the belly of the Mission to this day.

“I love records and always dreamed of opening a record shop,” says Schrunk. Schrunk and Chiang have been involved in the local punk scene for years, which adds to their passion for cyberpunk.

“I love the complete non-standardness in punk,” Chiang says. “Once you get beyond the different intricacies, at the end of the day it’s about having a good time and no matter how angry it’s perceived, it’s still hopeful.”

“And mohawks,” intercepts Schrunk. Of course, there’s always mohawks.

“In college, I wanted to start a cyberpunk film festival,” Chiang says of his time at Bard College in New York. Although that plan never truly formulated, the idea for a cyberpunk cinema night stewed for years, before coming to fruition during his time volunteering at Thrillhouse Records and hanging out at Knockout.

Fred Schrunk, bartender at Knockout bar and founder of Thrillhouse Records, sponsors Cyberpunk Cinema night.
Fred Schrunk, bartender at Knockout bar and founder of Thrillhouse Records, sponsors Cyberpunk Cinema night.

Cyberpunk for Chiang, Schrunk, and dozens of like-minded fans, run parallel to the punk music scene. Disruption, the collapse of the 1950s American Dream, and the running trope of manipulative corporations are all a common thread among cyberpunk media, sharing more likeness with punk than what meets the typical sci-fi eye.

“We’re in the most tech-advanced city in the country, and it happens to also have a large punk culture,” says Chiang. “And for some of us, it tends to overlap.”

In a typical night at Cyberpunk Cinema, the event begins at 6:30 p.m. with an episode of the classic 1998 western-space-noir anime Cowboy Bebop, a show about a group of cigarette-smoking goofball bounty hunters in the year 2071, as they hunt criminals of the week to composer Yoko Kanno’s delightful bebop jazz. Cowboy Bebop is a show that Chiang holds dear, due to its strong content of space-bound hijinks coupled with typical rascal struggles – cyberpunk personified.

Cowboy Bebop is a foundation of the entire space genre,” says Chiang. “It’s also presented in a way that’s visually appealing.”

Chiang and Schrunk play an episode of Cowboy Bebop at every event to account for “punktime,” a term that Chiang and Schrunk define as when someone is a half-hour to an hour late to the event’s start time. This way, the feature film won’t begin until after the episode, giving those that run on “punktime” a cushion, and it seems to be a proven formula. As the episode “Bohemian Rhapsody” of Cowboy Bebop ends, and silly old trailers for Akira are shown, one of which loudly proclaims, “Akira makes Blade Runner look like Disneyland” to the laughter of Knockout’s crowd. A steady stream of people slowly fill the bar’s seats and order the “Tetsuo” drink special, named as an homage to Kaneda’s friendly foil in Akira.

The event has become a monthly community staple for cyberpunk fans in the depths of the Mission, garnering a steady following of returning attendees. For Schrunk and Chiang, cyberpunk is more than just a genre.
“Cyberpunk tends to incorporate the chaotic aspects of technology,” says Chiang. “There’s no frills, just rough edges.”

Cyberpunk Cinema hosted its special one-year anniversary event on April 13th, where they screened Dredd, a film that Chiang believes is the perfect blend of crowd-pleasing and obscure, the ideal film for Knockout’s one-year celebration.

Like the everlasting coolness of Kaneda’s motorcycle in Akira, Cyberpunk Cinema isn’t a niche event looking to fade, but to remain static as an oddball staple in everything weird this little-big city has to offer.

Hibbity Dibbity and the anatomy of a jam band

(From left to right: Parker Simon, Chris Braun, Tom Relling, and Jack Gehegan of Hibbity Dibbity. (Frank Leal/ Xpress Magazine)
(From left to right: Parker Simon, Chris Braun, Tom Relling, and Jack Gehegan of Hibbity Dibbity. (Frank Leal/ Xpress Magazine)

San Francisco band, Hibbity Dibbity, is made up of members Jack Gehegan, Parker Simon, Tom Relling, and Chris Braun. The four came together about two years ago after Tom and Chris started writing songs together in Chris’s basement. Since then, they have played at countless venues in the city, raised money for a band bus, and toured with the bus playing at venues all over the country.

Their sound, commonly known as, Swamp, Funk, and Rock & Roll, is that one-of-a-kind, San Francisco jam-band sound that takes you back to the days of Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and other Bay Area Rock and Roll legends.

The band talks about exactly what it means to be a jam band and what sets them apart from the rest.

Civilian bootcamp

The alarm next to your bed goes off at 5:30 in the morning and as tempting as it sounds to just hit snooze and enjoy the comfort of your warm bed, you decide against it. It’s pitch black outside and your room is icy cold but somehow you force yourself to stand up. The holiday season is upon us but there is no excuse to gain that warm winter weight. Throw on some workout clothes and hurry up because you’re about to burn off last nights sugar cookie(s) and don’t forget to grab a water bottle and a small towel because your first boot camp class starts in 30 minutes.

It is too early to function and your eyes can barely stay open. Standing next to a handful of other people, who look equally as tired, you wonder what the hell you got yourself into. You cannot remember the last time you have been awake this early.

“Welcome to operation rapid response! Arms up, level with your shoulders. Elevate your knees to your hips on each kick. Keep your back straight. Keep going!” START fitness instructor Bianca Buresh yells.

Suddenly you’re running in place and the blood starts flowing. There’s really no time to think because the instructor transitions quickly through exercises. Today’s work-out consists of thirty minutes of indoor training, then thirty minutes outdoors. Many boot camp classes can be both indoors and outdoors and can be for people of all fitness levels. Today’s indoor training class focuses on muscular strength, stamina and overall aerobic conditioning while outdoor training includes running, sprinting and focuses on developing aerobic efficiency.

Loud music begins playing in the background. You start to wake up. The music helps you get focused motivated. “Mountain climbers! Lets get down on the ground!” Bianca yells out. She shows everyone what to do by getting in the push-up position and alternating her right knee to your chest and then the left knee, then tells everyone to do the same and as quickly as possible. Thirty seconds of this and you’re back on your feet jumping up, then dropping to the ground doing push-ups. Twenty more repetitions! Jumping, dropping to the ground, push-ups; it feels never-ending. Bianca instructs everyone to shout ‘hoorah’ after the last push-up. Everyone begins counting down from ten and then finally you get to the last push-up. Yes, almost finished!

“I didn’t hear everyone shout hoorah!” Bianca says. “You’re going to do ten more repetitions! Don’t forget to yell hoorah this time.” There are no breaks to get water or let you catch your breath. It’s up to you to excuse yourself to do either of these. Once the indoor session is finished everyone hurries outside.

Instructors at START fitness do not yell at people to do an exercise and are trained to motivate and coach people by demonstrating proper exercise techniques. Boot camps are not just for the military anymore. Many boot camp fitness groups are located around San Francisco, usually downtown, along the Embarcadero, at Crissy Field and in the Marina district. People actually pay to attend these intense fitness boot camp classes.

Army National Guard Staff Sergeant, Ken Weichert, and his wife Stephanie Weichert, founded START fitness, one of San Francisco’s first civilian boot camps. The boot camp formed in 1997 and is the longest running boot camp in the country. It is a group exercise program and incorporates military-style workouts.

Imagine jogging alongside a six-time soldier of the year, master fitness trainer and veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm. Probably not in one of your top three things to daydream about, or imagine yourself adding to your Tuesday’s to-do list. For a small group of individuals living in San Francisco, this has become their favorite way to work out.

Sgt. Ken has devoted his life to promoting fitness, resilience, leadership and getting people into shape. So move aside yoga classes, there’s a new, bad-ass fitness group in town. Maybe there’s something about a tall, military-looking guy that really motivates an individual to push themselves as hard as they can. These military trained instructors are one of many reasons boot camps are becoming more popular.

The training techniques used by START fitness instructors are also practiced by the U.S. military. Ken and Stephanie have trained thousands of soldiers through Operation Fit to Fight, a fitness instructor training program they started. This program was was created to train soldiers for basic combat training. Many exercises from this program are similar to those in that are in START fitness workouts. Ken and Stephanie also produce health and fitness programs for GX Magazine ( a National Guard Magazine), and programs for the National Guard and Military websites.

The exercises are created to target target specific muscle groups and a person can burn between 600 and 800 calories in one sixty-minute class session.

Sgt Ken has been has served the military for seventeen years and travels around the country to train soldiers before they are deployed. Ken is usually in San Francisco for one week out of a month.

So, you just wrapped up the first thirty minutes indoors of the fitness boot camp class, now you’re outside and it’s time to work out for another thirty minutes. Bianca instructs the class to do lunges uphill for one block then continue jogging uphill another three blocks until you reach Lafayette Park located at Sacramento and Gough Streets. There, the class jogs up a flight of stairs, does push-ups at the top, jogs back down and is told to do suicides. This continues until the end of class.

Your muscles are shaky and you feel a little nauseous but you can’t help but smile and feel good about yourself.

According to multiple Yelp reviews, the START fitness boot camps,”really kicks your ass!” Whether you make this a daily routine is up to you. Six in the morning is early, but at least you get it out of the way and still have time for school and work. Maybe thinking about all the bad food you want to eat this season will be enough motivation.