Milo Gonzalez and Friends, mentored by the likes of Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, close out Saturday’s Venice Beach Music Fest
By Michael Aushenker
His stepdad is Chuck Dukowski, and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a family friend. With the inspiration of two of rock music’s most legendary bassists close at hand, Venice-bred guitarist Milo Gonzalez has ties that most musicians only dream of.
On Saturday, the Insects vs. Robots frontman jams with his side project Milo Gonzalez and Friends — joined this time by Black Flag bassist Dukowski — during an after-party at Danny’s Deli following the 9th annual Venice Beach Music Festival.
For the festival, which runs for eight hours near Windward Avenue and Ocean Front Walk, founder and organizer Milton Rosenberg has amassed a roster of stalwart local acts: soul singer Willie Chambers, ska group The Untouchables, bluesmen the King Brothers, funkmeisters Zen Robbi, reggae practioners Jah Faith and the Hashishans, ska-reggae fusionists The Roots Collective, and country performers the Glen Douglass Band.
This isn’t Gonzalez’s first rodeo, either.
“Milo is an amazing musical treasure of Venice,” said Rosenberg. “He has played the festival many times as part of Insects vs. Robots and some of Michael Jost’s projects.”
Gonzalez, 25, described his eponymous band as an offshoot of his fast-rising alt-rock quintet.
“I brought my friends together and we made this communal-like, rad thing,” Gonzalez said of Insects vs. Robots, which played the Troubadour in West Hollywood earlier this month.
Being part of Insects —creating songs such as the off-kilter, cabaret-evoking “Blue House” or the biting, satirical relationship kiss-off “Mosquito” — has been a “very collaborative, communal experience. Everyone writes a piece of the song,” he said.
In Milo Gonzalez and Friends, the guitarist-songwriter combines with bassist Hailey Demian and Insects drummer Tony Peluzo for improvisation they describe as “a big, psychedelic ball of craziness.”
Born and raised in Venice, Demian — son of musician Peter Demian and pals with Gonzalez since their teens — was Insects vs. Robots’ original bassist. However, he opted out amicably to attend UC Santa Cruz.
“So I come back [to Los Angeles] and they’ve got gigs out of the country, they’re touring and recording albums,” Demian recalled. “It’s not to say I missed out, but it gave me a huge inspiration to [return to music].”
Demian places Gonzalez on a pedestal alongside Austin Peralta, the musical prodigy son of filmmaker and original Zephyr Boy skateboarder Stacy Peralta, as the greatest musical voices of their generation.
“The two names that I consider of value are Milo and Austin, and Austin is no longer with us,” Demian said, referring to Peralta’s tragic 2012 death from walking pneumonia at 22. “Most of the music I do now is homage to [Austin] and his inspiration. He was out of control. He was so talented. He was unbelievable.”
From Peralta, Gonzalez and Demian gleaned “straight-ahead jazz, Herbie Hancock fusion jazz,” as Demian called it.
“Jondy,” one of three songs Demian wrote for Milo Gonzalez and Friends, pays homage to Peralta.
Gonzalez, long a member of the Chuck Dukowski Sextet (in which Dukowski remains active as well as Black Flag revival Flag), said he grew up surrounded by his stepdad’s punk history and circles.
“I was certainly aware. He married my mom [Sextet chanteuse Lora Norton] when I was 8,” said Gonzalez. “He definitely had a big hand in getting me going playing when I first started. It was really nice to come from such an encouraging family.”
Yet punk wasn’t the only musical nourishment on Gonzalez’s platter growing up.
“My mom would blast Black Sabbath and Radiohead, a lot of Bjork and Hendrix,” he recalled. He dug rap: Public Enemy, NWA, The Roots and Jurassic 5.
Recently, “I’ve been listening to lots of Spanish classical and flamenco guitar music,” Gonzalez said, ticking off Andres Segovia, Leo Brouwer and Paco de Lucia.
Gonzalez attended Palisades Charter High School and The Renaissance Academy in Pacific Palisades, but grew up on Venice Beach.
“I feel spoiled and lucky to walk a block from my house into a wonderful crazyland that is the boardwalk and play guitar,” said Gonzalez, who not only busks there but practices contortionism.
With the Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Gonzalez opened for the Meat Puppets and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the funk-punk band’s “Stadium Arcadium” release party in 2006, striking up a bond with Flea.
“Flea and Chuck are friends. To be able to see them so up-close was really inspiring and rad,” Gonzalez said. “Such a cool dude. He got us a gig at Coachella that same year. He let us record [the 2006 Sextet album ‘Eat My Life’] in his home studio for free out of the goodness of his heart.”
As a boardwalk contortionist/musician, you could say he’s witnessed the gentrification of Venice from the inside-out.
“It’s getting to be hard for artists, the boardwalk and all the regulations here,” he said. “I love that there’s a big music festival for free on the beach. So many great bands and musicians —it’s really cool to make an excuse to bring them together.”
The Venice Beach Music Fest runs from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday between the boardwalk and the bike trail at Windward Avenue; venicebeachmusicfest.com. Milo Gonzalez and Friends perform at 7 p.m. at Danny’s Deli, 23 Windward Ave., Venice; (310) 566-5610.