New Wave LA
We get a feel for the real Los Angeles from the new wave of creatives shaping the city’s cultural output and find out about the city's counterculture past, stoned present, and hyperlooped future...
You run the independent publisher Silent Sound Books. What’s LA’s independent/DIY scene like?
I started the project which would become Silent Sound while I was still living in New York and ended up moving to LA just a few months after, pretty unexpectedly. I never thought LA was going to be as fascinating as it really is; I didn’t have much of a grasp of it before moving here. It’s completely surprised me in so many ways and continues to do so even now, four years later. Due to things being spread out, things are often hiding beneath the surface. I find the expansiveness of the landscape hugely inspiring, you can easily slip away from the city grind and be surrounded by just the mountains, nature, sky, or ocean. I think this environment directly feeds into the spirit of everything in the area, despite the urban sprawl. As someone who had never lived on the west coast before, the more time I spend here I can sense that energy in a lot of the art and music. It’s relatively easy to get a car and find a house, and with that comes a back yard and sometimes a garage - both are godsends of potential for DIY’ers.
In Wim Wenders’ 1985 documentary Tokyo-Ga, Werner Herzog gravely states "...There are few images to be found. One has to dig for them like an archaeologist. One has to search through this ravaged landscape to find anything at all...” You’re also a photographer, so what images can you find in LA?
Tokyo-Ga happens to be one of my absolute favourite films ever. It’s an incredible document of the other city that has inspired me hugely over the years. However, I do actually find both Tokyo and LA to be a treasure trove of inspiring imagery. In both cities, not everything is on the surface, but once you go in a little deeper, you can find so much. It’s funny because usually, as a photographer, I have mostly opted to make work as far outside of the urban landscape as possible, but both of these places have really turned that on its head for me. I love the energy in these cities a lot and I also love the energy in nature. The crazy thing about California is the blending of raw nature and civilization. It’s a cliché about LA but it’s true, the light in LA is so full on and so specific. All day, I feel that you feel the sun’s presence really intimately, and as it becomes night, the darkness is felt more as well.
What's the biggest drive for artists in LA?
I feel the biggest drive for artists in Southern California is rooted in the space and the light available. It’s warm and sunny nearly all year round, and there is lots of space indoors and outdoors to make the things you want. I feel that when you are in that landscape it’s hard to have an excuse not to get to work on what you’re doing.
Is LA really as creative as it’s cracked up to be?
I don’t exactly know how LA’s cracked up to be, but I feel incredibly lucky to be here now. In just a few years I feel like the creative community here has grown rapidly and I also find that people are really eager to learn what other people are doing. In general, there is a really warm and welcoming spirit.
Everyone in LA seems to be starting their own label or brand right now. Why? (Clothing, streetwear, lifestyle etc., not cannabis-related)
Why not? If you have a garage, use it!
Recommend us a local spot (for some words or images)
Within just about 20 minutes door to door, I can be on a trail in the Angeles Crest mountains. Being this close to such incredible nature is the best perk of any city I could ask for.
California seems to be the vanguard of legalisation. What does the future hold?
Yes and no – it was the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana, but actually lagged behind a few other states on its "recreational" or "adult use" legislation. For California as the most populous state in the union, they are trying to create a solid template that will likely be the leading model for nations (yes, countries) moving forward. It'll be interesting how it shakes out at the end; up to this point, the rollout has appeared to be slow and inefficient, not reaching any of its goals. Plus, there's a constant looming fear that it'll be built to support corporate powers over smaller businesses, and so far, that sadly seems to be the case as well. Nonetheless, it's very interesting to be so close to the action.
I imagine the whole of the US will flip soon. A conservative bet would be that the US goes "legal" by some broad definition within 2 years, but I think it could happen within a year. Funny time for weed. I'm waiting for Japan to turn – prime minister Shinzo Abe takes CBD!
What’s your perspective on the emerging culture? Has anything surprised you?
It's fun to watch it all roll out. The only thing that surprises me is people's inability to nail a luxury angle. It makes me want to give that world a try, but Mister Green is not luxury (and doesn't try to be) and my hands are full. The only one who has really done it is the rolling paper company Devambez, kudos to them!
Your brand Mister Green adopts a minimalist design sensibility. What’s LA’s design sensibility?
I feel some would say LA's design sensibility would be akin to Christian Audigier (haha and also rest in peace.) Though Los Angeles is an art and architecture mecca, I feel this city has birthed many more celebrated aesthetic villains than heroes. In my mind, it is a sensibility marked by modernism in relation to the surrounding desert-like geography.
Mister Green was developed using Los Angeles as a natural context and environment for the brand. I suppose I've just tried to embrace general subtlety and nuance when I can and always lead with design. The LA that I exist in and that the brand hopefully exudes is a tendency toward embracing natural and spiritual things while, once again, leading with design.
You’ve also lived in Portland, NYC, and Tokyo. What sets LA apart?
I grew up in Portland, moved to NYC at the beginning of my 20s, and prior to moving to Los Angeles I "lived" in Tokyo for about six months– planned on staying longer, but really felt like LA was the right place to build the brand, and thus, a new life as well.
City wise, Portland, NYC, and Tokyo are all very bike, public transport, and walking friendly. By virtue, all feel very interconnected and are marked by greater nuance among neighbourhoods, businesses, and general goings-on. Los Angeles is a driving city, so it can be hard not to feel a sense of monotony and general expanse.
People-wise, I find a shared awareness among Portland, NYC, and Tokyo of the 'goings on' in these other places. Portlanders know about and are very critical of things happening in LA & NYC while simultaneously praising everything in Tokyo. People in Tokyo are very up on things happening almost everywhere in the world but definitely obsess over NYC, LA, and Portland. New Yorkers are big readers and follow the goings-on in these other cities, but are mostly preoccupied with New York things (there's a lot going on all the time). In stark contrast with the rest, I've observed that Angelenos, for the most part, are fixated on whatever their specific "thing" is, and often don't have an acute awareness of anything outside of their bubble let alone outside of Los Angeles. Angelenos also go-out for spontaneous social gatherings or locales the least of all of these places, whereas New Yorkers and Tokyo people are out most nights of the week.
While I would appreciate a more sociable/walkable city, what I love about living here in LA is having the unencumbered space and freedom to create things on my own terms. The expanse is a blank canvas, and what I've found to be true is "if you build it, they will come," I've been blessed with a hugely supportive local audience for which I am extremely grateful.
How come there’s currently a ‘new wave’ of Los Angeles brands popping up? (Clothing, streetwear, lifestyle etc., not cannabis-related)
LA feels like it has been enjoying a moment for the last few years, particularly because it has been one of the few urban centres where creatives haven't been forced out due to high rents with nowhere to go, or other economic pressures that require them to sell out (remember selling out?) in any number of ways. Simply though, I think people can spend more time playing and developing ideas naturally here instead of constantly trying to find out how to simply pay their rent. After living in New York for a decade, the notion of opening a shop seemed impossible. In LA it's certainly not easy but I don't have to rely on some tired formula to keep my doors open, which not only resonates with customers but also amongst my peers. By February, three friend's brands (some of which are stocked in Goodhood) will have opened storefronts within about 50 steps or less from my doorstep. So now we have our own little thing happening and we're all independent, non-traditional retail concepts. What other major city could this happen in?
Can LA be considered a rhizome?
I feel Los Angeles could definitely be considered a rhizome, given that nothing is "central", per se. It's all pockets, which will often leave outsiders with this lukewarm impression of the city, and insiders too– if they forget that there is always something happening somewhere in the city. In New York, you can walk around and you'll always stumble upon something; in LA, you need a very active local.
Your store, Virgil Normal, specialises in gender fluid apparel and lifestyle goods. Do you consider LA a progressive city?
Los Angeles is the kind of city that people come out in. They can come here and reinvent themselves as the person they want to be. No old friends reminding them that they used to love 311 and date white girls…
You host pop-ups, zine launches and art installations, amongst others. What’s LA’s DIY scene like?
There is a never-ending supply of ambitious people. This space, it’s a magnet for talent. We are fortunate to be able to be able to meet them and provide a location for events, and a platform for their talents to be shared.
How come there seems to be a ‘new wave’ of LA brands appearing on the scene? (Clothing, streetwear, lifestyle etc., not cannabis-related)
I recently found a Dazed magazine from 1993 and found all these ads from LA streetwear brands and their UK distributors. Brands like Fresh Jive, XLARGE, Fuct, Sjobek, Stoopid, Gypsy & Thieves etc. Streetwear is something we do here. I think it’s the climate and culture. We don’t need heavyweight technical coats, and we aren’t cowboys. We make clothes that we can wear to clubs, sweaty warehouse parties and to the grocery store. Back when Xlarge kicked off you had Melrose and Vermont Ave, the scene has shifted to Fairfax and East Hollywood. The young guns looking for spots they can make their own, not relying on existing foot traffic that usually brings along tourists.
The resurgence of new LA streetwear brands, I’d have to look at social media and these aforementioned neighbourhoods that had been left empty for a few years. Brands like Carrots and Rare Panther have been able to grow a devout following with Twitter and Instagram and not need to sell to retail locations. They can produce for a one day pop up or simply announce online. It affords them the opportunity to grow the brand on their terms and without having to be entrenched in showrooms and all that. I’d say the internet has democratized a lot of things, and fashion is certainly one of them.
Shirley, you’ve worked as a costume designer and stylist in Hollywood for years. Would LA be the same without Hollywood?
LA would not be the same, but it would still be cool.
It seems there’s been somewhat an exodus towards LA from other parts of California, in particular, San Francisco. Everyone’s moving to LA. Why?
Cuz, the rent is too damn high. And maybe the culture is suffering from it? Honestly haven’t been to San Francisco in years. Just what I hear.
Do you think LA could be considered a rhizome?
Most Certainly, that gets back to my anecdote earlier. How young brands, including ourselves, have found pockets in East Hollywood (aka Silverlake, aka Virgil Village) or even Fairfax. Which 10 years ago was filled with Jewish charity stores, odd outsider art galleries and alternative comedy spaces. We inhabit an old upholstery shop, behind a barbershop.
You actually grew up in LA. What was that like?
I’m sure growing up in LA was different from a lot of other places, but I don’t think I really noticed it at the time because it was all I knew. Looking back, I guess LA gives you more access to more things at a younger age, especially with the music and film industries, so there’s always stuff going on. I grew up heavily into rap music and movies, and in High School, I created a very early-90’s hip-hop public access music video show called Funkee Phlavaz (pronounced Funky Flavors). A young Alchemist was the host, we went to high school together. Because we were in LA, record labels would always hit us up, “KRS-One is going to be in town, can he come on your show”, and we would jump on that immediately. If we were in the middle of Canada, I’m not sure we’d have the same access. Here’s something the late and great Gary Warnett wrote about the show.
At the same time, I worked for Eazy E and Jerry Heller at Ruthless Records. I was in the middle of it, and there was a lot going on. It was cool, but not normal. Also, my parents had nothing to do in those industries, so it wasn’t like they helped get us in, me and my crew were 15 and sorta in the mix because mainly we were doing stuff and living in LA.
Your latest collection looks at drug counterculture throughout 20th century America. How important is all this to present-day LA?
Drug counterculture in LA now is very different from a lot of what we’re referencing in season 2. Weed is legal, so there is a huge shift. It’s not “underground” anymore. My mom uses THC pills to sleep, and there is a huge cultural shift happening not just in LA, but all over the world regarding weed. Today 99.9% of drug counterculture art is garbage. All the stuff that we used for inspiration was underground and older, none of it was mainstream. That’s the big underlining theme for Real Bad Man, taking inspirations from the underground genres that we love. Genres that are somewhat nerdy and very insular, but they all have art and iconography attached to them that are rich. You can look at drug counterculture from the 70s or you can look at Role Play Games from the 80’s and have a ton of inspirations to pull from. You just have to dig.
What makes an Angeleno different from a Californian? (do LA guys/girls have a certain attitude, certain words/phrases you use etc. compared to the rest of California?)
It’s hard to pin it down. Someone from LA is very different than someone from the Bay. Way different. But LA is such a big place, a Westsider is also very different from someone who lives on the East Side.
Who was LA’s greatest counterculture figure?
This is going to be a weird one, but Dr. Dre. NWA first, but even more so later, The Chronic changed the game in so many ways beyond just the music. Think about it. It had a big effect culturally; the music, the fashion, and definitely weed. More because it exposed the world to a subculture that was underground. And good or bad, the world took to it.
What’s the deal with this new wave of LA culture? It seems everyone’s either moving there or setting up their own brands…
I’ve lived here my entire life; my parents were born here. It’s a great place to live. I don’t like that there are so many people moving here. It’s annoying.
Recommend us a local spot.
I’m a little biased, but I think everyone visiting LA needs to have a KOGI taco. In and Out Burger has always been quintessential LA food item, and the KOGI short rib taco is next generations’ version of that. I actually believe it’s more important than anything from In and Out. Getting a great burger is not easy, but it’s also not that difficult either. You can get a great burger in pretty much any major metropolitan area, but getting a Korean taco is way harder. It represents LA. Shout out to Roy Choi!
Your brand PRMTVO has an esoteric and trippy backbone. What’s the deal with LA’s counterculture past?
LA’s countercultural past is a beautiful thing! You have this conglomeration of different visual languages, from the LSD hippie movement to gang culture—skaters, ravers/party culture, graff culture—it’s endless!! As a youth, all these subcultures shaped who we are today. Somehow, all of these seep into the PRMTVO psyche.
PRMTVO is short for primitvo, the Spanish word for primitive. There’s a large Hispanic and Latino population in LA, right?
Yes, and both of our Latino roots have influenced us in many magical ways! We are both very connected to our indigenous backgrounds, which are rich with mystical & spiritual enlightenment. PRMTVO’s ethos is about primitive cultures and the pursuit for higher consciousness and trying to channel that primal, raw, primitive energy into our visuals.
You’ve got a monthly show Gong Sounds on NTS LA. What’s the music scene like?
Not sure, we don’t follow many current music scenes. We tend to delve into lesser-represented sounds. But, we do enjoy the occasional all-nite rave thrown by friends...
Elon Musk wants to build a Hyperloop and everyone says the traffic’s bad. How do you find getting around LA? (urban planning etc. – you cycle, according to Instagram…)
All we can say is... where are the flying cars?
Recommend us a local spot
Any taco vendor on the streets of LA.
Why are there so many brands, labels, and creative projects being set up in LA at the moment?
There is a lot of good energy vibrating here at the moment. I think this positive energy vibrates at a certain frequency and it attracts more energy, positive thoughts and creativity. I think it’s some sort of quantum physics “law of attraction” theory (lol) but it certainly proves to be true. #cosmicmumbojumbo
You were born in London but you're now based in LA. How do you find it? (different or similar – in what ways)
LA is like real life but played at the wrong speed. Everything moves extremely slowly. People coming from London (or any other fast paced city) may take a while to adapt to the change of pace. But once it clicks, it’s very easy to stay locked in a hazy stoned groove here forever.
You’ve been part of the art world for around two decades. What’s LA’s art scene like?
LA doesn’t really have an art scene. It has artists, dealers and collectors but no scene. People are too isolated from one another to develop any meaningful dialogue. Anything that resembles a scene takes place in the universities, so it’s all hidden from view.
One theme running through your work as an artist is concerned with technology and how it interacts with society. How is the 21st Century impacting LA?
LA is still quite analogue in some ways. Despite its proximity to Tech, it has a pretty archaic infrastructure. This suits me quite well. I’m somebody that is totally absorbed by future, tech and speculative fiction, yet I’ve never brought anything online. Which is quite mad considering we have a webshop!
What’s the deal with this new wave of cannabis culture the city is seeing?
Well, it's interesting and very complex. On the one hand, weed is being destigmatised and endorsed as this form of wellness but the heavy taxation of it essentially gives back to the war on drugs. Which raises the issue of all the people currently serving jail time for dealing weed that should be exonerated now it's legal. Basically, smoke weed everyday but support your local independent drug dealer.
How come we’re seeing loads of brands pop up at the moment? (Lifestyle, clothing etc. – not cannabis-related)
A combination of factors means that it’s simply never been easier for someone to pretend to have a clothing label. Being the CEO of a barely existent bedroom brand is a very popular hobby at the moment.
How do you Chill Out in LA? Recommend us a local spot
I’m a regular at the Korean spas. I like the low-end ones. Anything over $25 and it’s not chill.
AIso, I don’t drive. I walk everywhere so I have all these dope cutty spots that people don’t know about. I used to have keys to this one building in downtown, I would let myself in and smoke weed on the roof. I was gutted when they changed the lock. But most of all, TRANCENTRAL LOS ANGELES is the spiritual home of CHILL OUT RELAXING CLOTHES. It is where we make everything and hold our COMMUNICATIONS meetings.