Ask any dance music devotee and they'll tell you, there was nothing quite like the turn of the millennium in Southern California. Warehouse parties were jam-packed and marquee talent like Paul Oakenfold, Groove Armada and Carl Cox were drawing record numbers to L.A.'s raves. But it was the advent of the super-club that made the rest of the country sit up and take notice.
At Circus Disco on Santa Monica Boulevard, ticket lines for Dave Dean's Giant club snaked up and down the parking lot as the venue's massive sound system thumped in the background. Skinny, pigtailed girls wearing pants big enough for two queued up with porcupine-haired, fake-baked muscleheads just waiting for an excuse to remove their shiny shirts. Step out of line and you got sent to the back. Get through the line and another awaited you around the corner.
It was a mainstream dance music explosion the likes of which this town had never seen, but after a string of local partnerships gone bad, the global effect of 9/11 and the passing of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s RAVE Act in 2002 (which gave authorities power to prosecute club owners as they would drug dealers for narcotics-related infractions in their establishments), the scene lost some of its luster. Lately, however, a new generation of technically savvy, musically eclectic scenesters has helped stimulate L.A.'s club culture.
With the help of underground veterans Red, Circus Disco pulls in a solid share of Saturday night partygoers, while Dave Dean's Giant now has a home at the ultra-deluxe Vanguard. In addition to Dean, Vanguard has partnered with seasoned SoCal rave promoter Pasquale Rotella (Insomniac Events) and local bookers to curate each of the venue's four areas. Just down the road at Avalon, Garrett Chau -- in conjunction with Spundae, Liquified, Go Ventures and One Promotions -- is cultivating a different kind of late-night aesthetic with Avaland. Although the last seven years have seemed like a big game of musical chairs, the current landscape guarantees that dance music fans will have no shortage of options for big room electronic entertainment.
Since opening in the fall of 2003 at the site of the old Palace Theatre, Avalon has used rock 'n' roll know-how, a top-of-the-line EAW Avalon Series sound system, and a versatile stage setup to create a concert-like atmosphere for some of the world's biggest DJs. Techno legends Richie Hawtin and Jeff Mills played in front of a "Tron"-inspired neon backdrop, complete with futuristic go-go dancers, while the production crew replicated a subway station for New York City legend Danny Tenaglia. On Sept. 1, John Digweed graced his followers with a marathon set that rolled over into the early morning hours. But Chau is quick to discount the notion that Avaland is only interested in booking the industry's biggest names.
"After 9/11 there was a flame-out that carried over from Europe to the States, and the U.S. promoters wanted to go for the safe bets because that helped them fill the club," he explains. "The problem when you do that is that you're not making an investment in new talent."
The lineup for Avaland's "Fall/Winter Series" is testament to that investment. Along with crowd favorites like Sander Kleinenberg (October), Nick Warren (November) and Erick Morillo (December), Chau and his team have booked in a diverse selection of cutting-edge dance music artists to round out the remainder of 2007, including Eric Prydz, Loco Dice, M.A.N.D.Y. and a live performance from Denmark's Trentemøller. A residency with tech-house darling Matthew Dear is on tap for 2008.
"We're really trying to push a more underground sound that doesn't necessarily have that mass commercial appeal," says Liquified's Damian Murphy, who also organizes a popular "Made in Brazil" night at Avaland every few months.
When the mezzanine is open, Avalon's holds about 1,500 clubbers, including 300 on the semi-outdoor terrace upstairs, where the Urban LA Nights and Droog DJ crews can be heard. If you fancy a more refined experience, reserve a table at Honey, the upscale bistro located adjacent to the club, and fill up on a plate of seared goat cheese-stuffed chicken or a slice of banana walnut chocolate cake. VIP bottle service with the best view of the stage is also available inside Avalon.
"If you have a great party and put together all the right elements, you have a memorable night," says Avalon co-owner John Lyons. "I believe the thing that makes people go back to a place and make a scene grow is a string of those memorable nights."