Traffic jams, blaring music, food-truck fleets, street vendors, mime-ish performers, booze, little kids out way too late, random weirdos and, last but not least, art. There's a lot to absorb at the Downtown Artwalk. Last week was our first proper attempt at doing it right (as opposed to catching a couple exhibits as they wound down after coming out of a bar). While we enjoyed it and will be back, we can see why the monthly L.A. gathering in its current incarnation has come to acquire both fans and foes, the latter saying it's become more like Venice Boardwalk than the organic hub of expression it was when it began. (There was one area, in a parking lot on Main Street, that was like a swap meet.)
There's also been some controversy behind the scenes of the second-Thursday-of-the-month event. When an official planning board was formed last summer, contention soon developed about its direction. After leaving posts as head director and curator of the nonprofit Artwalk organization, Kim Cooper and hubby Richard Schave (best known for their Esotouric Bus Tours, the most recent one of which traced the haunts and inspirations of Tom Waits) charged interference in the workings of the event by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council's president, and even filed grievances. The pair's problems with city officials, however, haven't seemed to deter them from doing cool things during Artwalk. Last Thursday, the couple helmed the official city of Los Angeles sign ceremony designating as John Fante Square the intersection of 5th Street and Grand Avenue, a frequent haunt of the famed novelist (and near the library where Charles Bukowski was said to have discovered Fante's classic, Ask the Dust).
Alas, Nightranger missed the Fante affair, as we already had a full Artwalk agenda planned. And we soon learned that like Coachella (which we'll be covering here next week), one rarely gets through everything one wants there, even with a map in hand. Did make the art opening of club promoter Cody Bayne at Skin.Graft's flagship store on 4th Street, however. Bayne, of raging boy bashes such as Dance Bitch at Fubar, showed his vibrant, process-oriented abstracts amid Graft's menagerie of Mad Max–ish merch. Supportive pals included Miss Barbie Q, Rolling Blackout's Gabe Ayala and, not surprisingly, hordes of hot gay boys with tattoos and strappy gear. We hear plenty of these also packed Bayne's new party, Duke, which sees Mr. Black's Luke Nero joining forces with Bayne and bringing in Black's NYC DJ Aaron Elvis, also at Fu. Check it out every Saturday, and look for another flamboyant mess from Bayne and Mario Diaz (Big Fat Dick, Full Frontal), called Fuzzy — "an adorable fucking dance party" — at the Three Clubs in May.COOL CHICKS
An event put on by De Lab (Designers Working East of La Brea) also caught our attention during the Artwalk, not only for its architectural wares but for its music. Held inside the Ball-Nogues Studio on Spring Street, this one offered sonic explorations from Cooling System, a melding of the minds and face-melting music skills of two long-respected L.A. lasses, Azalia Snail and Sylvia Juncosa. Snail's unique, lo-fi grooves won her an L.A. Weekly Music Award back in 2000 (in the "No Genre" category), and Thursday, her sound was as eclectic and intriguing as ever. Nice to see the Snail trail continuing 10 years later, especially with the psychedelic amplification of Juncosa, who was one of L.A.'s reigning female riffsters, garnering press in Spin and on the cover of Flipside back in the day. After a long hiatus, she's back and even featured in the revived version of the seminal punk zine Flipside 2010 (chock-full of pics and words about mostly older punks), downloadable for free, DIY style, at box.net/shared/he86j5ykxh.
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Walking into some unknown studio and seeing high-caliber musicians experimenting amid crazy sculptures and lively, often inebriated crowds may be what Artwalk is all about — and why some have dubbed it "Arty-Gras." It might be chaotic but even with the obvious attempts to cash in, it's inspiring, especially in a community sense. This is the flourishing downtown that so many have been waiting for, full of creative people and ideas, crowded cafés and bustling bars. Cedd Moses of Broadway Bar/7 Grand/Golden Gopher fame even took the opportunity to open his new one, Cana, that night, though like the others, it had a long line we had little patience for.
We ended our Artwalk adventure several blocks out, at a warehouse where one of our favorite local artists, Plastic God, held a late party and exhibit. Dubbed a "21st-century Warhol," P.G., aka Doug Murphy, is best known for his signature cartoony portraiture of pop icons on white-canvas cubes. Though they're done on computer, the details in his clean and colorful works always capture the essence of his famous subjects, and he's been commissioned by many of those portrayed. There were plenty on display last week, and Murphy seems to be branching out with new, large-scale paintings as well. Still, his smaller, more recognizable "God Heads" and "God Bods" will probably always pay the rent. Noncelebs like you and me can commission portraits, too. Check out his Web site, plasticgod.com, for info.
PUT A RING ON IT
We conclude a very artsy week with an appropriately artistic group: We Are the World. We've watched the beat and dance–driven quartet — featuring costumes and choreography from Sir Heffington — evolve over the years at clubs and underground parties (notably Heffington and WATW member Nina McNeely's Fingered night downtown), and we have to say they've definitely gone in an even darker direction, both on their hypnotic debut release, Clay Stones (which, surprisingly, stands on its own without the trippy visuals), and onstage. At the third show of their monthlong Echo residency, the mood was ominous and eerie, the group's black-lace shrouds and wide-brimmed hats (and, later, wrestler-ish masks and white papal gear) evoking a sinister, cinematic ritual of some sort. Still, the bewitching display had its fun(ky) moments too. Could've sworn we saw some "Single Ladies" Beyoncé moves in the mix, and the guy-linered guys behind us were definitely liking it. Hef taught the "Thriller" dance routine inside clubs back in the day, after all. If you're reading this on Thursday, April 15, check out the final WATW residency night with Fingered dancers and DJs Nguzunguzu and Total Freedom (Wildness).