Light shimmers off the large gold hoops of women dancing to the infectious laser sounds and percussive electronic rhythms of the 1984 freestyle classic “Look Out Weekend” by Debbie Deb. Latinos both young and old proclaim their cultural pride with shirts bearing messages like “Brown and Proud,” freshly minted Nike Cortez sneakers and perfectly winged eyeliner as they sway to the nostalgic vibes of a party they heard about through a neon, graffiti-lettered flyer with a beeping pager. Out front, a gleaming, candy-painted lowrider for attendees to pose with adds a finishing touch.
This might seem like a backyard party circa 1989, but this is “Scam and Jam” — a monthly throwback dance party hosted at the Regent that comes with a dose of feminist empowerment. Scam and Jam (the first half of the name is an old-school term for making out) was created by Lala Romero and Natalia Durazo of the lifestyle brand Bella Doña, along with James Solano, who runs the weekly lowrider event Los Angeles Cruise Night.
“I think we are reviving and breathing new air into something that already existed,” Durazo explains.
Scam and Jam is an extension of Romero and Durazo’s brand, which evokes a feminine toughness while celebrating Latinx culture and sisterhood. Their designs and photo shoots flaunt a homegirl aesthetic, with empowering messages like “Tacos Before Vatos” or “Chingona” (badass) alongside cultural signifiers like lowriders, the Virgin of Guadalupe and old English lettering. Bella Doña prioritizes a specific West Coast subculture that many Latinas in L.A. can identify with, and the dance party is part of it.
Romero, Durazo and Solano were enthusiasts of the sounds they grew up listening to at backyard parties in the '90s and early 2000s. Wanting to re-create the feeling of the parties of their youth, they founded Scam and Jam.
“I used to throw house parties and warehouse parties in high school, so that's why I like doing Scam and Jam, because it takes you back to those days,” Solano explains. “We are creating a space for us to reminisce on times that we grew up in and to relive experiences that we went through as teenagers. It was something that we could call our own.”
In order to find out about parties before social media and cellphones, you had to be lucky enough to get one of the elaborately designed flyers — or someone might send the location to your pager. The sounds of these all-night revelries were mostly funk, freestyle and hip-hop. Because Latinxs in L.A. often grew up in black neighborhoods, their musical exposure — outside of the Spanish music played at home — was many times rooted in black culture.
“Soul, funk, oldies, those are our neighbors. We grew up in black and brown neighborhoods," Romero says. "Being like third or fourth generation in this country, a lot of times I think you might relate more to BET than Univision.”
All aspects of the experience are curated to celebrate this culture. Vintage news footage of ditch parties plays on the stage. There are vendors selling artisanal goods like cotton candy with Latin flavors, and a Bella Doña pop-up shop. But the music takes center stage, with a carefully thought-out playlist meant to transport you to '80s and '90s L.A. The songs at Scam and Jam have to pass one test: Can they be played in a lowrider?
An all-female lineup of sound selectors, including Que Madre of Chulita Vinyl Club and veteran DJ Angie Vee, spin songs ranging from Bootsy Collins’ “I'd Rather Be With You” to J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic,” while veteranos in their late 30s two-step alongside dancers in their 20s into the early hours of the morning.
Having all women DJs providing the soundtrack is very much intentional. As a female-led event, Scam and Jam makes an effort to put women at the center of all its aspects — a departure from the male-dominated lineups and objectifying advertisements of parties past.
“Our brand [Bella Doña] is all about woman empowerment and sisterhood, so how could we throw a party and not hyper-focus on creating a space for women onstage?” says Romero.
The event is often a family affair, as well. Jada, one of the first DJs of the night, brings her mom, Jacqueline, to all the monthly events. Jacqueline was a party promoter in the '90s; this event allows her to reminisce on times past when she’d cruise down Hollywood Boulevard on Friday nights and pass out flyers to parties in Ventura County. “She’s the reason I know this music,” Jada explains.
Scam and Jam is more than just a throwback party. It’s a place to assert identity, take up space and connect with familial history. Whether the songs were played at the parties of your youth or you listened to them with your parents, there’s a generational thread to the nostalgia.
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“I feel like music a lot of times is almost like a scent; it can instantaneously transport you to a space in time,” Romero says. “That nostalgia about the party, I think, is what so many people who grew up in that era love about it — or even if you didn’t, it's like a piece of our culture and our history that you're trying to latch on to because it was kind of a golden era.”
Back at the Regent, dance crew Funky Bones perform their limb-bending pop-lock choreography to a packed house. Then Durazo brings out a Donald Trump piñata for everyone to destroy. And as the night wraps up, couples slow-dance, eyes closed, to the Motown classic “Darling Baby.”
“This is the real L.A. This is the heartbeat of the city: lowriders, Latino culture, the time and place that we are transporting people back to,” Romero says. “In a city that's being gentrified so fast and changing so fast, we are losing even more of ourselves every day. So it's just great to have something that asserts like, ‘Hey, we are here, we've been here, and this is ours.’”
Scam and Jam returns to the Regent Theater for a Halloween party on Saturday, Oct. 28, with DJ Angie Vee and Tragik. More info. Scam and Jam also will be a part of the new Tropicalia Festival in Long Beach on Saturday, Nov. 11.