It’s late summer outside Hollywood’s Lure Nightclub and a velvety haze of cigarette smoke mingles with various incenses. Inside, the crowd is populated by people wearing regalia that would seamlessly blend into the Sgt. Pepper album cover as LED Hula Hoops rest against the wall, waiting to be unleashed.
This was the scene of the very first ABunDance party in 2013 — a place where faces were painted, the go-go dancers were mermaids and the weird were revered.
The people responsible are Los Angeles–based crew the Grateful Generation, an eclectic group of festivalgoers and visionaries who were tired of the mainstream club circuit. Founded by native Angeleno Christopher Jackson in July 2011, their mission is to create an experience of “oneness and joy where all beings are loved, honored, appreciated and fully expressed.”
“The suspension of disbelief allows a lot of magic to occur,” Jackson tells me after describing his first excursion to Burning Man in 2008. “So how do we get the people that aren’t gonna go all the way out to the desert to have this experience?”
Growing up relatively sheltered and attending military school in his youth, Jackson eventually broke free and fell into the business of throwing Hollywood parties for the likes of Hugh Hefner and his army of bunnies. These events transformed his reality as he became immersed in a world that sold sex, or the possibility of sex, through the social lubricant of alcohol. But with each party, he noticed that many of the attendees seemed to be stuck in a purgatorial pattern of drink, fuck, sleep, recover, repeat.
“While I loved providing people a good time ... I couldn’t get behind it anymore,” Jackson reflects. Now in his late 30s, he is still throwing parties but with a new sense of purpose. The Grateful Generation is not a brand but rather an artistic movement that brings underground music, live painting, performance art, community, healthy living, handmade wares and new age philosophy to the Los Angeles club scene.
Burning Man, the annual gathering in the Nevada desert, is the main influence of Grateful Generation’s ethos. At parties that are like a compressed, one-night version of the weeklong festival, they use many of Burning Man’s 10 main principles, which include radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting and decommodification. These tenets essentially act as the Bill of Rights for both Burning Man and the Grateful Generation.
Their initial parties were small gatherings of like-minded individuals, many of whom worked for the popular vegan restaurant chain Cafe Gratitude. As more people from the underground community began to attend, Jackson saw it as an opportunity to expand; he launched the first ABunDance event in August 2013 at Lure. It was because of this night that activist, model, actress, dancer and underwater performer Hannah Fraser (or Hannah Mermaid) joined the Grateful Generation crew as Jackson’s partner.
Fraser, who has been curating ABunDance’s live performers for the past four years, grew up in Australia with visions of mermaids splashing through her mind. As a child, she would practice holding her breath underwater and even made her first mermaid tail at the age of 9, out of a plastic table cloth and pillow stuffing. Fraser continued to indulge her mermaid fantasies into adulthood, handcrafting beautifully adorned tails that landed her gigs as an actress, model and performer.
Through her imagination, Fraser built a career on playing a mermaid. Her jobs range from modeling to activism, as she spearheaded a campaign to add the manta ray to the species protection list with her viral video “Manta’s Last Dance.” To Fraser, it is this blurred line between fantasy and reality that makes Grateful Generation’s parties so alluring.
“I was first attracted to these events when I saw the distinct effort put into creating an experience of conscious partying,” says Fraser who, along with her gang of iridescent mermaids, has become an ABunDance fixture. “These events inspire a nonjudgmental attitude of inclusiveness where you can buy a beer or have a Reiki healing; watch a live painter create an esoteric masterpiece or enjoy a body-painted dancer gyrating onstage.”
As a part of a steadily growing circle of Burning Man attendees and festivalgoers, Jackson cooperates with other organizers to prevent overlapping events. “The community is making an effort as a whole to not step on each other’s toes,” he explains. “We support other like-minded events to create an open-source type of community. Gratitude and appreciation are key, and when we appreciate each other, we grow together.”
You will not find any archetypal EDM stars at these parties; instead, Jackson and his team curate each lineup to showcase sounds drawn from underground electronic music. The Grateful Generation’s first ABunDance event of 2017 in downtown this weekend will feature a wide array of DJs spinning bass, funk, disco, house and techno.
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Visionary art pioneer Alex Grey headlines the artist lineup, live painting onstage alongside his wife, Allyson Grey, who is also a world-renowned artist. After meeting in college, the couple began taking LSD trips together, which became a major influence in their artwork. Known for creating intricate masterpieces that look as if they were projecting their psychedelic experiences straight onto the canvas, the Greys have become icons of the alternative-festival community.
The Grateful Generation has created a place for artists to flourish and patrons to be inspired. Outrageous fashion is praised, acrobats dangle from the ceiling, and the smell of burning sage haunts your nostrils. All the while, painters tickle their canvases for spectators as the billowing bass casts its spell on the dance floor.
“It's not just about making art,” Fraser says, “it's about being art in every part of our life's expression.”
The Grateful Generation and Euphonic Conceptions present the next ABunDance event Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Globe Theatre in DTLA, with The Floozies, Gigamesh, Govinda and many more. Advance tickets and more info available at TheTicketFairy.com.