Clubbing to world beat

Multicultural flavors spice up L.A. night life

Topics of diversity and universality are hot in L.A.’s clubland. With Southern California’s melting-pot demographics, clubs can prosper by appealing to several ethnic groups. Venues are now designating weekly nights to celebrate music from India, Mexico, Africa and more. Or they feature acts that combine several ethnic influences, like those found in the growing genre of electronic music.

Los Angeles has one of the most diverse cultures in the world. “But it’s also the most ghettoized,” says Richard Winn, producer of the syndicated radio program “Modern Rock Live.” However, the one place people come together is in dance clubs. “You don’t see it in rock clubs,” adds Winn. “If you go out to clubs in Europe, even in countries that have serious racial problems, no one seems to care as long as everyone’s into the music.” The Southland is fast becoming the same way.

The Sunset Strip’s House of Blues was one of the first to put the concept into major play. In 1994, it opened its doors promising to feature talent ranging in style from rap to Middle Eastern to Latin. Newly remodeled night spots like the Hollywood Athletic Club and Dragon Fly are following suit by adding theme nights such as “Latin” and “house.” One of Hollywood’s longstanding dance clubs, Circus Disco, has added rooms to feature not only disco but rap, techno and roc en espanol to accommodate ethnically diverse weekend warriors who come en masse to dance.

“With Los Angeles being 38% Spanish-speaking, one of our largest markets is Spanish,” says John Pantle, co-talent buyer for House of Blues, Los Angeles. “We’re the premier venue for roc en espanol and salsa. Moreover, we try to encompass every culture in L.A., where there are so many different languages spoken. In the future we will be booking more electronic music acts. We’re headed toward a large involvement in that community.”

The ’90s are a mixed bag, according to Elizabeth Peterson, general manager of the Hollywood Athletic Club, a former posh pool hall that recently added a stage area. “The ’80s were easy (in club marketing) — you just had to have quality product. Now you need great music, ethnically diverse groups on different nights of the week … hype … a dance scene. I’m trying to keep a venue that’s real to L.A. and that means meeting the needs of more than one culture.”

DJ Jason Bentley insists, “The most interesting clubs are definitely the ones that attract a diverse crowd, and if you don’t feel that way, then you’re just close- minded.” Bentley hosts two influential radio programs (“Metropolis” on KCRW and “After Hours” on KROQ) in addition to being a respected club DJ and partner in Quango Records and Bossa Nova, a club previously located at the Pink in Santa Monic until its popularity forced its relocation to the larger Luna Park in West Hollywood. The common thread connecting Bentley’s numerous endeavors is his taste in music. He was one of the first to embrace and feature world-class experimental groove music — be it trip hop, drum ‘n’ bass or house. All incorporate various cultural influences.

“The original reason I was drawn to clubs is that the environment is therapeutic — it makes for a better place,” says Bentley. “It defines something I’ve always considered the freedom principle — the idea of being able to accept people from different backgrounds. Today’s clubs play the first global pop music … it crosses language barriers. There’s not just a Seattle scene, it’s always a world scene.”

The U.K. dance label Deconstruction chose Los Angeles as it U.S. outpost because “the future of dance music exists with its different elements.” For label manager Mick Cole it is spirit and soul, not origin, that defines music. “It doesn’t matter what culture or what country or where it came from. There is a spirit that ties all of it together.” Cole also co-hosts Groove Radio’s (FM 103.1) experimental program, “Stoned … Chilled … Groove” with partner Freddy Be. In addition, they organize an ethnically mixed DJ night, Monday Night Social, at Louis XIV, a hip French eatery in Hollywood where L.A.’s electronic elite wheel and deal. “We take bits and pieces from lots of different cultures, lots of different sounds,” says Cole.

The amalgamation of Southern California’s culture as seen in club trends is also found on Groove Radio. The station works closely with clubs to promote cross-cultural dance music like that heard on air. “There are still clubs that cater to a certain type of person,” says on-air personality Holly Adams, who used to be a modern rock DJ. “But even the inception of Groove Radio has changed that. Our audience might be older females who just feel the groove or it’s the guy who used to feel like he could only relate to the ghetto. The music is bringing people together and breaking down the barriers that once were.”

Because radio rating systems are virtually archaic (hand-written diaries in the computer age?), a better gauge of the station’s impact is the 200,000 hits a month it receives on a Web site that downloads live broadcasts.

Adams, who is in clubs four or five nights a week, has noticed a change in the last year. “When I first started hosting the Rhino Room in Huntington Beach, it was pretty much Orange County kids. Now I see Latinos and all ethnicities. People don’t seem to be as judgmental.”

Music has always been a unifying force, concludes Adams. “Like in Europe, if a club is hot and slammin’ it’s not about ethnicity, sexuality or age. I think with L.A. being so spread out, it’s caused a lot of segregation, but more and more people are coming together and it’s reflected in popular clubs.”

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