Monday, July 30, 2007

Getting “Respect” at the Echoplex

Drum and Bass party is now at Eastside club
By Dennis Romero, Special to the Times
July 3, 2008

Though it has made its name as a sneak-peek critics' venue (Beck and Mars Volta have performed there), the Echoplex in Echo Park is also shaping up as a local epicenter for edgy, left-of-center dance music (M.I.A., Cut Copy, UNKLE).

Case in point: The homegrown Junglist Platoon crew of DJs recently moved their 9-year-old Respect drum-and-bass night to the 'Plex on Thursdays, after the owners of their last home base, a Hollywood lounge, couldn't stand the volume of d-'n'-b's rumble-and-roll. (If you can't stand the beats, stay out of the kitchen.)

At the Echoplex, the hyperkinetic soul of Respect's break-beat arrhythmia gets proper staging, complete with stacks of loudspeakers, a wide-open stage, two-screens of Paleolithic visuals, and enough b-boys to start a break-dance army. The DJs take center stage, flanked by as many as three MCs.

Strangely, as foreign and foreboding as British drum-and-bass may seem, there's something truly Angeleno about this phenomenon. It features rap in the fast lane, hyper-speed hip-hop for the digital generation. MC XYZ, in a camo hoodie and slim jeans, spits, "RESPECT, Respect, respect," fading out like a turntablist as DJ CRS? (pronounced "curious") spins the high-tech soul of Calibre's "Hustlin.' " Later, MC Zezo shouts, "I don't care what they do, I don't care what they say -- I represent the bass from L.A. to the Bay."

There's also something defiant and exclusive about the drum-and-bass community in Los Angeles. While d-'n'-b was a staple at local club nights such as Science at the peak of the genre's popularity in the mid-to-late '90s, when the likes of Goldie first burst on the scene, drum-and-bass faded from the tastemaker limelight by the new millennium. Core fans, however, continued to embrace the scene's darker, angrier elements, and the community went underground and after-hours, keeping the KCRW crowd at bay. The scene seemed to split up into two factions: the "intelligent" denizens into LTJ Bukem's ethereal, semiannual performances, and the weekend underground, where faster, harder, louder was always better.

There's still a sense that their perseverance in the face of challenges by new genres such as dubstep and grime has made d-'n'-b survivors a tight-knit clan, almost reclusive.

Members of the Respect crew -- founded by Hollywood post-production engineer Justin Ford and longtime d-'n'-b DJ Machete -- are trying to change the harder-than-thou image of the drum 'n' bass scene in L.A.

"We're trying to let people know that it's not just b-boys in hoodies," says Respect's resident graphic designer, Gil Mojarro, 35. "We're cleaning the scene up a little bit."

Indeed, the hundred-strong crowd at the Echoplex is infused with a new wave of d-'n'-b fans -- the night is 18-and-older -- and there's an urban, Pacific Rim energy that's not manufactured. Breakers crash into cholos, ghetto geeks with glasses and shaved heads text their friends, cool kids in neon tights find their own awkward body rhythms on the concrete floor. A curious aroma floats in the air while hipsters sip Stella Artois. For sure, it's no gangsta rave.

"You won't find people with glow sticks here," says Respect co-founder Ford, 35. "If people bring them, they'll get clowned."
(Photo by Lawrence K. Ho; copyright Los Angeles Times)

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