[An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.]
A few thousand feet from Babylon Court in the Hollywood & Highland mall, a second Babylon is being built. Spearheaded by hardcore band Trash Talk, the new storefront aspires to be the antithesis of the gaudy tourist vortex up the street.
If that’s the home of America’s Got Talent, Trash Talk’s Babylon intends to incubate a homegrown generation of the raw and gifted.
“We want it to be a place where everybody can kind of come and get involved — the opposite of the ‘too cool,’ exclusive attitude,” says Garrett Stevenson, Trash Talk’s lead guitarist. His soft-spoken temperament belies the thunderbolt squalls he lets loose onstage.
“You can just come in and skateboard or leave zines to sell,” adds the black-clad Stevenson, sporting an Abyssinian beard.
It’s a singeing afternoon in mid-March, several weeks before Babylon officially opens on April 16. Construction workers — friends of the band — hammer in front of 1320 N. Highland Blvd. The paint smell is fresh. The wooden frame of a full skate bowl hulks in the store’s backyard.
Inside, Stevenson and Trash Talk lead singer Lee Spielman excitedly detail their plans for each wall in the main room. One will be all gallery art. Another will offer a library’s worth of zines, constantly updated. There will be clothing, both band merch and the store’s Babylon brand. The space will host live performances and movie nights.
Trash Talk specifically chose a location off Fairfax, the current epicenter of L.A. streetwear, lest the Hypebeast barnacles overrun the community-center aspect. “We want to do more than just sell clothes,” Spielman says, wearing a backward black hat over clavicle-length wavy hair. “I want to take all the things that we fuck with, put them in one place and open it up to kids.”
If that sounds overly utopian, you’ve probably never seen the communal pandemonium of their live shows. Spielman roars and hurls himself across the room like a Hun motorcycling over a canyon. Mosh pits seem mandatory. Kids go nuts, but actual fights are relatively rare.
The audience is as likely to include rap heads as hardcore devotees. That’s partly thanks to the endorsement of Tyler, the Creator, who released their last two records on his Odd Future imprint. But Trash Talk’s broader tastes are reflected in the music itself. Last year’s No Peace featured two gutter beats from The Alchemist and a rap blitz from Wiki of Ratking.
“Those are just the ‘it’s fun and I’m with the homies’ tracks,” Spielman says. “We pride ourselves on being an aggressive punk band, but we like to step outside the box and approach the music differently.”
The same applies to the store. The concept is somewhere between the Chinatown art and book haven Ooga Booga and downtown all-ages punk locus the Smell. For Trash Talk, it’s a chance to deepen the L.A. footprint they’ve left since first uniting here in 2010, after previously living in cities around California. It also restores the feeling of 119, the shuttered South Central mattress factory turned punk warehouse, where they cohabitated until recently.
Babylon’s roots trace back to last year, when Converse sponsored a Trash Talk pop-up shop. Immediately inspired, the band put a skate ramp in the store and helped make signs, clothing and merchandise.
When the former weed dispensary on Highland became available for rent, they snatched it to create their own hanging garden.
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“If you’re a 16-year-old kid with no money to buy a zine, this is a place where you can make one, or just come kick it and skate and chill … whatever is cool,” Spielman says. “It’s a spot to facilitate creativity. We’re not here to shake down your pockets.”