It's hard to believe now, but there was actually a time when cool people did not want to go to Echo Park. Not for bars, not for restaurants, and definitely not for live music. Michael Stock, teacher, KXLU DJ and the man behind Part Time Punks, one of the neighborhood’s longest-running and most respected music parties (which celebrates its 12-year anniversary at the Echoplex on Sunday, June 4), recalls it vividly:
“I remember those first two or three years of handing out endless handmade black-and-white fliers, the biggest challenge was actually getting people to come. A lot of people didn’t want to step foot in Echo Park. And actually a lot of people hated the Echo when it first opened … like, for years, actually,” he says, adding that his fliers came with a personal apology for any “shit” that happened there on other nights. “Now of course most people consider the Echo and Echoplex two of the best venues in the city, hell, in the whole country. And I’m proud to be a part of the family there, and helping to build all that.”
Stock’s musical sensibilities definitely helped solidify the eclectic rep booker Liz Garo and owner Mitchell Frank were establishing with the Echo and later the Echoplex. And even as the area has gentrified, nights such as his helped the venue keep its consistency and cred.
PTP began as a celebration of U.K. post-punk, with an emphasis on sonic vibes and alt-seeking tribes of the Factory Records scene in Manchester, as well as that of other indie English labels such as Rough Trade in London and Fast Product in Edinburgh. It was mostly DJ-driven in the beginning, and I remember going to one of the first ones and marveling at how shaggy-haired kids were dancing again. There was a time they were too hip to do that, and PTP signaled a real shift. No one could have guessed it’d last this long, though.
“It is pretty unbelievable, isn’t it? A night so maniacally devoted to being anti-mainstream, not only chugging along 12 years later but in fact bigger than ever,” Stock says excitedly from the DJ booth on a recent evening. “I honestly think the secret to our longevity is the fact that it literally changes every week.”'
Stock also credits the club’s current success to the accessibility we now have to seminal music from the past. Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and smartphones are, for better or worse, game-changers. “You can now listen to almost whatever you’d want to listen to from any point in history at any time or place, 24-7. Like a portable jukebox,” he explains, adding that he discussed this phenom with Wire’s Colin Newman on his KXLU radio show recently.
“One of the effects of this is a sort of flattening of the timeline of musical history. So that Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground and Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and The Cocteau Twins are equidistant from you right now as Diiv and Nothing and Froth and Drab Majesty and Sextile or whatever comes out next week. All just at phone’s reach.”
But why, I ask him, do music fans seem particularly obsessed with goth and darkwave stuff right now? Why are they seeking it out? “Well, I honestly think it's a reaction to the very dark and depressing fucking times we are living in … politically, socially, economically. And I think right now goth and darkwave are maybe more appealing forms of protest and anger than, say, punk or hardcore. Also shoegaze is more popular than ever, as is grunge and the ’90s in general. Part of this has to do with the 20-year bell curve of nostalgia, of course. But I think the even more remarkable fact is that DIY and indie music is the strongest it’s been since the 1990s. “
Music and film have always been obsessive escapes for Stock. Originally from Nebraska, he came to L.A. in the late ’90s for film grad school at UCLA. His plan was always to dive into a career of academia, but a brief detour into screenwriting convinced him that was not the path for him. “Uh … that’s another story entirely,” he says, brushing off the subject. “Fast-forward to 2003, after the great film industry fuck-over and being broke and wounded, and at the same time suddenly a new single father. Then, as ever, music was my only solace.”
He started hanging out a lot at the Silverlake Lounge, then also known as the Fold, where then-up-and-coming bands such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Autolux, The Warlocks and Midnight Movies played regularly. Stock started DJing vinyl records there between sets and eventually did the same at the Echo. He and then-partner Ben White brought the Part Time Punks concept to Garo soon after. The very first event, in May 2005, drew about 30 people, mostly friends including Ariel Pink, Geneva Jacuzzi, Jim Smith from the Smell and members of No Age, Abe Vigoda and Mika Miko.
“The very next day, when I was apologizing to Liz for the dismal turnout and just praying they wouldn’t fire me, she gave me some advice: ‘Why don't you try having a band or two play, since you know so many of them? That way they will bring their fans too, and hopefully their friends will become your fans,'" he remembers. “For the first few years there would be two bands that would play, then the last half of the night was devoted to dancing to all these crazy post-punk records Ben and I were into at the time. Eventually, when Ben left about four years in, I started dividing up the Sundays between band nights and dance nights.”
The emphasis on one or the other clicked both ways. Stock has gotten way more serious about his bookings; when he can’t find a band up to snuff on a Sunday, he fills the slots with dance nights, many themed to specific artists. The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure, Factory Records and David Bowie all have annual theme nights, with The Smiths and Bowie attracting the biggest crowds.
“He is really the root of all the music I listen to," Stock says of Bowie, "and all the music that Part Time Punks represents [and] celebrates — punk, goth, dream-pop, Britpop, even ambient and industrial. Without Bowie, there’d be no Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure or The Smiths, no Oasis, no Primal Scream, no Slowdive or Ride. Of course by now, in 2017, I don’t have to say this.” The next PTP Bowie Night is scheduled for July 3, the first PTP held on a Monday.
On Sunday, May 28, The Smiths/Morrissey Nite returns. It was inspired in part by Smiths cover band Sweet and Tender Hooligans, who played the club its first year. Hooligans singer Jose Maldonado is the regular guest DJ and joins on the decks for Bowie Night as well. Both events are exhilarating examples of the fervency for post-punk music that PTP has cultivated. Though the PTP brand is all about stellar bookings new and old, the dance nights are something altogether different, something magical and unifying. For all the flack that Echo Park and Silver Lake get as “hipster” hubs, the vibe is pure, un-self-conscious freak-dom for the artists, their music and lyrics. Even during slow songs the dance floor is full, often with people standing stationary and simply singing their hearts out.
Stock’s love for music, the "punks" who make it and the aesthetics that go with it all (he has been hand-making the club's signature black-and-white fliers since the very beginning) is clearly contagious, and it goes way, way beyond a part-time passion. In addition to the club, he says his favorite DJ gig is his weekly radio show of the same name on KXLU, which he’s been doing every Thursday for 11 years now. He’s also got Punky Reggae Party with Boss Harmony (aka David Orlando) every Friday at La Cita, which has been around almost as long as PTP and has found an equally loyal audience for its meld of punk, post-punk, reggae, ska, dub, dancehall and mutant disco.
Stock's day job also happens to fit the PTP acronym: Part-Time Professor. A graduate of the Ph.D. program in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA, Stock taught classes there for several years before becoming part of the core faculty at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), where he now teaches courses on film, music and culture, with cool course titles such as “The History of Comic Books” and “The History of Punk.” Next year he’ll be teaching a course on science fiction cinema called “The History of the Future,” and he says other courses in the works include “’80s Subcultures” (goth, industrial, hardcore, hip-hop), and a follow-up course on the 1990s exploring how all these subcultures were mainstreamed.
Stock knows a lot about what he plays, but there's nothing academic about the scene at Part Time Punks. It's a celebration of full-on fandom for alternative music — the old stuff, the new stuff, the dark stuff and the weird stuff. As the man himself explains, it’s about “all people seeking a refuge from the onslaught of mainstream crap. If you’re there it’s because you want to be; it’s not some knee-jerk reaction to the weekend and that natural compulsion to go out and ‘party.’”
Part Time Punks returns to the Echoplex on Sunday, May 28, with Smiths Night. On Sunday, June 4, PTP welcomes The Primitives (playing their first L.A. gig in 23 years) for the 12th-anniversary party. At the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park. $8-$10 cover, 18+.
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Part Time Punks radio show happens on KXLU 88.9FM and streaming on kxlu.com every Thursday afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m.
Punky Reggae Party is every Friday night at La Cita, 336 S. Hill St., downtown. Free before 10 p.m., $5 after. 21+.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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