A weekly Wednesday night event in a seedy pocket of East Los Angeles, Low End Theory has always been cooler than it should have been: with better-than-thou fashionable attendees despite its un-instagrammable aesthetic, a line that wraps around the block despite being on a weeknight, and a surprisingly upbeat partying atmosphere despite being 18+. The venue is two floors, the first holding a bar and outdoor stage, and the second with an indoor stage and smoking deck. However, while being physically above the street, its dark lighting, poorly marked doorways and steep narrow staircases make it feel very underground despite its longstanding popularity. In short, Low End Theory has always been the place to be if you’re one of those artsy folks with your finger on the pulse of underground Los Angeles Electronic and Rap music.
“Did you hear that speech in there?” my friend Owen probed when we found each other out on the venue’s hazy back patio. After a chilled-out set from Brainfeeder’s mellow electronic artist Teebs, a club employee had taken the stage to talk about the metaphorical “temple” of safety and inclusion that Low End has come to be. One of the first real, bonding conversations I had had with Owen my freshman year of college was about this club, reminiscing about how rebellious we felt with the sharpie X’s on our hands at highschool the day after a concert. Now, here we were talking about the dark underbelly of this club, and who else roamed around during those years. “I think it was about The Gaslamp Killer” he probed some more, curious as to what his friends might say. A weird sense of unease and then reassuring comfort washed over me–yes, sexual predator The Gaslamp Killer used to be a regular here, but also, the club was taking action to make sure he wasn’t ever again.
While Low End Theory played a role as a safe escape from my experience at a private Catholic High School, the club has also shared its fair share of controversy after longtime residency-holder The Gaslamp Killer was found to have drugged and raped a woman at a hotel party. Upon hearing this information Low End Theory rightly ended their association with their largest and most consistent act.
As a victim of sexual assault, the last several months since accusations of Harvey Weinstein surfaced have been a whirlwind of psychological ups and downs, and I know I’m not the first to say it. But hearing that the longtime resident of Low End Theory was another of the idolized entertainers that was, in reality, a complete piece of shit, was especially startling.
As an 18-year-old I remember sloppily trying to sneak in a few drinks before I arrived at Low End, stepping into heels I couldn’t actually walk in too well, and wearing all sorts of outfits that made me uncomfortable in an effort to impress–I really did have some vulnerable moments here. Knowing someone with such malicious intent was walking around with me was really disturbing. However, returning for the first time since that story broke, I was relieved to see how much responsibility the club takes to make sure all attendees still feel welcome and at ease three months later.
Even now, the culture at Low End abides by some subconscious code of base-level honesty and openness that encourages one to let their guard down. A drunk girl grabs me before I enter an empty stall and says, “you don’t want to go in there. The lights don’t turn on and there’s no toilet paper and you’ll fall in,” hands me a wad of tissues from her bag, and loudly compliments about my whole outfit before pushing me into the next stall. I step outside for some fresh air and find two old pals I haven’t seen in months and we catch up for most of the hour. When the artist I’ve come for takes the stage, my friend and I weave through the crowd with ease, met only with friendliness and at one point meeting a stranger who actively cleared the way.
Despite the intimidating coolness of this crowd, people are nice to you because if you know this place, you must not be too bad. We bob our heads under the simplest unchanging lights together, staring at the psychedelic images crudely projected on an uncurtained wall. There’s always been a sense of community in this common belief that this is a Los Angeles Wednesday night’s best-kept secret. Thankfully, the club’s lack of hesitancy to separate themselves from The Gaslamp Killer, and their obviously purposeful and continued efforts to uphold their own dignity as a venue has allowed them to preserve that feeling.
Written by Veronica Irwin
Photo by Fabrice Bourgelle