In Search of LA's Musical Corterie
Words by Angelika May
Photography by Angelika May
Los Angeles, the seraphic city of immaculate idols has always run with an undercurrent of hedonism, sin and unconventional ideologies. Mother to The Doors, The Byrds, Black Flag, Elliot Smith and a plethora of artists from the canons of rock, punk, rap and hip-hop. Here they were not merely nurtured; they were conceived, sculpted, and brought forth amid the dusty freeways.
These bands forged sonic landscapes that defined America, strapped it in a leather jacket and made it inherently ‘cool’. The eerie guitar lines, and folk influences all posed as a mimetic representation of the vastness of America’s geographical landscapes, lyricism became a weapon of dissent against the oppressive American government. These poignant years in American music history formed subcultures, that to this day continue to exert an enduring influence on contemporary fashion and musical tastes.
"The thing with LA is that it’s really big, but also really small, but that’s what makes it so cool, you can find anything." - Good Dog Nigel
Los Angeles is also home to some of the largest recording studios in the world, including Capitol and A&M, that loom over the city as a perpetual beacon to budding musicians on their 01 visas. Unfortunately, I found LA to be quite lacking lustre in all senses of maintaining authenticity and instead found myself in a vapid vortex, with a small pocket of musicians and areas that have the potential to curate a scene as vibrant as our own in London.
In an era dominated by TikTok stardom, which holds California in a vice grip, the tenacity to reject this seems almost impossible. I missed the accessibility of our London music scene, which is so diverse and rich in its unique catalogue of musicians, and enough post-punk to make you violently ill on the utterance of one more deadpan lyric. Whilst the quality of the music is generally outstanding (LA seeks to produce the upper crust and nothing less), it is often overshadowed by aesthetic demands and an audience seemingly detached, experiencing gigs through a meta-approved lens of screens.
I acknowledge that my experience in LA may not have fully tapped into its underground scene or discovered all its prolific venues. Nevertheless, I grappled with the city’s intrinsic inaccessibility, particularly in regard to its transportation (or lack thereof). The people I met in LA drove (or usually stuck to their own areas), you have to drive, and public transport is underfunded, dangerous, inadequate and infrequent. Walking is impossible, and for someone who is used to gig hopping, being confined to a single venue, often the only one for miles felt, to say the least, unusual.
I stumbled upon a grassroots scene that bore a striking resemblance to our vibrant London counterpart. A quaint bar known as “Club Tee Gee”, nestled in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles, whose line up included Andrew H. Smith, (Los Angeles answer to Pink Eye Club), Good Dog Nigel and Essential Listening, where 60s soft rock akin to The Velvet Underground was most prevalent. I managed to catch a quick-fire interview with Good Dog Nigel and Essential Forever regarding their opinion of the Los Angeles gig scene;
Trending subcultures in LA?
Good Dog Nigel There are a bunch of different pockets of music in LA right now, for example; there are these kids that live in Topenga that are really 70’s country. There are some soft rockers, and power pop kids who are like, really glammed out and then you have your generic indie crowd. There are probably loads of scenes that I don’t know about, the thing with LA is that it’s really big, but also really small, but that’s what makes it so cool, you can find anything.
Essential Forever Any old guy can come out here and find a spot, no matter what they’re into.
GDN Zebulon is such a classic spot that it has almost become a meme, but everyone still goes there. Club Tee Gee’s is definitely hot too, but it’s my first time playing here…actually it’s my first time playing in LA.
EF The Lodge Room is also great, my favourite band I’ve seen play there would be Mega Bog.
What is the best act you've seen at the Zebulon?
EF Johnny Cosmo.
GDN Jackson Macintosh.
Lesser known US artists to report back to the UK?
GDN Essential Forever.
EF Good Dog Nigel.
EF Andrew H. Smith.
GDN For sure.
EF The uni boys.
GDN For sure.
GDN Kate Bollinger.
EF The one and only.
Uptown vs. Downtown?
EF There isn't much of a scene Downtown, sometimes we will go to a random event down there but it’s all kind of in the East Side, like Los Feliz.
GDN Ace Hotel.
During my flying visit, I managed to check out Zebulon for the debut of Ciné Club, run by Films Du Los Angeles. Each last Sunday of the month starting in January 2024, they will be screening art house films at Zebulon. Film Du Los Angeles proposed a fantastic opportunity for young filmmakers, where you are welcome to submit your short films to be shown as a precursor to their features.
My quest for Jazz led me to The Sun Rose, a unique Jazz venue renowned for its penchant for surprise guest appearances. In the past, luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, Nicole Scherzinger and Jeff Goldblum have graced its stage. My own evening was enriched by The Rocha Collective which left me feeling completely spellbound.
Finally, I decided to immerse myself in American culture by attending a Western bar. I headed down to Desert 5 Spot, a trending bar that offers glorious Western decor alongside line dancing (thank you, Eric) and live music to get you rootin' n’ tootin’. On that particular night, we were entertained by The Western States, who propelled the room into a raucous hit of country rock as every mother’s son and mother’s daughter spun, weaved and scooted around the room.
Los Angeles, if anything, provided me with a deep sense of pride and gratitude for the diverse and accessible scene on my doorstep. Whilst there is an undeniable allure to La-La Land, a plethora of elite musicians and a manufactured reproduction of any subculture, (with an insane supply and demand infrastructure) it means anything less than polished is hard to come by. What LA lacked, was the willingness to experiment authentically, create happy accidents and produce something that won’t castrate itself to adhere to social media.