Sometime before midnight this past Halloween, we drove around one of those sections of downtown Los Angeles that are unnervingly desolate after business hours, following text-messaged directions while looking for the event that was going on inside some rumbling warehouse.
DJ Developer rocks the crowd (or surfs the Internet?) at the Top Floor. (Click to enlarge)
Droid Behavior: Left to right, Vidal Vargas, Mohamed Espinosa and Vangelis Vargas (Click to enlarge)
We could feel the party well before we spotted the location. The pulses of two separate bass lines conjoined as they filtered across the street and down an ill-lighted block, where they seeped through a set of tires and into the car. Inside, the promotion team Droid Behavior was celebrating its fifth anniversary in proper underground fashion. The two-room warehouse, whose location remained a well-guarded secret until earlier that evening, was filled with a mix of Amy Winehouses, video-game characters and candy ravers (were those costumes?) dancing to a mix of minimal and acid-style techno in the front room and dubstep sounds in the back. The British duo Vex'd played its first gig in Los Angeles, as did Americans JPLS and Starkey. Local breakcore artist (and member of the influential Darkmatter Soundsystem collective) Baseck debuted his new tracks, while Droid cornerstones Acid Circus and Drumcell joined forces as Duel for a set that built up to a pyro display.
With a mix of underground events and nightclub parties, Droid Behavior is raising Los Angeles' profile as a techno city, no easy feat in a place where celebrity guests and blogger-hyped MP3 hits reign supreme. "Competition is fierce," says Droid Behavior's Vidal Vargas. "If you don't have that fighting edge or whatever, you might not get what you want."
Vidal and his brother Vangelis, who perform as Acid Circus, first met co-promoter Mohamed "Moe" Espinosa, a former punk rocker who began creating electronic music under the name Drumcell, in 2000, when the two were playing one of those backyard parties where every DJ in the house hovers over the gear to inspect the new kids' techniques. Their first major collaboration, Interface 1.0, went down at Vine Bar in Hollywood in August 2001, when they brought in 50 or so people for a night headlined by Chicago DJ Frankie Vega. Pleasantly surprised by the turnout, the three built a Web site, launched a mailing list (and, subsequently, the zine Dnode) and spawned a record label. It wasn't until a year later, though, that Droid hosted Interface 2.0 and officially reignited interest in a dance underground that had long been suffering from the candy-kid and trance overthrow. Since then, Droid has worked with like-minded party starters Darkmatter, Robtronik's Compression, and even industrial stalwarts Das Bunker. The promoters have supported locals like minimal techno DJ/producer John Tejada and former Konkrete Jungle resident ediT and hosted the first L.A. engagements for internationally renowned artists like Matthew Dear and M.A.N.D.Y. (They've booked Kompakt Records' Tobias Thomas to perform at Crash Mansion on January 30.)
While Droid Behavior has benefited from the marketing tools of the Internet age, much of the crew's success can be attributed to good old-fashioned street-team action. Vidal has become the public face of Droid Behavior, the tall, lanky guy in the blue tracksuit jacket and thick-framed glasses who hits up everything from indie-rock dance nights to megaclubs to loft parties, armed with stacks of slick fliers marked by gradient color designed by Derek Michael.
Michael, a native of Windsor, Canada, and best known for his work as a DJ with the Motor City crew Detroit Underground, befriended the promoters shortly after he moved to Los Angeles. In addition to developing Droid's design aesthetic, he co-promotes events with the trio under the name Friendly Integration. He's been integral to securing performances from international artists, including Modeselektor, whose album Happy Birthday! is a favorite of critics and DJs and whom Michael knew from time spent in Berlin.
"The reason I have felt attached to the Droid guys is because, out of all the people that are doing [events], I know that they are the ones that are true about it," says Michael. "They grew up listening to the music and love it. There's not anything else behind it."
Droid Behavior began as a means for the Vargas brothers and Espinosa to fill L.A.'s techno void. Since then, the genre's resurgence has been strong. Dear and M.A.N.D.Y. have gone on to play the Saturday-night megaclub Avaland, and both Acid Circus and Drumcell have now performed at North America's major electronic events, including the Winter Music Conference in Miami, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival and Seattle's Decibel Festival. And while the artistic profiles of Droid's collaborators have risen, the three remain committed to the parties that started it all.
"We do what we can," says Vidal. "We'll take over Hollywood clubs, little bars. We'll do whatever we can to make the party happen, to make it our own. We always do."
Droid Behavior's next party is Jan. 19. It will feature performances from participants in this year's NAMM, the International Music Products Association trade show, including Richard Devine, the Flashbulb and Surachai. For venue information, call (323) 697-0680 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.