If you're one of those couch critics spouting off to your neighborhood Beavis that there are no good bands in L.A. anymore, it's time to get off the sofa. According to club owners, bookers and record company scouts, the Los Angeles pop music scene--which in the '80s alone gave the world everything from Guns N' Roses to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction--is heating up once more.
"It's a great time to be booking local acts," says Mike Crowley, who recently took over booking at the Whisky with the goal of showcasing more area acts. "The level of talent is making it easy for me to succeed at selling tickets."
Among the hottest draws in the highly diverse class of '96, where you'll find everything from '90s new wave to post-gothic rock: Red Five, Dashboard Prophets, Plexi, Don Knotts Overdrive, 1000 Mona Lisas and the Magic Pacer.
Those are the acts that were most often mentioned when the insiders were asked to name some of the best or most commercially promising of the hundreds of acts based in Southern California.
"Red Five's the best band to come out of L.A. in the last five years," says Bill Armstrong, co-owner of the independent L.A. label Side One Dummy. "The one thing they have in common with all great bands is that their music is honest."
The coed pop band's promise was underscored last year when it was signed by the prestigious Interscope Records, home of Nine Inch Nails and Bush. Its first album is due next month.
Plexi, a gothic-influenced hard-rock band that has been on the scene since '94, and Don Knotts Overdrive, a 3-year-old new-wave/acid-rock hybrid, also garnered strong support in the survey.
"Those two bands are doing something a little bit out of the mainstream and have managed to create their own scenes, which isn't easy to do anymore," says Anthony Bellinger, the co-owner of Dragonfly, a key live music venue in Hollywood.
In contrast to the days in the early '90s when clubs such as the Lingerie and the Gaslight created a core audience for alternative underground music, today's bands are drawing their crowds in a less cohesive, more competitive club environment.
Still, these six bands have helped bring a sense of community back to the local scene.
"These groups play with each other, tour with each other, and generally support each other," says Anna Statman, the A&R executive at Interscope who signed Red Five.
"They all just prove that good bands can come out of L.A," says Armstrong.
RED FIVE: The power-pop quartet was the band named most often by those surveyed. Only a year and a half after forming, Red Five is preparing to make its second appearance on the annual "Warped Tour," which comes to the Olympic Velodrome on July 6. The band, which took its name from Luke Skywalker's fighting moniker, features singer-guitarists Jenni McElrath and Betty Carmellini, bassist Mitchell Townsend and drummer Adam Zuckert. Its debut album, "Flash," will be released on June 18.
DON KNOTTS OVERDRIVE: The Hollywood-based foursome, which takes its cues from Devo and Gary Numan, is "very into outer space," says bassist Taylor Stacy. The unsigned band, which is rounded out by singer-guitarist Ryan Kirk, keyboardist John Kaizen and drummer Tony Scarpa, released a single on Wrong Dimension and a full-length CD, "Juggernaut," on its own Bastard Science label last year. The group just recorded the Frankie Goes to Hollywood tune "Relax" for an upcoming compilation of cover songs on Exene Cervenkova's Year One label. DKO is scheduled to play on Wednesday at the Dragonfly.
PLEXI: This heavy entry is rapidly becoming a scene favorite, with an original-sounding cocktail of hard rock, gothic and psychedelic grooves. The 2-year-old trio--drummer Norm Block, singer-bassist Michael Angelos and guitarist-keyboardist Michael Barragan--has already released two independent CDs, and has a third due in October on the Seattle-based Sub Pop label. Plexi is scheduled to perform with Flaming Lips at Moguls in Hollywood on Friday, Saturday and next Sunday.
1000 MONA LISAS: Punk in spirit with a strong pop sense, 1000 Mona Lisas are the elder statesmen of the bunch, having been performing on the circuit for four years. Its perseverance garnered the trio--singer-guitarist Armando Prado, bassist Gianni Neiviller and drummer Rocco Bidlovski--a label deal with RCA, which released a self-titled EP last fall and the full-length "New Disease" CD in February. Prior to the EP's release, the band's punk-rock version of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know"--a hidden track on the five-song disc--received national airplay. And don't think they recorded the song as a goof. "We genuinely like it," says Prado.