It's Friday night inside the Monte Cristo, a gorgeous Koreatown venue hidden behind a plain Wilshire Boulevard facade near Southwestern Law School, and Amanda Jones is keeping the industrial dancers going after midnight. They pump fists and jerk knees towards their guts in time with stomping beat of bands well-associated with the genre.
Things don't really get going until Jones, who co-promotes this weekly party with Xian Vox, drops a track called “Robots” by British outfit Modulate and remixed by local group Aesthetic Perfection. The track has a sound best described by the word “graver” (as in goth plus raver), where aggressive shrieks meet Daft Punk-style electro beats.
From there, Jones' set rides the fine line between music heard in industrial clubs and music heard at raves. She dances behind the decks, mixing in artists like Knife Party and Covenant, as the floor continues to fill.
For 26 years, Jones has been a fixture in DJ booths across Los Angeles, dancing and whipping her long red hair as she seamlessly mixes genres that still attract the club kids in black. At Malediction Society, the 10-year-old party she and Vox host every Friday at the Monte Cristo, the sound is dark and underground-minded. On Saturdays, when she plays Bar Sinister, Jones' selections run the gamut from Deadmau5 to Sisters of Mercy, appealing to the diverse crowd of party-goers you'll find in Hollywood on the weekends. Then there are other, less frequent gigs, like Pulse, a free party that she's presenting at Karma Lounge on Thursday night, and her occasional trips to Dallas to DJ at the Church.
Back in the latter half of the 1980s, Jones, now 42, was a young teen from Burbank who would sneak out of the house via the dog door to hit up new wave teen clubs like Marilyn's. “Of course, I met this one guy who was so dark and mysterious, and we started dating,” she says over iced tea on Ventura Boulevard, a few days after Malediction Society. The guy asked her if she knew about gothic music. She didn't, so he took her to a club called the Crypt and Jones, then 15, fell for the scene.
“I instantly went from this boppy little new waver to this gothic chick and dyed my hair black and did the whole thing,” she says.
The black hair didn't last too long. By 16, red hair had become her signature. Around the same time, she learned how to DJ.
Jones was only in 10th grade when she landed a residency at Helter Skelter, the long-running goth club that launched her career. “I had a good fake ID,” she says, adding that the club's promoters didn't know she was only 16. She started out working coat check, but got tired of not being able to dance at the party. That's when DJ/promoter Michael Stewart taught her the ins and outs of playing vinyl. “I was really timid about it,” she says of her DJing apprenticeship, “and then one night, he was like, 'I'm going to get a drink,' and then he just didn't come back. So I had to sink or swim and I managed it.”
The Helter Skelter gig led to some interesting opportunities for a high school kid. Jones got to DJ before and after a live set from a not-yet-famous Nine Inch Nails at the club. It also led to many other DJ gigs around town. Save for a stint working at now-defunct record store Vinyl Fetish, DJing has been Jones' full-time job since she started.
She spent years DJing for Evil Club Empire, the promotion team of Michael Stewart and Bruce Perdew that threw parties like Helter Skelter and Perversion; at one point, she worked exclusively for them. She's also an occasional singer. She briefly had her own project, Drawback, around 2000, and has provided guest vocals for other artists like industrial group Kevorkian Death Cycle.
As Jones' taste in music changed, so did the sound of the clubs where she played. In the beginning, she says, her sets were pretty straightforward gothic and deathrock with a touch of industrial. She would play Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus. After a while, though, she tired of goth and moved heavier into industrial and the rave-y dance jams of the early '90s. “Back then, we called it acid house,” she says.
Those who have seen Jones play over the years can tell you that her sets never quite stick to one genre or sound. She recalls playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in her sets when the Nirvana song hit. “Everyone would run around and skip and have fun,” she says. It's the misfit tracks that often stand out in her sets, like the spooky, electronic cover of “Gangsta's Paradise” that she played at Helter Skelter later in the '90s, or a festival-style jam called “Bottles Up” that amped up the crowd last Friday at Malediction Society. She's good at making the unexpected fit into her sets.
Jones says that she's “lucky.” She has been able to sustain a career as a DJ for more than two decades in a city where nightlife has changed dramatically. When she started, there weren't very many dark, alternative-minded parties in Los Angeles. These days, there are frequently multiple parties on the same night, ranging from free events at bars to higher-priced shows with out-of-town guests. The competition can be stiff, but she's persevered.
“I've learned that you have to be nice to all the patrons and have a smile on your face and look pleasant, even if you feel like shit, and look like you're having fun and just be generally agreeable,” she says. “I honestly think that's why I've lasted this long, because I'm not getting into any promoter drama or anyone's business.”
Treating nightclubs strictly as a job has benefitted her as well. She learned years ago that it's easy to get sucked into the drama that comes with music scenes and nightlife. These days, she doesn't typically head out unless she's working or wants to see something new. She says, “I would much rather be at home watching a movie on Netflix, making dinner and hanging out with my dog and not getting dressed up.”