The cancellation of the annual L.A. Burning Man event known as Decompression was a real bummer to fans of high-tech counterculture.
It would have capped 13 years of Decompression parties, but it wasn't to be. And last year's event didn't happen as a result of renovations at its most recent venue, Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Organizers blame a government bureaucracy that they argue is increasingly hostile to dance music culture. In 2011 raves were essentially shut out of the taxpayer-owned L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena after a 15-year-old who sneaked into Electric Daisy Carnival at the Coliseum died of an ecstasy overdose.
Since then promoters have complained that it's nearly impossible to throw big events in the city of Los Angeles. Venues for more than 2,000 people are hard to find, and they're often controlled by governments hostile to the party-hearty reputation of electronic dance music.
Hard Summer and other Hard events have jumped around Los Angeles County as a result. Electric Daisy Carnival moved to Las Vegas. Go-to venues like Los Angeles Center Studios have gotten cold feet at times. And, despite Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's opinion that raves belong in the city, the newest large venue in town, Grand Park, has so far eschewed full-on EDM parties.
Drug-related deaths have continued, no matter where the events happen: Hard Summer has seen three in two years; EDC Vegas has seen an average of one a year. But Decompression is not those parties.
There have been no deaths linked to Decompression. It's a nonprofit endeavor celebrating the sizable Los Angeles community of "burners" every fall. The latest party was supposed to run only until 2 a.m. And, of course, all known permits were sought.
Organizers say they tried to go through every governmental hoop, but permits were not forthcoming until the last minute.
Athena Demos of the Los Angeles League of Arts, which puts on Decompression, says organizers sought six permits and got four of them before time became a critical element.
Dance and alcohol permits were outstanding when Decompression finally pulled the plug on Nov. 10, with the event scheduled for Nov. 14. A Los Angeles Police Department vice officer was supposed to sign off on both permits but was completely out of touch that week, Demos said, leaving organizers with no choice but to cancel.
"We felt like vice was running out the clock on our ability to get the permit," Demos said. "They kept stalling and stalling."
On Wednesday Decompression wrote a letter to Garcetti:
The city’s unreasonable treatment of this long-standing community event has resulted in a substantial loss of revenue for the city and its businesses, including hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, transportation and parking. The event also generates income for the businesses that provide the stages, food, security, etc., as well as the local employees of these businesses. The city’s failure to grant the necessary permits for the Decompression event is inexcusable.
We spoke to the vice officer with the power of the permit, Central Division vice's Maria Crescenzo, who would say only, "Every decision that comes through this office has to go through him [the local captain] for approval. There are security measures we have to go through."
We reached out to the Central Division captain but had yet to hear back.
On Nov. 10 Crescenzo wrote an email to Demos:
I have reviewed all of the permits and it appears that all of them are in order, however, I need to review the final security plan and discuss it with my direct chain of command. If there are any issues or concerns, I will address them with Athena, if it all seems to be in order, at the direction of my command, I will contact ABC [California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] with our position and recommendation.
But Demos says the approvals never came in time, and the officer failed to return calls and emails.
Demos admits, however, that Decompression's organizers got the process started a bit late, with only 40 days to go before the big event instead of the customary 90. "I wish we would have filed the permits sooner," Demos said.
A City Hall official who did not want to be named told us the police department didn't support the event "because, according to LAPD, the event organizers were given specific instructions by them to submit forms and they never did."
An Alcoholic Beverage Control spokesman said there was no record of an application for Decompression.
Demos says this is not true.
When we contacted venue manager Christopher McQueen of downtown's Imperial Art Studios last week, he said he hadn't been formally notified the party wasn't happening.
"We found out last-minute," he said. "I'm not sure why it was canceled."
Demos said it would have been unfair to sell tickets ($35) to the 4,000 people estimated to be planning to attend while permits were up in the air. The event was to span multiple venues at Imperial Art Studios and even take up a closed-down city block.
She says that in the final days before the event (and after the cancellation), however, there was some indication the city might have given it final approval. While she says she never received formal notice that Decompression was good to go, police emailed her.
"We received the approved permit for the event on Saturday!" one officer emailed. "I will be working the event. We will deploy from 4PM-2AM."
In any case, the cancellation is a shame for Los Angeles, which is arguably the capital of the electronic dance music industry. It's almost impossible to hold large events in the city, Demos says.
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"We could go to someplace like Irvine Meadows [Amphitheater] but it wouldn't be Decompression," she said. "Decompression really needs to be in L.A."
"The system is broke," she said. "They're treating us like we're the Hard festival. We've been doing this for 12 years. We've had one arrest and one person who needed an ambulance for an insulin problem. We leave locations cleaner than when we arrive. We want a solution of a more efficient permitting process."