By the time I showed up at Minimal Effort's Halloween party, the evening's headliner, French techno/electroclash star Miss Kittin, had already played. It was late, maybe sometime after 3 a.m. on the night of a fall time change, but the crowd inside downtown's Belasco Theater was stilly going strong. They filled the ballroom floor, danced upstairs, partied in the basement. It harked back to a time when people were still using venues like Variety Arts Center and Hollywood Athletic Club: multiple rooms, multiple sounds, and one strong vibe.
But Minimal Effort isn't meant as a throwback. In fact, the party's 28-year-old promoter, Cyril Bitar, has only lived in the city for two years. In that time, he founded the company Underrated, which handles the house- and techno-focused Minimal Effort as well as his weekly residency Clinic Wednesdays and the house-meets-snowboarding winter music festival Minus Zero.
On a recent afternoon at the Belasco, Bitar sits in a room on the club's lowest level, near shelves and under large chandeliers that give the space a haunted house vibe. "This is a gem," Bitar says of the downtown theater. He recalls the first time he checked out the place. "I [thought] that if we want to do this venue, we have to do the whole venue, not section it off, and really book it as good as we can."
That's what Minimal Effort did on Halloween and what they will do again on New Year's Eve. The party puts a close on the year with a multi-room, multi-genre blowout that brings together out-of-towners like J.Phlip and Jimmy Edgar with an array of top-notch local talent, from Marques Wyatt to Droog to Silent Servant. Human Resources, the DJ duo of Bitar and New York-based Ahmed Elwan, will also be playing. The party continues the next day with Minimal Effort's Recovery Party at Couture in Hollywood, featuring Carl Craig, Audiofly and Dance Spirit.
Bitar started DJing and throwing parties in his hometown of Beirut, Lebanon, five years ago. He worked with friends he had since childhood inside "raw venues." They would bring the bar and the sound system, book the DJs and party. The scene, he says, was good despite the challenges of life in Beirut. "It's like a ticking time bomb, basically," he says. "You never know what's going to happen."
Getting DJs to play was no easy task. "Sometimes, the DJ would just cancel because they were scared to come," he says. "It's hard."
With war waging next door in Syria and political unrest ebbing and flowing throughout the region, running a party in Beirut can be unpredictable. Bitar recalls an explosion down the street from the venue he used, which occurred the day before he had a party scheduled. "You just have to adapt," he says. But the dance music scene, he says, is excellent. "The party scene is very good because people want to get the stress out."
After Bitar finished college, he had an opportunity to come to Los Angeles and work for his brother's club, Couture. It meant learning to work within a completely different environment. "I was shocked that you can only sell liquor until two," he says, adding that he wondered how people had fun when last call was so early, "Why would people go out for three hours and go back?"
He started playing at Couture on Jan. 1, 2014 and has been holding down Wednesday nights there for the past two years. He's often joined by noted guest DJs. At a recent Clinic Wednesdays, the crowd poured in after midnight. Bitar stood calm over the decks, long hair pulled back, large glasses framing his face as he intensely warmed up the crowd for Camea, a Berlin-based DJ affiliated with label Bpitch Control. By 1 a.m., when Camea hit the decks, the room was more than ready for the headliner.
Bitar got his start on a club-centric strip of Cahuenga Boulevard, but Minimal Effort started out in proper warehouse fashion. As with the parties he did in Beirut, Bitar and his team worked underground at first. But, after one night when police helicopters circled over the party, he decided that the situation was too risky. Bitar had gone through party-shutdown hell once in Beirut and didn't want to go through it again in Los Angeles.
"You just lose credibility," he says. "No matter how good you are as a promoter and as a DJ, people will be like, 'We paid money and it got shut down.'"
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Still, he tries to keep an underground feel at Minimal Effort parties. For him, it's not about booking the biggest marquee draws, but getting together a large group of highly respected DJs from different scenes. "We try to bring all the elements together," he says, "all the scenes together." It's a lot of work, but Minimal Effort is pulling it off.
"It's a lot of effort, but we call it Minimal Effort because it's simple," says Bitar. "It's a simple formula: good sound system, good DJs, good crowd. That's pretty much it."