Daniel Torres says his mom recently told him, “Daniel, you’re 21 years old, you don’t need this responsibility. You’ve had more responsibility than I’ve ever had!”
Charlotte Nevarez, 26, and Cameron Hughes, 24, give sympathetic chuckles and knowing head nods, along with the other bright-eyed and passionate kids in their late teens and early 20s scattered around the room. Torres just got off work, and just recently graduated from college with a degree in photography; he’s also a member of the Bridgetown DIY in La Puente, a loose collective of young people from around the San Gabriel Valley, who are doing what few can do successfully: run an all-ages DIY music venue and community space in Los Angeles County.
“I remember going to house shows as a kid in West Covina,” says Torres, describing a scene and culture familiar to many kids across Southern California, especially in the working-class towns of the SGV and Inland Empire: seeing local punk, rock and metal bands play shows in the backyards or living rooms of residential houses. “There was a pretty decent scene in the San Gabriel Valley, but there started to be a dry spell of house shows, and a group of kids wanted to establish a space where they could not only do shows, but host community engagement programs. They wanted to create something that was a little more than a music venue, and of course, all these people were 18 or 19. Those are some pretty grandiose goals for people that age.”
Cameron Hughes is one of those grandiose kids who pushes the collective forward. Officially founded in 2011 while Hughes worked as a union organizer on the campuses of the Claremont Colleges, the newly christened Bridgetown DIY Collective found support in a sympathetic Pitzer College professor who gave mandatory community service hours to students who helped the collective. But more importantly, the mission of the collective found support in the house show community its members had come from. Soon, with just donations from house shows, the collective was able to rent the small retail space they have today.
Nestled into a small strip mall in La Puente, behind a newly opened Zumba studio and beside a pizza joint, Bridgetown DIY occupies the storefront that used to belong to a barbershop that’s now next door. Other than a couple of black and white photocopied show flyers covered with band names hanging on the glass door, and a handmade “Bridgetown DIY” sign (made by Torres' father, a professional signmaker) hanging above the space, nothing much about the exterior screams "music venue."
Inside, however, the space comes alive. Colorful murals grace the walls, including a huge neon green and white anti-fascist symbol (a circle with three arrows pointing down), which is currently partially obscured by a bookshelf full of political books and classic literature like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. On one side of the room hangs a newly erected Black Lives Matter solidarity banner from a recent B.L.M. benefit show the collective put on.
When it comes to booking shows, the collective takes an anything-goes approach. “I think we hesitate to call ourselves a strictly punk venue, but it’s definitely the majority of the bands that we cater to,” says Hughes, and though they do book touring bands, “I don’t think we’ve had a single show where there’s not at least one band from L.A. County.” A recent week’s events slate on the collective’s Facebook page lists shows by local metal bands, some noise acts, some punk bands, and a night showcasing local underground house music producer Carbon Stereo. As newer, and younger, people join the collective, the diversity of music styles showcased at the venue increases.
But it's not just about the music. “We are a community space before we are a music venue,” says Torres. “Music is the reason why the collective started this place. But we’ve also done a lot of community organizing workshops, [from] garden box construction to body-positivity workshops to an art class from La Puente High that meets here every Saturday. The San Gabriel Valley Riot Grrrl Collective used to meet here, too.”
“A baile folklórico group used to meet here, too,” says Nevarez, “but I think what we learned was that there are just a lot of people who want to go to shows.”
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What Bridgetown DIY is doing isn’t necessarily revolutionary; they're not the first collectively run all-ages music venues and (hopefully) they won't be the last. But as more and more DIY spaces close (Pehrspace lost its lease in August, and the Smell was served with a demolition notice, though it appears it will be staying put for now), and house shows become fewer and farther between, the collective’s vision feels especially vital, even radical.
“Any space that’s organized like ours, where we have a collective, not a president or a CEO, is inherently political,” says Torres, “I haven’t been paid a dime for the past three years I’ve spent working here. I’ve paid more into the space than I care to admit. But I grew up going to shows at the Smell in L.A., and I’m very sad to hear about the Smell and Pehrspace. It makes me realize how important it is to keep this place open.
"I want this place to stay open for people like me when I was 17," Torres adds. "What keeps me hopeful is thinking about how we started. I hope all those people who are saying that L.A. is dead will get up and start their own space themselves.”
Bridgetown DIY is located at 1421 Valinda Ave. in La Puente. For more information and a list of upcoming shows, visit their Facebook page.