Testifying to the ongoing Invasion, the kingdom's sounds enliven clubs and Angelenos find a cultural kinship. In a town where you can practically dance to the beat of the boom-bust cycle, and six months is a good run for a club night, one part of the fabric of Los Angeles nightlife has worn well: the Union Jack.
Fueled in part by the music industry and the steady influx of expats bubbling around L.A.'s melting pot, stirred by British music itself and reflecting, perhaps, a disaffection shared with a culture 5,400 miles away, the city's undercurrent of Anglophilia tows its devotees away from the American mainstream. You need only spy the scooters parked outside the Ruby on Saturdays, or eyeball the threads of the club-goers at Boardner's on one of its British-oriented nights, or listen for the Briticisms in clubbers' speech to recognize their true colours.
Or stop by Cafe Bleu at the El Rey Theatre on Dec. 1, when the dance club known for blasting Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp back in Britpop's late-'90s heyday will celebrate its 10-year reunion. Even with its successor, Club Bang!, still going strong on Saturdays, Cafe Bleu figures to fan a flame that flickers steadily throughout Hollywood and its environs.
"I remember going there one night with Tim Burgess," the Charlatans UK frontman who now resides in L.A., says Steven Melrose, a 36-year-old Scottish expat who works as an A&R man for Virgin Records. "It was like walking onto a video set. There's 10 scooters outside, perfectly immaculate. Inside, Union Jacks everywhere.
"And everyone was somebody else. It was like, 'There's Oasis over there' and 'There's Supergrass over there.' 'There's Blur over there' and 'There's Elastica!' People were walking up to the bar going, 'Bloody hell! Can I get a pint of lager, mate? Cheers!' ... We sat at the bar and I think they were playing the Charlatans' video. And no one recognized him! I said to him, 'You know something, Tim? There are people in here who look more like you than you do!' "
Clubs that either specialize in British music or spin a transatlantic mix with a heavy British accent can be found in L.A. seven nights a week- promotions that, while not qualifying as super clubs, nonetheless occupy special territory in a balkanized nightlife landscape. Many feature live sets by local bands seemingly plucked from varying waves of the Invasion. The soundtrack to their lives runs deeper than the Beatles and the Stones; their rock pantheon might include Pulp's "Common People," Blur's "Boys and Girls," the Charlatans' "The Only One I Know," the Smiths' "This Charming Man" and virtually anything else involving Morrissey, a figure revered across cultural lines in Los Angeles.
"Music does cross borders, and when it's saying something besides the run-of-the-mill, it connects with people," says Larry Gjurgevich, the DJ and co-promoter of the Friday night Club Underground at Tempest in West Hollywood. "To a lot of us, [British music] feels more honest, more organically grown."
Count Sarah Hancock, 23, who visited Underground on a recent Friday, among those people. "We're always looking for something hot, something different, something new," she says. "The stupid thing is that everything that's hot [in the U.S.] isn't different. It's all recycled. Over there, it's not artificial; it's about the music and the people and the sound and the feeling, whereas here it's about what's going to sell."
Recent Bang! patron Julia, 27, who gave her last name as "Morrissey," calls the music "my escape from the whole world," while her club-going pal Andy (who gave his last name as "Smith," as in the Cure's Robert) is drawn to the passion of Britpop.
"I've always found the British to be a hell of a lot more innovative than the Americans," Andy says. "Maybe it's the weather."
Just add fog.
A scene gets going
The roots of Anglophilia in L.A. were firmly planted in a cozy room at 7561 Sunset Blvd. in 1972, when Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco opened.
"Of course, Britpop then was all glitter rock- you know, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, the Sweet," says the man who would go on to DJ at KROQ-FM (106.7) and become a conduit for music from Britain. "We served English beer and food like steak and kidney pie. People like Led Zeppelin and T. Rex would come and hang out. It was incredible."
The club closed down at the end of 1975, but Bingenheimer got his shot on radio in 1976, just as a new genre of music called "punk" was exploding in Britain. At a time when most American DJs were playing Boston and Aerosmith, Bingenheimer was spinning the Sex Pistols.
In the early 1980s, KROQ opened its airwaves to English bands such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and the Cure- still prime draws in this city- along with kindred American spirits like Devo and Oingo Boingo. Out in radio land, a gang of kids followed along to a palette that included punk, post-punk, new wave, early goth and industrial. One of them was über-promoter Jason Lavitt, who created Club Bang! with Cafe Bleu's originators, Piper Ferguson and Shalyce Benfell. Another was Gjurgevich.
"There just wasn't a lot of American music that interested me growing up," Gjurgevich says. "I used to listen to Rodney.... He did stuff that regular radio wouldn't touch."
Seizing the moment in early 2001 when Cafe Bleu merged with another club, Shout, to become Bang!, Gjurgevich and fellow Britpop fanatics Dia Becker-Frankel and Mark Wright launched Underground, which has been rockin' it every Friday for nearly six years. It has developed a reputation among L.A. and Orange County kids- as well as British musicians (including Morrissey's band) and tourists- as the place to catch a little slice of Britain.
The original Cafe Bleu might still take the cake, though.
"Going to some of these [club] nights was interesting," Melrose remembers, "because you'd see the real Britpoppy, Oasis-looking kids. Then there'd be the ska kids. Then there'd be the Latino ska kids. Then there'd be the skinheads. Now in the U.K. you wouldn't have all these people in the same room — they'd be fighting each other! But here they're all dancing together. The common denominator was music that came from the British Isles."
What might seem strange is that the popularity of British music is actually on the decline in the U.S. Whereas the classic English groups of the '60s and '70s were dominant market forces, and the punk and new wave groups that followed were successful, the ensuing waves of British music have made less and less of a splash as hip-hop became ascendant and American acts have hogged rock's shrinking limelight.
Successors to stadium-worthy acts such as Oasis, Radiohead and Coldplay might be noticeably absent, but in L.A.'s Anglophile undercurrent, it's never necessarily been about what's popular. It's about what's cool, and that extends to the look.
From Japan by way of London, fashion designer Tomomi Fukuda knows all about that. Bored with selling exclusively vintage clothing after opening her Camdenlock boutique on Melrose Avenue in 1995, Fukuda began carrying what were then largely unknown British brands. Business was slow- at first.
"I started selling Ben Sherman and Fred Perry," she explains. "Those things were familiar in London, but I didn't know how people here would react. I put up this Ben Sherman poster- a big, theater-sized poster I got from London. And all of a sudden we got so many scooters!"
By 2001, the U.K. brands Fukuda first imported to L.A. began making inroads at her competitors and eventually at the big department stores, so she began creating her own clothes. She quickly picked up local clients along with those visiting town to record albums, including rock bands Green Day and OK Go.
Plenty of others seeking the same kind of look hit other nearby stores, including Posers, a specialty shop that carries Ben Sherman, Merc, Lambretta, Fred Perry and Lonsdale.
Armed with a measuring tape, Fukuda is well equipped to notice the changes in the Anglophile L.A. community. For one thing, "the boys are getting skinnier and skinnier every year," she says, laughing. If the boys are looking less like the meaty American stereotype, they're also starting to look less modern.
"It borders on a '60s vibe," says DJ-promoter Keith Wilson, 27, of the fashions he spies at his Club Moscow, the au courant dance club that was the launching pad for local Joy Division acolytes She Wants Revenge. "For a while the kids were doing this dark, edgy look like an AFI, My Chemical Romance thing; but now they're coming into much more of a classy, cool '60s look. They still look punk but they're wearing vests.
"Take the Who and the Stones or the Kinks; if you were to look at their album covers, they're dressing almost identical. They've got different new spins, but the basics- the super-fitted jeans and dress pants with the loose-fitting top-shirts and fitted vests, and accessories like old-school hats and really cool zip-up leather boots. It's really the exact same look."
The vibe varies, of course, depending on which Anglophile club you visit. At Bang! on a recent Saturday, Japan native Tadahisa Yoshida sported colored contacts, pink hair, a tartan plaid jacket, pierced lip and shoes with buckles — a look he described as, ahem, "clearly J-rock." No matter the style, he was there to connect with the tunes: "Everything new musically comes from Britain," he says. "It's very creative."
So it is with Shane Daniel McInerney, 24, a post-Katrina transplant from New Orleans, who on a recent night at Underground talked of plans to buy a Chesterfield suit (like the ones the Beatles wore on the "Ed Sullivan Show").
"I sought this place out," he says. "I was looking for a cacophony of early '60s British music, today's British music and everything in between, and I found it."
And Underground's masterminds find their patrons' attention extends beyond music and fashion.
"They're more aware politically," says DJ Becker-Frankel, who is now also manning the decks at Club NME on Wednesdays at Spaceland. "They go to other countries. They travel. They read alternative, independent newspapers, see other news media and websites. They have a wider view of the world. They're more open to having a discussion about politics, an open discussion without putting someone down or enforcing their beliefs. They tend to be a more liberal audience."
Yearning for escape
Even among the less worldly club-goers, there is an exotic, seductive drama to the music that appeals to kids who perceive themselves as outsiders.
"There's an escapism that exists with all these kids, for people growing up in Orange County or the San Fernando Valley especially," Melrose says. "Eighty-five percent of the people live near a strip mall somewhere. There's a Starbucks on every corner. It's 100 degrees.... It's miserable, or potentially so. And one day some guy plays you this song called 'This Charming Man' by the Smiths and you're like, 'What is this?' And the guy's wearing all black and he doesn't look very happy with the world. And you're like, 'Wait a minute! That's me! I'm not very happy with the world either!'
"And they fall in love with it. And when they fall in love with the music, they fall in love with the culture."
The music makers swoon too. Indeed, Los Angeles is brimming with would-be Britpoppers, many fashioning the kind of moody, melodic, atmospheric music that Britain has produced for generations. In fact, the amount of British-flavored music made in the Southland exceeds the size of the audience that can sustain it — She Wants Revenge's breakthrough notwithstanding.
In fact, one of those bands, Orson, spent much of 2006 breaking through in England ; reaching No. 1 on the U.K. charts after never rising above local-band status in Los Angeles.
Melrose has worked with some others (Midnight Movies and Giant Drag among them) as part of his own micro-label and management company, Retone Records and Leftwing, respectively. His is one of many boutique operations in L.A. friendly to the U.K. sound.
Another is a label-cum-management company called Intravenous Records, formed by expat Roger Gisborne (whose now-defunct band Plastiscene was signed to Universal Records straight out of a Cafe Bleu gig in 1997) and music lawyer Anita Rivas. They started by releasing compilation albums such as "LA Rising," featuring the likes of Sky Parade, Silversun Pickups, Electromagnetic and Helen Stellar, but soon realized there was more music than they could service. So they created an online clearinghouse, Anglophilemusic.com, for American bands with that English sound.
"You can't sign everyone 'cause you can't afford to do deals with everybody," Gisborne says. "And all the bands that you can't sign, everybody has one or two or three really great songs under the genre of Brit-rock, indie-rock, indie-dance, drug-rock, psychedelic rock, '60s-rock, all the sub-genres of Anglophile music. So we came up with a huge site that can hold up to 5,000 songs. It is all pre-cleared music. So if you're a music supervisor or an indie film producer and you can't afford Coldplay, but you can afford Oslo, we've got it."
Even seemingly relegated to a niche, the music finds veins to reach L.A.'s culture. Says Rivas, "It's the way people are making music nowadays."
There's at least a little Brit in all of these clubs
What: Dorian Valenzuela mans the decks at Transistor, a retro club that specializes in mod '60s sounds with a splash of Motown and a dash of fuzz beat. A second room channels glitter rockers like T. Rex.
Info: 10 p.m. Thursdays at Grand Star Restaurant (Chinatown), 943 N. Broadway, L.A. $6; 21 and older.
From the playlist: The Rolling Stones' "Get Off My Cloud," Primal Scream's "Rocks," the Kinks' "You Really Got Me"
What: DJs Larry Gjurgevich, Dia Becker-Frankel and Mark Wright run the most genuinely Anglophile club in L.A., spinning Britpop from the late '80s to the aughts, with a nod to veteran instigators such as the Beatles and David Bowie.
Info: 9 p.m. Fridays at Tempest, 7323 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. $5 for 21 and older; $7 for ages 18 to 20; free with flier before 10.
From the playlist: Pulp's "Common People," Blur's "Girls and Boys," the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
What: Jason Lavitt and Joseph Brooks keep the largest of L.A.'s Anglophile clubs, Club Bang!, bumping with three rooms of music: Britpop and indie-rock in the main room, Brit-centric new wave in the '80s room; and hip-hop in the back. Yes, hip-hop — where else can Brit-hoppers like Lady Sovereign and the Streets get any love?
Info: 10 p.m. Saturdays at the Ruby, 7070 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. $12; 18 and older.
From the playlist: The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," the Streets' "Fit But You Know It"
Part Time Punks
What: DJs Michael Stock and Ben White relive the 1977 to '82 metamorphosis from punk to post-punk by spinning deep album cuts from bands like Television Personalities and Gang of Four between live sets by up-and-coming indie-rockers such as Indian Jewelry.
Info: 10 p.m. Sundays at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., L.A. $5, free before 11; 21 and older.
From the playlist: Buzzcocks' "I Don't Mind," Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business"
What: Eighties acts such as Depeche Mode, the Cure and the Smiths reign supreme in the main room, while DJs on the patio get back to the future with Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand.
Info: 10 p.m. Sundays at Boardner's, 1652 N. Cherokee Ave., L.A. $10 after 11 p.m., $5 from 10:30 to 11, free before 10:30; 18 and older.
From the playlist: Depeche Mode's "People Are People," Bloc Party's "Banquet"
What: A dance-oriented, synth-heavy new wave club, Bruce Perdew's Blue Mondays lives up to its name, blasting plenty of New Order and Joy Division to a youthful Hollywood crowd.
Info: 10 p.m. Mondays at Boardner's, 1652 N. Cherokee Ave., L.A. $7; 18 and older.
From the playlist: New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle," Soft Cell's "Tainted Love"
What: Cafe Bleu alumnus and Underground stalwart DJ Dia Becker-Frankel shares her love of Britpop, shoegaze, Madchester and fuzz beat with the Cahuenga Boogie indie kids.
Info: 10 p.m. Tuesdays at the Beauty Bar, 1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A. Free; 21 and older.
From the playlist: The Charlatans' "The Only One I Know," Sh*tDisco's "Reactor Party"
What: Moscow's main man Keith Wilson spins a fashionable mix of dance-rock acts from both sides of the pond alongside live sets from Anglophile locals such as She Wants Revenge and the Shys.
Info: 10 p.m. Wednesdays at Boardner's, 1652 N. Cherokee Ave., L.A. Free for 21 and older, $10 ages 18 to 20.
From the playlist: The Rakes' "Retreat," White Rose Movement's "Love Is a Number."
What: The first American franchise of Britain's biggest club night, Club NME bridges the gap between London and Silver Lake by hosting local Brit-inspired indie-rockers such as the Adored and new British acts like the Kooks, along with various celebrity DJs who spin a mix of new wave, indie and Britpop old and new.
Info: 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A. $8 to $10, free after midnight; 21 and older.
From the playlist: Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out," the Stone Roses' "Fool's Gold," the Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"
Cafe Bleu anniversary
What: Reunion of the popular '90s club night.
Info: 9 p.m. Dec. 1 at the El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.. $10 (scooters half price); 18 and older.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times