Thursday, 18 September 2008

Korea opportunities

The second Thursday of every months sees the Downtown Art Walk take over the artists quarter of downtown LA. Little did I realise that the hotel I'm staying in, in what I thought was the most seedy part of LA possible, is smack in the centre of the action. I'm guessing the random crazy people and general sketchy underbelly of the area brings the rents down.

About 45 galleries of varying sizes throw their doors open for the evening and the streets were full of people, many in fancy evening wear. Bands played on street corners and a graffiti covered bus did laps around the galleries transporting people. I visited maybe half the galleries, moving around them like some kind of ninja, eyes eagerly scanning each gallery for any free booze on offer like an alcoholic scavenger. Galleries were in clothes shops, in cafes and one was even in a cigar store. Whilst there I perused the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado (cover star Kevin Costner). I have to admit I didn't find it to be a great read. There wasn't even a problem page.

One exhibition featured an interactive display. The best way I can describe is is an electronic spray can you can use to draw your own computer generated graffiti. The artist ran me through what it was and invited me to have a go. Well I'm no Basquiat or Banksy but I decided to have a crack all the same.

As I began my creation, a Korean film crew literally burst through the door. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

It turns out they were doing a piece about the artist. Needing some cut away shots (as I believe they are called in the trade), they took some footage of me playing with the graffiti thing. Before their interview with the artist. for some reason the interviewer decided to get my opinion. I asked him what station he worked for and he said something really fast which I didn't understand. Hey then asked me a few questions to which I gave some inane and articulate answers. He also made me write my name down on a piece of paper, presumably he wanted to get my autograph in advance of my fame.

I'd like to think that they worked for South Korea's leading TV station and my ugly mug has been beamed into every home in Seoul. What I suspect is that they were a local crew from some kind of LA based Korean station. Either way I'm sure I'm now big with the Korean community and I'll be booking my South Korean tour in the spring.

Stripping with your clothes on

The Art Walk was good, but I was still searching for the real LA. Some people might go to Disney, some might hit up Venice Beach. I went to Jumbo's Clown Room

In a shameless act of south-east Asian oneupmanship, LA has a Japan Town, Chinatown, Korea Town and Thai Town. Jumbo's Clown Room is located in a less than desirable section of the latter. The best way to describe it would be a small neighbourhood bar, but with a difference, half of the inside of it is dedicated to a low stage featuring a strippers pole.

Jumbo's is a place with history. Legend has it that Courtney Love danced here before she hit the big time with Kurt and her band Hole. I went inside and took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. It was $4 and I paid with a twenty. I received all my change in $1 notes, that's the kind of place this is!

Here's what happens. There were about five or six girls working. Each of them takes a turn to go to the jukebox and select a song. They then dance on the stage for the duration of the track, after which $1 notes are thrown on to the stage by the customers to show appreciation.

At the end of the song the dancer picks up all of the money on the stage and then the next dancer comes on. Now the music in this place was great. The Cure, The Clash, Motorhead, Nine Inch Nails, Iron Maiden, Van Halen - All the good stuff.

It was pretty dirty and seedy, but I kinda liked it in there. In was an honest place with no pretensions, where people could have a beer and watch some nice girls dance. In fact almost half the customers were female and they were some of the loudest and rowdiest audience members. After each dancer came off stage she would walk around personally thanking each individual audience member who'd given her some money. I found that quite sweet.

Let me again emphasise here that no clothes were removed at any point during the dance. However, I should also probably add that I will never be able to listen to the breakdown section of Sweet Child O Mine in quite the same way ever again!

So that was the best strip club that I've ever been to, despite the fact that nobody took their clothes off...

The worst band I've ever seen?

Sunday I went to an indie night called Part Time Punks, at a venue called the Echo in the hipsterfied Echo Park district. I dressed to impress in a natty combo of velvet jacket and pvc trousers. Avec chapeau of course. Unfortunately the downtown thrift stores of LA were out of winklepickers in my size that day, so I couldn't complete my outfit as I intended.

I had high hopes for this night. There are a lot of great reviews online. There was even a vinyl store inside the club selling obscure records. But as with many things in LA, I left slightly disappointed and somewhat confused.

Perhaps those winklepickers would have made the difference, as my conversational opening gambits of the Yorkshire nu-Krautrock scene and where I could find a good cup of tea in LA were met with bemusement and stony silence. Maybe I wasn't cool enough to talk to, or perhaps they simply couldn't understand my dulcet Brummie tones. Either way I was glad when the band started. But only for a moment.

On stage were a truly terrible band called Master Beta - They've even got a crap name. I can't express how much I hated this band. They were completely dire. A three piece with a sub-Meg White drummer, a guy playing keyboards that sounded like a malfunctioning ghost train and a small Asian girl screeching over the top of it all. Describing it like that makes it sound quite good, cutting edge and interesting and I'm sure that's what they were going for, but I actually enjoyed the sound of the air conditioning more in the silence between the tracks. It had more melody.

Midway through. the keyboard player actually had a little rant about how he hated scenes and cliques in music, the audience applauded. I laughed at the irony, but not too much. Laughing isn't cool at these kind of establishments.

I’ve now spent over a week in this city and I feel no closer to finding its soul, what makes it tick. I’m not saying I don’t like LA, in fact I don’t really have an opinion either way. I’m more baffled than anything.

I felt a similar way about Berlin the first time I went there. It rained solidly for three days and everything seemed grey and miserable. I’ve since been back there several times and after finding its below the surface charms, I now love it as one of my favourite cities. Perhaps I’ll think the same about LA the next time I visit. For there will be a next time, as I’m determined to crack this place.

Los Angeles 0-0 Phill
(injury time being played)

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