Once upon a time the Sunset Strip was known for breaking bands: The Doors got their start at Whisky a Go Go, while Van Halen came up at Gazzarri's.
But that hasn't been the Strip's reputation for a while. The Whiskey, for example, is still mired in death metal and '80s glam: Skid Row, Anvil, and L.A. Guns are all on the calendar.
Instead, it's been mainly been venues in the Silver Lake and Echo Park sphere who have been introducing critically-acclaimed new acts to the mainstream.
Hey, we're not dissing the Strip, but even the area's main booster – Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy – acknowledges that venue owners there have gotten pretty set in their ways.
“The East Side can take a chance on any band, in any scene,” he says. “The Strip is pretty defined at this point, so it's going to take courage to break away from that.”
Which is what Alder has tasked himself with doing.
In January, he handed over booking of the Roxy over to Goldenvoice's Chris Diaz, who got his start booking bands for the Knitting Factory in Hollywood, and later helped curate Brooklyn's blooming indie scene as the talent buyer for the Williamsburg location.
Since Diaz joined the Roxy, the bookings have had a decidedly different feel.
Indie-leaning bands like Parquet Courts and Dum Dum Girls are now headlining shows there. SISU, led by Dum Dum Girls' drummer Sandra Vu, Seattle's La Luz, and local psych-rockers The Entrance Band (who played the Roxy in March) indicate the venue's fresh direction.
Under the tenure of Megan Jacobs, the Roxy booked indie-pop bands in the past – Foster the People and Little Dragon, but not usually art punk along the lines of Parquet Courts (who play their first show at the Roxy on May 28). Even recently they've booked some independent hip-hop shows, as had the Key Club before its demise.
But now the Roxy seems to be wading into territory largely dominated by clubs like the Echo and Echoplex.
It shows the influence of Mitchell Frank, the founder of Spaceland Productions (owners of the Echo) and Satellite talent booker Jennifer Tefft, who helped the Silversun Pickups get their start. This type of music doesn't tend to make a big commercial splash, but it does seem to draw well in L.A. for mid-sized clubs.
That's been the case so far for the Roxy as well, according to Adler. “We've had more shows sell out in the last few months than I can remember,” says Adler, whose partnership with Goldenvoice began officially in January.
To be sure, the Strip was in need of revitalization. Their marquee event, the Sunset Strip Music Festival, has struggled, and is emblematic of the area's lack of a compelling musical identity. (Linkin Park headlined last year's event, and the Offspring and Marilyn Manson topped the bill the year before.)
The Sunset Strip Music Festival may be postponed this year and produced by a third-party firm. “Booking wise, I think we've looked to the past too often,” Adler tells us. “I'm excited to see the festival move in a very different direction this year.”
This is, frankly, a refreshing take. Everyone knows that the Sunset Strip has long needed to evolve, and it would be great if Adler and his venue would lead the way.
“It's going to take a venue like the Roxy to show the Strip the value of what's current,” he says.