The name Jefferson Tangradi is one often dropped among L.A.’s electronic music scene in crowd. Tangradi is not, however, a DJ, manager, promoter or drug dealer — he’s the scene’s de facto hairstylist.
“I used to go out every night,” Tangradi says, “and it was like, ‘Let me cut your hair,’ so all the DJs started coming to me.” Clients have included Kaskade, MK, Duke Dumont, Diplo and Skrillex.
Tangradi, 34, is a co-founder of the Well, a hybrid salon, clothing store and event space located on the corner of Olympic and Olive in downtown’s South Park neighborhood. In its almost four years of existence, the Well has become a destination not only for those looking to punch up the color on their ombré but a creative hub for artists of all kinds.
A close look around the Well reveals how the place transforms. A shelving unit cluttered with hair products by day becomes a bar at night. The checkout area and display counter, this afternoon populated with fragrances and iPhone cases featuring the Well’s all-seeing eye logo, turns into a DJ booth. The walkway separating the salon from the store functions as a catwalk, leading into the back warehouse where parties go down. Altogether it’s a trend factory for hair, clothing and music that also serves as an alternative to the bottle-popping club scene.
While it might all sound hipper-than-thou, the vibe in the store is fundamentally inviting. The women behind the sales counter (hair colors: light green and lavender) smile when I walk in. Steely Dan’s “Peg” plays through the speakers. A stylist in a crushed velvet mini-dress (“I made it myself!”) hugs me when we meet and when we part ways, and a shih tzu named Daphni licks my toes. Nothing here is intimidating, besides some of the price tags on the clothing.
The concept for the Well was born in 2010, when Barracuda, the Melrose-and-Fairfax salon where Tangradi worked with future Well partner Sal Morano, closed down. The guys dreamed of a raw space at which they could do hair and photos shoots and play music. More urgently, they needed a place to work.
Tangradi got a tip about an empty warehouse on 35th and Hill, near USC. He and Morano drove there and signed the lease that same afternoon. When they needed money, they threw their first party.
As the events got bigger, the warehouse became a nexus for L.A.’s dance-scene renaissance and the era-defining electro sound. The DJs were just people that Tangradi, marketing director Morano, and the Well’s third co-founder, Jeremy Yuge, who handles creative and men’s fashion, were friends with.
“All of the sudden we were getting momentum as this underground spot,” Tangradi says. “M.I.A. would be drinking at the bar while Spank Rock performed. It kind of just happened because of who we knew in L.A.
“Now look at these people,” he continues. “Jerome LOL is killing it with DJ Dodger Stadium. He used to play all of our shows for nothing. This was before Wes was Diplo and Sonny was Skrillex. Daniel T. and the Classixx guys were always there. It was a small group of people.”
In 2012, Tangradi, Morano and Yuge decided to legitimize their enterprise, teaming up with business manager Alex Weidner, getting funding for the space in which they now reside and moving to South Park in 2012, when the Well opened on Black Friday. The idea was to transfer the cutting-edge vibe created at the previous warehouse and forge a creative hive where artists could build a professional network — a figurative well for the community.
At the time, the nicest amenities in South Park were a Starbucks and a few choice taco trucks. “That used to be a parking lot; that used to be a parking lot,” Tangradi says, gesturing across the street to glass-and-steel high-rises that now touch the sky. “The idea was to be near Spring Street and Little Tokyo where things were popping off, while still being a bit on the outside of it.”
As condos have risen and restaurants, bars and coffee shops have replaced vacant lots, the Well has become a pillar of the neighborhood, and an amenity for the upwardly mobile young professionals flooding South Park, many of whom have the money for $80 T-shirts and $100 haircuts.
By contrast, parties at the Well are free and ticketless. Anyone on the Well’s mailing list can RSVP, and the space fills up fast. At a 2013 Major Lazer pop-up, hundreds of fans turned out — and ended up stealing all the merch. Lines often snake around the block, past the murals by James Haunt, Dreye & Fishe and Madsteez that decorate the exterior walls. Dirtybird, Daft Punk, Adidas, G-Shock and Red Bull have all hosted in-store events, while art magazine Juxtapoz launched its Juxtapoz Psychedelic book at the Well with a party that included a “psychedelic obstacle course” and live painting by visionary artist Alex Grey. Travis Scott, Chicano Batman and The Allah-Las have all played, and an event featuring Trash Talk found attendees doing backflips off the speakers.
“We’ve had some crazy fucking parties here,” Tangradi says.
The Well has also hosted events at Sound, the Belasco, Globe Theater and the Saguaro in Palm Springs. The lineup for the Fourth of July incarnation of the ongoing Wavey pool party featured Egyptian Lover, Peanut Butter Wolf, J. Rocc and more. The downtown space also has been used for weddings, photo shoots and fashion shows.
“Our whole idea is that we’re introducing people to what’s cool in fashion, music and everything else we’re all involved with,” Tangradi says.
But with expansion has come growing pains. The explosion of L.A.’s formerly insular electronic scene means that booking DJs often requires competing with local behemoths such as Goldenvoice, HARD and Insomniac, all of whom have deep pockets from which to pay high artist fees.
“The question has become, ‘How do we create a really cool experience without dropping loads of cash?’” Tangradi says. “Some of these low-tier DJs want $10,000 for an hour set. You can’t make that kind of money on a 200-person venue. There’s no fucking way.”
The answer seems to at least partially lie in just continuing to connect the dots between incoming trends and consumers interested in the underground. As the Well and downtown have expanded in tandem, the business has become a reliable cool filter for the community it's created and the community that has literally been built around it. And while booking DJs might be more complicated now than it was when the Well started, the salon chairs still boast some of the most exclusive lineups in town.