The 10 Best Underground Music Venues in LA
Los Angeles is a city of nearly four million people, and precious few underground music venues. The city’s draconian laws cut long nights short and make it deeply difficult and expensive to get permits to stage live music. As it is, the “underground” is wildly subjective, and the hubs for live music are usually independently owned venues. Here are some of the best.
Founded in 2006, Pehrspace is one of Los Angeles’ most unassuming venues–it’s located in a largely unmarked strip mall a few blocks south of the recently redesigned (or gentrified, depending on your point of view) Echo Park Lake. The street signs indicate that Pehrspace is in “Historic Filipinotown,” a post-hoc label no native Angeleno has ever used. Because Pehrspace functions partially as an office, and partially as an art gallery, space is at a premium. Pehrspace’s official website is a technically a Google calendar, but their Facebook page functions as a more reliable indicator of goings-on.
For most of the week, Lincoln Heights’ The Airliner is a low-key, two-story bar with a perhaps overly rickety upstairs balcony. Counterintuitively, it’s Wednesday nights which bring the most consistent crowd to The Airliner. Wednesdays are for Low End Theory, Los Angeles’ preeminent bass music weekly, known to debut some of rap and dance music’s biggest acts. Present day legends have been known to stop by—Prince, recently made an unannounced appearance. Aside from an unfortunate policy regarding bathroom use that leads to people pissing in a dark corner of the balcony during Low End Theory, The Airliner is everything you’d want from a dive bar–bad bathrooms, cheap drinks, and a mustached bartender/manager named Sharky.
Mitchell Frank is, arguably, the driving force in Los Angeles’ independent music scene. In 1995, Frank opened Spaceland in what had been a gay disco. Spaceland, renamed The Satellite in 2010, is something of a legendary venue; the first ever show played host to Beck, the Foo Fighters, and Silver Lake scene heroes Possum Dixon and Lutefisk. Despite Silver Lake’s turn toward the painfully expensive and uncool, The Satellite remains a low-cost option for little-known acts to grow their audience. And Neil Hamburger.
The Echo/The Echoplex
After the success of Spaceland, Frank expanded his empire to Echo Park, opening The Echo in 2001 and The Echoplex in 2007. The two are, essentially, one venue. The Echo is the smaller of the two, and generally plays host to lesser-known acts; The Echoplex, a massive, if oddly shaped space, is located directly below, and, in a sense, is literally underground. The crowd is entirely dependent on the act—the average week has Bootie LA, a somehow still-extant mashup night; Funky Soul, the aptly named funk and soul night; and Dub Club, a reggae night. You’ll also catch some of the best acts from just outside the mainstream.
Jewel’s Catch One/Catch One Nightclub
Jewel’s Catch One was, at its peak, Los Angeles’ premiere gay, black nightclub. Founded by Jewel Thais-Williams in 1973 as a response to the racism of West Hollywood, Jewel’s Catch One functioned as both nightclub and a community. Alas, the 76-year old Thais-Williams called it quits earlier this year. The funky, cavernous rooms will live on as Catch One Nightclub under an as-yet-undetermined owner.
There shouldn’t be an excellent jazz club in a multi-storied shopping mall, yet Joon Lee’s Blue Whale not only exists, but is thriving. Little Tokyo’s Blue Whale, considered a jazz club for jazz musicians and purists, is shockingly unpretentious; admission, food, and drinks are reasonably priced, and there’s no bandstand, furthering the sense of intimacy already afforded by the club’s limited space.
Club Bahia’s been an Eastside staple since 1974. Friday through Sunday, the nearly 500-person venues host some of the city’s most well-known Latin nights. Monday through Thursday it hosts independent music sponsored by Live Nation.
There’s nothing you could say about The Smell that hasn’t already been said. It’s a no frills, all-ages, alcohol and drug-free, DIY venue in what used to be one of Downtown’s gnarliest areas. Downtown’s now-inextricable Yuppie infestation hasn’t noticeably changed the scene at The Smell–ripped-denim-wearing teens, and more inside shouting “POSERS!” at whoever’s onstage. The Smell has been repeated host to local stars No Age, HEALTH, and Abe Vigoda. It’s also been repeated host to bands that self-destructed, never played more than a handful of shows, or barely made it through a single performance.
Image: Gregston Hurdle