by: Justin Huang
There is a “scene” in every city, and the best way I can define the L.A. scene is this: Imagine every bad L.A. stereotype packed onto a cramped dancefloor of yet another club with a cover, meaning you had to pay at door to have the privilege to pay more once inside. Standing in a corner booth, maybe wearing hipster sunglasses despite being indoors at night, a “DJ” pushes LED-lit buttons like the glorified iTunes playlist he is. The clubbers all do varying forms of the I-have-a-drink dance, in which you perilously balance your drink (mostly ice) in one hand above your head while gyrating the rest of your body. In the outdoor area, which is the only place quiet enough to have decent conversation, everyone chooses instead to smoke and silently judge each other from behind said clouds of smoke. At some point a fist fight might break out, probably between brown men in flashy clothing over at their VIP table, and it will have been the only honest exchange of the night.
There shouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with the L.A. scene. What’s wrong with people who just want to get fucked up and dance? But the main issue I have with the scene is that it is fundamentally about being “better” than other people. In the end, it is essentially about putting an obsessive amount of time, money, and energy into showcasing yourself for the approval of coked-out strangers. Hot chicks fucking ugly promoters for drugs and a photo op? It’s disgusting.
Just to try it out, I attempted for a while to fit into the L.A. scene, and not only did I fail miserably (gladly, too, it isn’t in my nature to care about what randos think of me, and trying to care was really exhausting), I lost good friends to the scene. I know that may come off as a bit dramatic, like the scene is the fucking Bermuda Triangle, but consider this: it’s a land of bright lights and drugs and sexy hookups. I guess I just wasn’t exciting or hip enough, because one by one, people in my life began to ditch me for the seven-day weekend. When I put in the effort to join them at their clubs and parties, I realized that they were embarrassed to be seen with me. I in turn realized that in order to succumb to a subculture of mass conformity, you need to have very little confidence in your own identity, and that made it easier to let them go.
Despite my wounded ego, I still can’t blame them. To fit in, to belong, is one of the easiest ways to feel safe in a city like L.A.
I think the cure for the common scene – or more correctly, a compromise – would be the West Hollywood mentality. WeHo is definitely a scene, but it isn’t the L.A. scene. In fact, I would say that true disciples of the L.A. scene wouldn’t be caught dead in WeHo. There isn’t a monopoly on the way to dress (there are too many different types of gays with their own styles, from dirty tanks to club kid to guido couture), the crowd is too varied and transient for any popular clique to be carved out (and if those do exist, it is only in their own minds), DJ worship is nonexistent (unless, of course, he’s hot), and the #1 goal is not to impress but to undress. Basically, it is very hard to stand out in WeHo, and that is the L.A. scene mindset: to be seen. The end result for both is still the same, but the WeHo path to getting there is much more diverse and a lot less pretentious.
But transcending the L.A. scene and the WeHo meat market, beyond the turntables and the cash bars, there has existed a whole other scene, a scene that is beginning to fade. The musicians of this scene are actually artists of their craft, and the setting will likely be a dive bar with very little chance to be seen. But there’s something to be said about chugging Tecate and jamming to a good local L.A. band. A mosh pit is more rejuvenating than any bullshit yoga course, and being the youngest people in a bar can actually be quite amusing. Sure, it may not have the seductive smoke and mirrors of a happening club where you can party with judgmental bitches, but in a city that sparkles like diamonds but feels like plastic, it might just give you a genuine moment. When’s the last time you had one of those?
To get you started, check out my personal favorite local band, politically charged Latin punk rockers The Anchor Babies, based in the very un-scene South Central.