There’s a scene in Russ Meyers’ and Roger Ebert’s colorful camp classic, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, that captures the surreal zeal of throwing the perfect L.A. party. Music producer Ronnie “Z Man” Barzell stands near the entryway of his swingin’ pad, packed with sexy, grinding, grass-smoking gals and guys with great hair, fancy frocks and blissful smiles, as The Strawberry Alarm Clock play their biggest hit, “Incense and Peppermints,” live in his living room.
He looks around the room and says elatedly, “This is my happening and it freaks me out!”
Green Slime and Cretin Hop promoters Rick Barzell and Roger Mars probably have similarly tripped-out, “wow” moments these days. Their parties evoke the grooviness and style of that late-’60s era, and their crowd looks just as good, rocking miniskirts, mod gear and sharper punk styles. Most of the music they play isn’t stuff you hear in today’s clubs, which gives their events a more authentic, flashback feel.
Last Saturday night, after Echo Park Rising’s nonstop band-o-rama, Cretin Hop saw a line snake around the corner outside the Short Stop, made up of a mixed crowd of regulars and randoms, all down to dance to some rare ’60s stomps and freaky soul beats.
“People don't realize the reference of my DJ alias,” says Barzell, who named himself after the aforementioned party king Z-Man. It was another movie that would be pivotal to his career as a DJ and promoter, however. “A high school friend turned me onto Quadrophenia, which completely opened up my closed-off punk mind,” explains the Inland Empire native, who was strictly into hardcore sounds before that, a regular at punk shows at the Glass House in Pomona and Showcase Theatre in Corona. But watching the scooter-boy classic changed everything. “These mod kids were the punks of the ’60s, and I thought, ‘Time to go get a bitchin’ suit!’”
Barzell hit up retro-indie dance parties in L.A. from there and eventually longed to throw his own events. DJing came a bit later. “It wasn’t until I started attending Club Satisfaction” — a ’60s dance party at the Derby in Los Feliz — “that I started getting into collecting rare vinyl,” he explains. “Before calling myself a DJ, I call myself a record collector first.”
He met Mars out frequenting the same L.A. clubs, bars and after-hours spots. The two first joined forces back in 2008 for a dance night called Modern Kicks (named after the Exploding Hearts song) at Broadway Bar downtown, but it never took off. “We basically just wanted to appeal to anyone that loved hearing obscure rock & roll on vinyl, but downtown was a shithole back then,” Barzell says.
After pulling the plug on Modern Kicks, Mars and Barzell parted ways, each for a time doing his own events. Barzell started a ’60s garage and psych shindig called Pandora’s Box, which would sometimes take place in the basement of the Radisson Hotel in Hollywood, and later at the Stone Bar (now Harvard & Stone). Meanwhile, Mars threw the first incarnation of Cretin Hop at the Bronson Bar, with Barzell sometimes guest DJing.
Mars, who had me and my pals shaking till last call with a raucous set on Saturday (along with guest Howie Pyro), gave us his background. Like Barzell, he’s an L.A. local, the son of a Salvadoran mother and Guatemalan father. He owes his passion for music to his parents. “Growing up there was always music blaring at the house. Every weekend I would get woken up by my mom's music and watching her dance around the house,” he recalls. “Life pretty much changed as a teenager when my ears were graced by the sounds of The Stooges and New York Dolls. That was it, I was hooked.”
He and his friends became obsessed with seeking out music that wasn't on commercial radio. “We were snobs and enjoyed sharing our discoveries with one another,” he remembers. "This began a very expensive addiction ... digging up bands and finding out who inspired who. I began going out to clubs and meeting people and DJs ... then I got asked to DJ with a friend, and that's how it all started.”
Mars says he felt he was filling a void at the time. “Every bar was electronic, dance-y type music. It got boring and I wanted to start something new,” he explains. "A night for people like me dedicated to rock & roll from the ’50s to the ’70s, and a place where any rock & roller could walk in and enjoy the music." Five years later, Cretin Hop is still going, as both a dance night and a live-music promotion brand.
Green Slime followed a couple years later in 2014 as a sort of homage to the mod clubs from the ’90s and early 2000s where the guys had first crossed paths. “We realized that all the clubs we loved like Black Eyed Soul, the Bullet and Satisfaction were long gone, and we wanted to bring back not only a ’60s night but a different take on it,” Mars says. “Both Cretin Hop and Green Slime grew to the point where we knew we wanted to do something bigger, so we started to do events."
“Cretin Hop is more of an all-around rock & roll night, more aesthetically punk. For the live Cretin events, we usually tend to book more punk acts and cater to that crowd,” Barzell explains. “Green Slime, on the other hand, is all ’60s rock and soul music, and for those live events, we usually get bands that fall in the garage/psych genre, heavily immersed in fuzz and organ.”
This weekend is not only a prime example of what the pair does but might be their biggest collection of events ever. Billed as a “Rock ’n’ Soul Weekender,” the fun starts Friday, Aug. 25, with Slaughter & The Dogs at the Hi Hat in Highland Park. On Saturday, a dance night called Beat Bait takes place at Footsies, with guest DJs from Spain, and on Sunday comes the main event: French rockers Les Grys Grys at Resident. The Green Slime ’60s dance party will go down at Resident after the bands.
“I met these guys last year while partying at the Funtastic Dracula Carnival — yes, that’s the name of the music festival — in Benidorm, Spain,” Barzell says of Les Grys Grys, a band he’s been trying to bring to the United States for a while. “For years I nerded out over their live YouTube footage. … They are blowing people’s minds with their energetic R&B garage rock.” He actually seems Z-Man–level awed about the whole thing.
“Our goal is to always try to keep things fresh and strive to make it musically different every time,” Mars says. “I have been consumed by these nights and events. It's a lifestyle for me, and Rick has been my partner in crime. It’s been a crazy, busy, stressful and fun adventure.”
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Cretin Hop, Beat Bait and Green Slime's Rock ’n’ Soul Weekender takes place all weekend at the Hi Hat (Friday, Aug. 25), Footsies (Saturday, Aug. 26) and Resident (Sunday, Aug. 27). More info.
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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