Beat Freaks 

Dance clubs L.A.: a forbidden world beckons

Wednesday, Jun 21 2000
Photo by Wild Don Lewis

Stroll through any record shop and you’ll see the flyers. Scan this very publication and you’ll spot the ads. Visit any club around town and witness the promoters buzzing around the door, descending like paparazzi as they hype you on their Latest and Greatest Event. These days, seems like everybody’s hosting a dance party, with the Best and Baddest DJ. No one knows for sure how many clubs — licensed or illegal — happen every week in the city of Los Angeles, but one thing’s for certain: We’re finally on the map when it comes to dance music, thanks to some amazing turntable talents and the atmospheric spaces that showcase them.

Whether it’s house music, trance, retro, hip-hop or disco, from Hollywood to Santa Monica to the Valley and downtown, seven nights a week, L.A. dance clubs blare a unified anthem across the city: There’s No Time Like Party Time. But are local clubs and parties actually any good? And how do we really rank on the international scale? That’s a question we posed to some of the local dance scene’s biggest movers and shakers, and their answers reveal that when it comes to making people dance, Los Angeles deserves a second glance.

Trance in your pants

 It’s 2 a.m., and a gigantic, steamy room throbs with thunderous, manic yet oddly controlled waves of sound. Like a king on his throne, a DJ perches at one end of the room, his followers gazing in awe while succumbing to the blissful chaos he creates on the ’tables. The music is trance, and the scene is the weekly megaparty called Giant. And if nothing else proves that L.A. has finally come to grasp the glories of electronic music, then this club’s success does.

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Open just half a year, the aptly named Danceteria attracts all types, from aging ravers who no longer have the stamina for map points and secret locations, to dance-music aficionados who consider people like Paul Oakenfold and Sasha & John Digweed veritable gods, to bored Saturday-night riffraff just looking to be where the action is. This place has three rooms offering topnotch DJ talent, but inevitably it’s the pumping trance room that draws bodies like a magnet.

“Over the past 10 years, the second wind of trance and progressive has ignited a new generation of clubbers and international interest in up-and-coming American DJs, and rekindled the mature veterans of the L.A. scene,” says Dave Dean, Giant’s creator and a club impresario who opened the Limelight in London in ’88 and Sound Factory in San Francisco in ’93.

But why has this particular form of electro — mesmerizing, repetitive beats that build upon layered melodies — become the preferred dance music of the moment? Veteran local trance guru Christopher Lawrence is part of the reason. “When I started deejaying here, the dominant sounds were house and breakbeats,” says Lawrence, who came to L.A. from San Francisco in ’94. “I was considered on the fringe.”

But Lawrence, who spun at early-’90s raves like Electric Daisy Carnival and Organic, saw the effect this intense, driving music had on young, whistle-blowing dance fiends, and he continued to incorporate the whirling grooves into his sets. Over time, the sheer vitality of the music began to grow on people (and the presence of drugs like Ecstasy and LSD â didn’t hurt either).

“Since it doesn’t have vocals, the same record can be heard around the world,” says Lawrence, who cites L.A. as one of the first cities to popularize trance. “It has universal appeal.” Trance’s pumping rhythms have been favored by diverse groups (at least in L.A.) for quite some time, notably at the long-running fetish club known as Sin-a-Matic. Latex-clad deviants are a far cry from candy-colored ravers, and yet the aggressive sounds fit here. “We started playing ‘industrial’ bands mixed in with ‘new beat’ stuff from Belgium, and that grew into early techno and eventually trance,” says Sin-a-Matic co-creator James Stone, whose legendary Club Fuck led the way back in ’89.

Local spinmasters like Lawrence, Taylor, Sandra Collins and Doran also deserve credit for exposing the first ultrahypnotic trance beats to L.A., but now that it can all be enjoyed aboveground at a mainstream metropolis like Giant, what does that mean for rave culture? “Although the line between the two has faded, the more educated audience seeks out the sounds they like, regardless of the location,” says Dean.

But Lawrence prefers underground gatherings to club gigs. “You’re accountable to a younger audience that’s even more passionate about the music.”


Rave, don’t behave


“My first rave was in the early ’90s, and it was called Willy Wonka. We bought $20 tickets (and some X) at a record store that night and then went to three different map points for directions. We eventually ended up downtown, in a deserted industrial area. We parked, walked through two fences with holes cut in them and finally made it there. We were pushed in with a stampede of people when the police showed up. Inside it was dark except for the glow of black lights everywhere. There must have been thousands of bodies moving to the most dramatic, intoxicating music I’d ever heard. I was enveloped in the magical energy of it all, and I felt like I had discovered this forbidden world full of love and happiness. I knew I’d never be the same again.”

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