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Convention 101

September 11, 2009|Scott T. Sterling

Much like jazz and hip-hop, techno is decidedly American music, a form that has grown and evolved in such grand and dramatic fashion that it can often be nearly impossible to recognize. While all manner of electronic dance music gets thrown under the umbrella term "techno," a devoted worldwide community of fans, artists and aficionados keep the spirit (and sound) of genuine techno alive.

"Techno as we know it today started in Detroit with Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May," explains Robert Pointer, a.k.a. "Robtronik," the Los Angeles-based DJ and promoter behind Convention 101, an ambitious three-day techno festival coming to a downtown L.A. warehouse space Sept. 18-20. He adds, "There's a direct lineage from those guys to what we're doing with this event. It's a respect to that original sound, which continues to evolve and stay relevant to this day."

While Los Angeles has long been one of the strongholds of large-scale electronic music events, the often jazzy and esoteric tones of techno have never been a driving force -- or big draw. But over the last 10 years, musical collectives including Droog, Droid Behavior and Pointer's weekly Compression parties at club King King have cultivated a die-hard crowd of L.A. techno enthusiasts. Featuring such world-renowned DJs as Richie Hawtin, Dan Bell, Rob Hood and Surgeon, the Los Angeles techno scene has grown tremendously.

But to the casual observer, it can be difficult to discern much difference between one of these techno events and any number of the massive dance events in town, such as Electric Daisy Carnival and the HARD parties.

"Obviously, the similarities are there. It's a dance party," says Pointer. "But the reality is that what we're doing is extremely different. It's all house and techno music. There's no jungle, breaks or trance being played. If you come to Convention, you're going to hear the stuff that made the genre what it is today. It's why we booked Juan Atkins, who was the first guest DJ to play at Compression. I like to pay respect to the guys who invented the art form."

Inspired by such festivals as the long-running Movement event in Detroit and the newer Decibel fest in Seattle, Pointer firmly believes that a similar multi-day festival based around more sophisticated dance sounds can thrive in L.A. But not everyone is convinced.

"I think it's indicative of a stronger niche, more than anything else," says Josh Glazer, editor of electronic dance magazine URB. "This clutch of techno promoters has worked really hard to grow these crowds, and it's worked. Not to say that the music is irrelevant, but it's more about these guys going out and putting in the legwork. The L.A. techno scene came out of sheer will on their part."

Glazer does concede that Convention boasts a strong lineup of acts that rarely if ever play Los Angeles.

"It's great that they're bringing out DJs like the Wighnomy Brothers, who are like these two hairy German dudes who get drunk and play really weird, twisted techno. They're like Vikings on turntables."

For all this progress, the techno scene in Los Angeles is still minuscule when compared with such hotbeds as Berlin or Tokyo. When pressed, Pointer divulges that some artists were hesitant about Convention.

"L.A. hasn't been known to support techno," he states flatly. "And I realize how ambitious this is. There was something similar in New York last year called Minitek, and it didn't go off well at all. But as I talk to these artists, they're willing to lend their support . . . [Canadian] DJ Misstress Barbara said she was ready to give up on L.A. Same with Paco Osuna from Spain. But they both came and played Compression and said it changed their perception of our city. Now they're playing Convention. That's something I'm really proud of."

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scott.sterling@latimes.com

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Convention 101

Where: Lot 613, 613 Imperial St., Downtown L.A. Plus, pre-party Friday at Vanguard Hollywood, 6021 Hollywood Blvd., and all-day Sunday poolside after party at the Standard Hotel, 550 S. Flower St., downtown L.A.

When: Fri., 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Sun., noon to 9 p.m.

Price: $25 pre-party, $25 festival, $79 Gold 3-day pass (required for after party).

Contact: www.compression la.com.

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