View more photos in Lina Lecaro's slideshow, "Nightranger: Swimming with Sharks, Electro Wars, Sunset Strip Music Fest."
Whether you're 20, 40 or 60 years old, grew up in L.A. or hopped right off the bus (a là Axl Rose in "Welcome to the Jungle"), if you're a music fan, the Sunset Strip's legacy and eminence as a rock & roll nucleus is and has been an undeniable draw. It may have lost some luster over the years, but in the last few it has come to recapture the old magic, albeit in a new way — sidewalk flier deluges have been replaced by "tweet crawls," and, thanks in part to more upscale crowds and destinations, patrons generally seem more concerned with parking than with cruising.
The 3rd Annual Sunset Strip Music Fest, which took over the Strip this past weekend (with street closures and stages on Saturday), served to punctuate the "Strip is back" message while honoring its past, something we never really felt it pulled off completely in the two years past. Showcasing a band as big as Smashing Pumpkins obviously got more bodies out, and other acts who played this year (hip-hoppers Common, Kid Kudi and Travie McCoy, glamsters Semi-Precious Weapons and Steel Panther) attracted a mixed crowd. Tally of baggy vs. skinny jeans saw skinny win by a few muffin tops.
Slash's set was the event's centerpiece offering, and not only because of the obvious significance (Guns N' Roses exploded on these very streets, and its famed guitarist practically grew up at the Roxy and the Rainbow). Being the go-to guy for guest riff stints, benefit jams and video games has paid off, and somewhere down the line, the top-hatted character became an icon. The new material he showcased Saturday with singer Myles Kennedy had some nice bluesy moments, but unfortunately it was pretty dated-sounding. Luckily, Kennedy more than held his own on GNR's material, as did Fergie, who joined the band near the middle of the set on "Paradise City" and Heart's "Barracuda." Her vocals are always sizzling and robust, but she might have been too loose with her lady lumps Saturday, doing stripper moves, cartwheels — yes, cartwheels — and knee-high ax fellatio. To top it off, Fergie was wearing a silly studded bustier and up-the-ass jean shorts combo (aka, your standard "rock chick" Halloween costume).
While street performances have been SSMF's big draw the past three years, the in-club sets have offered an important component of the event as well. We felt the Cat Club best captured the much-celebrated debauchery and grit of the Strip, not with big banner bands but with local, longtime L.A. favorites, especially on Saturday: Rattlesnake Shake, The Binges, No Thanks, Casper and The Bad Spirits and The Royal Highness.
Food-truck fleets, a beer garden, Shamrock Tattoo offering ink specials (not to mention a DJ and a live acoustic set by Fear's Lee Ving!) and some pretty cool merch added to the rockin' flurry. Our fave: the T-shirt line Dead Clubs, brandishing the logos of famed — now long-gone — hot spots on and around the Strip: Gazzarri's, the Starwood and the Coconut Teazer (where we were a door girl for a few years!). With celebrations like SSMF keeping the area vital and fresh, here's hoping the street's current club landmarks never get their postmortem tees.
JEDI MIND FLICK
The Strip may be alive and well, but after the premiere that we attended at the Vista Theater last Wednesday, we can't say the same for the term electro. N.Y. filmmaker Stephen Alex Vasquez's The Electro Wars explores the current electro scene, via a video-game-graphics-packed procession of interviews and timelines. Questions about where this musical style came from, where it's going and how it has affected mainstream music — and more specifically hip-hop — are posed to the likes of A-Trak, Diplo, DJ Premier, Dave-1 (Chromeo), Moby, Crookers, Spank Rock, Pitbull and LMFAO (comedic relief?), Armand Van Helden, Steve Aoki, Franki Chan, Q-Bert, Laidback Luke and the Holy Grail of the nu-electronic sensations, at least as presented in the movie: Justice.
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Wars feels like a My Date With Drew–style Justice stalker caper at times, but it mostly attempts to chronicle electronic dance music in a historical way, hitting some important points but ultimately failing. Chicago, Detroit and New York DJs and clubs get their props, but the U.K. dance-music scene is barely mentioned, and L.A.'s early underground-warehouse rave period (flier culture, map points, etc.) not at all. The partnership (and ultimate breakup) of promoter/DJs Franki Chan (IHeartComix) and Steve Aoki (Dim Mak) is cited as the catalyst for the nu-electro resurgence of the past five years in California and eventually the United States itself, and both DJs are interviewed, but the doc never shows us any footage of these important clubs and events. In fact, nearly everything is set in New York.
We remember the moment when electronic dance music got hip again, when fans went from cologne-wearing weekend warriors and jiggy heads at the "superclubs," to a younger, punkier-seeming hip-kid crowd, with spiffy haircuts on Cahuenga and beyond. We weren't the only ones who felt The Electro Wars actually should have shown the "Cahuenga Wars," which changed everything. Tellingly, the post-screening after-party at El Cid, hosted by Chan, conjured more excitement than the film itself.
THE RIGHT STUFF
With summer behind us, the festival and pool-party offerings are dwindling fast. Nightranger figured it was time to go Swimming With Sharks (Saturday before SSMF) on the Standard Downtown's rooftop, and the bathing booties there seemed to have a lot of summer bite left, thanks to the DJ battle lineup (Camo UFOs and Emu vs. Gumshoe and Turbotito) and MFG's promotion magic. MFG (aka promoter Matt Goldman) sure had a big week, too. He joined forces with SummerTramp at Tony's Bar for its finale Sunday and just celebrated the four-year anniversary of Dance Right at La Cita. Goldman also has a new live one, School Night, at Bardot (Tears for Fears' Curt Smith and Angela McCluskey's return engagement is on Sept. 20) and a calendar of events that includes FYFest events this weekend and something with HARD Fest in October. Check mfgproductions.com for the very full fall schedule.