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At Eastside Luv bar's Subsuelo, everyone's in on the dance

Performer and patron get into the act at Subsuelo, a dance party at Boyle Heights' Eastside Luv bar featuring cumbia/hip-hop mashups and a host of other grooves.

November 16, 2012|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Flamenco dancer Cristina Lucio, left, and guitarist Gabriel Osuna open the monthly dance party Subsuelo.
Flamenco dancer Cristina Lucio, left, and guitarist Gabriel Osuna open… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

The morning after a Subsuelo dance party, it may be hard to recall the precise moment when everybody in the room started moving to the beat as a single organism.

It could have occurred while flamenco artist Cristina Lucio tapped out neo-baroque rhythms with her feet as she glided across the length of the bar-top. Or when a guest DJ threw down some bodacious tropical groove or cumbia/hip-hop mashup, and a pair of congueros and a trombone player popped up in the middle of the room and started jamming.

But sooner or later, one way or another, Subsuelo parties have a way of luring every sentient being at the Eastside Luv bar in Boyle Heights into the musical mix. Shattering barriers — between English- and Spanish-language music, as well as between performer and patron — is the big idea behind Subsuelo (Spanish for "subsoil" or, colloquially, underground).

"What we wanted to avoid, what I always want to avoid, is, 'We are the performers over here and you are the crowd over there,' and having that separation and having it be kind of a passive watching," says Canyon Cody, a.k.a. El Canyonazo, a DJ who co-curates Subsuelo with his fellow resident selector DJ Gozar every third Wednesday of the month. "And so we do a couple things here to try and kind of rupture that wall."

One of those things was deciding to set Subsuelo at Eastside Luv, the amiable 6-year-old bar on 1st Street near the southeastern corner of Mariachi Plaza. Founded by Boyle Heights native Guillermo Uribe and his wife, Arlene, the narrow 1,200-square-foot space (capacity: 100) styles itself as a homey, nostalgic slice of la mexicanidad — note the Tijuana-bordello red wallpaper, vintage Mexican movie posters and chain-link chandeliers, custom-made with the muscled elegance of a lowrider car.

But Eastside Luv also provides a funky all-purpose rumpus room for late-generation bicultural Angelenos who are as likely to listen to KCRW as to Los Tigres del Norte. Poetry readings, record-launch parties and live music are among the bar's regular attractions. No designer cocktails here, and nary a chip nor dip of bar food to be found; just beer, including Mexican and British imports, and California wine. Drinks are dispensed by a friendly crew that operates from a sunken galley behind the bar counter, which rises only a few inches above knee level, making it a de facto dance-floor extension.

Growing up in L.A. as the son of Cuban immigrants, Cody says, he fell under the sway of the city's scrambled soundtrack. Later, when he began guest-DJ-ing, he was inspired by L.A. sonic mixologists like Afro Funke's Jeremy Sole. "He's really somebody we look up to as not only a DJ and a music curator but as a community organizer," Cody says of Sole.

Last year, when Cody approached Eastside Luv about adding a monthly global bass dance party to its eclectic programming lineup, Uribe came on board. "We're similar in our vision of the neighborhood and trying to bring something of value to the neighborhood," Uribe says.

Cody, who makes his home a few blocks from Eastside Luv, says the bar's contemporary spin on old-school Latino culture makes it an ideal locale for mixing flamenco and other traditional dance music with electronica, hip-hop, indie rock and every imaginable alt-Latin hybrid. That duality helps Subsuelo parties attract mixed-age as well as mixed-ethnic crowds (usually about 60% Latino, 40% everything else, Uribe reckons).

Lucio, who recently returned from a trip to Seville, Spain, where she met with her flamenco teacher, compares her style of neo-flamenco to a jazz improv in which the musicians and the dancer take cues from each other and "everyone gets their spotlight."

Similarly, she sees Subsuelo as "a collaboration of artists." "We're all important pieces of the puzzle," Lucio says.

Subsuelo's fusion act will attempt a trial run at a new venue at 10 p.m. on Nov. 30, when it takes over El Cid, the medieval-Spanish-themed restaurant near Sunset Junction that's also the city's oldest flamenco joint. Subsuelo's next Eastside Luv date is 8 p.m. Tuesday, one night earlier than usual in deference to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Photographer Farah Sosa, who specializes in music and night-life imagery and has been documenting Subsuelo parties from Day 1, says that Subsuelo has carved out a unique space in a local dance-party scene that grows more crowded with each passing month.

"There's a lot of surprises, and you never know exactly what is going to happen," she says. "But everything comes together in a very sweaty night full of community and a lot of music love."

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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