Is L.A. The New Brooklyn?
1 September 2010
So many big indie bands and Next Big Things have emerged from New York City's Brooklyn borough over the last few years that it's almost become a kind of running joke. Grizzly Bear, MGMT, Yeasayer, High Places, Gang Gang Dance, Dirty Projectors –– you could fill a festival just with Brooklyn bands.
But over the past year, a new American underground musical hotspot has been emerging, this time on the other side of the country in Los Angeles, and in particular the Eastside neighbourhoods of Silver Lake and Echo Park.
While Silver Lake and Echo Park have been an arts hub for many years, it's only over the past 12 months that the area has started to get widespread international recognition, on the back of the success of the likes of experimental powerpop duo No Age, who played at last year's Laneway, and Ariel Pink, whose latest album, Before Today, has been wowing pretty much everyone. So what is it about these suburbs?
'What brings bands to Silverlake is one really simple word: community,' Jeff Castelaz, CEO of L.A. indie label Dangerbird, says.
'For young bands, there's a complete ecosystem here –– a handful of factors that combine to lend a helping hand to the music scene. In some ways, the most important factor is affordable rent. There's also a ton of rehearsal rooms, cafes and production companies that offer part time jobs.' Castelaz adds that there are also three great venues in the area and an abundance of engineer-owned studios.
While Silverlake and Echo Park are yet to take over NYC's famously fertile neighbourhoods of Williamsburg, Fort Green and Greenpoint in terms of sheer output, the quality of the music coming out of these L.A. suburbs is now more than a match for the sounds coming from the other side of the country. Within a couple of years, a wave of vital new music has dispelled for good the lingering image of the L.A. scene as just a bunch of hairspray bands on Sunset.
We're listening to a lot of great music coming out of L.A. at the moment. And the bands we're listening to, while definitely different in a bunch of ways, seem to share a sensibility that's unique to the west coast –– maybe in keeping with the better weather, there seems to be a looser, sunnier vibe coming through.
Let's take a look at a few of the bands leading the charge:
Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino is a California native who tried the east coast before moving back to L.A. She says it was the weather that brought her back. 'Initially, being in a snowstorm was nice, but after two weeks, I started thinking about all my friends enjoying 80-degree sunshine in February,' she told the L.A. Times recently. 'New York is an amazing city with a wonderful culture and history, but I had to come home.'
Cosentino's fuzzy, breezy pop strongly evokes the place in which she grew up –– sun, surf and sand under a haze of smoke and smog. Best Coast's debut lp, Crazy For You, released just a month or so ago, is currently blowing up in a big way.
No Age are probably the most recognisable band from the new L.A. scene, their loose, deeply melodic noise-pop having made waves all over the world on the back of two much-loved lps and heavy touring. The guitar and drums duo of Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have been a major fixture at the Smell, an all ages, alcohol-and-drug-free venue-cum-art space in downtown L.A.
The Smell has long nurtured L.A.'s experimental music scene in all its many forms and given kids the chance to see, and be inspired by, great new music. (The duo paid homage to the Smell on the cover of their first lp, Weirdo Rippers, which featured the outside of the Smell redone to read No Age.)
Jenny and Johnny
Jenny and Johnny is the union of Jenny Lewis, best known for her decade fronting indie-rock mainstays Rilo Kiley, and Scottish-American singer-songwriter Johnathon Rice. After an auspicious meeting in Nebraska in 2006, the two began collaborating, first on Lewis's solo material, then with Elvis Costello on his acclaimed 2008 lp Momofuku.
A couple of years ago the duo started recorded music as Jenny and Johnny. Like the city they both call home, Jenny and Johnny's music is both bright and hazy, light and dark, recalling the classic jangle-pop of the 80s. Pretty but still a little tart, Jenny and Johnny's sharp, literate pop is gaining them a growing following.
None of the four members of Warpaint, a jammily psychedelic all-girl art-rock outfit, are from L.A., but all now live in Silver Lake and Echo Park. Three-quarters of the current line-up tried New York, but eventually settled on L.A.'s sunnier climes. 'There's kind of a scene here,' drummer Stella Mozgawa told Filter Magazine recently. 'It's not all happening in Williamsburg.'
Warpaint have worked hard at their dreamy, atmospheric sound, and are now seeing the rewards: they recently toured with The xx and have a debut lp due in October.
Dum Dum Girls
Other than a slightly sunnier sound, if there's anything that unifies the music coming out of L.A. it might be a more lo-fi aesthetic than that of their east coast counterparts. This is certainly the case with the Dum Dum Girls, a mysterious all-girl group led by Dee Dee who mix the hazy, buried sonics of the Jesus and Mary Chain with classic girl-group pop in a style Dee Dee calls 'blissed-out buzzsaw.'
The Dum Dum's fully formed, expertly crafted pop got them signed to Sub Pop recently.
Darker My Love
The five-piece psych rock Darker My Love band grew up listening to the classic British psychedelia of Spacemen 3, the Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.
Members of DML have done time in The Fall's ever-revolving line-up, but the band has still found time to put out three great records, their more recent work moving from the propulsive, fuzzed out rock'n'roll of earlier releases to more intricate arrangements and straight-up songcraft.
The Silver Lake-based Local Natives started making music the communal way: five friends moving into a house in Silver Lake to record a self-funded debut record. But where many of their DIY peers bury deliberately loose arrangements under layers of fuzz, the Natives' music is unashamedly hi-fi, carefully composed and rousing.
The Native's nimble, unpredictable music has garnered comparisons to the Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend. Their debut, Gorilla Manor, dropped earlier this year to rave reviews.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
When Ariel Pink put out his first few records on the Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label a few years ago, people didn't know what to make of it: deeply weird, art-damaged pop, in love with 80s radio standards but sounding like it was recorded underwater.
Fast forward to 2010, and Ariel Pink, with his band Haunted Graffiti, is now recognised as an early pioneer of the Chillwave movement, and his decidedly hi-fi 4AD debut, Before Today, filled to the brim with immediate, surprising hooks, is flooring pretty much everyone.
So what do you think? Who did we miss? Hit us up on Twitter with your thoughts, or leave a comment below. And watch this space for many more posts in the coming weeks and months.