From Das Bunker to Depeche Mode Boat Parties, John G. Keeps L.A. Nightlife Dark
Das Bunker crowds come for live music and DJs, booked by John Giovanazzi.
When Das Bunker promoter and Complex club owner John Giovanazzi first started DJing and throwing parties, he was known as “the Reverend” — which makes sense. John G. — or Rev. John, as he still sometimes goes by — has an almost religious devotion to music and nightlife, though ironically the scenes he champions are quite the opposite of pious. The Culver City native has been dark industrial music’s biggest purveyor in L.A. for years via Das Bunker (which got its start in Long Beach in 1996) and more recently his Glendale live-music venue, which opened its doors four years ago this week.
“I knew from pretty early on that I wanted to work in music,” says the goth club guru, who turned 40 last week. “I volunteered at whatever clubs would have me, worked almost every job in the place so I could learn the ins and outs of the business, asking lots of questions, and looking for areas to improve. I finally asked the DJ so many questions that they told me I should DJ the opening part of the night. ... From there I was offered more and more DJ gigs, and I was always a pretty good street promoter. So when the opportunity came to start my own thing, I jumped on it."
Das Bunker originated via a collective of music heads (not including Giovanazzi, who joined later) heavily into emerging European industrial music. They were frustrated with the Hollywood club scene at the time, which in the mid-’90s was mostly about retro hits, so they opened a club dedicated to dark and heavy sounds and the style sensibilities that came with them. Growing pains led to some big changes over the years, but the core concept of provocative dress-up and pummeling dance beats has proven to endure.
“The club kind of outgrew its original home as well as suffered some difficulties in the founding collective; mainly a combination of too many cooks in the kitchen and a few people moving on with their lives,” Giovanazzi says of Bunker’s temporary closure in 2000. “Shortly after, I started doing my own events. They were pretty well received and then Franck H-Bomb — the last remaining founder — asked me to help him relaunch it.”
Das Bunker’s popularity with grave-ravers and fetish-y dance fiends saw a spike (many spikes, in fact) at Jewel’s Catch One (now Union), the legendary venue best known at the time for trans and gay events. Bunker made use of the cavernous space in smart ways, offering rooms with various levels of volume and tempo. (Personally, I always preferred the old-school section to the ear-splitting “noise room.”)
The goth fashions on display at Das Bunker have long been some of the city's coolest.
DJs drove Bunker’s dance scene, but Giovanazzi booked some big live shows there, too, and soon he caught the bug to do so more seriously. “Complex literally exists because I was having trouble finding a small live-music space to host shows in,” he says. “There was a real lack of quality rooms in L.A. for a few years after Safari Sam’s and Knitting Factory closed. I was turning down a lot of cool things and it was really bumming me out.”
So he and partner Mike Guerrero set out to build a club that could be a home to the niche and under-represented styles he loved, within an environment that prioritized killer sound and impressive beer selection. With more than 40 craft beers on the menu, and an eclectic calendar highlighting heavy sounds — mainly industrial, electronic and metal — the club has made Glendale a live-music destination again, and in many ways bridged the gap between the stalwart Silver Lake and Echo Park club scenes and the burgeoning popularity of areas such as Eagle Rock and Highland Park.
“L.A. nightlife has changed so much. I can’t overstate that enough,” Giovanazzi says. "The two biggest things for me are, one, that people will go to clubs and shows in different parts of the city now, because it wasn't that long ago that a dance club or show east of Vermont or south of Melrose was considered a fatal flaw; and two, the accessibility of ride-share services. Uber and Lyft are huge game-changers. Clubs can survive and thrive without monster parking lots. That is very new and huge and opens up a lot of cooler spaces to the possibility of hosting events that were not options before. “
If booking Complex and hosting Das Bunker (which happens five times a year, including its annual "May the 4th Be With You" Star Wars night, and will have its first party at San Diego Comic-Con on July 21) is keeping him busy, you wouldn’t know it by the barrage of new projects Giovanazzi has taken on recently. One of the latest is out-of-the-box even for him: a series of themed boat bashes celebrating new wave and post-punk music artists.
“A couple friends of mine — the dude I started my first club ever with, who goes by Juann 'Alternativah' and Ruben Beltran from the Airliner — had been doing these really cool Cumbia Cruise events, and we were talking over beers one night about how we should expand these boat parties to other styles,” Giovanazzi recalls. “I came up with 'Depeche Boat' after three or four drinks and we all laughed. The next morning I texted Juann that I was serious. We booked the boat, and sold out two cruises in a day and a half. We’re now doing four more Depeche-themed cruises and a Morrissey/Smiths one this month.”
The Rev also still gives sonic sermons for the dance floor at ’90s Goth Klub at the Lash, a hap inspired by Bruce Perdew and Jason Lavitt’s successful ’90s parties. “I thought that if they can get a line of people around the block for an N’Sync night, we could have some fun with a ’90s goth party as well,” he says. The once-a-month free dance party, which returns Sunday, March 19, with Jason Bractune (who spun at both Bunker and Perdew’s Perversion in the past) and resident DJs Gerber (Kontrol Factory) and Liz O (aka L.A. Weekly writer Liz Ohanesian, of Coven 13), is an homage to ’90s goth club culture, with playlists inspired by the hottest dark-themed haunts from back in the day.
For whatever reason, John G. has always had a knack for attracting the dark side and “goth” love, no matter what that happens to mean musically at the moment. With death metal and deathrock at Complex, industrial and EBM at Das Bunker and a brand-new promotion group he just formed called Floorplan Productions, he has explored a lot genre-wise, but every gathering he does seems to attract the all-in-black guyliner gaggles. Now that he’s also a partner in Lil Death, another ghouly-crowd social scene, he's practically bound to the culture in blood at this point.
“The goth scene is not what it used to be, and 'goth' doesn't even really mean what it used to anymore. Back when I was young, you had people that were full-on lifestyle goths. They wore black all the time, went shopping for groceries in black trench coats and full club makeup, and had a super ridiculous fake 'club' name they went by,” he recalls with a chuckle. “It was super fun, but I'm also happy not having to call anyone Raven, Kitty or Lord Blah Blah Blah with a straight face. Maybe it's Facebook's fault for forcing everyone to use real names, but the fake club name is not a thing anymore.
“I used to really stress out over getting things labeled properly, but I realized it's a losing battle and now I just have fun with it,” he continues. “If you wanna listen to trap and call yourself goth because you wear all black, sure, you can be goth. That doesn't mean we are going to play it at our goth club. Even if people do misappropriate the subculture name, I think embracing darker culture is a good thing .”
Seasick: A Morrissey/Smiths Boat Party | departing from Long Beach | Sat., March 18, 9:30 p.m-2 a.m. | $30 | facebook.com/events/1770474806611866/
90s Goth Klub | The Lash, 117 Winston St., downtown | Sun., March 19, 9 p.m. | free | facebook.com/events/105250803322198/
Depeche Boat | departing from Long Beach | Fri., March 24, 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., March 26, 2:30-6:30 p.m. and 7:30-11:30 p.m. | $25-$30 | facebook.com/DepecheBoat/
Das Bunker Presents Kite, Continues, Abbey Death | Complex, 806 E. Colorado St., Glendale | Fri., March 24, 9 p.m. | $10 | facebook.com/events/551725708356076/
Floorplan Productions Presents Carpenter Brut, Dance With the Dead, Vogel | Union, 4067 W. Pico Blvd., Arlington Heights | Sat., March 25 | $20 | facebook.com/floorplanproductions
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.
More from Lina Lecaro:
The Cure Played Four Encores at the Hollywood Bowl and We Still Didn't Want It to End
Why Has Everyone From Slash to Dave Grohl Played This Tiny Bar in Tarzana?
Jane Wiedlin Looks Back on 38 Years of Go-Go's
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