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Spinning the Night Away

Take it from touring DJs: L.A. is the best city for electronic music.


Five Groundbreaking Electronic Albums

The All-U.S./All-World DJ Lineup

The Top DJs in L.A.

Five Clubs in Five Nights

The party at Spundae was clocking in somewhere between full tilt and overdrive as roughly 2,000 dancers—hands waving, limbs gyrating—packed L.A.'s biggest "superclub," which gets underway at Hollywood's Circus Disco every Saturday night. For the beautiful people there, the attraction was Chris Fortier, a DJ from Orlando, Fla., making a rare L.A. appearance. It's a racially diverse crowd, mostly in their 20s but ranging into the 50s, and those who've made it inside are grooving under green laser lights, a giant disco ball and the shadows of the club's go-go dancers.

Fortier's particular sound--one of several that exist under the electronic music umbrella--weaves together the futuristic, synthesizer-heavy hooks of the genre known as trance with world-music beats and warm grooves. Though he doesn't get behind the decks--a high-tech combination of two turntables and mixing equipment--until 1:30 a.m., the room is still jumping. A new wave of dancers comes through the door as word of the headliner's arrival makes it to the patio, where there's everything from food, drink and free fruit to massages. Last call at the bar may be at 2 a.m., but the party will be going until 4, and even later for those who hit the after-hours spots.

But this is about more than one night, one DJ and 2,000 fans. Los Angeles has emerged as the premier site for electronic dance music with DJs from around the world making tracks here to play. Fueling the trend are the local superclubs, which surfaced as an evolutionary tributary of the rave scene. Put simply, as ravers grew older, they still wanted the music, but not always in a field with 30,000 other fans. Promoters here brought the scene indoors, and according to many of the top DJs there is no other city in the world offering as many venues showcasing the genre's wide range of sounds and artists--from electronica's elite to raw unknowns.

"People often imagine New York, London or Ibiza are the clubbing capitals of the world," says Los Angeles-based trance DJ Christopher Lawrence, who has played clubs around the world. "Los Angeles blows the rest of them away, just by the sheer number of people that live here and go out, along with the energy in this city and the quality of the events."

Fortier says later he's here now because "L.A. is exciting and I love playing here. The crowds are receptive and really ready for the party."

That's a statement the close-knit international dance world would have once laughed at. A thriving scene required a booming club culture, something L.A., with its traditional shutdown at 2 in the morning, simply couldn't provide. But no one's laughing now.

What turned things around? You can start with a boom of home-grown DJ and performing talent and the lure of Hollywood for the many DJs and producers who are discovering the big payouts in soundtrack and score work. There's a club culture that offers dance music seven nights a week and enthusiastic, free-spending crowds, all of it monitored and supported by such radio shows as "Metropolis" and "Chocolate City" on KCRW-FM (89.9).

There are DJ-friendly vinyl record shops including D.M.C., Wax and Beat Nonstop, locally based national electronic magazines such as Lotus and Urb, and high-profile events, from the annual Coachella Festival to the New Year's Eve 2001 parties on Hollywood Boulevard and at the Coliseum.

"L.A. has not held such a prominent spot in the music world since the '80s hair band days," says William Bensussen, a lawyer and frequent club-goer. "It's good to establish our city's place in the 'scene.' It's really a great time musically for this city."

It all adds up: In the dance world, L.A. is breaking new ground on a global scale.

Though the explosion of the club scene is a relatively new phenomenon, L.A. as a dance music mecca is not. In the late '80s and early '90s, the city's warehouse movement was burgeoning. Underground--sometimes illegal--raves drew hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly teenage and college-age fans. The scene unfolded downtown and in Orange County warehouses, hotels and office buildings, where fans could check out up-and-coming DJs spinning the newest music from overseas and such U.S. electronic hotspots as Chicago and Detroit.

Steve Levy, president of the Los Angeles-based record label Moonshine Music, was one of the early leaders of that scene.

"Back then, when we were doing Truth at the Park Plaza, we had a couple of thousand people showing up every Saturday," says Levy, whose label helped break acts like Lawrence and DJ Dan. "It was the beginning for the whole country; it was happening in L.A. and New York and that's it."

Whereas New York, thanks in large part to the legendary nightclub Twilo, went on to become the club capital of the U.S., L.A.'s weather and its ability to draw fans from Las Vegas, Arizona, San Francisco and beyond made the city the festival center.

Essentially legal raves that were more organized and better promoted, such events as Nocturnal Wonderland, Electric Daisy Carnival and eventually Coachella, attracted tens of thousands of fans to Southern California.

The lure of playing before 30,000 people was something the top international DJs, including England's Paul Oakenfold and Germany's Paul Van Dyk, could not ignore. Only such major European festivals as Creamfields were able to offer similar numbers.

One person who watched the growing numbers coming to festivals was Dave Dean, a transplanted electronic music fan and promoter from San Francisco. He believed that if festivals could draw those numbers, there was no reason why fans wouldn't support a permanent residence for top-name DJs.

When Dean opened Giant in January 2000, L.A. had its first superclub, a venue that could accommodate thousands of dance music devotees. And the rest of the world began to take notice. British DJ Sasha, who with John Digweed forms the most successful DJ duo in the world, Sasha & Digweed, credits Giant with helping the L.A. scene take shape.

"In the last two or three years, a lot of promoters have started to move in L.A. and are doing great things. It all started to come together with Giant opening," Sasha says.

"There has always been a very strong rave and large-event scene in L.A. It was just a matter of getting it into a club environment," says Dean, who was primarily responsible for putting together the first New Year's Eve event on Hollywood Boulevard two years ago.

Though many have been caught off guard by the scene's expansion, those in the industry say the popularity of Giant (which is now putting on sporadic events until it moves into a new, permanent venue in Hollywood before the end of the year) and Spundae was a natural evolution from the warehouse parties of a decade ago.

"You've got people who started going out to raves 10 years ago who are now in their late 20s and 30s, and they don't want to drive two hours to an event," says Lawrence. "So you've got people that are just as passionate and educated about the music but want to go to an environment that they can feel a bit more comfortable in with people of a similar age."

The appeal of electronic music to listeners in their 20s and 30s is not limited to alumni of the rave scene. Thanks to mainstream media such as commercials (the popular Mitsubishi ad that features the English band Dirty Vegas) and films ("Tomb Raider" and "Blade" are just two of the several recent films that utilized electronic acts on their soundtracks), more people are discovering the music than ever before.

There are downsides--with popularity come poseurs, and many festivals are starting to become places to be seen, as opposed to the places to dance and hear music. And there is still the widespread perception that dance music is synonymous with Ecstasy. While that designer drug is still a part of the club and rave scene, it's not nearly as prevalent as some mainstream media outlets would lead one to believe. There are usually no more people on "X" at a rave or club than there are fans on pot at rock concerts.

Then there's the old law of supply and demand. Ticket prices, which have been well below those of rock concerts, are starting to rise. Upcoming Mayan Theatre shows by DJ Shadow on Wednesday ($27.50) and Oakenfold on June 17 ($32 and $35) are in the standard range, but when Sasha & Digweed came to the Mayan in November, the cost was a then unheard-of $53 a ticket.

While there has been nothing as dramatic as the electronic revolution predicted in the late '90s when the Prodigy was supposed to become the next Nirvana, the growing popularity is having an effect throughout the Southland. Dancers no longer need to go to Hollywood on a Saturday night to get their groove on.

Electronic music can be found on Thursday nights in Santa Monica at Bossanova, Saturdays in Echo Park at the Echo (for more down-tempo, or slower, dance music), and Mondays at Las Palmas Supper Club, site of the Monday Night Social, which just celebrated its sixth anniversary. Even venerable L.A. institutions such as Yamashiro restaurant, primarily known for its sushi, have started dance nights.

"It's encouraging to see other clubs open their doors to it," says Gene La Pietra, the proprietor of Circus.

Electronic music may still be the underground to many, but its growing acceptance is leaving room for the genre to sprout its own culture and underground.

There are, for example, clear distinctions between the various styles under the electronic umbrella. While trance and house, popularized by the likes of Oakenfold and Derrick Carter, respectively, are the big draws in the superclubs, the more cerebral electronic music played by Aphex Twin, Autechre et al is finding a place as the counterculture scene.

In that sense, electronic music is no different from rock, which went on to spawn punk, heavy metal, grunge and other offshoots. Dave Sanford sees that trend only becoming stronger over time. Sanford's Spectre Entertainment produces some of the alternative nights held at smaller clubs or unusual venues featuring experimental live acts and DJs."The thing that's really been growing in L.A. is the more fringe-oriented element," Sanford says. "As Giant and Spundae become more the mainstream thing...to me the alternative thing to do on a Saturday night is to go to the Echo or go downtown to the Central City Café."

L.A. is also enjoying a surge of home-grown talent to join an already impressive list that includes DJ Dan, Lawrence, the Crystal Method, Cirrus, Sandra Collins and more. Lawrence walks away at every local show he does with dozens of homemade CDs, from people working in their bedrooms, that he says are on par with anything being done around the world. And Levy has seen the effect of underground DJs and producers moving into L.A., spurring "a creative streak from an electronic music standpoint."

For fans, it's a simpler equation: As Gena Nason, a marketing manager who frequents the scenes, says, "It really comes down to who's playing. If it's not someone I'm interested in, I'm not going to go, unless the place has a comfortable vibe.

"A big part of the experience is being able to be close to the DJ and actually watching them get into it, to see the records they pick, watch them spin."

Though Angelenos are always eager to rush out and see imported acts, the L.A. electronic scene rivals the city's hard-rock movement of the late '80s or the punk days of X and friends in the late '70s-early '80s. And even if it's not always recognized locally, the rest of the world, including superstar DJ Van Dyk, has taken notice.

"In the whole L.A. area there have been a lot of very influential American DJs like Christopher Lawrence, Taylor, Sandra Collins, and they played a big part in the whole movement," says Van Dyk, who makes a rare L.A. club appearance at Giant on June 15.

Before last winter's big New Year's Eve shows DJ Irene was preparing for her stint on the podium on Hollywood Boulevard, where she'd be spinning records for thousands of revelers literally dancing in the street. The colorful performer was asked what it meant to be sharing a stage in L.A. with such international stars as Oakenfold and Deep Dish.

"It means recognition," she said. "That these acts are coming to my hometown on the biggest night of the year means respect, recognition."

* * *

Steve Baltin is a Los Angeles-based freelancer covering the electronic music scene and frequent Calendar contributor.

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Originally posted by weyes

i do love spundae, myself. best vibe of any club i know.

but seriously, vic, you know you just wanna come out here 'cause it's where i am :love: !

damn, nothing escapes weyes :grin2:

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