When Sarah Toon moved to L.A. in 1994, she knew only one person and “had no concept of what the city was about.”
“My only draw to the city was that I was obsessed with the movie Repo Man when I was a kid. I thought it would be like that,” she says. “I was just hoping I could land in this postapocalyptic sort of empty, weird city. And at the time it was. Now, not so much.”
But Toon, a DJ (often as BLKRAINBW) and party promoter, has kept the dark-and-dirty vibe of a pre-gentrification L.A. club land alive with Killing Spree. Her party, held the second Friday of each month at Medusa Lounge, is co-promoted by fellow Spree-er Zane Landreth.
Killing Spree has pushed L.A.'s love of eerie electronic music into a new direction of late by becoming the main local purveyor of the superhyped “witch house” genre. The lo-fi sound boasts the harshness of industrial music but often uses beats similar to what one might hear in house or hip-hop (especially the low-BPM varieties of the “chopped and screwed” era). It's all too appropriate for small, dark L.A. clubs.
But Killing Spree isn't hopping on a trend. Since its inception, the club has championed bands who picked up where '80s goth and industrial and '90s darkwave ended; think brooding guitars and minimal electronic sounds with experimental tendencies. Toon was instrumental in events like 2009's Wierd Festival. Witch house is simply the next step.
“I think it's just a logical progression,” Toon says of the new scene. “It's borrowing from all these other elements that we all grew up with.”
For Toon, those bands were Current 93, Big Black and the industrial groups associated with Wax Trax Records. The music she first heard growing up in northern Washington stuck with her long after she moved to L.A. Now those sounds manifest in bands like Salem and Gatekeeper.
The popularity of witch house coincided with genre originator Robert Disaro's 2010 arrival in L.A. Toon was one of the music fans who bought music from his record label, Disaro. After he relocated from Houston, Toon and Landreth brought Disaro into the fold, temporarily making Killing Spree an explosive trio.
“He came to town and brought more energy and a lot of new music, which was what I had wanted,” Toon says.
Now that the movement he helped spawn has grown in popularity, the brilliantly chaotic Disaro feels he's “kind of over it.” But Toon, unfazed, rolls with the changes.
“Los Angeles is always a little wrapped up in nostalgia,” she says. “Clubs here, they tend to stick to certain formulas and they're afraid to incorporate newer stuff or different sounds.”
Formula isn't what she has in mind for Killing Spree. The partners have brought in new DJs, like WhITCH from San Francisco's 120 Minutes; also, following the success of a recent performance by cult fave White Ring, they're adding more live performances.
“I want it to evolve,” Toon says of the club. “I don't want to get stuck in that place.”