Around 2 a.m. in a sweatbox of a downtown L.A. attic loft recently, Tahl Klainman and Kate Stimac were soaking wet and exhausted.
The two 25-year-old club promoters behind Fine Time, a year-old series of roving electronic music events and concerts, had thought that a September show was locked in place. They'd brought down Matrixxman, a techno producer from San Francisco touring on his breakthrough album, "Homesick." They'd booked a noirish, industrial downtown L.A. space and drawn up cryptic online flyers for the late-night techno fiends driving the future of nightlife in L.A.
They were eating dinner when the call came in — their warehouse venue had just pulled out. Showtime was in a few hours. They needed a new space that could go unnoticed on the outside, while a hundred fans nodded to ferocious, noisy techno inside.
After a few heart attacks and dozens of calls, they found a new room with minutes to spare. "We've changed venues, like, four times tonight," a bleary-eyed and relieved Klainman said during the show. "There is a small community of people you can call for something like this. The security guards can be your best friends; they know everything."
As Matrixxmann's brooding, ambient thumps cut through the fog, dozens of people danced in the dark. The night was saved, and in their own small way Fine Time helped re-imagine what people want when they go out in Los Angeles.
All across the city — especially on the fringes of downtown and northeast L.A. — small promoters like Fine Time are carving out new spaces for the kinds of strange, adventurous electronic music that eventually percolates out to inform the biggest pop, hip-hop, and EDM tracks.
The list of peers in this world is innumerable: VSSL, Droid Behavior, Dig Deeper, Perpetual Dawn and Minimal Effort, to name a few. Fine Time isn't the biggest or even necessarily the best of these. But its path into L.A.'s electronic underworld embodies a generational shift in night life, one leaning away from permitted formality and corporate EDM into weirder but more revelatory places.
Stimac and Klainman met while booking concerts on the student programming board at UCLA. "I thought I was on a law path, and I hated it," Stimac said. The two have a screwball-comedy kind of charisma together, finishing each other's stories and riffing on hyper-obscure electronic producers.
Booking concerts appealed to them both, and after school each moved on to jobs at local venues and promoters like the Bootleg Theater and Spaceland Presents. (The latter's lead talent buyer, Liz Garo, said her onetime colleague Klainman has "smart and sophisticated taste and is very passionate about the music he produces events for. There's a whole new breed of young music industry kids who are way more proactive than when I was starting out.")
While ensconced in the local indie scene, however, they realized that the music they were getting into — dark and experimental house music — was exactly the kind of thing that didn't work at formal rock-concert venues. They saw their L.A. music scene peers turning to more improvised and niche kinds of electronic music events — ones whose late-night aesthetic warranted a whole different approach.
"There's a limit to what you can do [at rock clubs] with house music," Klainman said. "There really is a community for putting on these shows, it's like throwing up the underground bat signal. We all have a private Facebook group that we call the PLUR Board" — an ironic reference to rave culture's hokey motto of "Peace, Love, Unity, Respect" — where they trade tips and get last-minute help when things fall apart.
They quit their day jobs, moved their office into Stimac's apartment and started Fine Time this year. They had professional concert-booking experience and contacts but little idea about assembling shows from scratch. "We really had to get over our fear of failure," Klainman said. "When someone complains at a show, I feel it."
Lately though, they haven't had too much to complain about. Their assortment of parties has grown rapidly. They have a new gay-centric, hip-hop-minded party called Gag that recently featured the Björk collaborator Lotic; an "erotic after-hours party" called Sex Tempo and a slate of cutting-edge house and techno sets across downtown and beyond. They've even done rock shows at tiny spaces like Echo Park's Vega's Meat Market and are working on a recurring jazz series.
"Just in the last year, L.A. has blown up with underground electronic shows. There's something worth seeing every single weekend," said Aaron Davis, the promoter behind the Acid Camp party and a sometime-collaborator with Fine Time. "But with limited resources for spaces and sound quality, you've got to create a really immersive experience. [Fine Time's] fans really trust their bookings. The crowd is there to see music and not just be out at night."
"Underground club nights are probably the most liberating party experience you can have," said Victor Cordon, a longtime fan and frequent Fine Time show-goer. "Mainstream dance shows generate a certain elitism, and that can make those who do not fit the prescribed image feel vulnerable, that they do not belong. The underground space is much more welcoming."
These are exactly the kind of boundary-pushing sets that make big-city cultural life worth the costs. At the moment, all the pieces are coming together for L.A.'s semi-sanctioned club music scene to thrive. But gentrification and a raft of attention (from thrill-seeking EDM fans and local authorities alike) make the high-wire act of producing these concerts more difficult and may eventually drive groups like Fine Time back onto the grid or back into day jobs as they try to stay afloat.
"A lot of people are disenfranchised and don't have the means to do this in a more sanctioned capacity," said Charles Duff, the producer who performs as Matrixxman, after the show. "This is one of the reasons people move to cities, to be part of a hotbed for creative minds. When you take away people's ability to live, it changes the landscape irrevocably. In San Francisco, it's just completely inhospitable now and [artists] are clinging on for dear life."
L.A., by contrast, is for now "a beautiful place, there's such a unique energy that's perfect for parties," Duff said. "I had a lot of fun at that show, despite the enormous heat."
Klainman and Stimac admit they're thinking about Fine Time's long-term viability as an underground enterprise. With backgrounds in more formal booking, they'd love to take away some of the headaches of doing this under the radar.
"I do wonder if we need more structure," Stimac said. "I'd like to book bigger acts, and a healthy scene has quality legal spaces as well. Most event producers want to keep it underground, but I don't like having an aesthetic hierarchy or being too exclusive."
Such are the trials of reshaping nightlife while staying under the radar. If it can go wrong, it will. But when it goes right, there's nothing better.
"I'm numb to ever getting upset anymore," Stimac said, laughing. "Everything that can possibly go wrong has already gone wrong."