One otherwise-quiet night at home during my senior year of high school, I received an envelope that changed my life. Here it was, sitting in my lap: an acceptance letter to Pitzer College, my first choice school and only application in the Los Angeles area. Not only was I exhilarated at the prospect of living in a phenomenal campus environment, but I was equally thrilled to relocate only a half-hour drive from downtown. I’ve spent my formative years around the city, and wouldn’t trade the experiences and insight that it’s given me for anything. Continuing to be a member of the vibrant music and arts scene is something I cherish deeply. The creative community within Los Angeles is thriving and progressing at a genuinely inspiring pace. Here are a few personal observations on it after a couple years of college hindsight.
- Innovation abounds: First and foremost, the SoCal area in general has surfaced as a globally-influential epicenter for creativity, even outside of the film industry. This stands in stark contrast to the general consensus of past decades, which generally located America’s creative mecca on the east coast—an area that saw the maturation of jazz, hip hop, post-war American visual art, and more. In recent years, however, LA has cemented its place at the forefront of an envelope-pushing new wave of creators. Lincoln Heights-based experimental hip hop night Low End Theory and East LA’s rich Chicano tradition are just two entries in a long list of Angeleno contributions to the global arts and music tapestry. In addition, the inherently insular nature of many disparate arts communities translates to a limitless diversity in genre and style. Punk shows in the southeast, vinyl-only DJ sets in the industrial district, and an emerging gallery walk in the downtown area are but a few of the lively scenes that exist within short train rides of one another.
- The kids are leading the way: In addition to subverting past models of exposure and recognition, the LA creative community is led by young people. The Smell, a legendary DIY venue, proudly stands by a strict all-ages policy, and often promotes themed nights for youth bands. Mid city hosts the SAKE store and Paradi$e, two streetwear brands helmed by designers under 20. Barcito,The Bellwether, and Alma are only a handful of the numerous well-respected eateries run by restauranteurs under 30. By foregrounding young creatives across various crafts, the city has come to represent a destination for fearless artists from all backgrounds.
- The time to do it yourself is now: More than ever before, the need for third-party management and representation seems to be at an all-time low. The steady ascent of independent music and art venues—Junior High, Lot One, and East 7th, to name a few—has seen a widespread ousting of major label support and bureaucracy. In tandem with the accessibility of SoundCloud, BandCamp, Instagram, and other social media platforms that lend themselves to effective self-promotion, the underground music scene has provided viable methods of exposure to self-represented artists of all kinds. In addition, many of the old adages for gallery representation are crumbling. Art and performance spaces like Human Resources, Sunday, and 356 Mission are providing viable platforms for marginalized and under-represented artists across the board.
As a brief survey of Los Angeles’ culture will illustrate, the direction of the city’s sights, sounds, and tastes is being dictated by a diverse, young, and fiercely independent crop of creators. Beyond the confines of Hollywood and the kitschy West side, the LA underground has been quietly building up a compelling body of work for decades. As an aspiring music writer, I plan to stay and pursue a career here after graduation, while continuing to navigate through, and contribute to, its increasingly unique network of doers.
Evan is a 20-year-old college student, born and raised in Los Angeles, who has been shaped in innumerable ways by its creative community. He is majoring in digital media and minoring in art history with a dream of working in the music industry since his early experiences at punk shows during his teenage years.