The British music invasion may have begun when the Beatles landed in America in the '60s. But in Los Angeles, the British truly arrived with Rodney's English Disco.
The legendary nightclub, pioneered by Rodney Bingenheimer, was L.A.'s prime nighttime playground in the 1970s, complete with a VIP booth filled with rock stars, as well as groupies, flamboyant characters on the dance floor and a shy deejay named Rodney who spun the sounds of glitter rock into Los Angeles' music scene.
Now Bingenheimer's club is resurrected every Tuesday at Tempest. Brit pop past and present, alternative dance music and live bands draw a whole new crowd of music-savvy Anglophiles.
Bingenheimer, best known for his late-night radio show on KROQ-FM (106.7), arrived in Los Angeles as a teenage runaway from Mountain View, Calif. During a stint as an intern at Mercury Records, he escorted David Bowie to all the hot spots in L.A. Bowie returned the favor when Bingenheimer was in London, and his wild trip through British nightlife included a stop at the Cellar, where glitter rock--bands such as Sweet and Slade--electrified the dance floor. He soaked up the new sounds, bought as many records as would fit in his suitcase and returned to Los Angeles inspired.
With two partners, he opened the E club on the Sunset Strip, at the spot now occupied by Bar Marmont. The decor consisted mainly of mirrored walls. "People could see themselves dancing in the mirrors, so they wanted to look good," Bingenheimer says. The dress of choice: feather boas, platform shoes, high-drama makeup and, of course, glitter.
After three months, the club outgrew its space and reestablished itself down the street as Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. The dance floor was packed with glittered-booty shakers, but the real action could be found in the VIP booth. Led Zeppelin, Andy Warhol, Suzy Quatro, Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, the Kinks, Michael Des Barres or Marc Boland held court while getting liquored up on imported ale. "I always took care of the stars who came there. We had items on the menu for the ones visiting from London--steak and kidney pie and English beer," Bingenheimer says.
The English Disco closed when glitter faded in the late '70s. Bingenheimer got busy with his radio show and developed a reputation for being the first American deejay to play edgy new bands, including the Ramones, Blondie, the Sex Pistols and the Cure.
It was promoter-deejay Jason Lavitt who asked Bingenheimer about getting back in the club biz with a glam nightspot. "Rodney was my hero. The first time I really understood what a club was was by listening to his radio show and hearing him talk about his English Disco," Lavitt says.
The two started Flash at Tempest in 1999 when the film "Velvet Goldmine" seemed to portend a renewed interest in glitter-glam rock but got a mediocre response. A few months later, they took the Rodney's English Disco name, moved to Fais Do-Do, and the monthly event became a smashing success. But the South Los Angeles neighborhood proved troublesome, so the promoters moved back to Tempest with a weekly club in mid-July.
The new Rodney's draws inspiration from its '70s incarnation but adds fresh sounds of '90s Brit pop--bands such as Oasis, Blur, Coldplay and Travis--to its mix of classic glitter rock, girl bands and mod. It's attracting a young and stylish audience. (A group of young girls recently arrived dressed in '80s new wave style--complete with headbands, petticoat skirts and sneakers--for a show by Go-Go Kathy Valentine's band, the Delphines.) The club was recently featured in a spread in England's Mojo magazine and mentioned in the Paul Gorman-Malcolm McLaren rock fashion book "The Look," both signals that Rodney's English Disco is still the place to be.
According to Bingenheimer, club life hasn't changed that much since the English Disco's first run. Ostentatious scenesters of the past are replaced with just-as-flashy new characters. And the British still make his favorite music.
Rodney's English Disco, Tuesday nights at Tempest, 7323 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 18 and older. $6 cover. (323) 951-7079.