Shake Shake The Room

ktlaquake

[Also at Esquire]

The day we moved house, the house moved. That’s what you get for living on a fault line.

It was 6.25am on St Patrick’s day, March 17th, and I happened to be up, trying to get dressed in the dark, without waking the wife. It’s hard to sleep when all your stuff’s in boxes and the rugs are rolled up. I felt ungrounded and unstable. And as though to rub it in, the floor began to rumble and the chandelier started to swing.

I was putting my Levis on at the time, balancing on one leg, and the quake tipped me over so I was propped up against the wall at a 30 degree angle. I remember thinking “this should have stopped by now.” And, “maybe this is the one.” And, “at least let me get my pants on before the roof caves in”.

It was a 4.4, according to the Los Angeles Times Quakebot – literally a robot journalist that tweets the location and size of every tremor. And it was the start of a series because apparently earthquakes are like buses – LA has broken what the paper calls its “earthquake drought”, two words that individually describe the two greatest threats to the city’s existence, and yet when paired together, are actually quite welcome.

After 14 years out here, I’ve learned the local response to seismic activity – a “woah” and a tweet and you’re on your way. It was always the way. I was at the pub for my first shudder, way back before Twitter, even before 9.11. For a few perilous seconds we watched our pints shimmy across the table, but that was it. Then everyone just laughed and kept drinking.

But this time was different. It wasn’t the typical jolt or jiggle, so quick that your fear centers can barely start their engines. This one was a roller, it took its time – long enough for thoughts to form about the fragility of life, and how this might be the way it all ends, especially out here. Because LA’s always on the brink of something – if it’s not a burp in the tectonics, it’s raging forest fires or impending drought. Our perfect weather comes at a steep price.

And yet still we laughed. The face of the quake was a KTLA anchor called Chris Schauble who scurried under his desk, clearly terrified. The clip went viral and he became a figure of ridicule – never mind that he did all the right things, and that fear is not only rational but advisable, given that it was, you know, an earthquake.

But facing reality isn’t LA’s strong point. We deny death here and worship youth. We chase dreams and immortality. It was optimism not realism that drove the pioneers westward, and that fantastical thinking still holds true. Out on the precipice, all eyes are on the horizon, not on the rocks below.

Minutes after the St Patrick’s Day quake, I worried about trifles again – whether we had enough bubble wrap for the move, whether the sofa would fit through the door of the new place. It all went swimmingly in the end, and we love our new house. That ungrounded, unstable feeling, it starts to dissipates once you open up those boxes and roll out those rugs.

Then on March 31st, the floor rumbled again. It was bigger this time – a 5.1. And the epicenter was closer to home.

The question is: Are all these quakes building up to a big one, or are they releasing pressure in the plates, and actually reducing the chance of a catastrophe?

It’s got to be the latter, right?

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Esque and You Shall Receive

Esque-by-Maggie-West-1

[Photo by Maggie West]

[Also at Esquire]

Well this is one way to spend a Friday night. On my knees in a Boystown nightclub, with some strange guy in glitter sunglasses standing over me, holding a shoe-shaped goblet full of questionable white fluids.

“Open wide!” he says.

I was up for getting barfed on like Susan Sarandon. At least that’s what it said in the reviews of The Box, the famous club in New York – and London now too – created by Simon Hammerstein, of Rogers and Hammerstein fame (he’s Oscar’s grandson).

Apparently the star of Dead Man Walking was in the front row when one of the performers “blew chunks” as they say out here. Sarandon wiped the carrots off her chin in delight. It was all part of the show.

“That’s what we do, we bring theater into nightlife,” says Hammerstein. “The Box, touched on a lot of colors – some sexy, some transgression, some theater of cruelty. It’s not all shock. The press just likes to talk about the celebrities and the fake vomit.”

And the “guy” performer, who turns out to have a vagina. And the Twincest burlesque act. And the black diva in the Nazi outfit…

“Yes, all that stuff!” he laughs. “But that’s the Box. We’ve got a different concept going in LA.”

Hammerstein’s LA club is called Esque, and it’s based at DBA (Doing Business As), a venue on Santa Monica Boulevard that has changed hands a few times, but always retained its notoriety.

Back in the day it was Peanuts, a flaming disco full of drag queens. And then it was Voyeur, where young stars would snort their way to rehab every Saturday night – you’d see all the gorgeous wannabes waiting for hours outside, along with the TMZ goons trying to get a snap of Lindsay Lohan’s gusset. And inside, it was all S&M dancers, whips and what-have-you. Naturally, the Republican National Committee was caught up in a scandal there.

So plus ca change. Only now, you’re not just a voyeur – at Esque, you’re part of the show. The performers come right up to your booth and mess with you. One minute I’m chatting to club’s PR rep, a lovely guy called Edward who also happens to represent the Clintons (because that’s how the world works), and then some girl in a grizzly mask comes up and starts biting my arm.

Elsewhere a beast character is carrying a girl around, who’s wearing nothing but sheer netting and a teddy bear mask, and handing her to club goers to cradle like a baby. And there’s this cute little Japanese nymphette who’s skipping about the place in a thong. I was half-hoping she’d skip over here, when the big black guy with the cum-potion dragged me out of my seat.

“The theme is a Dionysian ritual,” says Yozmit, one of Hammerstein’s core players. “It’s a royal ball, and the people are all our slaves!” Slaves who pay $2000 for a table, mind. Slaves you see on billboards.

A Korean performance artist in his early 40s, Yozmit created the concept with Hammerstein, and plays a Queen on the night, the royal kind. In one scene, he reveals prosthetic breasts at first, then a prosthetic penis, and then he removes them both.

“First they think I’m a girl, then a boy, and then at the end, I’m all tucked up, so they think I’m a girl again! A lot of guys ask me out.”

Esque is perfectly pitched for LA, a city full of performers. They can’t wait to be part of the show. And it gets a bit weird at times. At the end of the night, Yozmit performs this shamanistic scene, in which one dancer dribbles creamy white fluid – they’re big on the whole fake-cum thing – from his mouth into Yozmit’s. He then spits it into a bowl and presents the bowl to the crowd as some kind of elixir.

“People drink from it!” says Yozmit. “This is just before we have an orgy scene in the middle of the dancefloor. We drag in people from the crowd to interact with the dancers.”

It beats the usual oontz-oontz club scene. And the lines out front are as long as they ever were during Voyeur’s heyday. But I’m not kidding myself – I’m too old to know what the hottest club in LA is. Hammerstein is too. “I’m 36,” he says, “and in nightlife years, that’s like 100.”

All I know for sure is that Miley Cyrus just showed up and took over our booth. She’s with a pack of girls, all checking their iPhones. I think one of them’s pregnant. Oh look, she’s goofing around pretending she’s giving head. Seems fitting.

“Hey what’s in the cum drink?” I ask the glitter guy.

“Sambuca and coconut milk?” he shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“All right, whatever. Let’s do this.”

Esque at DBA, every Thursday and Friday night, 7969 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood

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Matjames Metson and the Art of Reinvention

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[Another 74 & Sunny, also at Esquire]

There’s an art show next week in Chinatown where everything’s made of matches – literally matchsticks and glue. The artist even sounds like matches – Matjames Metson. He deliberately fashioned the double-first-name thing, and it seems to go with his beard, tattoos and hat, and his workshop in Silverlake, which is LA’s Williamsburg (which is Brooklyn’s Shoreditch). You could easily mistake him for a hipster. But he isn’t.

Matjames is one of those stories that builds the myth of LA as a place of reinvention and possibility. Not a fairytale about a busboy who gets discovered at a Pizza place (though that happens too, #ChrisZylka), but a proper story of tragedy and hope and humanity. The kind of thing that comes on the radio around rushhour and straight away you stop bitching about the traffic.

“I had to use matches,” he says. “They were the only materials I could afford.”

It was 2006, and Katrina had destroyed his life. He’d been a successful artist in New Orleans, but the floods killed his friends, drowned his work, and washed away every possession he had except for the clothes on his back and his two pitbulls, Pikachu and Pearl. When a friend in LA sent him the money to go live with her and get back on his feet, he said yes, and spent a couple of months there recuperating. And then she found him an apartment in Koreatown, where he tried to rebuild his life.

But it wasn’t working.

“In Los Angeles, everyone’s here to win, but I was struggling to survive. I had a futon and a TV and that was it. My building was a rat’s nest. And I had a budget of $2 a day to live on.”

Every morning, he’d eat a handful of dog kibble, and then go out and beg for the bus fare to get to work – a $7/hr gig in the stock room at an art store.

“I had flood victim written all over me. I was failing. I needed help.”

All his life, Matjames had moved from city to city. And it’s never easy. The dislocation, the strangers, the starting over – it’s exhausting. But his parents were also artists and travelled from one teaching job to the next while he was growing up. And they in turn had come from England, full of bold ideas.

“You couldn’t bring cash, there was a limit,” he says, “so they put their savings into buying a Rolls Royce and shipping it over, thinking they could sell it when they got to New York. They forgot that they drove on the wrong side of the street.”

Metson’s own travels began at 16. He was living in a grim small town in Ohio at the time, and his girlfriend had just had a baby girl called Tyler. And Matjames freaked out.

“I didn’t know what to do so I just took off. I was way too immature to have a kid. I still am! So I left my parents, my brother, and all my friends. It was scary. I put all my stuff in an army duffel bag and just left.”

He ended up in New Orleans, working in bars, by night, and making art by day. It was a thriving art scene, and life was good – he had shows, he was written about, he was on his way. But then came Katrina, and his escape to LA, where he was living hand to mouth. It felt like he was drowning all over again.

And that’s when the phone rang one night. It was Tyler – his daughter that he’d never met or spoken with for all those years. She was a teenager now, and wanted to get to know her biological father, maybe visit him eventually.

“I thought, ’this person wants to know me, so I have to do better for myself.’

So he started making art again – buying matches and glue at the Dollar Store, and sitting in his roach-infested Koreatown studio, making things. It was a way of shutting out his problems.

“In New Orleans, I was kind of blasé as an artist. I wasn’t serious enough. But coming to LA, art became my one focussed thing. There was no more time in bars. And I was immobilized – I don’t drive, don’t have a car, I don’t have any money to go on the buses.”

And slowly but surely, his life began to change. He met a girl at his job, who saw past his wretchedness and listened. “Everyone I met, I wanted to just say, ‘I need help, I need help,’ and she was the first person who said, ‘OK, tell me how.’ I was like ‘really?’” City of angels indeed.

He spoke every so often to Tyler, and galvanized his determination to make her proud. And three years later – not a blink by any stretch – he had his first LA art show. He was back. “My daughter calling literally saved my life.”

Today Matjames is 42 and still going strong with that girl he met – they live together in her grandmother’s old house in Silverlake. He’s close to his daughter Tyler – “how many people who can say they’re good friends with their teenage daughter?” And he has a book in the works for Penguin, a graphic novel called “Surivivors Guild” about his life after Katrina.

Ask Matjames what he thinks about LA and he’s unequivocal. “It’s a cartoon strip for sure, but it’s not the narrative people think. You can reinvent yourself here. Start again. All you need to do is work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. I love this place.”

Matjames Metson’s show, A Better Home For A Quiet Wolf opens March 15th at the Coagula Curatorial, LA: www.coagulacuratorial.com

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Whipping Boy No More

Polar-vortex-vs-Solar-vortex

[A recent 74 & Sunny for Esquire. Check it out at Esquire and give it a like if you're feeling likey...]

I know it’s February, but I’m still blown away by that polar vortex thing.

I don’t mean the way it froze waterfalls mid-flow or sealed whole cities under ice. I’m talking about how it persuaded snooty New Yorkers to admit, after a lifetime of disdain, that actually, they’ve got a bit of a boner for LA. A grudging boner perhaps – a yes-but-our-pizza’s-better boner – but still, a bonafide bone, one that’s only now starting to poke out into the open.

For some reason American GQ is at the center of all this, freezing its well groomed nuts off, within a shout of Times Square. Last month, it declared downtown LA to be “the new cool capital of America”. And a couple of months prior, it threw a party to celebrate Abbott Kinney in Venice, which it had dubbed “the coolest block in America”.

I’m not going to quibble over the small print – though they were right about downtown and wrong about Venice (the action in LA is east not west).

What’s important is that LA is getting some East Coast love for once. Because that never happens. New Yorkers learn to loathe LA at the teat, much like San Franciscans.  (Is that what they’re called? They sound like monks.) It’s the snobbery of the “proper city” versus the upstart, the old guard versus the arriviste.

And it turned LA into the whipping boy of American cities, shoved over in the corner, the new kid with the hot girlfriend that everyone else mocks as vapid, soulless, shallow, craven, fluffy, desperate, empty and trivial.

So why the change of heart?

My money’s on the vortex. Once your balls shrink to marbles, it’s natural to long for the sunshine. But the cold may be just the icing, as it were, because there’s a broader trend to all this. Lots of New Yorkers have been heading west of late, and daring to mention how it’s not really that shallow here after all (except in the shallow end of the pool that you might even be able to afford). Recently we’ve had Moby rhapsodizing about how “byzantine” and “baffling” LA is. And Werner Herzog, of course loves it here – he described LA as the city with the “most cultural substance”, which for a New Yorker has got to hurt.

Screenshot from Curbed - GQ says LA Rocks

This much we know – LA’s fundamentals are strong, as a business analyst might say. The hills, canyons, beach and desert, not to mention Kendrick Lamar’s “women, weed and weather”. John Fante had it right: “you pretty town!

Admittedly, there may be truth to that “bad weather, good people” thing, and its inverse too. Besides the stunning women, no one’s about to sell LA on its people, who can be, in all honesty, a tad peculiar. But are they so bad you’d sooner step out of a rabbit hutch in Manhattan every morning, slip on the black ice and go clattering into a hillock of garbage on your doorstep? Or – looked at the other way – are New Yorkers really all that?

I’m being facetious. I love New York, everyone does. It’s just that it might have peaked already. The vortex comes as Manhattan devolves ever further into a Douchebag Disneyland, rotten with bankers. Brooklyn is becoming a pastiche of itself, swallowed up by its own irony. Even Spike Lee’s going off New York. And look at the news lately about New York’s other famous son, the director of Manhattan. Wherever you stand on Woody Allen, the scandal tarnishes the city, just a little.

Meanwhile, LA just improves by the day.  The brunt of jokes for years, it’s still just waking up to its own potential. The Koreans are about to build the biggest ever skyscraper on an active fault line – that’s optimism for you.

So good job GQ. This sudden East Coast vogue for all things LA is no bad thing. It’s time to let the sunshine in and melt some of that ice. Because out here in the solar vortex, we never really understood where all that vitriol came from in the first place.

We just sit out on our sundecks, kale smoothie in one hand, prescription doobie in the other and wonder why it is that everyone hates us.

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Gene Genie, Let Yourself Go

Jerry-and-Terry-at-Twins-Days

You reach that age where you start to notice signs of your parents in your appearance and behavior. The way the lines deepen around you eyes, the way you sneeze or answer a phone. You look in the bathroom mirror in the morning and you remember those times as a boy when aunties would size you up, inspect your features and draw comparisons to uncles and grandparents you’d never even met.

It didn’t mean anything back then. All a boy knows is his own individuality, the sheer thrill of free will. But today it feels terminal – as though you’ve been walking a prescribed path all these years and your boyhood sense of free agency was an illusion all along. When you’ve grown up around the Hindu notion of fate, seldom a comforting concept, those crow’s feet start to look like the etchings on a headstone. Saul Bellow has a lovely line in Herzog about “the time of life when the later action of heredity begins [and] the blemishes of ancestors appear…. Death, the artist, very slow, putting in his first touches.”

But then I think of Tim Spector, a professor at Kings College London, who does these experiments with twins – the identical kind, the true genetic clones. I got chatting to him when I did my twin story for Marie Claire, and what he told me suggests that “the later action of heredity” needn’t be so morbid after all. Our genetics may not be so prescriptive. Because Spector has discovered that however much is written in at birth – crows feet or otherwise – we still remain, in a scientific sense, free.

“I started looking at the question of why identical twins die at different ages, and of different diseases,” he says. “And it’s because our genes are not our destiny. In fact, those genes are shaped to some extent by our lifestyle, environment and individual experiences.”

His field is known as epigenetics and it’s one of the most dynamic areas of gene science right now. Better that he explains it himself: “It’s about how we switch genes on and off with chemical switches, without changing their structure. So you take identical twins, where one has diabetes and the other’s normal, or one’s happy and one’s depressed – and you look for these little differences in the chemical switches. That can tell you a lot about the disease and what might be causing it.”

In other words, epigenetics is revealing the limits of genetic data, as well as its possibilities. And that alone, is somewhat revolutionary. It wasn’t long ago that genes were hailed as the ultimate blueprint, full of actionable data about our lives, our health, our futures. Genes, we were told, would determine not only our physicality – both the way we age in bathroom mirrors as well as our propensity for cancer – but also our psychology, our beliefs, our religion even. It felt very Hindu, very deterministic and faintly hopeless. And Spector was fully on board – he was part of that wave of excitement that propelled the Genome Project to such prominence and launched companies like 23andMe, to which customers are sending cheek swabs by the million.

But Spector’s perspective changed, much as he has now shown that our genes can change. The title of his book spells it out: Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes. Now he focuses on how we can alter our genetic make-up during our lives and pass on a different variation to our kids; how we can in a material sense overcome the past, and chart a new course. Nature, it turns out, can be nurtured.

One example from this year, reported in The Verge, showed that children who were born to women who’d had gastric bypass surgery prior to their birth, were genetically less prone to obesity. It was the surgery that tweaked the mother’s DNA and that was in turn passed down to the children.

Another example of how events in our lives can alter our genetic make-up: Rats which were conditioned to fear a certain smell passed on that fear to their kids.  Did the fear of the parent rats manifest in their DNA? It’s not clear. But if psychological traumas or even chronic conditions like depression can appear as epigenetic markers – the chemical switches that Spector was talking about – then what about the effects of the pharmaceuticals we use to treat them? How is Prozac tweaking our genes exactly?

Perhaps, this field will lead to grand cures in time, perhaps identical twins will the key to humanity’s future. But at the very least, epigenetics cements the idea that we can change, not just in deed or word, but in our very nature, at the source code level. We are  mutable creatures, and that sense of free agency as a boy, that wasn’t an illusion at all. The thrill of free will is real.

Some more Saul Bellow. In Seize the Day, he writes, from the perspective of Tommy Wilhelm, a failed actor, whose weakness and impulsiveness have led to an anxious and frittered life: “… In middle age you no longer thought such thoughts about free choice. Then it came over you that from one grandfather you had inherited such and such a head of hair…; from another, broad thick shoulders; an oddity of speech from one uncle, and small teeth from another.”

He’s like me in the mirror. And yet Tommy Wilhelm is a portrait of sadness, a man who feels trapped and burdened by life and the choices he’s made. And you want to grab him and say, Tommy, if only you knew, you’re free in ways you don’t even realize.

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Overheard at Griffith Park

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We were hiking up the hill at Griffith Park the other day, on a crisp blue Sunday morning. It’s a ritual in LA to join the strivers on the day of rest, to bring the dogs, feel the burn and march up to at least the height of the Hollywood sign where, quite perfectly, there’s an observatory – so many here are reaching for the stars in one way or another.

Ahead of us, a postcard – a mom and toddler trudging up the slopes, they looked so sweet, it must be Christmas. But the poor little thing, he was having a moment. This is what he heard as we passed.

“But Mom you said just a few steps.”

“Yes, just a few more. Look, we’re so near the top.”

“I don’t want to!”

“But we’re almost there, honey. Look, everyone’s walking past us. Come on, let’s catch them!”

“NOO!!”

“Listen, sweetie, I know it’s not easy. But life’s not easy. This is LA honey. It’s a tough town.”

“I want to go HOME!”

“But no one comes half way and just stops. Look around! You have to go to the top. That’s the whole point. You need to finish things in life. Because if you give up on this, you’ll give up on everything, one thing after another, until you’ve got no confidence left and it’s just you, alone in a shitty bedsit in Boyle Heights with the wreckage of your dreams around your feet, eating ramen noodles and jerking off into a sock, dribbling out your last sad, teardrop and then quietly rolling onto your side and staring into space. Is that what you want?”

“I like noodles.”

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After Hours in K-Town

Here’s my latest 74 & Sunny column for Esquire. Go check it out at Esquire and give it a like if you’re feeling friendly. (Just for the record, me and Danny really didn’t go the whore route.)

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From the outside, it’s nothing, just a dead strip mall at three in the morning. Still as a tomb in the pale piss of the street lights.

But knock on the black door and a little slit opens up, and a pair of eyes appear, darting from left to right like a painting in a Scooby Doo haunted house. The door opens briefly and a man pulls you in, closing up again quickly afterwards. And that’s it – you’re in. No cover charge. You’re an outlaw now.

I love an afterhours. A pub lock-in, whatever. The way it turns grown men into sneaky little kids, trying to get one over on Johnny Law. But I’ve never seen anything quite this flash. Because up the stairs, it’s all K-pop and drunk people chucking back soju and double fried chicken, about 30 of us in all. We’re talking full menu service till dawn – just buzz the waiters with those nifty little buttons on the tables. And you can tell it’s dodgy – the soju comes in Dixie cups, so that they can pretend it’s water in case of a raid. That, and everyone’s smoking indoors because why the fuck not. In for a penny etc.

Koreatown has long been the afterhours capital of Los Angeles. It’s like prohibition out here. It’s a wonder they’re not running whores out the back. But no one talks about it, because unless you’ve got a Korean mate, you’re not getting in. I wouldn’t be here now if I wasn’t with Danny Cho, a stand-up comedian who lives around the corner. One of the ugly truths about K-town is that non-Koreans are often non-grata, even during regular hours – they get turned away from restaurants and charged double at the bar. Racism, basically. But I’m Danny’s friend today, so all is well. He hands me a menu and laughs. “See anything you like?”

The whole thing’s in Korean.

Danny’s part of this 2nd generation cultural wave out here in K-town, the largest Korean population outside of Korea. There’s the band Far East Movement, the chef Roy Choi, the artist David Choe who did the Facebook offices, and the DJ Tokimonsta. Danny hasn’t made it yet, not like the other guys, but you never know – he’s making this project about K-town, and all the shit he got up to in his twenties. And you know he pushed the boat out. He’s only 31 and he’s already got a touch of gout. That’s fast work.

“Hey you mentioned whores,” he says, lighting up a Marlboro red. “It’s all possible in K-town, it just depends how much you want to spend.”

I’ve been up at 3am in LA before. And I wouldn’t recommend it – LA closes shop at two sharp. In fact, good luck finding a decent table after 10pm. I’m serious. In the early years, when I had the stamina to make a proper night of it, I can’t tell you how many times I roamed the streets in the zombie hours, for mile after fruitless mile looking for a snifter – the Grey Goose chase.

The only place I found was this rough old shack called Ducks out in the hood run by some ranting coke dealer – “I’m Duck, what the fuck you want?” He’d chop out the nonsense right there on the table – that kind of place. Two brands of beer, both out of a can, and that’s your lot.

But K-town’s another level. The full nine. Ten, even. And it was always the way, according to Danny – this whole world was right under my nose all along, I just didn’t know where to look.

That’s why Koreatown captures the essence of LA. It’s hidden in plain sight. When I first passed through it left me cold – it’s so foreign and vast, it feels unknowable. There’s the language thing, the disorienting scale and the overwhelming indifference to just how lost you actually are.

And that’s LA – she doesn’t reveal herself so easily. New York’s all cleavage and brass, she’ll pull you into her energy and carry you along her currents. Look at my skyscrapers, my bustle and flow, my yellow cabs. It doesn’t matter if you’re lost, or new in town, you can just stumble around and have a great time by accident.

LA’s not nearly so easy. She’s more your femme fatale, mysterious and full of secrets. Who knows what she’s really up to? There’s cleavage there, no doubt, but you’ll have to work for it, and it might take years. It’s all part of the glorious paradox of a city where even in the permanent sunshine so much remains obscured.

K-town’s close to the center of the city, geographically. And it’s new, like the city as a whole. Still finding its identity. When the Koreans started arriving in droves in the late sixties and seventies, they recreated a version of Seoul here, and they did it for themselves, not as an attraction for Americans. So yes, there’s a lot of driving ranges and 24hr spas and blaring Korean shop signs everywhere instead of trees – no one said this place was pretty.

But it also means no end of red meat, liquor and girls till dawn. “Korea’s basically a country built by men for men,” says Danny. “So you get some of that flavor here.”

Hence his point about money. Because there’s this full-on geisha spot close by, but that’s a tad spendy. Then there are the karaoke rooms for hire all over town where they provide a menu of escort girls to party with – “domi girls” they’re called (it means “helper”). Domis come in every varietal these days – not just Asian girls, but Russians, African-American, Hispanic…. United Colors of Domi. And if that’s all a bit much, there are the “talking bars” where if you buy a bottle, the barmaid in the micro mini will come and have a chat. I’m told that’s as far as it goes, but in K-town who knows?

Another time, Danny. This old dog needs some kip. So just as the sky starts to lighten, the first inklings of dawn, we leave. The door guy opens the slit again, to make sure the coast is clear, and quickly bundles us out where suddenly, all is silent once more. We’re just two guys standing inexplicably in an empty car park.

“Don’t tell anyone the address,” says Danny.

Not a peep, hombre. Not a peep.

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I Believe I Can Fry: Hosting Tips from R Kelly

r-kelly-kitchen-apron r-kelly-kitchen-apron r-kelly-kitchen-apron

“Cristal popping in the stretched Navigator. We got food everywhere as if the party was catered.”

So goes a lyric from R Kelly’s Ignition (Remix), which is as  relevant today as it has ever been. Especially if you’re planning to host an event, this holiday season.

When R sings “as if the party was catered”, he’s begging the question – why wouldn’t a renown “baller” hire actual caterers? And the answer is staring right at us – he’s done all his money on the champagne and the Navigator. And one suspects he’s secretly regretting it. After all, what does a stretched vehicle really add to a social occasion – surely it’s just parked somewhere? And why plump for Cristal when your basic Moet would do? Let’s be honest – most guests can’t really tell after the first couple, especially those underage girls he likes to pee on, allegedly. And Fat Joe’s mostly there for the snacks.

On account of this budgeting oversight, poor R now has to scramble. So this song is really a cry for help from a frantic man in an apron who’s watching the guests arrive and wishing he’d thought this through. No one knows better than R how competitive rappers can be when it comes to parties. In the 90s it was all they sang about. And people still talk about the time Dr Dre’s pastry bites came out cold.

So the pressure’s on. It’s time to get out of the closet and stuff those mushrooms himself. Bump and grind the pepper corns and bread his own nuggets.

“Bounce bounce bounce” – This is R on the balls of his toes, frantically ordering delivery and reading out his credit card number over the phone.

“All up in your grill, trying to get to a hotel” – R would love to mingle, but he’d be fool to leave the grill. Anyone who’s done chicken satay knows those things are so easy to overdo. Naturally, he’s wishing he’d gone to a hotel at this point.

“Hot and fresh out the kitchen” – That’s the goal, R, stay focused now.

“Can I get a toot toot” – R would like a line of cocaine please, to speed things along.

“Can I get a beep beep” – Some scholars believe the lyric refers to the aforementioned Navigator. R would  like to get some use out of it, seeing as he’s paid for the bloody thing. Another school of thought is that he’s referring to the oven timer, because surely it’s been 20 minutes by now – how long do mushroom caps take?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Old Man Raver at Day of the Dead

As per usual, I’m posting my Esquire column here with extra sauce (ie. pictures and blah). By all means go check it at Esquire itself and give it a likey if you likey…

Hands-in-the-air

I remember raving. The early days of house. Or at least that’s what we called it back then. Now it’s “EDM”, a poppy little acronym for texters. Or worse still “electronica” which sounds like a section of SkyMall, the one with the clock radios.

Whatever it’s called, LA’s mad for it. It took a while for the States to catch onto what started in London and Manchester and random fields in the Midlands. But the oil tanker has now turned. DJ’s are making Celine Dion money with Vegas residencies. The dance tent at Coachella is a beast. And this weekend, at the Hard Day of the Dead festival in downtown LA, I’m knocking around with 70,000 punters on a 32 acre lot, jumping about to the likes of Deadmaus, Skrillex and Jamie Jones.

“I was going to do a Halloween thing,” says the promoter Gary Richards, who founded the festival. “But that was too oversubscribed. So I thought fuck it, just do Day of the Dead. It’s two days later. People have already got their costumes.”

And their makeup, Gary. Here he is now with a couple of his dancers, the Sugar Skull girls I think they’re called.

DJ-Destructo-and-his-dancers

Gary’s a veteran of the dance scene. A proverbial “nice Jewish boy” from a music business family, he started running warehouse parties in the early 90s, trying to recreate the Hacienda here on the left coast. Rick Rubin sent him to explore the rave scene in England. He signed XL records to Interscope. There isn’t anyone he doesn’t know in dance music. But still, the going was tough.

“We were fifteen years too early,” he says. “It was all about grunge and Nirvana then. Nothing jumped off. My dad was on at me, like – give up techno, you need to find something with lyrics.”

But now look. This festival is $6 million of  proof that Gary’s instincts were true. Hard proof (see what I did there?) Because now he’s up on the stage as DJ Destructo, looking at an ocean of bobble heads, against a backdrop of downtown’s skyscrapers, poking up like cigarettes in a packet, the sunset bursting through the gaps. Gary’s dad’s back stage taking pictures with his friends. His wife and kids are there holding signs – “Go hard Dad!”

This is how it is now for the old school ravers. A family scene, a business. Room for a couple of cocktails maybe, but nothing crazy. The comfort of golf carts and backstage catering.

I head out to the festival proper, where the kids are all dressed up and bopping in the dirt. I want to feed off their energy, feel the euphoria of the early days. I remember raves in England as chemical frenzies, all sweat and gurning, shaking water bottles and hugging strangers. The music was new then, the drugs too.

But now, EDM’s radio friendly. Deadmaus is a nostalgia act. And the crowd’s remarkably well behaved, friendly in that American way, not the throng of marauding bro’s you might expect. I’ve often felt that the lid doesn’t come off in the States quite so quickly, though when it does it rather explodes. In England, as I remember, the lid was never properly on in the first place.

day-of-the-dead-girl-with-flowers  A-fetching-hat

We attempt a bit of a dance to Jamie Jones, but I’m just not the nipper I was. A bit chilly in this T-shirt, truth be told, even though the girls are walking around in nothing but gussets and bras. So at the merch stand, I ask the fogey question – “what’s the warmest thing you’ve got?”

And now, I’m in a Skrillex jacket, marveling at the dilated pupils around me and the vogue for glo-in-the-dark gloves – all the better to make silly swirly shapes with your hands.

But here I am thinking I’m the old one, when Giorgio Moroder comes on, a proper veteran. He’s in his 70s bless him, and going a bit deaf. But there he is anyway, on the decks, playing some power gay version of “Love to Love You Baby”. Every time he gets a bit confused, a guy next to him pops up and directs him to the right buttons to push.

And that’s all it takes. The beat builds to a climax until Grandpa Giorgio points his crinkled finger at the sky, and we all know what’s next. The drop works like a natural law – the hands go in the air, the crowd whoops and leaps… And I wonder if anything’s really changed in the last twenty years after all.

Then I bump into this guy.

EDM-guy

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Electric Guest and the Perils of Gentrification

Another 74 & Sunny column, not for the faint-hearted, this time. As always, go give it a like at Esquire if you’re feeling chummy – 74 & Sunny: Behind The Mask.

When people say “that’s so LA” they’re usually talking about some alignment of silliness, a vapid trifecta. Like say, a Porsche, a Playmate and a pussy-plumping clinic. Or a Kardashian, a psychic and a kale smoothie. In fact, you can pick any three from a buffet of options – it’s like building a burrito at Chipotle. There’s Pilates, “my therapist”, hot yoga, fonuts, the inexplicable line at Pinks…

But there are other “so LA” moments. Not quite as tasty as Chipotle. I promised I’d tell the truth about this place, how it’s not as frothy as you might think. Light and shade and all that. So brace yourself. I heard this story from Asa Taccone of Electric Guest, whose album Mondo, produced by Danger Mouse, was a highlight of last year. We were having lunch at Auntie Ems, a sandwich spot in Eagle Rock, which is just bubbling over with bands right now.

Electric-Guest-Asa-and-Matt-photo-credit-Brent-Mullins

“The first time I got a place of my own, it was this cool standalone house with a white picket fence in Echo Park,” says Asa. “Until then, we just lived together, me and Matt [his partner in the band]. But I figured we’d made our album, and gone on tour, so you know, it was time to be a ‘grown-up’ I guess.”

Echo Park’s out east, a famously bohemian neighborhood that went a bit ghetto – it’s where Training Day was shot – but is now making the transition back from hood to hipster, the classic arc of gentrification. Asa signed a year’s lease on the place, and 11 days in, invited all his friends over for a party. Like 50 people, a barbecue type deal.

Then this guy showed up at the door, a couple of hours in. “He was a black guy, covered in tattoos, with this scar across his face. And he had this little bag with him, and a six pack of beer. He said, ‘hey homie, I was wondering if I could like kick it you know? I seen all these people coming over…’”

Asa had seen him before, down the street. He hung with a posse, all of them drinking 40s at two in the afternoon. But hey, it’s Echo Park – all part of the hood charm.

“So I was like, ‘oh no, it’s just for my friends…’ And immediately he was super bugged. He’s like, ‘that’s a shame yo, because now you’re going to have to move.’ I was like – ‘oh it’s like that? Well come in!’ But he just walked away. Like really pissed. And I was thinking ‘shit, what do I do?’ Then I saw him do this fucking gesture that was so not for me, it was just him shaking his head like, ‘now I’m going to have to do something…’ Gave me the fucking creeps.”

So Asa ran after him, and persuaded him to come in. “I said, ‘I thought you meant you and all those dudes, but hey, if it’s just you, that’s cool…’”

The guy stayed until five the following morning, getting wasted and grabbing on the girls and spitting in the sink. As the night wore on, he poured out his story to various people at the party – how he sold heroin, how he was in a gang, how he’d just got out of prison, how he’d recently broken into his neighbor’s house. He cried a couple of times.

But the clincher was the camera.

“He had this bag with him the whole time, with this camera in it. I’m pretty sure he stole it. He might have stolen it from the neighbor’s house he said he broke into. But anyway, he found out one of my friends was into film, and he asked him how to use it. He said, ‘I just took some pictures, but I don’t really know how to work it, could you help?’ Then he went into the bathroom for like ten minutes, which he kept doing all night, and my friend flicked through the pictures…”

Asa grimaced and shook his head. “It was all these tatted up Mexican dudes, like fully naked and fucking each other. And they were wearing these hella scary masks.”

What, like wrestling masks?

“Why does everyone ask that? No, I’m talking death masks. Satan and shit. And I’ll never forget when he left, he like pulled me in close and said, ‘that was the best time of my life, man.’ I was just thinking ‘you know what, that’s exactly what I get for being yet another fucking hipster trying to penetrate this newly gentrified area.”

Asa called the landlord the next day. Within a week, he’d moved to Silverlake.

Still-from-Training-Day

Electric Guest’s new single Jerk is out now, as is their album Mondo (Downtown Records).

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