The last time local government took a close interest in electronic dance music around downtown L.A., the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission banned raves at the facility after a teenage girl's drug death at Electric Daisy Carnival in 2010.
The ban was eventually lifted, yet the incident was a dark cloud over dance music's future on public property in the heart of L.A. But that tune will soon change.
Starting Sunday, a new monthly series produced by the owners of the Fashion District's Pattern Bar will bring sophisticated underground dance artists to Grand Park, one of the city's most significant and idyllic new public spaces.
"This is an opportunity for our genre and community to show proper citizenship," said Eduardo Castillo, co-owner of Pattern Bar and organizer of the Sunday Sessions series. "It sets a new precedent if we all do this responsibly."
Over the last two years, Pattern Bar — Castillo's urbane, Venezuelan-accented venture with chef and old friend Alejandro Meza — has become a focal point for ambitious DJs, producers and dance fans in downtown. But it also gets a daytime crowd who come for Meza's cachapas and fresh-fruit cocktails.
That combination impressed Grand Park's director, Lucas Rivera, enough that he offered Castillo (a DJ and artist manager himself) a shot at expanding on that aesthetic with a concert series.
The Sunday Sessions, which will take place the last Sunday of every month through August, is a free, all-ages and unticketed showcase for local and international house and techno acts. Though the sessions start at 2 p.m., the bills could have been lifted from a top-flight nightclub with acts such as Wolf + Lamb, Droog and Francis Harris.
But while Hollywood dance shows often come with bottle service and difficult door policies, Sunday Sessions aims to make dance music feel civic and democratic. "I want kids and parents to be able to come and dance there," Castillo said. "We really did imagine this as a cultural event, like opera in the park, but for dance music."
All the emphasis on wholesomeness comes for a reason. Dance music has become a dominant cultural and economic force in American music, and outdoor fests such as HARD at Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown have become local drivers for it.
But to some, there's still the stereotype of a scary scene where strangely dressed kids take pills and listen to inscrutably repetitive music. Castillo — and Grand Park's staff — are making a point to tell dance music fans and parkgoers that this is a completely different setting.
"The music is very different; it's not at all about intense sensory overload," said Julia Diamond, director of programming for Grand Park. "It's about music fans buying into what Grand Park means for downtown, and showing that Angelenos can enjoy public space and do right by it. We think this can be a turning point in downtown."
In an open Facebook letter to downtown dance fans, Castillo admitted, "Our dance music, some like to call it EDM, has a tarnished reputation…. Think of how empowering it is to know you have a say (by your actions) in how your city relates to what you love."
There will be a roped-off area serving versions of Pattern Bar's upscale cocktails, along with the usual event security and a bevy of food trucks. But fundamentally, Sunday Sessions is a kind of fresh-air-and-sunshine reset for dance music in downtown.
"At first, I was kind of surprised that they'd want the park to be associated with a bar," Castillo said. "But they were so open-minded, and we all realized this isn't about a bar at all, but about a big family coming to dance in downtown."
Sunday Sessions with Wolf + Lamb, Baby Prince and others. Grand Park's Performance Lawn (between Grand Avenue and Hill Street), 200 N. Grand Ave., L.A. http://www.grandparkla.org
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