The VICE Guide to Los Angeles: Art, Music, and Culture
The film industry aside, LA is a hotbed for art—and if you're one of those supreme weirdos who claims not to like music, there are plenty of killer museums, too.
Photos by Katie McCurdy unless otherwise noted
People love to hate Los Angeles. Tell someone you're visiting or moving here and steel yourself for the barrage of unsolicited jabs about how "the people are so fake," or "the traffic is unbearable," or "there's not enough water." OK, well, that last one is totally true and we have no clue how to fix it.
What LA does have, undeniably, is culture. The film industry aside, Los Angeles is a hotbed for art—and if you're one of those supreme weirdos who claims not to care for music, there are plenty of killer museums, too. Here's a little handy guide to all the best culture stuff LA has to offer.
If you come to LA asking "where's a good place to hear some music" you're asking the wrong question. We don't really swear allegiance to specific venues out here. Instead, we align ourselves with "branded scenes" that each hop around to different venues week by week. If it sounds a bit complicated to have your favorite party constantly on the lam, that's because it is. Making matters worse, for whatever reason, these brands operate entirely via email listservs.
Once you've RSVP'd online to that night's scene (and really, we all just RSVP to everything we might even consider going to that weekend because it's completely inconsequential), you can expect an email with the address of the event some time the night of. Occasionally, you'll be given an address of a parked U-Haul where a man inside will give you a slip of paper with the true event address. Yes, it's completely ridiculous to engage in these sorts of Cold War spy tactics, but the fruit of this labor is that much sweeter for it.
If underground hip-hop and trap is your thing, you'll want to check out a HAM show, usually in sweaty warehouses around DTLA. Big names like Wiz Khalifa, Waka Flocka, and Vic Mensa will pop in unannounced and spit a few songs while the crowd dances on stage with them due to the lack of security, railings, or general law and order. HAM's also known as a green zone for squashing beef, as was the case when Riff Raff and Soulja Boy played together after their feud. Sometimes things get a little out of hand, which is what happened when a riot broke out during Lil B's show, shutting down an entire city block. If you can push past the drunk underage kids and stomach lukewarm Tecate, you'll usually be treated to one of the craziest shows in town.
Somehow, LA goths are all flawless models draped in luxurious black and white clothing—a far cry from the unfortunate haircuts and Invader Zim T-shirts from your high school. Lil Death elevates witchhouse, deep house, and other creepybeats from Vaporwave Tumblr posts to bougie rooftop bars packed with the aforementioned modelgoths and enough cocaine to shoot season 2 of Narcos. Lil Death is at its most fun when it leans into its thesis statement of "technology as a new religion" with attendees often referring to that night's venue as "church" and the DJ booth as "the altar." Proselytizers of note include Brodinski, Crystal Castles, and Shlomo, so come hear the good word. Worst case scenario, you'll get a few interesting pics for Instagram.
A self-proclaimed "monthly shrine to Dionysus," A Club Called Rhonda is the nu-Disco playground for polysexual hedonists who look better in an outfit made of Japanese bondage rope than you'd look in a bespoke suit off Savile Row. Heavy hitters like Hot Chip, Simian Mobile Disco, and Todd Edwards constantly come through, which has boosted the brand, allowing Rhonda to take the scene international and become a regular party presence around festivals like Coachella. You'll invariably come out the other side covered in glitter and smelling like amyl nitrate, but that's a small price to pay for the opportunity to party inside the mind of Zebra Katz.
B&L features acts from around the world in the arenas of hip-hop and electronic music, which makes you wonder which genre is represented by brownies and which by lemonade. Sometimes crammed into the back patio of a bar, sometimes in ritzier corporate venues, the tastemakers behind the scene usually shine the spotlight on up-and-comers, but occasionally pull bigger names like Ryan Hemsworth, DJ Quik, and Capital Cities.
Low End Theory
Wednesdays at The Airliner, 2419 N Broadway, Lincoln Heights, CA 90031
Every Wednesday at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights isLow End Theory, the celestial body around which the city's beat scene rotates. If you've got a love of cannabis, Canibus, and cargo shorts, you're gonna fucking love it. If standing in a sea of dudes nodding their heads in unison to Gaslamp Killer isn't your thing, though, stay away for your own sake.
If you've ever wondered what it'd be like to party in a Basquiat painting, you're probably pretty cool and we should totally hang out. But, also, you're in luck. New kid on the scene, Fine Time, brings thoughtful, challenging, yet fun and danceable beats to its crowds. Though their main thing is a wide spectrum of house, they don't shy away from the occasional dalliance with jazz, noise, and hip-hop. You needn't be the art school type to enjoy this scene. Their doors are open to anyone down to get a little weird with the likes of Galcher Lustwerk, Mumdance, and Matrixxman.
Don't worry. LA music ain't all bleeps and bloops. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about all that email bullshit from before) to see bands playing more than computers, you'll have to do things the old fashioned way and buy tickets for a show at theater like some sort of caveman. As long as you avoid the cesspools of aging hepatitis on the Sunset Strip, most venues in LA will get the job done. Here are few of the better ones.
The Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall
665 W. Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Built by Shriners in 1906, presumably for all the wacky ceremonies and rituals white men used to love getting into, today The Shrine hosts the great-grandchildren of these fraternity members as they grind their teeth to likes of Jamie XX, Chance the Rapper, and My Morning Jacket. The Moorish architecture is cool. The $20 parking is not.
Low End Theory Every
Wednesdays at The Airliner, 2419 N Broadway, Lincoln Heights, CA 90031
Wednesday at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights is Low End Theory, the celestial body around which the city's beat scene rotates. If you've got a love of cannabis, Canibus, and cargo shorts, you're gonna fucking love it. If standing in a sea of dudes nodding their heads in unison to Gaslamp Killer isn't your thing, though, stay away for your own sake.
2301 Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Back in the Roaring Twenties, cities and philanthropists loved to swing a big dick with cultural projects. This enormous outdoor amphitheater was one such gift to the commoners from the ivory tower of the aristocrats. The bowl has evolved with the populace and what was once venue for sophisticated orchestral concerts and live theater, now also hosts Phish shows. One of the best things about the place is their allowance if not encouragement of outside food and drink.
1822 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
The Echo and The Echoplex share an owner and building but are not the same and somehow exist in spatial plane where they are on perpendicular streets, multiple stories above and below one another. Getting to the right door can feel like you're playing a game of that 3D Star Trek chess, so be sure to park on Sunset if you're going to The Echo, the upper one. The acts that come through cover a wide spectrum of tastes, from modern indie (like Best Coast) to metal royalty (like Melvins).
Like most mainstream "gayborhoods," West Hollywood is a black hole of awfulness that should be avoided at all costs. If you do have to go there, Gold Coast and Fubar are the least offensive. Also, anything owned by Lisa Vanderpump is funny to take out-of-town friends to.
Further to the east, there's a little gay area on the edge of Silver Lake that has good spots like Faultline, Akbar, and the Eagle. If you like having sex with members of the same sex and end up downtown, New Jalisco and Precinct are both great.
250 S. Grand Ave, Downtown, 90023
You're getting older and you want to start feeling superior to your childish friends who spend all day playing with balls of string and rubber bones (your friends are all common house pets). What better place to feel superior in Los Angeles than an art museum? Ask the average outsider if there are museums in LA and they'll probably refer to the Wax Museum on Hollywood Boulevard. MOCA, with two campuses Downtown, is a great place to start. They use heavy card stock on all their brochures and there's a Lemonade in the complex if you're feeling a bit hungry. The art's pretty neat, too.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Less a museum, and more of a love letter to David Lynch, the Museum of Jurassic Technology has nothing to do with any of the words in its name. Inside you'll find scale models of mobile homes, paintings of dogs shot into space, and other arcana that'll impress the date you met at the Gogol Bordello show. This spot isn't for everyone, though. It's the Juno of galleries. Plenty will swoon, but many will say "No, no, I get it. I just don't like it."
221 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Everything about this museum, from its architecture to its collection, seems cravenly designed for peak Instagramability. With steep parking rates (even for a museum), no guarantee of entry to Kasuma's "Infinity Room," and tickets that are essentially a black market commodity, it should be easy to hate the Broad. Fortunately, the enormous collection of post-modern and contemporary art is just so fucking good that all of the above is rendered moot. Just don't be a simp and say the name of the place like it's a slur for "woman." It's founder's name rhymes with "road." Say it wrong and you might be outed as a tourist.
7021 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Founded by podcaster, former-rapper, and all-around friend of comedy Jensen Karp, the stable of regular artists have talent, restraint, and their own unique senses of style that elevate their work. Most importantly, Gallery 1988, which has themed exhibits like Breaking Bad, Adult Swim, and Marvel, aims to make art ownership something that everyone can afford, selling prints of the works for as low as $15.
La Luz De Jesus Gallery
4633 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Half the appeal of this gallery is that it sits within WACKO, a kitch, book, and animal skull shop with bizarre goods just as worthy of your "oohs" and "ahhs" as the paintings on the wall. The gallery changes exhibits often, giving the next local artist in line a chance to shine. You can knock out a full tour around the gallery, which is only the size of a modest studio apartment, in a few minutes. Walk in while you've got a few minutes to kill waiting for a table at Umami Burger down the block.
8070 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
You might know Taschen as the publisher of those art books you'd get from distant relatives that never knew what to buy you. Turns out art book publishers know a thing or two about art. From early on in their publishing days, the company fought to bring marginalized and under-represented artists into major bookstore chains. That counter-culture spirit continues in the exhibits they host with art often pulled from the seedy back alleys of the fetish, queer, or pornographic spaces and thrust into the mainstream spotlight it deserves.
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