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MUSIC : The Home of Punk Music : Youth turns his parents' basement into a nightclub for 50 to 150 guests. But some neighbors are angry.

June 19, 1992|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Morell is a regular contributor to The Times

Roger and Judy Peterson should have known something was up when their son Nathan, 17, of fered to clean out the basement.

Seven years ago, the Petersons moved into a two-story house in Granada Hills that was built in 1948 and Roger, a professor of management science at CSUN, considered turning the large basement into a darkroom for his photography hobby. It became storage space--until February.

Nathan wanted to turn the room into a nightclub where he and his friends could listen to music and have a good time.

"We've always preferred that our children bring their friends home, since that's better than having them out in the streets, not knowing where they are," said Judy Peterson, who approved of Nathan's idea. "Besides, he's always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When he was in junior high, he would buy candies at the Price Club for six cents each and sell them to other kids for a quarter."

Judy Peterson also felt that Nathan, who shares the house with his parents, a brother and a sister, was responsible enough to trust with such a project.

"We've had 22 foster children live with us over the years, so our kids have had to know what it means to share and care about others. We knew he'd do this responsibly, and he has."

Tired of driving to Hollywood to hear some of his favorite bands play and paying a $15 to $20 cover charge, Nathan attacked the cluttered basement in earnest. "I have a lot of friends who like the same punk and straight edge music, and we all agreed that there was a need for a club that was closer and less expensive."

Straight edge music derives from punk, and both are made up of non-melodious, grinding songs that nearly anyone over 30 would define as unwanted noise. It came into vogue during the mid-1980s when a band called Minor Threat became popular for its militant anti-drug and anti-alcohol stance.

"It's not as big a movement as it once was, but it still has a following in suburban areas," said Lucas McClelland of Aaron's Records in Hollywood.

Nathan usually looks like any other teen-ager. But before going out with friends or getting ready for a show, he will put on his punk regalia: metal-studded collar and wrist straps, rings through his nipples and an inch-long stud that pierces his tongue.

"I used to have a smaller one on my tongue," he said, "but it came off accidentally while eating pizza. I swallowed it."

At least one night a week and on Sunday afternoons, the Peterson basement becomes Cell 63, named for the place where the king in the cult movie "The Forbidden Zone" imprisoned his concubines. Those interested call Cell 63's hot line to get updates on the latest shows.

About 50 to 150 people between the ages of 16 and 25 pay $3 to $5 to hear as many as three bands per show, with names such as Still Life, Inject and Sam I Am. The only chairs are outside, so guests stand or dance to the music.

"For the bands, it's really a great place to play," said Mark Rodgers, 24, a musician who works with several bands and produces shows at Cell 63 with Dawn Williams. "It draws a good bunch of people who are interested in the music, and Nathan keeps the evening pretty well organized. There's also not a 'club' atmosphere that you find in Hollywood. It's more relaxed, like playing at a friend's house."

Guests enter through a gate in the back yard and are led to Cell 63 through a rear door. The previous owners had partially finished the rectangular basement, which measures about 40 by 20 feet. In the corner of one wall is an oak wet bar and, in front of the room, directly behind the stage made of discarded wooden pallets, is a large stone fireplace, mantel and hearth, where Nathan and friends roast marshmallows after shows.

To create Cell 63, Nathan worked at furnishing without a budget. The Styrofoam blocks that cover the windows on the west side of the room were rescued from a trash can outside a Tower Records store. The carpeting was salvaged from a dumpster. The signs, "Please No Drinking or Drugs on These Premises," and "Sorry, You Have to Use the Restroom at the Unocal Around the Corner," are hand-lettered with a felt-tipped pen.

"About the only thing we've had to buy is duct tape, which we use to tape down the electrical wires, the carpets and the Styrofoam. It seems like that's all I'm doing sometimes is buying duct tape," Nathan said.

Profits from the gate and the sales of soft drinks pay for the bands, which get up to $100 for a performance. The profits also pay for pizza for the 10 to 15 people who watch the gate, act as security and help clean up. "It's really a small operation; there's not much of a profit left over, but that's not really why I wanted to do this," Nathan said.

He said his main interest is to have fun and to make sure that the people who come to Cell 63 have a good time. "At this level, there's no money to be made. But we're generating enough interest in the music now that I'd like to find a larger venue."

There are others who would also like Nathan to find a new home for Cell 63.

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