Best Of :: Music & Nightlife
Vince Staples was one of the best rappers in L.A. long before he landed the XXL Freshmen cover. Prior to his blistering 2014 EP, Hell Can Wait, each successive mixtape proved more promising than the last. His delivery became more distinctive, his lyrics increasingly loaded with images, emotions and ideas that hit with the searing force and expanding damage of a hollow-point. This year, he's made good on that promise. His two-disc Long Beach odyssey, Summertime '06, is one of the best albums of 2015, rap or otherwise. An intimate and arresting portrait of life in a neighborhood where alleyways are identified by corpses instead of cross streets, in a country where pigment leads to unwarranted violence and imprisonment, Staples condenses decades of socioeconomic and racial injustice into songs as incisive as they are engaging. Backed by progressive, low-end–heavy production, Staples has cemented his place next to established peers and destabilized the notion of what commercial rap from California sounds like.
Built in 1926 and taken over by Goldenvoice in 2012, this Hollywood classic is the perfect setting for both rising artists and stalwarts holding communion with their most loyal fans. Restored in 2002 to its Roaring Twenties elegance, it packs in a respectable 1,200 with moody lighting, a big dance floor, balcony seats and a rooftop bar. The sound is top-notch from anywhere in the room and it's easier than at most places to get close to the stage here. The Fonda is a favorite venue with big names looking for an underplay; in recent years, everyone from The Rolling Stones to Jack White to Radiohead has passed through. But it's the acts on the verge of superstardom that make the place special. Kids moshed to Justice playing "We Are Your Friends" here in 2007, and Lorde played just two weeks before "Royals" hit No. 1.
When the New York–based promoters behind the Bowery Ballroom announced they were expanding their empire to include a L.A.-based venue in Westlake, between downtown and MacArthur Park, many looked upon the plan with skepticism. But a few months into its time on Seventh Street near the 110 freeway, the Teragram has already established itself as one of the prime venues in the city. Located in a building that started life as the Playhouse Theater, the Teragram's sightlines are near-perfect, and the slight arches in the ceiling create pristine sound that pleases audiophiles. The room is cozy yet has enough space for people to comfortably move around, and drinks are reasonably priced. When you combine all these elements, it's easy to see why the Teragram is quickly becoming the next great place to see a show in Los Angeles.
The pungent odor wafting through the Smell's brick-walled interior is special. It's not just a smell; it's the grimy remnants of 170 shows booked every year by and for teenagers who come to the Smell for their own oasis amidst the junkies, drunks and cops of DTLA. For 17 years, Jim Smith's hideaway has been a de facto open-mic for diverse acts ranging from experimental noise bands to punk heroes like No Age. Once known as "the house that No Age built," the Smell is the DIY hub where everyone from Haim to Health cut their teeth, where Girlpool first met, and where labels such as Burger and Danger Collective created a cultlike following. At the Smell, "all-ages" is a philosophy as much as it is a door policy. The cooperative space offers a place for kids to choose their own family and find their own tribe.
After years of frustration at how most clubs in Los Angeles viewed jazz and treated musicians, Korean-born vocalist Joon Lee decided to open his own, vowing to run it from an artist's perspective. Lee's commitment to the quality of the music above all else (framed in a elegant, modern space) has granted Bluewhale, in its sixth year of existence, most-favored status among jazz musicians and patrons alike. There is now an endless stream of jazz A-listers from New York and beyond parading through the club's custom-glass entrance, yet Bluewhale remains the most affordable option to see the very best jazz has to offer, with low ticket prices and no food or drink minimums, making the music accessible to a younger, hipper crowd. It's too bad the club is tucked away in a nondescript Little Tokyo shopping mall; here's hoping they can move to a new site sooner than later.
Sam Nazarian's SBE club empire has produced a worthy super-club with Create, and Sound Nightclub, with a Pioneer sound system that pounds, is the small-venue champ. But the new boss in town remains the old boss: Avalon Hollywood, L.A.'s first and still best purpose-designed venue for EDM clubbing. The room, which started its life as a live theater, still emits cavernous magic. Even as DJ bookings have grown impossibly competitive, Dave Dean and the club's other promoters maintain dignity and gravitas by putting the likes of Erick Morillo and James Zabiela onstage. Owner John Lyons' custom sound system is the best in town, period. Get close enough and the world's largest subwoofers (40 inches) will punch you in the chest. And if bottle service is ruining L.A. nightlife, Avalon offers an antidote. Sure, you can still sit ringside and douche it hard-core with your fake friends, but the action here is on the floor, where fans still actually get up on their feet and dance.
At a recent edition of Night Bass, the VIP section was mostly deserted. No surprise: AC Slater's monthly at the intimate Sound Nightclub is for people who want to mix it up and get sweaty on the dance floor, not for the bottle-service crowd. Slater calls the signature Night Bass sound "just fun bass music you can dance to," which about sums it up. Whether you're into Disclosure or Dirtybird, you'll find something to groove to in the high-energy mix of house, garage and bassline pumped out by Slater and his fellow residents, Bones and Petey Clicks. Night Bass is usually at Sound once a month on Thursdays (check the Sound website for upcoming dates), and also hosts stages at various festivals, including Hard Day of the Dead on Sunday, Nov. 1. Wherever it's happening, expect the bass to be funky and loud.
Note: An earlier version of this write-up incorrectly said that Night Bass would be at Lot 613 on Oct. 10, but no such event is scheduled. We regret the error.
L.A.'s own Sandra Collins is one of electronic dance music's original superstars and, after 25 years, still remains a top-billed spinner. Her long, mesmerizing rinses of progressive tunes are today considered "deep," particularly in the shadow of the mainstage bangers of festival EDM. She's the headliner of a forthcoming documentary, Girl, about the world's top female jocks. A sad fact of EDM is that even though Los Angeles is a capital of the scene, it's hard to see some of our homegrown DJs, who often get more love overseas than they do here (see former resident Eddie Amador, the producer behind "House Music"). Collins has been blazing trails in Latin America, where she's a top-of-the-marquee draw. She's currently in the midst of a two-month tour of Europe, and is also working on original material. "I've been writing a lot," she says. "That's where I'm headed. I think that I have a lot to say."
No Parents are like a John Hughes movie starring the Menendez brothers: a cute comedy loaded with violence and splattered adults. For the layman who reads about punk rock in fashion mags, they're the next FIDLAR — the new torchbearers of skate-punk. Goofy analogies aside, No Parents are jokers with an '80s hard-core edge — when singer Zoe Reign gets naked and sings, "I'm gonna kill my dad/Fuck my mom" while doing a half-serious robot dance, he looks like Baby Huey meets Darby Crash. Released earlier this year, No Parents' debut album, May the Thirst Be With You, offers furiously funny, heavy and danceable pop-punk that's loaded with enough dick jokes to garner comparisons to early Blink-182. Which is why they're LOL-ing their way to the mainstage at festivals. Get used to all the hippie-bashing and Dickies-esque songwriting, because No Parents are ready for primetime.
Heavy music, like heavy food, is best consumed voraciously and without much thought. But the McGenius behind Mac Sabbath is that they obviously put a lot of thought and skill into their quirky musical cookery, which roasts greasy fast-food corporations as much as it pays tribute to the pummeling rock of Ozzy and Sabbath. Like many gimmick-driven grinders, the members shroud themselves in secret sauce. Mike Odd of local costumed rock legends Rosemary's Billygoat is involved, which explains Mac's ferocious metallic flavor and demented props. From their elaborate, super-sized costumes (Grimalice, the Catburglar and Slayer McCheeze back up creepy clown crooner Ronald Osbourne) to their clever, freak-fried takes on Sabbath's lyrics ("Pair-a-Buns" to the tune of "Paranoid," "Frying Pan" to the tune of "Iron Man"), these happy-meal menaces sizzle live, and always serve up much more than the empty calories of most cover bands.facebook.com/macsabbath
With just a drum machine and distorted guitar, Colleen Green creates bubble-gum punk that's as relatable as grunge, catchy as new wave and dark as her knockoff Wayfarers. She's the quintessential bedroom artist, spending most of her time alone, sketching out songs on her rug-burned MacBook and creating her own merch. Green's "whateverness," along with her wry lyrics and sugary hooks, gives her music a cool, disconnected feel. She started out in 2010 with a lo-fi drum machine and a fuzzed-out Ramones cover, but on her latest album, this year's I Want to Grow Up, she graduated to potent, sticky power-pop for stoners, with soft vocals and MTV-relatable lyrics. As a result, 2015 has been her biggest year, including her late-night TV debut on Last Call With Carson Daly and a shoutout from Rolling Stone. So she's about to get famous, all while rolling joints on copies of that same Rolling Stone. All hail the queen of weed-pop.
Low End Theory has often played the role of L.A.'s sole hip-hop night, but beats there generally take precedence over lyrics. Recently, Bananas has emerged as L.A.'s best unadulterated rap night. Hosted by venerated L.A. indie rapper VerBS and rapper-producer K. Solar, Bananas is held on the third Tuesday of every month at Kaos Network, a small performing arts center founded by L.A. filmmaker Ben Caldwell. Located in the heart of Leimert Park, the same neighborhood where storied open-mic nights at the Good Life Café took place, the venue is usually packed wall-to-wall with a lively and eclectic mix of friends, fans and performers. It gets hot inside, but you can step out to cool off anytime. Like Project Blowed before it, the monthly is both a breeding ground and a sanctuary, featuring performances from rising rappers such as Hugh Augustine and established acts like Nocando. Earlier this year, Kendrick Lamar stopped by. You probably should, too.facebook.com/bananasleimert.