It's late at night . . . it's good crowds . . . it's young people . . . it's sweaty . . . and it's dark. It's not the cleanest place, but it gives you a chance to rub up against people. People are like insects who need to rub up against each other to communicate.
--Perry Farrell, lead singer of Jane's
Addiction, describing the club Scream
For the first time in 10 years, L.A. has a vibrant alternate rock music scene worth raving about. But to find it, you've got to stay up till the wee weekend hours and delve into the underground--sometimes literally.
At 3 on any Saturday morning you'll find hundreds of young scene-conscious rock fans in downtown L.A. Some are wandering through the dank catacombs at the rear of the once-stately Embassy Hotel on Grand Avenue--the home of Scream, a cavernous after-hours rock club. Down the street, other tonier late-night scenesters are hoping they'll be picked by the doorman and admitted into the spiffier, deco-styled disco Vertigo.
On a recent Saturday night at Power Tools near MacArthur Park, a woman who would only identify herself as "Kim" said she often goes to three of these after-hours clubs a night. Dressed in a leopard-print bodysuit, she explained that the people are more down to earth at these clubs than at singles bars: "It's not a meat market. You don't feel like you're on display. You can just go around and meet people."
These aggressively eccentric early-morning hot spots--and similar clubs like White Trash au Go Go underneath Osko's on La Cienega Boulevard--are the physical and spiritual centers of L.A.'s latest rock renaissance.
Ten years after a handful of punk fans changed the face of rock music in the squalid environs of the near-legendary Masque Club in the basement of the Pussycat Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, the scene has once again gone subterranean.
Perry Farrell, whose band Jane's Addiction is the scene's first certifiable star, believes this surge of after-hours activity will also have a long-term effect on popular music and culture.
"I think L.A. holds some of the best bands in the country, but they're not getting recognition," he said. "It's just a matter of time. In the next 10 years, L.A. is going to be in its prime . . . like New York in the '40s."
The scene at Scream and its ilk isn't the first new rock scene since the Masque. In the continuing search by young rock fans for a new look, a new beat . . . a new way to define their own generation, scores of post-punk trends have blossomed and died during the last 10 years.
Punk was followed here in L.A. by a succession of colorful fads: the Gothic gloom/doom brigade, the rockabilly revival, the parka-clad, scooter-riding Mod squad. None of those fads, however, has generated quite the buzz of this season's late-night love affair.
Dr. William Roy, associate professor of sociology at UCLA, explained why this current after-hours phenomenon could be more than just the usual case of a young people seeking their own identity.
"You have (young adults) living at home much more than 10 years ago," he said. "That means, first of all, they want to stay away as much as possible and, secondly, they're not as bound to have a job. Twenty years ago, if you were 19 or 20 you were either in college or working full time and looking to have your own place to live. Now there are 21-, 22-, 23-year-olds living at home, especially in this part of the country where it's expensive to have your own place."
So then, as with the English punk explosion of the mid-'70s, this late-night surge has at least as much to do with the socioeconomic situation as with music. In fact, it's difficult to identify any predominant characteristic of the music being offered in the wee hours, though more and more acts--from such neo-punks as the Little Kings to neo-glams like Jet Boy--are incorporating heavy-metal elements into their sound.
What is constant from night to night and club to club is fashion. Think basic black: the Hollywood trash look that mixes the old gloom/doom trimmings with the leather and teased hair styles that straddle heavy metal and punk.
There are other reminders of L.A.'s early punk days. The comical Dickies, a local mainstay 10 years ago, recently performed at Scream to a slamming mass of mohawks and skinheads, while over in the next room a 1977 film of the Sex Pistols showed Johnny Rotten screeching "No future!" Yet today's underground scene is not simply a replay of the Masque era.
"I think a lot of the bands now are taking things more seriously," said Dayle Gloria, talent booker at Scream, which admits 18-year-olds and stays open until 4 a.m. "A lot of people are cleaning up, not taking as many drugs or drinking. I just think it's the next step. It's a little more mature than it was. I think Scream is a lot more advanced than Masque was."