Our city’s famous music industry and nightlife scene are notoriously fickle about those under 21.
At the same time, the producers playing our clubs are getting younger and younger. It might feel like ages since Animals came out and put then–17-year-old Martin Garrix on the map; lifetimes since the YouTube video of a teenage Madeon playing Pop Culture went viral. But Garrix is still barely 20, and Madeon is just 21.
So what’s a young up-and-comer to do when his job requires him to visit the clubs he can’t get into? That’s the plight of the under-21 set (and their parents) when they're given the opportunity to play shows at 21-plus clubs and age-restricted festivals.
Being underage in the industry, it turns out, is a pretty constant game of jumping through hoops, lying to bouncers and convincing club owners that you’re in it for the music, not the party.
For Los Angeles transplants, like 20-year-old Norwegian producer Bearson, the rules seem a little ridiculous.
“In Norway,” the indie house producer explains, “the age limit for alcohol is 18. For clubs, it’s 20. So I came from being able to get in everywhere and drink everywhere to having no way to get in anywhere.”
Take the parties at this year’s SXSW, for example. On paper, Bearson played 30 gigs. In reality, that number was more like three. But the way he and his managers saw it, the bouncers at the clubs he wanted to get into didn’t have to know that Bearson wasn’t actually a name on the lineup.
“We had to pretend that I was an artist playing the venue. I just said I was part of the band, and I was walking with people from the industry who were repping me,” he says.
Having to use less-than-legal means just to check out his fellow producers doesn’t faze him too much, though. “It’s a hassle every time, but it definitely makes going to clubs more exciting,” Bearson says. In June, he heads to the Roxy as part of a four-stop, mini North American tour — luckily for him, that show is all ages.
Born and raised in L.A., 23-year-old Dirtybird player and funky househead Justin Jay had a different sort of experience with the dance music scene. Jay got his first release on Dirtybird when he was 18 and a freshman at USC. His debut show was at the Avalon Hollywood about halfway through his freshman year.
“A week before, I wanted to go check out the room, just scope it out. The party that night was 19-plus, and I was 18 at the time, so I used my fake ID and immediately got it snagged,” laughs Jay. Most of his experiences with electronic music growing up were surprisingly legal, though.
“I was lucky. I was growing up in SoCal when Insomniac was still doing 16-and-over shows here, so I got to go to my first rave, totally legally, when I was that age,” Jay explains. “I fell in love with Dirtybird through the Internet, though. I watched all their YouTube interviews. Those guys were rock stars to me — the guys I would’ve pinned up posters of in my bedroom.”
He’s come a long way since then, on his way to releasing parts three and four of his new album (when you’re young and hungry, one part is not enough) and playing Palm Springs' Splash House festival in June.
Then there’s Steve James, who just celebrated his 18th birthday and plays his first public Los Angeles show with Martin Garrix on Thursday at Exchange L.A. (of how he’ll deal with any bouncers who give him a hard time, he jokes, “I’ll just stand near Martin and hope everything’s OK.”). James had success about a year ago after he made the move from his hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to Los Angeles, where he met fellow producer Poo Bear and had the opportunity to produce the title track on Justin Bieber’s most recent album, Purpose.
James is no stranger to sneaking into shows. Despite being under the 18-and-over cutoff until this April, he has multiple Ultras and EDCs under his belt.
“I snuck into Ultra last year just for fun; this year, I was hoping to hear the live version of an unreleased collaboration I just wrapped up,” says James. “My agency gave me a pass, but it was a complimentary general-admission ticket, so I still had to go through all the same security.”
On the first night of the show, James was less sneaking and more crawling toward the entrance. From start to finish, it took him several hours of convincing security guards at every checkpoint that they should let him through. He managed to get in just in time to hear his collab drop for a massive crowd.
Then, at one of the afterparties, he ditched the talk and went for a tactic that’s worked for many before him: bribery.
“We just handed the bouncer a handful of cash,” chuckles James. “He knew I was under 21 but definitely not that I was under 18.”
New Hampshire–born, L.A.-based trap producer Crnkn also was playing shows in his adopted home of Los Angeles — and beyond — at 18. Now 23, he doesn’t have to worry about getting stuck outside the club anymore, something that was definitely a problem for him at 18.
Early on in his career, Crnkn was in touch with star-making label boss Diplo. A stopover in Vegas turned into a canceled flight, and Crnkn thought to enlist Diplo’s help with figuring out something to do that night for a kid with no money and no fake ID.
“It was back when Diplo used to do Mad Decent Mondays,” Crnkn says, “so I hit him up and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m stuck in Vegas, can I come hang out with you?’” Diplo said yes and told Crnkn to come to the club — where he was, of course, immediately asked for ID.
“I was like, ‘I’m 18,’” Crnkn laughs. He paid the price for his honesty; even when Diplo came out to cajole the nightclub’s manager into letting the stranded 18-year-old inside, it was to no avail.
“I had to go back to the airport,” Crnkn recalls. “To this day, every time I see Diplo he still gives me shit, like, ‘Are you 21 yet?’”