By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The collectivism of how The Smell is organized (volunteers are coordinated via a sign-up sheet), how it is booked (a coterie of a half-dozen regulars) and how money is handled (a 70/30 split of the door between bands and the club) is not an unfamiliar concept in the punk underground. But as anyone who’s been around knows, all-ages collectives and show spaces are often plagued by their dogma and/or illegitimacy. Luke Fishbeck of outré dance duo Lucky Dragons has seen the death of many club spaces founded on similar principles — Lucky Dragons are transplants from the close-knit Providence scene, which had its own share of legendary show spaces. “The Smell is not hiding from the law. No one is living there. Transgression is not a part of The Smell. The rebellion is built into its legitimacy.”
Before they moved here, Lucky Dragons often played The Smell on their tours, and once they settled in L.A., the club became their home. “I could set a show whenever I wanted, because I was local and playing there. It was my space, too,” Fishbeck says. “That’s the hope with The Smell — that everyone who’s coming will have a band or an art show or start contributing somehow. How The Smell is set up encourages that.”
If Jim Smith is The Smell’s heart, No Age are its arteries. The story of L.A.’s Zeitgeist art noise–cum-pop duo is intertwined with the club’s evolution; in the hype surrounding the band over the past year and a half, The Smell has been cast as the
house No Age built. Putting aside the fact that The Smell has been around since January 1998, there is some truth to the sentiment, both literally and figuratively. Randy Randall lamented in early October that though he and Dean Spunt had helped to break concrete for what would become the club’s new/second bathroom, they weren’t there for its completion.
It’s for this reason that being a fan of No Age is about something more than mere fandom. They are the Barack Obama of punk. They stand for something bigger than themselves; No Age stand for punk hope and promise and big ideas — or rather, the big ideology of simple ideas: Have fun, include everyone, be positive, do good work. It’s an active rejection of adult cynicism and the credo of the ultracool. You could call it anticapitalist, but there’s no indication anyone involved has given it that much thought. This is the same tone The Smell seemingly imparts to everyone who passes through its piss-soaked doorway. And so it could more rightly be said that No Age are the band The Smell built.
Like most of the kids who’ve found purchase in The Smell’s hallowed din, Randall and Spunt were refugees from L.A.’s rock-club scene. “One of the first places I ever played was The Cobalt Café, in the Valley,” Spunt recalls. “They’d do a bill of six local bands, and when you walked in, they asked you what band you were there to see and, once you got over 50 people for your band — which was impossible — then you got 50 bucks and dollar a head after that.”
Spunt adds, “They made you really feel like a kid.” Never mind that he still was one. “The first time playing The Smell, it was the antiversion of that.” No booze. No tickets. No backstage. No bullshit. No security hassling you. No pay to play. The Smell is the very definition of anticlub. “At The Smell,” Spunt says, “you were treated as an equal.”
Explains Smith, “The kids who come, they are people, not ‘patrons.’”
When Randall and Spunt discovered The Smell, it wasn’t the province of queerly coifed hardcore kids but a dingy venue colonized by the experimental-noise-scene old guard. Along with two partners who eventually left the scene, Smith started the club after the closure in 1997 of Jabberjaw and the Impala Café. “Jabberjaw and Impala and a few other similar places were the inspiration in the beginning,” Smith recalls. “We wanted to keep that spirit going, and also build on it.” But where Jabberjaw had a ton of wasted people and mayhem, The Smell and its strict booze-free model felt like the antithesis of those other clubs. “A strict no-alcohol policy is not what people normally have in mind,” Smith says. “[Kids feel] at home here, safe. They’re not going to be hassled by anyone who works here or have some drunk idiot fight them.”
Spunt felt at home and promptly began booking shows for Wives (his pre–No Age band with Randall), and then, as he puts it, “We took the place over.” They began booking punk bills, including an all-female crust band from the Valley that would soon become the hot terror now known as Mika Miko. Exit old-noise dudes, hello excitable 10th-graders of the Inland Empire.