Glitzy, large-scale festivals are a big opportunity for DJs to gain exposure to thousands of people. Yet despite massive production and considerable numbers, nothing quite compares to the intensity of a small, bare-bones venue. A place where the dedicated crowd is versed in the music, forcing the DJ to not only come correct in their selection but also to be technically on point. A place where from their position behind the decks, the DJ can feel the heat and sweat of the crowd.
This is the environment Respect has provided week in and week out, without fail, since March 2, 1999. The drum & bass weekly is not Los Angeles' first party specific to that genre. It's not the biggest. And it's not always about the marquee names in the game decorating its flyers—although it has had its fair share. But Respect is the most consistent, the most determined, and the most committed drum & bass party, arguably in North America.
Los Angeles drum & bass crew Junglist Platoon is the force behind Respect. The core DJ/producers, Machete, Scooba, Clutch and NoFace, have known one another as far back as middle school, reconnecting as frequenters of Los Angeles' underground raves in the early '90s. The Platoon heralded the 1997 new year in the U.K., when drum & bass was verging on its peak. This trip was expressly to experience the music that was capturing their imagination in its birthplace. Back home, Science was holding down the scene on Sundays and the Viper Room was getting in on the action with its Tuesday night, Atmosphere.
"We needed a residency," says Machete, the default figurehead for both Junglist Platoon and Respect, as well as the founder of the newly minted Respect Artist Agency, a boutique operation focused on drum & bass, at least for now. "An opportunity came up to get into Boardner's on Tuesdays. Somewhere we could play regularly, showcase the music and start booking nights. I didn't know what I was doing but I took the booking over and figured things out from there."
From the start, Respect has maintained its rotating residency for its core DJs, pulling in newer members of the crew and other local talent when the schedule allows. Atmosphere may have had stacked lineups that included Grooverider, Fabio, DJ Rap and Kenny Ken all in one night, but the proper "heads" were at Respect. The night moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays, and from Boardner's to many other venues. The crowd moved with the party from Boardner's to Martini Lounge (later the Larchmont and, even later, the Bee) to Jimmy's Lounge to the Echo to the Dragonfly to the Study and, now, Station 1640.
For its momentous 20-year anniversary event, Respect takes the party to DTLA, at 1720, bringing with it the revered Ed Rush and Optical as headliners, two of the U.K.'s true pioneers and trailblazers of drum & bass, with the added bonus of the beloved TC, plus Machete going back-to-back with Los Angeles' original junglist, R.A.W.
"My first gig in L.A. was playing to 50 people in a small bar in the mid-'90s," says Optical, whose label, Virus Recordings, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. "Half of them asked for their money back. Since then, drum & bass in L.A. has grown into a really diverse and exciting club scene, with Respect as one of the pioneers and champions of the music. Seeing how our music went from being totally unknown to the incredible love and support we have in L.A. is mind-blowing."
Says R.A.W., "I've watched Respect grow from day one. They've had so many venue changes, and when dubstep popped up, they watched most of their crowd thin out. But they stuck with it, keeping the same vibe and energy week after week. Now people go to Respect like it is church.
"On a countrywide level, no other city or venue or weekly or monthly comes close," he adds. "I've played them all. The people of L.A. are what makes the difference at Respect. They truly love drum & bass. It's not a gimmick or the cool thing to do for the time being. You can see it and feel it when you're there."
This is particularly impressive at this point in time, when 20 years down the line, drum & bass has the least return on investment, strictly financially speaking, in North America. Respect is not operating with the same budget as some of the other local promoters but its relationships are solid. In January, Respect joined up with Bassrush for a triple-headlining event at the Exchange with Wilkinson, Calyx & TeeBee and Loadstar with support from Bassrush resident (and L.A. Weekly cover star) Soothslayer back-to-back with Respect resident Scooba. You'll find the Junglist Platoon guys supporting all the drum & bass parties around town — Xcellerated, Killahurtz, Timeless — night after night.
"It's better for the music," Machete says of the proliferation of drum & bass parties in L.A. "From a business standpoint, there was a point where it started to feel like everyone was trying to do shows and it would dilute the market as far as people wanting to go nuts on a Thursday and Friday and Saturday. L.A. has proved many times that it's a big enough market to sustain that. Whatever gets people out and hearing the music is good.
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"Our crew, we've been doing this a long time," he continues. "It definitely has its challenges, but I still feel there is a need. Even though there are a lot of drum & bass options, without Respect, there would be a gap."
"Respect is a place people can trust to provide proper sound, venue, vibes," R.A.W. says. "I have recently tried to throw jungle events. It's much harder than you think to get people to get dressed, drive miles and pay. Respect is one of the final strongholds where people can enjoy drum & bass properly."
"My favorite gigs are in clubs where you are right up close with everyone," Optical says. "I'm still a total raver — even at my age. I love to jump around and hopefully get everyone to join in. That is the real point of a good night: to leave all your worries at the door for a few hours and let it all out."
The Respect 20th anniversary featuring Ed Rush and Optical takes place at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 1, at 1720. More info at 1720.la.