Running a consistent weekly is a near impossible, often thankless, and financially risky fool's errand. Most quickly fizzle or exhaust their mailing list or rinse out their welcome after a couple months, especially in a megalopolis like L.A. where there are hundreds of options on any given night.
Now, imagine running a weekly for 16 years. That's over 800 club nights of dealing with bookings, guarantees, visas, flight shares, fire marshals, venue reps and promotions.
After celebrating its 16th birthday in March, L.A.'s drum and bass Thursday night throwdown Respect has done just that. It claims to be L.A.'s longest-running weekly and one of the longest-running club nights of any sort in America, and it's a true Angeleno nightlife original.
Respect's co-founder Rob (DJ Machete) Gonzalez got into jungle years before Respect would become a thing. Drum and bass — and its earlier incarnation, jungle — is a very specific and extremely British music culture spawned in post-acid house, early rave London and southern England, which has since fractured into dozens of sub-genres (see Machete's playlist). In the early '90s, Los Angeles was simultaneously nurturing its own fertile rave scene, and many local DJs were quick to pick up on drum and bass' intricate, mind-scrambling beats, time signatures and samples. Gonzalez and a largely Latino set of DJs — Oscar Da Grouch and R.A.W., to name a few — formed the Junglist Platoon crew and set out to make parties and mixtapes. In fact, Machete's first mixtape (when mixtapes were actually made on cassette) just read “Respect.”
A few years later, Machete met future partner Justin Ford, and in 1999, they birthed Respect — originally held on a Tuesday — at Hollywood staple Boardner's. After outgrowing Boardner's and settling at the Martini Lounge (later the Larchmont, now replaced by luxury apartments) for about nine years, the party temporarily moved to Jimmy's Lounge and then finally to its current home at the Dragonfly.
Over the course of 800-plus parties, there have been plenty of cracking memories for the crew. “Back in the day,” Machete explains, “I once got a call from [drum and bass icon] Roni Size. I got a friend who called and said Roni is in town to play Jay Leno with Cypress Hill, but he wants to go out after and play a set somewhere. She thought of our night. We put the word out online, and we had like 400 people show up to this impromptu set by Roni Size.”
For years, Machete was chasing Goldie, another one of DnB's true stars. After years of badgering, Respect finally found a way to make it work. “The first time we had Goldie play for us was two years ago and it was totally epic,” Machete says with pride. “And for me it was a milestone. Goldie's Timeless album was really influential for me and the genre as a whole. And ironically, now I work for the agency that represents him.”
Goldie ended up stage diving at that show, but it wasn't the first stage dive at Respect. The first “was when DJ Swamp played for us — he's kind of a hip-hop turntabilist who ventured into DnB and jungle production. We had him perform for us one time and he did his usual routine filled with all sorts of wackiness. He was lighting vinyls on fire and closed his set by stage diving.”
It being L.A., there have been some curious celebrity sightings at the night over its tenure. “Billy Zane actually has stopped through multiple times. He came back in the day when we were in our original venue, the Martini Lounge. I think we saw him as recently as a year ago when he came through the Dragonfly. Christina Ricci came through years ago — probably randomly. You never know if these people know what they're getting into. And Amber Tamblyn has popped in.”
But it hasn't all been stage dives, flaming records, and obscure celeb sightings. There are times the grind of the weekly has taken its toll on the promoters and threatened its own existence. Sometimes the budget or attendance causes the promoters to take a financial hit. Or the opposite can happen; sometimes the party gets too big for its own good. Machete recalls, “The first time we booked Diesel Boy, and we had him and DJ Rap. We had them both play on Valentine's Day 2002 or 2003 — it was ram-jammed. That was one of the nights where the fire marshal came in and almost shut us down.”
Even recently, Machete admits, “There was definitely a time when we weren't sure where things were going. Right before we moved to our current venue at the Dragonfly, there was about a two-month hiatus. And we ended up doing two monthly shows at a separate venue before we found our new venue and we kind of hung in the balance.”
But they didn't give in or fold just yet. “I just feel like Respect is too important to let go. It's too important to our crew and myself. But I also think there would be a big hole in the music scene without Respect. We definitely keep our ears to the streets and are the closest thing to a true underground feel as you can get in L.A., I think.”
It doesn't hurt that DnB on a global level — and especially in the States — is on what Machete calls “an upswing in popularity” the last few years. This is perhaps in part due to the “people involved in the EDM explosion. These people that are popular in, say, dubstep, have DnB roots. And I feel like a lot of people are getting back to their roots.”
But Respect's continued success isn't about a niche genre getting back in the spotlight. It's more about a calling, a passion to do something whether or not it's cool — or profitable.
“DnB isn't a huge money-making endeavor, at least not for a lot of people. Sometimes we're lucky to do well on a night, be able to pay everyone and go home with some money,” Machete says. “But I think for me, I'm fully content to stand in the back and watch it all unfold.” Respect, after all, is something that is earned over time.
Respect returns to Dragonfly tonight and every Thursday. On Friday, July 31 at Avalon, they will co-present a night with Control, featuring Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Tantrum Desire, Adam F and Kronology. Tickets for Respect at Control available here; other upcoming Respect events available at respectdrumandbass.com.