Rihanna and Fun. have their place, but if you want to escape the mainstream and lose yourself on the dance floor, an underground vibe is your ticket to bliss. You'll find soulful house, techno, hip hop, disco—all with a thumping bass—on the decks at these top LA dance parties, where the freaks come out at night (and sometimes during the day) dressed in drag, skivvies or head-to-toe body paint. They're the best happenings in town when you need a fix of serious fun.
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Thrown By: Jeniluv, Alexandre Mouracade, DJ Hoff
Why it Kills: Making Shapes started with a clear mission: to fill a void in LA nightlife by throwing an authentic party for the creative types who like their nights out a little dirty. By hosting local Hollywood talent (like A Club Called Rhonda’s DJ Goddollars) and attracting international headliners in an renegrade venue—a warehouse equipped with a heated pool and patio—Making Shapes has become a party so sought after, that it’s a must-have badge of honor for visiting DJs to play—so much so that its promoters can’t keep up with the demand and often have to turn away internationally-known talent. Pretty impressive for a party that’s just celebrated its third birthday. Now, as the party starts to host brand of events in permitted spaces, look for Making Shapes to pop up poolside at LA hotels and other creative venues. But, die-hards, never fear: no matter what the locale, both Making Shapes promoters and party goers are committed to protecting its eclectic spirit and underground feel.
The Music: An international hit list of the biggest DJs in the game—most recently including Kim Ann Foxmann, Mark E (Fabric UK), Benoit & Sergio (DC), Mark E Quark and Matais Aguayo (Chile).
The Scene: About 700 of greater LA’s fashion-philes, drag queens, artists, musicians, designers and actors all party pretty along with those who make the pilgrimage from San Diego and the Inland area to hear the biggest DJs from around the globe. While many attendees dress to impress, the massive cross-section of attendees make for zero pretention and a surprisingly friendly vibe.
A Club Called Rhonda
Thrown by: Gregory Alexander, Alexis Rivera and Goddollars, Hosted by POPtART gallery owner and photographer Phyliss Navidad
Why it Kills: What started as an adverse reaction to the celebutante-heavy and TMZ-soaked club scene that seemed to swallow LA six years ago has flourished into one of the the artsy-est, most inclusive parties in the city. The promoters steer clear of top 40 and American Dance by wrangling talent from Europe and American underground scenes. As for ambiance, there are always concept-driven aesthetics that feel more like set designs worthy of a Vogue photo shoot than the humdrum mahogany-and-chandelier look that’s so popular in Hollywood ultra lounges. There’s also a healthy helping of fashion influence (founders Alexander and Navidad both worked in the industry), and eccentric dressers are rewarded with line privileges and free entry to ensure an especially vivacious crowd. And for an extra dash of irreverence, free Jell-O shots are passed out to party-goers to help keep the energy up.
The Music: Rhonda takes the best DJs and acts—Monty Luke, Jacques Renault, Metro Area and Peanut Butter Wolf—off of their superclub tour stops and places them in a homespun atmosphere. Disco, Detroit techno and classic house have a big influence on Rhonda’s musical stylings.
The Scene: This polysexual crowd of extreme dressers know they’ll score instant entry (and the chance to be singled out as an especially hot dresser, or “Golden Achiever,” on Rhonda’s website) for donning daring looks. Still, the be-whomever-you-want-to-be message prevails, so everyone from streetwear-soaked artists and flawless tyrannies to familiar faces like Leona Lewis, James Murphy, Jeremy Scott and Dita Von Teese rock everything from wedding dresses to wife beaters or whatever they damned well please. Those who stay and sweat 'til the bitter end are rewarded—signs bearing Rhondaisms such as “Take it off—it’s OK” and “Freedom feels good” are up for grabs at the end of the night.
Bears in Space
Thrown By: DJs Chris Bowen and Victor Rodriguez. Hosted by a rotation of LA’s most iconic beauties, including Phyliss Navidad and Chlöe Sevigny (aka Drew Droege).
Why It Kills: In the last year, this 3-year old party has shed its old, disco-centric club skin for free, outdoor beer busts that feature dirt-cheap drinks in the sun. But that doesn’t mean it’s all Budweiser and burgers; debauchery lives on in the form of a raucous dance floor and the occasional hair-raising performance—like one from a bondage-clad RudeNess, one of RuPaul’s Drag Racers. Once nighttime falls, party people pitch in to physically carry the DJ decks (sunk into a six-foot table) from the parking lot area to inside Akbar’s hallowed walls to re-start the party under clubbier conditions—it’s the most fun-spirited and DIY aspect of the night. Suddenly, DJs may don space suits and bear heads and play among a dense of fog.
The Music: Resident DJs play cosmic disco and house-heavy sets while guests like Mike Trombley & Scott Zacharias (Detroit), and Bus Station John (San Francisco) drop in to serve up disco-derived flavors of their own. Nearly everything from 60s soul and 70s rock to 80s synth and 90s hip hop might be thrown in the mix during daylight hours; but when the party moves indoors, it’s bumping house tracks that keep the crowds rocking after dark.
The Scene: Going by name alone, one might expect to see a bevy of bears in their natural habitat. Sadly for some, one might be wrong. The name actually comes from a play on the famous NYC radio show, Beats in Space. While the crowd is mostly gay, the party’s daytime time frame gathers an extremely diverse crowd (Silver Lake denizens, senior citizens, Downtowners, the average Joanne who wandered in off the street). One good rule of thumb to consider when getting dressed: It’s generally pretty hot out there, so when it comes to clothes, less is more.
Thrown By: Jeniluv
Why It Kills: This party is brand spankin’ new in town. But with a lineup that kicked off with live sets by 40 Thieves and Pharaohs (both from San Francisco), and with the party coming from one of the minds that created Making Shapes, this great escape is destined to be legendary. Pleasure Trip is a dark disco with tropical décor, served up at club, hotel and poolside venues in LA with special destination parties to pop up in Palm Springs.
The Music: Destination Disco, poolside compatible and pumped up by new live acts that masterfully carry the disco torch.
The Scene: Island attire is strongly encouraged, though with this crowd the interpretation will be more fashion forward (think out-of-print designer one-pieces over short shorts) and less Tommy Bahama.
Harvey Sarcastic Disco
Thrown By: DJ Harvey and Paul T. & Junior
Why it Kills: The incomparable DJ Harvey, who has rocked everything from Ministry of Sound to House of Burberry parties, is the only DJ billed to throw down six-plus hours of body-rocking beats. This is the quintessential party for purists (which sprung from a mix tape collab between SoCal-based streetwear brand Sarcastic Clothing and DJ Harvey)—there are no international mystery DJs flown in to bloat cover charges and no gimmicks. If you’re here, you’re dancing; the crowd will certainly turn on a static partygoer for bringing the atmosphere down.
The music: Expect a mix of soul, house, hip hop, funk, breaks, you name it. Harvey’s specialty is uncovering long-lost tracks and exposing them to the masses.
The Scene: This seven-year old party is elusive; its “if you don’t know, ask somebody” motto keeps the crowd control to a legit 800-1000 joyful souls (multi-generational disciples of disco, soul, and house) who treasure the underground vibe of this under-the-radar event. This crowd is there for one reason only—to dance.
Lights Down Low
Thrown By: Sleazemore and Richie Panic (of Frisco Disco and Blow Up)
Why It Kills: Corey Sleazemore brought banger electro with him when he decamped from Florida to San Francisco seven years ago, creating a long-lasting party that remains a sparkling jewel on the city’s party crown. As the scene evolved, so did LDL; the party is now known for showcasing the best in UK bass and keeping its sound systems impeccable —Sleazemore is known to turn down offers to throw parties at various venues if the in-house sound systems don’t make the grade. After amassing a loyal following that trust LDL tastes and turn out for even the most ballsy of billings (he recently booked a couple of noise bands for his house-centric party), he and partner Richie Panic decided to take their signature dark, gritty aesthetic to the southland, pouring heart, soul and major coin into their first LA party. With more than 700 people showing up to LA’s first LDL—double of what Panic and Sleazemore anticipated—the event has paved the way for more epic parties to come; look for quarterly LDL throwdowns at both club and warehouse venues in 2013.
The Music: This party has brought everything from a Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner DJ set to a Blaqstarr performance during its six years. Its first party in LA featured house and garage producer Todd Edwards and remix masters Acid Girls, who brought their signature avante-dance sound.
The Scene: Panic’s DIY punk background and Sleazemore’s baby-raver upbringing mix to create a deliberately understylized atmosphere where music is the thing. The gritty atmosphere attracts a wide span of house-lovers in the know to create a mix of fashion-forward hipsters, music blog nerds, DJs and fashion industry types. But Sleazemore says it’s the plain-clothed house heads that keep the dance floor throbbing ‘till the last beat drops.
Thrown By: Marques Wyatt
Why it Kills: While “deep” refers to the dark, gut-reaching, heart-shaking brand of house that’s often played at this party, the event could just easily be called “soul.” Month after month, Wyatt works to provide a transformative experience for its revelers by way of spirit-lifting beats, low lighting, and artistic images to help establish community and reinforce connectivity among the crowd. And it’s a conscientious approach that’s been working for an unheard-of 14 years, since it launched in the Viper Room (of all places) in a late-nineties, house music-deprived LA. Since, Deep has hosted everything from an air-guitar wailing Prince at its 10-year anniversary party to Classic Nights, where longtime Deep freaks bust out their throwback Deep-issue tees and DJs dig in the crates for timeless cuts that enrapture the crowd like believers at a Sunday sermon.
The Music: Marques Wyatt, a house music legend in his own right, has close ties to the biggest pioneers in house music—and uses his impressive contact list to keep Deep one of the most true-school parties in town. Look for heavy hitters like Miguel Migs, Louie Vegas, Mark Farina, Tony Humphries and Doc Martin. But don’t think this party is only about the vets/old-timers: Deep’s new Innovator Series features up-and-coming talent by UK-based live dance act Crazy P and Lovebirds’ laid back house.
The Scene: Its organic vibe makes for a bare-bones atmosphere where better living through house music—not shocking décor or dress-to-be-seen posturing—is on the brain. Veteran house lovers co-mingle with fresh, young things to comprise a crowd of 400 people who dub this party their version of church, and are there to bliss out and just dance.
Thrown By: MR C. (Former member of the Shamen)
Why it kills: Lucky LA is home to the second coming of Superfreq, an international club brand that started in London and now has tentacles that stretch from Costa Rica to Ibiza and from Miami to Russia, where a cycle of one-offs are thrown. Now in its fourth year of residency in LA, the club retains its dark and sexy aura via both intimate parties of 150 to larger get-downs of 500. While a party of this magnitude clearly has the reach to go full-blown massive (think 3,000 heads or more), creator Mr C. does it for love, not profit, keeping the spirit underground and the crowds manageable.
The Music: The sounds can range from minimal to acid to house and more, but the baselines are always funky, the guest DJs are always innovative (expect to hear little-known styles that will become de rigor a few years from now) and the BPMs never dip below 115.
The Scene: People make an effort to look good—think head-to-toe body paint—but those who come outfitted in everyday street clothes are just as welcome.