Good music moves the crowd to dance at Expansion, a monthly dance and art… (Colin Young-Wolff / For…)
L.A. club-goers have to do a little extra work to find Expansion. First, unless you're a die-hard of the local electronic dance music scene, you might not know it exists. Then there's a 40-minute drive out of L.A. to the quiet mountains of Simi Valley, and a few extra minutes creeping up a valley of winding roads to a mansion resort that's hardly well known.
Over the last year at remote Hummingbird Nest Ranch, a resort tucked into the cactus-strewn Santa Susana Mountains, the monthly Expansion event has gained cachet with DJs and fans. Hosting venerated beatmakers including Daedelus, DJ Nobody and the Gaslamp Killer, it's also a unique venue where some of the titans of the Low End Theory club nights in Lincoln Heights step out a world away.
"You see the art world and the club world intersect sometimes in L.A.," said Maggie Lucero, 21, of North Hollywood, a first timer to Expansion. "But rarely do you see that in a fancy location like this. I guess that's why I made the drive."
On a recent Saturday night, hundreds of headlights snaked through the desert to park in a giant grass field on Hummingbird's 123-acre property. By nightfall, the multimillion-dollar mansion where Expansion takes place becomes a bass-hemorrhaging, neon-lighted fantasia overrun by costumed fire breathers, acrobats, live artists and dancing throngs. Combining a posh location and a somewhat spiritualized, Burning Man-type spectacle, Expansion offers a psychedelic experience where it's OK to wear a cocktail dress. The next event happens Saturday.
Local promoter and Expansion co-founder Orlando Padilla stumbled onto the ranch last year at the suggestion of a lighting vendor who had worked on a wedding there. The wind-swept views and Spanish cobblestone seemed like an unusual place for Padilla's original vision of Expansion, catering to the underground hip-hop and drum-and-bass scenes, but he and his partners Lewis Kunstler and Hummingbird manager Craig Bennett plunged in.
"We took everything we thought was hot in electronic music and just put it together," said Padilla, 33.
Strolling nonchalantly through a recent Expansion night in a green tracksuit and beanie, Padilla doesn't really draw attention. If the party were any bigger, like most of the ones he throws, no one would ever see him. The chief executive of Pasadena-based Project Sweatshop and Fresh Entertainment, Padilla is behind other massive EDM events like Fresh Fest and Fresh Daze, usually drawing a couple thousand people. Expansion is a considerably smaller party accommodating about 700 guests. Many of them are workers in the club industry — be they artists, promoters or club managers — on a night off from work.
George Ybarra, a.k.a. DJ Curious, spun at Expansion three times but recently came off duty from East L.A. to hang out.
"I've been through the underground hip-hop and dance music scene," said Ybarra, 36. "And this is one of the more comfortable environments for adults to get away."
Eventually, Padilla said he'd like to throw a festival-sized version of Expansion on par with some of his bigger parties. But after eight months of consecutive shows, this relatively new gem in night life culture continues to get better, not necessarily bigger.
"We could always try to throw something big and become a commodity, but what we have in store for people who come here is we want it to be more of a membership type of event as opposed to people just showing up," Padilla said.