The living room of the Chinatown apartment where Will Adair, Rob Cunningham, Jhune Liwanag and Ed Panen sit talking and drinking beer after work on a Monday is lined with fliers promoting various shows. But they don’t depict just any shows — they’re mostly a visual history of the ones that the group of friends has thrown through their collective, Failed Orbit Records.
Part record company, part show promoter, Failed Orbit Records hosts shows and creates compilation albums featuring Oahu’s most popular indie and punk bands, as well as brings in artists from the Mainland. The goal, the four organizers say, is to support local bands — while bolstering Hawaii’s music scene as a whole.
“A lot of bands are very short term in Hawaii,” says Adair. “There are not many places to play, and they get bored — and then they just stop playing and a lot of them are really good.
“And because of Failed Orbit, some of their stuff could get put out. I feel like that is really cool.”
For as sweeping as Failed Orbit’s goals have become, it all started off simply as a catchy umbrella title slapped onto pop punk band Beaman’s releases. The founders — Beaman’s Ray Farias and Kevin Tit — initially didn’t anticipate that it’d evolve into this larger endeavor.
“At the time, it was just to make it seem more official,” recalls Farias.
But the pair soon saw that it could have a larger impact.
“Then from there,” recalls Tit, “everything we released was under (Failed Orbit), and then we started releasing other people’s things and it just grew into what it is now.”
Failed Orbit’s current members remember the period a few years ago when they were first getting into the local music scene as being a flurry of activity. (Farias and Tit are no longer with the group, though they still help out when they can.) There were things like No Suck Fest and plenty of shows.
But then, things went quiet. “There was a time when there weren’t a lot of things going on,” Panen recalls. “It felt stagnant.”
The four of them all knew each other from attending and playing shows, and began working with Failed Orbit as a way to resuscitate things.
“This music is really good, and other people should hear it,” Liwanag says. “I think it’s worth trying to get it out there and showing people, like, hey, you might like this.”
“I just wanted to do something that helped in some way — whether it is to bring a band that you wouldn’t see here otherwise, or to have people in different states or even different countries hearing music (from Hawaii),” says Cunningham.
Their desire to share the music they love perhaps stems in part from the fact that all four of them coincidentally work in education — their day jobs bleed into their hobby: One of the things they hope to accomplish with Failed Orbit is to open up shows to include all ages. “As educators, there is always that moment when you see a kid get really excited about something, and you are like, ‘Wow, this is why I do this,” Liwanag says, as the rest of the group nods in agreement.
Failed Orbit Records puts out releases for each of the bands that they are involved with — Adair is in T.V. Microwave and Aura Bora, Cunningham is in Poncho, Liwanag is in Aura Bora, and Panen is in Poncho, T.V. Microwave and The Anime Club.
As for choosing the other bands that they work with — the ones that they feature in compilations and promote shows for — their philosophy is pretty simple: They look for “the bands that we enjoy personally,” Adair explains. The list of local bands that Failed Orbit has worked with is a pretty exhaustive one that includes the likes of The Bougies, Earl Grey and THANKS. The group also has brought a slew of Mainland bands including Screaming Females, Audacity and Tom-girl. (Bringing in visiting bands isn’t always practical — they sometimes have to dig into their personal savings for travel costs, and they don’t always make it back — but they say it’s worth it in order to bring the music they like to the local audience.)
Failed Orbit also serves as a sort of resource stop for any band that needs assistance. Need your album mixed? They can do that. Want fliers made? They can direct you to a network of artists.
For local bands, this type of support can be a huge boost.
“The Bougies definitely would not be where we are if it wasn’t for them,” says The Bougies drummer Kelly Bongolan of Failed Orbit. “They give us a chance to spread our garage pop love.”
Cunningham recalls that before he started playing in bands, he wasn’t aware that there was any scene here at all for the type of music he was into. But over time, he discovered that it was actually pretty vibrant. It’s that type of discovery that Failed Orbit seeks to extend.
“There are a lot of great bands here,” Panen says.
“There is a lot of good stuff,” Adair adds, “but you just got to find it yourself.”
“And I guess that is what we are trying to do — to make it easier for people to find it,” Liwanag says.
In that sense, the group sees itself as something of a torch carrier. Just like they had No Suck Fest when they were younger, they hope that they can pass along that same kind of experience to other music enthusiasts.
Their future vision for Failed Orbit is a fairly lofty one: Ultimately, they hope that they can help to establish Hawaii as a music destination — at least starting with other bands from the West Coast.
Cultivating a strong scene, though, is something of a long game.
“A lot of people move away because they are really invested in music — either they are a musician or a music fan, and they feel like their time is up and they go somewhere else,” Cunningham says. “It kind of sucks because it creates this brain drain where we lose very talented people, or we just lose people who otherwise would have been really into seeing bands here.
“If the music scene here is really strong and it’s really visible to the rest of the country — you know, enough to where it actually makes sense to be a band here — then in a generation, you will see some really awesome bands that no one would have thought could come out of Hawaii.”
Next up, Failed Orbit hosts an all-ages show at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Kailua featuring No Home and Poncho June 11. For more information on Failed Orbit Records, visit failedorbitrecords.bandcamp.com or failedorbitrecords.com.