Inside an influencer-jammed, masks-very-optional Hollywood Hills Halloween party
To judge from the shaky cellphone footage posted to Instagram, Wav3Pop’s Halloween party looked like a night that will stick with L.A. rap fans for a long time.
At the party, called Verified, hundreds of young clubbers, OnlyFans camgirls, TikTok clout-chasers and shutdown-bedraggled Gen Zers climbed over an orange car custom-painted with the logo of the L.A. hip-hop duo and streetwear designers on their way into a rented Hollywood Hills mansion. The pair sold 500 tickets on the retail site Eventbrite. Some fans mingled in the backyard, but many piled indoors, jubilant and carefree, to mosh and sing and watch the rappers perform with few masks in sight throughout the crowd.
It’s not news to anyone that large indoor parties or mask-less gatherings defy local regulations and public health advice. An L.A. County public health order on Oct. 15 allowed “private gatherings of three or fewer households, as long as the private gathering is outdoors, everyone wears a cloth face covering and keeps at least six feet of physical distance, food is in single-serve disposable containers, and the duration of the gathering is two hours or less.” COVID-19 is on the rise in California, where cases now top 938,000 with more than 17,000 deaths.
But a few promoters have tried to throw illicit concerts mid-pandemic; L.A. DWP has cut the power to similar TikTok-influencer house parties. Local nightlife and music industries are at the edge of collapsing permanently, taking with them countless dreams and livelihoods. Halloween affirmed that young music lovers’ resolve to stay home is slipping.
In song after song on her very horny new album, “Positions,” Grande exults in the intimate possibilities of a quiet night (or 200) in quarantine.
Two parties that night — one from Wav3Pop, another in Echo Park from the R&B and hip-hop promoter Millennium Age — showed very different approaches to managing risk in the age of COVID-19. One promoter found workarounds to abide by health codes with about the same risk as dining outdoors. Another went renegade, with all the glee and vulnerability that entails.
“With COVID-19, we’re put in this situation where we had to make one of two choices,” said Great Wav3, 23, half of Wav3Pop (the rappers asked to go by their stage names during a FaceTime interview before their party). “We made a decision to figure it out. We don’t believe in losing. It doesn’t matter if you back us into a corner; we’ll build a door or blow the [whole thing] up.”
Wav3Pop was far from alone in shrugging off COVID-19 risks for a clandestine Halloween gig. Kendall Jenner threw herself a 25th birthday party on the rooftop of WeHo’s hotspot Harriet’s. The 100 largely mask-free guests included the far-off-the-campaign trail presidential candidate Kanye West, Jenner’s sister Kim Kardashian, the Weeknd, Doja Cat and Travis Scott. If you weren’t on the list, gathering elsewhere was tougher: West Hollywood had banned large public gatherings like the popular Halloween Carnival.
But the Dodgers’ World Series win and the Lakers’ earlier NBA championship had already sent thousands of fans into the streets across the Southland — and such gatherings risked being superspreader events. On Sunday, county health officials reported 1,590 new cases, up from a 940 seven-day average of new cases the week before.
“It may seem harmless to bring a group of people together for a celebration,” L.A. County’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, told the Times last week. “However, if not done appropriately, this type of gathering — even if only one person was infected — has the potential to result in hundreds of cases of COVID-19. And unfortunately, even worse, it can lead to the deaths of people who had no connection to the event at all.”
Before their Hollywood Hills party, Wav3Pop was torn about the prospect of contributing to that. They made their reputation in L.A. throwing wild house shows, and during the shutdown they had sobered up and focused on growing their fashion line. They admitted that the pandemic had broken them down a bit: “This has created a lot of depression. We had to find a way around this business,” Lanta Wav3, 24, said.
Despite the unanimous guidance of every public health official and local politicians, and the laments of their long-suffering peers in the music community, they went for it anyway. They swore up and down beforehand that their party would have security, free masks, temperature checks and outdoor space for fans who wanted the option to stay in fresh air. (Video of the party did show ample outdoor areas, but masks didn’t look like the top priority for fans.)
“Think about N.W.A: The police said if they performed ‘F— tha Police’ they’d get arrested,” Great Wav3 said. “But they did it anyway. Sometimes people say you can’t do [something], but we have a bigger purpose.”
A few miles southeast, another hip-hop-savvy promoter took a much more measured approach. For the last five years, Jahmal Walker, 35, has thrown “silent” parties in L.A. with beamed-in music on wireless headphones. The concept was a hit for his company Millennium Age, which he said threw around 360 events in 40 cities in 2019.
He’d sold more than 300 tickets to an outdoor Halloween gig outside of Regency West, an event space in Leimert Park. But last-minute complications sent him instead to the parking lots of Club Bahia in Echo Park, a permitted music venue with a full kitchen.
Live music or DJs outside would have instantly made the gig illegal. But with guests served food at separated tables and DJ sets livestreamed from inside the otherwise empty venue, it was a far cry from a sweaty nightclub, but up to code and just enough to feel almost-sort-of normal.
“Police did come by around 11:30 p.m., and I was scared,” Walker said. “But when they shined their lights and we showed them the headphones, they said, ‘This is really cool’ and drove off.”
During COVID-19, Walker shifted his company away from music to smaller film screenings. But since Halloween’s event went off with few hitches, he thinks his company’s noiseless, individual-listening format can open up some options during the pandemic.
“We’re not trying to run away from COVID, but we still want a place to have fun,” said Walker. “People told me, ‘This is the funnest party I’ve ever been to all year,’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, because there aren’t any parties this year.’”
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