Is the music world ready to canonize one of Southern California's few indigenous rock sounds--surf music--as an art form? That seemed to be the premise Thursday night as Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions presented a night of old wave (literally) instrumental bands as part of the New Music L.A. Festival.
There's actually a lot of justification for re-examining surf music as something more than a pop fad. The best surf bands often included hypnotic Eastern/Oriental modalities and a genuine sense of space and atmosphere. This music formed stylistic parameters based on specific sounds (courtesy of Fender amps with lots of reverb) and scales.
But no matter how carefully one analyzes the stuff, the LACE showcase (complete with retro-surf art by CalArts students, and Hal Jepsen surf films projected on the wall behind the bands) proved that when all is said and done, surf music is still just plain old fun dance-party music.
Headliners Davie Allan & the Arrows, best known in the '60s for their contributions to teen-age motorcycle exploitation films, were the only group with a legitimate link to the first generation of surf bands. Allan's "grungy," fuzz-laden guitar roared like a dirt bike Thursday over a list of oldies and reworked originals.