While I was hangin’ with a few friends, the conversation turned to music. My friends kind of wondered aloud: Is there a music scene in downtown LA? Of course, there was one. But is there one, right here and now? It was a good question.I knew a few spots for great live music, but whether it’d become a full-blown scene? Turns out, it totally has. All over Downtown LA there’s music being made—whether it’s right now in a live show or laying down tracks in the studio. Best of all, some of what was, still is.
The pulse of DTLA is live music. Always has been, always will be. In fact, live music was a huge part of the downtown Los Angeles revival. Mainstays like the Staples Center (1999), Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003) and the rebirth of the storied Orpheum Theatre (2001) signaled the beginning of something good. What I love about DTLA is that there’s a lot more where that came from. Our neighborhood has a whole collection of aging theaters and venues that—with a little TLC—can be easily back in the mix in a big way
The Regent – Downtown LA
448 S. MAIN STREET • LOS ANGELES, CA 90013
The pulse of DTLA is live music. Always has been, always will be. In fact, live music was a huge part of the downtown Los Angeles revival. Mainstays like the Staples Center (1999), Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003) and the rebirth of the storied Orpheum Theatre (2001) signaled the beginning of something good. What I love about DTLA is that there’s a lot more where that came from. Our neighborhood has a whole collection of aging theaters and venues that—with a little TLC—can be easily back in the mix in a big way.
In 2014, the Regent Theater was beautifully restored and opened its doors to musical acts of all kinds. First dubbed the National as early as 1914 and rebranded the Regent in 1917, this theater’s journey almost resembles that of DTLA itself—from first-run movie theater, to B-movie grindhouse and finally adult cinema boasting “peliculas calientes.” From 1992 to 2006, the Regent was dark, until Mitchell Frank took over the lease, the same man who created the legendary Echo and the Echoplex—so he might know a thing or two about booking bands.
When bands outgrow more intimate venues like the ‘Plex, they’ll need somewhere to grow to—and that’s where the Regent comes in. With bands’ social media followings growing steadily, it’s relatively easy to get the word out and fill bigger venues. (The Regent, for example, has a capacity of about 1,100.) Plus, it’s giving fans a different kind of night out, too. Instead of cramming into a small room and pounding cheap beer, they’re coming to downtown LA for a full night out—maybe a bite, a craft cocktail or two and some live tunes. They’re watching the band they “discovered” grow, and they’re pretty much growing with them.
And the Regent isn’t alone. So many of the dilapidated buildings in the Historic Core are joining the indie music revival: the Belasco, the Mayan, the Theatre at Ace Hotel and the aforementioned Orpheum are active once again. These theaters are kind of becoming the last stop before stardom. They’re not the first place bands will play, but they’re likely the place we’ll all talk about seeing them right before they exploded.
247 S. Main Street • Los Angeles, CA 90012
Of course, we’ve also got the sticky spots, as I like to call them—the ones that have managed to stick around forever and still have a bit of magic. The Smell is one of those spots. An all-ages, booze-less, not-for-profit club that’s staffed by the kids who frequent it, The Smell has been an underground destination for punk music since the late ’90s. It’s a club in the truest sense, built by owner Jim Smith (who still has a 9-to-5, 18 years later) to be more of a community than just a room with a stage. As Smith says in LA Weekly, “The kids who come, they are people, not ‘patrons.’” The Smell books bands like No Age, Abe Vigoda and Mika Miko—and just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t have cult followings. Because that’s the point of The Smell, showcasing bands you’d never hear on mainstream radio, but might overhear in the kid’s headphones next to you on the street. It’s the ultimate DIY for the LA indie music scene—the kind of place DTLA needs to keep that grass roots spirit alive. Right now, The Smell is raising funds to relocate because their building is being torn down. Let’s hope they stay in the ‘hood.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the dance scene. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the LA dance scene. House music landed in LA in the late 80s and early 90s, sprouting a web of underground raves and DJs—largely across the swath of warehouses lying vacant downtown. And now it’s back, baby. Over the past decade, house and techno (Now commonly referred to as EDM) has crept back into the mainstream, taking over those same downtown LA warehouses all over again. And because LA is a land of transplants, the city’s attracting DJ talent from here, there and everywhere.
618 S Spring St • Los Angeles, CA 90014
Bringing new life to the former Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building this massive four-story building literally pulses with energy. Reopened in 2010, Exchange LA boasts a thunderous sound system, world class laser shows, CO2 blasts and a capacity of over 1500 patrons on any given night. Featuring the biggest acts in EDM the elevated stage has played home to acts like Armin van Buuren, Fedde le Grand, Ferry Corsten, Green Velvet, Dubfire, and Seth Troxler to name just a few. Lines generally wrap around the building so get your tickets in advance and prepare to be covered in confetti before the night is over. Time to get your dance on again, DTLA.
DOWNTOWN LA RECORD STORES
You know who else is part of the music scene? Purveyors of fine vinyl. No longer just destinations for collectors, record stores have become hosts to live music and events. They’re a place to come together, appreciate good music and have a good time. I mean, isn’t that what music is all about?
The Last Bookstore
453 S Spring St • Los Angeles, CA 90013
There are a couple of great places in Downtown LA to pick up some new vinyl, starting with The Last Bookstore. This glorious rabbit hole of all things recorded and written has been amassing pre-loved stuff since they opened more than 10 years ago. Though they’re famous for their books that span two full stories, their vinyl collection is also impressive with numbers in the tens of thousands (you’ll find them in the annex). They also host music events from time to time, in case you need an excuse to pop by for a wee visit.
3231 N Main St • Los Angeles, CA 90013
Down the street in Chinatown, there’s Caveman Vintage Music. They’ve got a sweet collection of vinyl, plus floor-to-ceiling vintage instruments that your fingers will totally itch to play. For more vinyl goodness, if you’re willing to hop in an Uber, you’ll find a few legendary places just a neighborhood or so away: Origami Vinyl, Rockaway Records, Vacation Vinyl and Mono Records. Happy vinyl hunting, y’all.
DTLA RECORDING STUDIOS
The Fortress LA
We’ve covered where to hear and buy music, but how ‘bout where to make it? Our little ‘hood is definitely seeking an uptick in studios, too. A couple years back, east side studio The Fortress opened, converting a former soap factory and the decade-long home of The Stone Temple Pilots (called “The Bomb Shelter). Now it’s a gorgeous space with a soaring tracking room, control room and massive lounge. Their self-proclaimed mission? “To harbor a unity between the wild infant soul of the 20th century’s music, and the ease and innovation of modern recording.” I can get on board with that. And all over downtown LA, there’s a smattering of tucked-away indie spots to create. Some are helmed by people who have done double duty as both engineer and musician—like Peter Hong of Studio 5A or Big Swede of Big Swede Studios. Some are in great spaces, like Seahorse Sound Studios in a former handbag factory or Melody Maker Productions’ The Vault, a rehearsal and recording space in a 1920s bank vault. All have worked with some amazing talent, some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t yet. And you never know, you just may be the next if you find yourself in town…
Downtown LA is an exciting place to be right now for music. Take a little of what was, add a little of what is and sprinkle a little of what can be—and you’ve got quite a magical mix. Down here, you can listen, collect and create, all within walking distance. Whether you play out or just came to play, that’s a very cool thing.
‘Til Next Time,