Complex is one of L.A.'s best kept secrets, inasmuch as a secret is possible in 2015. The Glendale-based club boasts one of the best sound systems in town and ambitious bookings across genres like Norwegian black metal, no-bullshit techno, EBM and beyond. Tonight, Complex celebrates its second anniversary.
For years, owners John Giovanazzi (aka Rev. John of Das Bunker) and Mike Guerrero trawled through L.A. clubs, inspired by other venues' flaws. But they weren't just doing this to be dicks. It was legitimate research for their dream small club space, which was almost half a decade in the making. They finally opened Complex in Glendale of all places, a "12-hour town" known for its lack of nightlife outside of Armenian banquet halls or whatever qualifies as nightlife at the Americana.
L.A. Weekly spoke with Complex's founders about attention to detail, the uphill challenge of establishing in Glendale, and the limitations of warehouse culture.
Did you consider Highland Park — where you both live — before you landed in Glendale?
Mike Guerrero: It was definitely considered.
John Giovanazzi: It would have been a different business model, because it's a different neighborhood. Here [in Glendale], we were capitalizing on the lack of anything to do anywhere near here. In Highland Park, it's more of a neighborhood bar, everyone-walks-around kinda neighborhood. What happened with the Church on York proved there was a market for some sort of entertainment-based venue over there. I don't know if we could have been doing banging techno parties in Highland Park.
Has the City of Glendale embraced you?
JG: We had to commission a study to prove that [we won't screw up the neighborhood's] parking. Now, it's not a problem. But that's an example of where the city means well. In the end, Glendale is a very small town, and it's run like a small town — good and bad. It's nice when you have to get a permit for something, and you can go talk to the person who does the permitting. In the City of L.A., they have groups of offices that deal with these things, but in Glendale, it's one person.
Has it been difficult getting people to come to Glendale?
JG: We're coming up on our two-year anniversary, and we're still convincing people that Glendale isn't in the middle of nowhere. A lot people, when you mention "Glendale," think we're next to Chatsworth.
With an ever-swelling warehouse scene in L.A., do you find that to be competition for you?
JG: I've been to some great warehouse parties, but it's hard to maintain the quality control aspect when you're doing an event where the space pops up in a day. Everything from tuning the sound to the crazy precautions people go to keep from getting shut down and arrested. If there's a bar, it's likely a terrible bar. You've usually got to park somewhere dodgy.
MG: It's a staff that's been pieced together. They're usually not very courteous. It's a one-day gig for them. There's nothing gained by establishing a relationship with the clientele, versus a place like this. We're known for our customer service.
I associate a lot of dark musical styles with your space.
JG: We kind of run the gamut. I wouldn't say it's all dark by any means. I definitely know people in [dark music scenes], so that makes getting that stuff easy. We were doing a comedy thing for a while, and they kept referring to us as "the goth bar," much to our annoyance.
I feel like "the goth bar" is Medusa Lounge. The vampire bar.
JG: Right. We definitely targeted the people who follow smaller genres who don't mind traveling that extra 5-10 minutes out of the way. And people who think sound quality is the most important element. How many places this size in the country have a Funktion-One system? Hardly any.
Any big plans for the anniversary?
JG: We're looping it into our karaoke night, which is our one weekly event. It's free. Like everything else our karaoke is a little…
Left of center?
JG: Alternative karaoke. If there's an internet meme, you can probably sing a karaoke song to it. A lot of '80s and '90s alternative stuff. Our karaoke host will actually make a lot of the karaoke tracks himself. You wanna sing songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch? We've got that. You want Antoine Dodson's "Bed Intruder"? We got that.
You seem pretty obsessive about the details.
MG: But there's no way we could do everything better than everyone else. There are places with better beer selection or with better sound systems, but we want that complete package — the sum of all parts being greater than any place we've been to.
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Complex's two-year anniversary tonight, Monday, March 9, features Ground Control alternative karaoke. No cover. More info here.