On a Friday night in May, a smattering of people hangs around outside the Moon Pad, a peach-colored house-turned-hostel in Boyle Heights. I have been invited to a party here by Derrick Knight, the Moon Pad's 28-year-old founder and manager. He promised a "warehouse, DJ [and] live art projections," but I see none of that — only a handful of young travelers chilling and smoking on the front patio.
I chat briefly with a Brazilian skateboarder before heading inside the dilapidated Victorian house. At the "front desk" — a table next to the staircase, with a birdcage hanging in the background — two Russian girls and their mom are checking in. I head upstairs and wander around until I find a balcony filled with people. A guy with long hair offers me a glass of his vodka. His name is Gabe and he identifies himself as the hostel's chef. He's noticeably sloshed.
Back inside, I finally meet my host. Knight has tousled, blond-streaked hair and is wearing camouflage cargo pants and boots, like one of the backup dancers from the Destiny's Child "Survivor" video. He's in the middle of shooting a video for a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the Moon Pad.
"It's not the only thing I want to do," says Knight, who is also a burgeoning pop singer. "I don't want to just own a hostel." Scenes from his most recent music video flit across the wall behind him as he pauses for dramatic effect. "I want to be the first artist to perform on the moon. That's my main focus, my life mission."
Before Knight goes to the moon, where he also plans to build a hostel, he has some musical goals he wants to achieve here on Earth. In the last two years, he's released two bubble-gum pop singles: "Mayan Rain Dance" and "Love Is Like the Sun." Both songs have music videos on YouTube and Vevo and are available as cassettes in "very limited edition" at Amoeba (translation: There's only one copy for sale). In addition to releasing his first EP, for which he says he's already written 40 songs, Knight has plans to get "Love Is Like the Sun" on MTV2 ("It's like 95 percent sure," he says).
Knight was raised in Milton, a small town in the Florida Panhandle. From an early age, his passion was music. For most of his teens and early 20s, he promoted bands and booked shows, before moving to New York City, where he worked as a go-go dancer and experienced living in a hostel for the first time.
After a year in the Big Apple, Knight moved to Los Angeles with the goal of "producing big concerts." It was then that he saw a parallel between owning a hostel and throwing musical events. The hostel could serve both as a venue and as a place to meet fellow artists from all over the world. With that in mind, he opened his first hostel on Fourth Street in Boyle Heights in 2012, before moving to the peach-colored house on Boyle Avenue, a few blocks away, later that year.
But when I meet with Knight again, two weeks later, he's just been evicted from the Moon Pad. He stands outside on the sidewalk staring at the building, which was emptied of guests by police earlier that morning. Nine hours after the eviction, there are still guests standing outside the place, wondering where to go and how to get back inside to get their stuff.
"This morning I didn't get any sort of phone call or anything like that," says Knight, who had been in Atlanta visiting his grandmother earlier that week. "I feel so bad. But I couldn't do anything physically here for like six or seven days."
Just then a taxi pulls up, dropping off a South Korean exchange student who had booked two nights at the hostel. "Oh my God," she says after learning about the closed venue. "What should I do? Oh my God. I'm not even from here."
Although Knight had envisioned the Moon Pad as “a communal living environment where artists can meet each other and share ideas,” according to numerous former guests, the hostel was a disaster. The former guests claimed that there were bedbugs and other pest problems, and that there were 10 squatters at one point. According to Knight, the landlord was unresponsive and reluctant to make repairs.
The landlord, Leon Ahdoot, declined to comment for this story, saying only, "The past is the past and I'm just trying to move on." He did, however, send two links to L.A. Weekly: one to a message board accusing Knight of scamming bands; the other to a public records page from Escambia County, Florida, suggesting that Knight has a criminal record. Further Google searches reveal that Knight was, in fact, arrested for battery in 2006 and again for larceny in 2010 — though in both cases the charges were later dropped.
The accusations that Knight scams bands — and possibly guests — are widespread. A "Boycott the Moon Pad" petition on GoPetition.com claims that 20 bands performed at Knight's hostel and never got paid. "Derrick is a lying, stealing and unethical businessman," says Daniel McKenzie, a former Moon Pad guest and employee. "He's more of a hustler than a business owner."
Knight denies these accusations and says that the petition and his arrest record were "taken out of context." "Now it kind of appears like something it is not," he says. "It was pretty harsh criticism. They made it look like I was taking advantage of people."
He plans to work only "with well-known artists and well-known production companies" for future shows. "Really, who you're working with is a reflection of you," he explains. "And I feel like if I was working with a professional crew, I wouldn't have gotten that backlash."
Now that he's lost the house in Boyle Heights, Knight has been staying with friends or sleeping in his car. But he's already moved on to other ventures. He says he's purchased land in the Mojave Desert and on the Big Island of Hawaii. In the Mojave, he plans to rebuild the Moon Pad using shipping containers, and hopes to have solar electricity, a stage, an outdoor movie theater and horses. Though he hasn't visited the land in Hawaii (he bought it sight unseen), he wants to build a Moon Pad there, too, and do "green and conscious" things like rainwater harvesting.
He's also going to continue booking bands and throwing shows, because one of his other life goals is to throw a huge yearly event called the Moon Bridge Music Festival. He envisions booking "a bunch of well-known artists, like Ludacris," raising millions of dollars and then funneling that money into "research and development to find out what it will take for us to build a Moon Pad on the moon."
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For now, there is only one shipping container in the Mojave, but that hasn't stopped Knight from scheduling a party there on Labor Day weekend. Using volunteers from the website Couchsurfing, he plans to build the place out, starting with the construction of "a lot of" teepees.
"Macklemore said in a TED talk, 'Don't let perfection ever stop you from doing whatever it is you gotta do,'" he says at our last meeting. "So I just believe in planting the seed. If it's one tent and one container, then that's enough for me to be like, we're gonna do this."