Memes and Memories: Inside L.A.’s New Music Revival
The Laurel Canyon songwriting circles of the Sixties and Seventies may be a thing of the past, but Los Angeles remains as connected as ever to its musical roots, with homegrown artists like Billie Eilish, Haim, and Kendrick Lamar carrying the torch for smart, poignant, and progressive music that crosses genres as easily as it crosses county lines.
In her interview with Rolling Stone, Lana Del Rey spoke about the camaraderie of artists she found in her adopted hometown: “There’s a lot more music here,” she says, comparing Los Angeles to New York. “I could call a bunch of people and have them come down and play.”
The truth is, Los Angeles has never been better, at least when it comes to its music scene, with the arrival of new mainstays that promise an unpretentious “locals only” vibe while offering up the kind of access and adventure that only the City of Angels can deliver.
Yes, there’s the traffic, which can make “taking the scenic route” feel like walking the plank, but it seems L.A. is finally feeling like one big (cohesive) city again, with an eclectic mix of artists and venues bringing everyone together for a good time.
And then there’s the weather, which Del Rey says makes the city a perfect backdrop for music making. With almost 300 days of sunshine every year, it’s hard to believe Los Angeles’ music scene ever had a reputation for being cold.
“I think if I could sum it up in one word, it’s ‘sun,'” Del Rey says. “It’s perfect every day.”
Adds Elton John, who lived through the great Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter renaissance, “It’s so lovely to be here [even] in January, and that is very conducive to making music, I think. When I got here, it all made sense,” he says. “[L.A.] looks like it sounds.”
Pray to the Saints of Los Angeles
The beloved Troubadour is as busy as ever, and West Hollywood is reviving iconic venues like the Roxy and Whisky a Go Go, but the best places to catch a show these days are farther-flung than the Sunset Strip.
Lodge Room opened just prior to Covid, taking over a brick-faced former Masonic Temple in Highland Park, the hip Northeast neighborhood that takes itself less seriously than Silverlake. Once rented out hourly for quinceañeras, the Lodge now hosts everyone from Stephen Malkmus to Feist and every indie band cruising through town. With a capacity of 500 and a debaucherous “anything goes” vibe, the space is toasty, inviting, and a heck of a lot of fun.
A Grand Old Time
Nashville has the Opry, but L.A.’s got Desert 5 Spot, a new rooftop lounge and music venue atop the Tommie Hollywood hotel. A weekly showcase turns the Pioneertown-inspired space into a stomping ground for folk, country, and Americana, and established artists share the stage with local musicians, reviving a bygone tradition of impromptu jam sessions and guitar pulls. DJs that spin Hall & Oates and Johnny Cash keep the peculiar party grooving well into the night.
At this Hollywood honky-tonk, the vibe is less celebrity and more community, with the audience encouraged to hoot and hoedown as freely as the beer and mezcal flowing through the crowd. Monthly line-dancing nights further fuel the small-town spirit, though the mechanical-bull rides are best left to those with no backsides — or egos — to bruise.
The Coolest Club (and Coolest People)
On the other side of town, The h.Wood Group’s Peppermint Club has quickly become a place where viral moments run as rampant as musical ones.
Dave Chappelle and John Mayer have popped in for surprise sets, and Stevie Wonder launched his last album there. Since the Peppermint Club opened in 2017, it’s also hosted Tame Impala and Billie Eilish, while providing weekly showcases for up-and-coming artists from the area. With a max capacity of 250 and a room that’s only as wide as the stage, all sightlines are good. “We wanted an intimate space that was a throwback to the Sixties music venues,” says the h.Wood Group co-founder John Terzian. “I like to tell people it’s like the kitchen or living room in your house, because it’s a space that brings people together.” His favorite memory so far: hosting one of Nipsey Hussle’s last performances before his death.
Sunset on the Rise
The Hoxton is breathing life into a previously undesirable part of downtown L.A., and the Pendry has opened at the former House of Blues space, but the true gem in the city is the West Hollywood EDITION, the latest outpost of entrepreneur (and Studio 54 co-founder) Ian Schrager’s EDITION Hotels portfolio.
Located on the corner of Sunset Boulevard where West Hollywood meets Beverly Hills, the scene inside is fittingly over-the-top. The hotel’s splashy opening weekend brought out everyone from Diplo to Demi Moore, while Janelle Monáe and Chaka Khan have played surprise sets at Sunset, the hotel’s not-so-secret basement club.
Schrager calls Sunset “a modern take on the iconic nightclub,” where international DJs pop in for intimate sets while partygoers get sweaty under the disco-ball-strewn room. Since its mid-February reopening, the space has played host to everyone from French DJ Fred Falke and DJ Harvey to live sets from SG Lewis and Lil Kim.
“I think a couple of places across the U.S. have given music new sounds — Tin Pan Alley in New York, Detroit for Motown — and I think the Sunset Strip is [also] intertwined with music history,” Schrager tells Rolling Stone. “Music is in the DNA of Sunset; the location has cultivated new music, and we are now part of that.”
Angelenos have long written off Hollywood as an undesirable pocket of town run amok by tacky tourists and aging characters alike. But the so-called Vinyl District in the heart of Hollywood is undergoing a welcome revival thanks to the opening of the aforementioned Tommie Hotel, the neighboring Thompson Hollywood, and the music-inspired Grandmaster Recorders, a hip new restaurant located inside a silent-movie house turned recording studio.
Sharply-dressed waiters pass around plates of coastal Italian fare, while diners sip on cocktails named after famous songs and albums recorded within the same walls (think the “Times Like These” Negroni and the “Late Registration” — a decidedly debaucherous Kanye-style blend of vodka, vermouth, and yellow watermelon).
Nods to the restaurant’s former past abound in the food too: Ask for the signature tiramisu, which comes layered under an edible chocolate “LP” that diners can “smash” into for a sweet finish to their meal.
Elsewhere in the space, a former recording booth has been preserved and repurposed as the intimate 71 Studio Bar, while a charming rooftop plays host to happy hours and nightcaps alike with unobstructed views of the Hollywood Hills.
Live Beside the Ocean…
Over by the ocean, we like the boutique service at the Santa Monica Proper, which fuses a historic 1920s building with a new-build contemporary wing, whose sweeping exterior is meant to reflect the ebb and flow of the nearby California tides. Inside, the impeccably appointed space is overseen by celebrity interior designer Kelly Wearstler, who expertly nails the balance between whimsical and comfortable. There are almost no painted walls in the entire hotel, with surfaces either left purposely exposed (think concrete beams and wood slats) or wrapped in museum-worthy wallpaper and fine textiles. The best seat in the house is at Calabra — the restaurant located on the Proper’s expansive rooftop, where you can sip on mezcal margaritas while listening to local musicians and DJs play well into the night.
Meet Me on the East Side
Halsey and Khalid had a hit with “Eastside” in 2018, but L.A.’s East Side is just finding its footing again as a place for live music.
The cornerstone of East L.A.’s music scene is the Paramount, a former cooperative Jewish bakery turned event space located in Boyle Heights. Opened in 1925, the building has had multiple musical incarnations over the years, serving as a dance studio (where Rita Hayworth’s father taught boogie-woogie and ballet); a nightclub (frequented by Latino legends like Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti); and a Sixties music venue where the house band was a duo named “Caesar & Cleo” — best-known today as Sonny & Cher.
In the Eighties, the Paramount became the home of the Vex, a weekly punk party that played host to everyone from Bad Religion to Black Flag — flyers from the shows still line the entryway to the Paramount today — before concerts were shuttered in favor of less-intensive events, like weddings and graduations.
Now under new ownership, the Paramount has pivoted once again, reclaiming its pillar in the predominantly Latinx community as a home for Chicano music, banda, Latin fusion, and — per KCRW DJ and the venue’s resident curator José Galván — “modern marimba punk.”
Case in point: The Mexican marimberos Son Rompe Pera were one of the first groups to play at the Paramount when it reopened after Covid, and the 350-capacity hall has also welcomed artists like Silvana Estrada and La Santa Cecilia to its impeccably restored wood-and-brick-paneled space.
One of the few independent venues remaining in L.A.’s music scene, the Paramount also houses a pizza parlor on the first floor, providing a feast for the ears — and food for the soul.
Back to the Barrooms
You’ll want to pull up a seat at Pinky’s, a low-key cocktail bar bringing sunny Miami vibes to Los Feliz. Formerly a rehearsal space for the Skylight Theatre, the 60-seat bar embraces that high-low vibe that’s come to define many of L.A.’s best bars and restaurants, serving up character-rich cocktails alongside street-size carnitas and chicken tinga tacos. The best drink is also deceptively simple: a $12 Toki highball, made with a Suntory Toki highball machine that delivers just the right amount of fizz and flavor.
In an entertainment capital like Los Angeles, even tiny cocktail bars have a dedicated playlist, and Pinky’s has tapped Alex Rodriguez to curate the tunes. Best known for running Coachella’s record shop (and taking cross-country road trips just to stock the festival store with its typical quota of nearly 30,000 used records), Rodriguez also brings in acts for intimate listening sessions and performances. Expect guest DJs or a turn behind the deck from Rodriguez himself.
This Bud’s for You
Over in Culver City, well-dressed “budtenders” take you through the offerings at the High Note, a music-inspired dispensary where strains take on a whole new meaning. Designed like a Prohibition-era speakeasy that includes hidden doors, the space offers an assortment of flower, pens, edibles, and accessories, along with curated playlists that help customers pair their cannabis with budtender-approved soundtracks.
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