The Smell has been part of LA’s underground scene for 20 years, and this little punk cave, stuck between an indie cinema and a few dive bars, has been such a pillar of the DIY punk scene that, when the news last year that the Smell’s block could be demolished to make space for new parking lots, the entire community mobilized to ‘Save the Smell’. After a GoFundMe Campaign and a Save the Smell fest in 2016 (headlined by No Age, Kim and the Created and Cherry Glazerr), the beloved club is still functioning downtown LA. It is even celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend with three shows in a row and an all-star lineup, all organized by Minty Boi Presents.
On Friday, Small Forward, Post-Life, Wild Wing, Moaning, French Vanilla and Surf Curse played a very sold out show inside the tiny space, and let’s just say that the ambiance got very steamy and obviously very rowdy. It’s a tradition, the Smell is one of the last refuges for kids that can surf the crowd, and honestly nobody wasted any time, as soon as Surf Curse (obviously the star of the night) took the stage, it was complete chaos. But let’s start from the beginning.
I arrived a bit late to listen to the first band, the night was still young when I caught the end of Small Forward’s dreamy set. They were bedroom shoegazers with melancholic and heartfelt tunes, and honestly poppy with an occasional cool falsetto. If you wouldn’t first expect such poppiness inside the punk venue, they were a breath of fresh air before the tempest.
With the next band, Post-Life, the crowd action did seriously start, since the quartet, fronted by the lively Brianna Meli and her high pitch melodic scream above the buoyant music, was full of energy and enthusiasm. They were truly happy punks with ultra fast guitars and a desire to have a good time like all these people moshing behind my back. It was a triumphant and youthful sound, a sound loud enough to overcome all obstacles, when Brianna’s vocals and guitar seemed to break the sound barrier. On a few of their very busy songs, they could have even sounded like a wilder version of Courtney Barnett.
I was already familiar with Wild Wing (I saw them opening for Plague Vendor at the Hi Hat just before Christmas) and their brand of joyful countrified punk is always a lot of fun. The quartet played their explosive music with the same head banging swag that they are famous for, but it would be too bad to ignore their multi-influenced cool melodies that they played with an usual laid-back attitude. They say they want to be a punk country band, and if it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s left from country in their hair-flying amusement park, but they certainly play a happy backyard party.
Moaning was next and they are getting a lot of attention since they recently opened for METZ. Their fuzzed-out sound can definitively compete with the loudness of others, although they play on the shoegaze side of post-punk. If the moshing slowed down for them, their pedal-driven sound was bold and led by Sean Solomon’s cold and harsh vocals… they should release a debut album on Sub-Pop in March, and have been on many lists of artists to watch in 2018.
French Vanilla sounded a bit like the B-52’s with a punk sax, while frontgirl Sally Spitz had a bottomless energy, singing and jumping while continuously haranguing the crowd. There was a real frenzy in their set, and Spitz was bouncing as if she wanted to punch the crowd at any time. Coming from the LA queer arts scene, the art punk band is known for its radical feminist ideology and I think I understand they are not very happy with all these guy-fronted bands and wouldn’t mind their extinction? Spitz was the leader of the show, who else could sing ‘Carrie got her period in the shower, Carrie got her period’ and be truly entertaining?
With Surf Curse, chaos became real, and it was probably unavoidable for me to go on stage behind the band if I wanted to stay alive. I will never understand why certain groups start such mayhem but Surf Curse is really one of them, and it’s quite difficult to concentrate on the music when there is so much jumping around. Sure the music is bouncy as hell, the drumming is thermonuclear and the ooo-ooos harmonies are catchy and begging for a sing-along, but the energy during their set certainly topped a lot of things I have seen so far. The joyful choruses were just a pretext for a non-stop stage diving and an abandon eager to forget every else. To be honest, I would say that Surf Curse’s music is so happy that it’s sad at the same time, it makes you think about the end of summer and happy days left behind, however, nobody was really melancholic on Friday night.
Tonight, the fest continues with Cherry Glazerr, Future Shoxxx, Lunch Lady, David Scott Stone and Crib, and on Sunday, Los Bolos (members of FIDLAR, Together Pangea and No Parents) will close this three-day celebration with Beach Bums, Clit Kat, Espresso, Super Lunch and Sabrina Is Not In This Chat
The Smell is the place to be this weekend, an historic place of passion for the DYI scene, an habitat for punk kids who are not afraid to break a few bones for the love of music and freedom.
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