Odd Future and other Fairfax Avenue scenesters resent the area’s swelled popularity
BY REBECCA HAITHCOAT
It’s late afternoon on a recent breezy Friday, and Val Caruso is sitting outside Supreme, the streetwear and skate store he manages. Lanky guys rolling down Fairfax Avenue on skateboards lean down to slap his hand, and someone cruising by in an Audi hollers his name.
Meanwhile, a young customer tugs the shop’s door handle, but it’s locked. "Already closed,” Caruso tells him, even as a cluster of sweaty boys can be seen inside enjoying Supreme’s in-store skate bowl, which occupies a good half of the space. The subtext is obvious: Although it’s open to the public, Supreme is also something of an exclusive club.
The same can be said of Fairfax Avenue itself these days. Only, the hip-hop-influenced shops along the traditionally Jewish corridor that stretches roughly from Melrose Avenue to Third Street are having a hard time keeping the hordes away.
Supreme, along with other clothing stores like Diamond Supply Co. And the Hundreds, specialize in limited-edition sneakers, hats and other garb favored by skateboarders. In the last few years, they’ve turned the Fairfax District into a serious tourist destination, particularly for the young and trendy. The area also has become dotted with art galleries showing the work of street artists, and with restaurants where it’s tough to get a table, such as Animal.
Teens and 20-somethings descend on the strip from all over the United States, Europe and Asia, not just to shop but for another L.A. tradition: celebrity sightings. In particular, they’re hoping to snap a photo with a member of rap collective Odd Future, or at least spy leader Tyler, the Creator hanging out in front of the group’s own pop-up store, called OF. Located near Fairfax’s intersection with Oakwood Avenue, it specializes in tie-dyed T-shirts, expensive hoodies and even signature skate decks.
In fact, the local hip-hop crew — which became a worldwide phenomenon in 2010 — is largely responsible for the Fairfax District’s blossoming, thanks to its hanging out there and wearing Supreme attire in the crew’s videos. But Caruso echoes the complaints of many local employees who aren’t enthusiastic about all the attention: The street’s now "attracting Hollywood,” he laments.
Indeed, an Adult Swim show starring Odd Future, Loiter Squad, has filmed here, and TMZ often is lurking, as evidenced by its "star tour” vans that creep through and harass the famous.
Caruso, who is 29 and handsome, is guarded, protective both of Supreme’s image and the longtime skaters who’ve made the spot a second home. Other streetwear shop workers won’t speak on the record but tend to complain about an increased police presence — which makes openly smoking weed harder — and about their gear being scooped up en masse, presumably to be flipped on eBay for a profit.
Tyler himself has been blunt regarding the tourists: "Stay off Fairfax you are not welcomed we don’t fuck with you,” he tweeted last month. "I blame myself for the [outsiders] coming to the block in the past year and a half, I’m fucking sorry. … Some niggas just wanna be seen over there, not ’cause they wanna shop, just ’cause it’s a ‘scene’ to them.”
The underlying fear? That an area whose claim to fame is being exclusive and cool might be neither before long.
Fairfax Avenue has certainly been hip before. Canter’s Deli came to the street in 1953, attracting celebrities from the nearby CBS television studio, and its bar was a favored hangout for Guns N’ Roses in their heyday. More recently, a café called Nova Express featured experimental music and performances, and beloved venue Largo hosted music and comedy on the avenue before relocating to La Cienega Boulevard in 2008.
Before the stores specializing in skateand streetwear came in, "bored high school kids were running up and down this quiet, Jewish neighborhood,” says Kid Ink, a local rapper who attended nearby Fairfax High.
Those teens became the clientele for spots like Supreme, which arrived on Fairfax in 2004 after debuting in New York City a decade earlier. The creation of New York– based James Jebbia — who partnered with Laguna Beach entrepreneur Shawn Stüssy of the popular 1980s fashion line Stüssy — Supreme expanded beyond clothes to sell collectible skateboards designed by artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
Caruso was one of the Fairfax store’s original customers and began working there a few years after it opened. It immediately became a hangout for kids headed to skate parks, he says, and was a welcome respite from the chaos they found elsewhere. "Growing up in L.A., it’s easy to get caught up in gangs and trouble,” he contends. Diamond Supply Co., the Hundreds and Dope Couture followed, and nowadays all have major skateboarders or rappers endorsing their lines. It was Tyler, however, who tipped the balance by brandishing Supreme’s snapback hats and T-shirts, which are characterized by simple designs with the brand’s blocky red-and-white logo. As Tyler told GQ earlier this year: "That was the only store in the area at the time that sold skateboards, so we’d go in there and buy boards, and I just gradually became friends with the guys who were working there.”
But the collegial atmosphere that characterized this not-long-ago era has changed, says Diamond Supply Co. Manager Sean Lyles. "You have a lot of outsiders from different states,” he says, "people who wanna squeeze in and take photos. It’s not a family thing like it was before.”
Since Supreme has only two stores in the country — and because it produces limited quantities of its items — customers buying in bulk present a problem, says a diff erent Supreme employee. It’s not fair to a kid who’s saved up to buy the latest limitededition sneaker to be beaten out by an Internet hustler who’s just going to jack up the price online.
Odd Future’s unofficial photographer, Brick Stowell, met the group members on Fairfax a couple of years back. His shots — which have the grainy look of ’90s-era point-andshoot cameras, complete with time stamps in their lower right-hand corners — largely compose their 2011 book, Odd Future: Golf Wang.
He’s as much a part of the Fairfax scene as anyone but doesn’t necessarily think its burgeoning popularity is a negative thing.
"Three or four years ago it was just a hangout. [Now], record executives, bloggers, photographers, artists all go there ’cause they know they’ll see other artists. People won’t admit it, but you go there to be seen and to see other artists. It’s not bad, it’s just diff erent,” he says, adding that he’ll sometimes stop by the block if he’s looking for one of his buddies, rather than call him.
But Lee Spielman, who works at OF and is the lead singer of hardcore punk band Trash Talk, wants to make it clear to outsiders that the community remains insular. If you’re interested in applying for a job at his store, for example, well, you’re probably out of luck.
"People bring in job applications,” he notes with a smile. "We just tear ’em up.”
West Coast Sound
Insane Clown Posse Get Artistic and Shit
WE HANG AND GET THE SCOOP ON THEIR AMBITIOUS NEW ALBUM
Oddly, Insane Clown Posse rapper Joey Utsler — better known as Shaggy 2 Dope — is humble. Today, on the group’s bus in the parking lot of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, he speaks as if he can’t believe his duo’s success. His counterpart Joseph Bruce (aka Violent J ) is watching SpongeBob SquarePants on a small TV, smirking now and then.
Ever hustling, the group off ered to meet us at the L.A. Weekly offices, but their tour bus wouldn’t fit in our parking garage, so here we are.
They’ve come out to Hollywood before, and remain enamored of the local women. "There’s so much parking-lot pimpin’ going on,” Utsler says, a bit cryptically.
"The women are like 3-to-1, all over this fuckin’ place.” The bus itself is a typical rock-star 40-foot coach, unadorned, and there’s no Faygo in sight. Utsler and Bruce look the part, however, dressed in Hatchet Man gear and done up in their signature face paint, black-and-white schemes that have remained unchanged for decades.
While for much of their 21-year history they were largely ignored by the media, more recently they’ve broken through, although mostly to be mocked, by everyone from Saturday Night Live to Comedy Central show Workaholics. Their "Miracles” video ("Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?”) went viral enough to give the Internet chlamydia. Meanwhile, their Juggalo fan base has landed on the FBI’s national gang watchlist, which distresses Utsler: "That’s now calling our concerts a gang rally, that our fuckin’ merchandise is gang apparel. That’s a public lynching of our name.”
Now the Detroit-based outfit is set to release its 11th studio album, The Mighty Death Pop!, out Aug. 12. Hugely ambitious and a little, um, insane, it comprises four individual discs: one featuring the original rap-rock tracks the group is known for, another that’s a 64-minute riff on Too $hort’s 1987 sex rap "Freaky Tales” and a third that covers songs like Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful,” Eazy-E’s "Love for Them Gangstas” and Tears for Fears’ "Shout.”
The fourth contains unreleased B-sides, and is probably the most compelling, due largely to the strength of guest stars like Scarface, Three 6 Mafia and Kreayshawn. The whole project is messy fun; while The Mighty Death Pop! Certainly caters to the Juggalos, it’s nice to see the guys stretch themselves creatively.
But wait. Is the scope and ambition of the work an attempt to get folks to finally take them seriously? Utsler sighs and briefly places his head in his hands before reclining on the bus’s leather bench next to Bruce. "We’re not respected for the music,” Utsler admits, adding: "We were trying to shock people and to be the shit.”
One suspects that, despite their don’tgive- a-fuck attitude, they’ve long craved musical legitimacy, and this work might just go a ways toward getting them there. In an Internet age where weird and outlandish are more accepted than ever, it looks like the duo finally stands a chance. "If things look like they’re changing for ICP — and it looks like we’re getting more exposure now than we ever have — a lot of that has to do with the world being diff erent,” Utsler says.
Don’t think, however, that they’re going to start sucking up to the mainstream.
"We never changed shit,” Utsler maintains. "The world changed around us.” —K.C. Libman
Bizarre Ride by Jeff Weiss
IS "SUMMERTIME IN THE LBC” THE PERFECT SUMMER SONG?
This is the city and the season for the summer jam. You only have to turn on your radio to reap the rewards of 50 years of pop music and propitious weather. Put on K-EARTH 101 and The Beach Boys remain ready to raise serotonin levels. On KROQ, Sublime stay "Doing Time,” with "Bradley on the microphone with Ras M.G.” Power 106 pumps this year’s contenders, with blunt cruise–worthy bangers from Tyga, Kendrick Lamar, YG and ratchet man Joe Moses.
But my dial inevitably gravitates toward the classic hip-hop of KDAY, 93.5 FM, the subject of Ben Westhoff ’s feature story last week. It’s partially an age thing. Science has proven that music never sounds better than when you’re 13 years old (hasn’t it?). And that was my age in the summer of 1995, when The Dove Shack dropped "Summertime in the LBC,” my favorite homegrown summer jam of the last two decades.
That’s not to say there aren’t dozens of worthy rivals. The G-funk era alone produced Domino’s "Ghetto Jam,” DJ Quik’s "Pitch in on a Party,” Ice Cube’s "Today Was a Good Day,” Warren G’s "Regulate” and singles galore from Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. But those songs sound right any time of year. Whereas listening to "Summertime in the LBC” — The Dove Shack’s lone hit — in the winter feels like an elaborate ruse.
The Dove Shack made their debut on Warren G’s multiplatinum debut, Regulate … The G-Funk Era. The following year, the Long Beach rapper-producer put his neighborhood homies on via a distribution deal between Def Jam and his own G-Funk Entertainment records. With poor strategic planning, Warren G’s first two artists, The Twinz and The Dove Shack, released their debut records on the same day, 17 years ago this month. Despite placement on the soundtrack to hip-hop documentary The Show, "Summertime in the LBC” got lost in the estival deluge. It scarcely earned radio play outside of California, stalling at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, the song rarely escapes rotation in car stereos and cookouts from Long Beach to Lancaster. The secret is simple: a blissed-out sample from Midnight Star’s "Feel So Good,” a Nate Dogg–worthy hook from crooner Bo Roc and a timeless ability to distill summer into four scorching minutes.
Like the greatest summer jams, "Summertime in the LBC” blends a sense of infinity with seasonal evanescence. The premise is straightforward: The Dove Shack and their crew kick it at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Long Beach. Grilling ribs smothered in BBQ sauce. Drinking 40s and Coke and Hennessy. Smoking weed. Acting the fool. Or, as C-Knight describes it, "Th ree months of pleasure/How can I measure/ the relaxation/all the fun I’m facing.” It’s a madeleine-style triggering memory of being young and unburdened from adult responsibilities, with your only obligation to pack as much fun as possible into the 90-day vacation.
The Dove Shack essentially disappeared aft er the single fell off the charts; they didn’t release a sophomore record until 2006. Meanwhile, due to budget cutbacks, King Park currently is closed on the weekends. But "Summertime in the LBC” remains an eternal gift , a song that still sounds as perfect as it did in the summer of ’95.
Is Skrillex Actually Music?
A CLASSICALLY TRAINED PIANIST WEIGHS IN
The 2012 Grammys confirmed that electronic dance music has entered the mainstream, but many don’t believe it’s "real” music. If you ask Summer Swee-Singh, however — who has been playing the piano since she was 8 — EDM is quite worthy.
Now 23, Swee-Singh has been putting together classical arrangements of genre stars like Skrillex and Daft Punk, working to draw out the musical qualities beneath the production.
Swee-Singh is half Chinese and half Indian. Blessed with perfect pitch, her arrangements usually feature piano and violin, and she also plays the flute. In college at UC Berkeley, she and some of her classmates redid Skrillex songs for YouTube. Th ree days aft er she posted one video, Skrillex himself shared it on Facebook. "I just started screaming and ran out the door,” she remembers.
Soon she was invited backstage to meet him. "He told me that if I could come up with a 30-minute set of his songs, he would let me open for him,” Swee-Singh says, adding that she is waiting to see if the off er is still on the table.
In the meantime, she performs in a group called the Dubutantes with violinist Miren Edelstein. "We think it would be really great to pair up with a DJ or learn to DJ ourselves, and be able to play live sets where there is both an electronic component and an acoustic component,” Swee-Singh says.
She’s also working on a symphony she hopes will be a stepping stone into the world of movie arrangements. "I realized not too long ago that I really want to grow up to be Hans Zimmer,” she says.
At Cal, she was a legal studies major planning to go to law school, having idolized the Legally Blonde protagonist. "Except I never joined a sorority, or had a little fluff y pink pen, or a dog. So I turned out quite opposite.”
She currently works as a financial recruiter but plans to eventually devote herself to music. Until then, Swee-Singh will continue to weigh in against the EDM haters. "Essentially, it is all pitch,” she says. "So if people are arguing that it isn’t technically music, from a definition standpoint, they’re wrong.”
Still, Swee-Singh doesn’t think the debate will end anytime soon. "People still have a ways to go appreciating new genres of music,” she says. But "as long as you can find beauty in it and it brings you somewhere, I believe it can be music.” —Gabrielle Canon
SOME MUSIC REALLY DOES SUCK
It has become a ritual. Every summer, around late July and into August, I find myself in Europe, performing at any festival that will have me. In between I try to do shows wherever I can, to avoid nights off . This time around, it’s a brief bit of work, less than three weeks. England, Holland, Germany, Poland, Scotland and then back to the USA for about 70 more shows until early December.
A lot of American performer types like me have become very familiar with Europe, as we sometimes spend months at a time here. I know some who enjoy being here and a few who can’t stand it. I have always liked it, and it never occurs to me that I have been here too long. I go where the work takes me and don’t think much past that.
The hardest part of these oft -vigorous sojourns across the continent is doing it under the weight of jet lag. Aft er a flight or two, suddenly everything is eight or nine hours later and things get strange. It hits some people harder than others. Try as I might, I have not found a way to adjust all that well in fewer than three days.
A sustained state of sleep deprivation and sleep-cycle disruption makes for some interesting thoughts. It can make dreams very vivid and music sound very tripped out, and a lot of the music I listen to doesn’t need much help in that direction in the first place.
I started this run of shows in England. I got there a couple of days before my set in Dorset, at Camp Bestival. I was staying in nearby Southampton at a cheap hotel that shared a parking lot with two other cheap hotels. I noticed there was a similar look to a lot of the people around the area — dangerous tattoos on almost all the men and many of the women. What does a dangerous tattoo look like, you ask? Pot leaves tattooed on the neck, homemade work done on the hand they don’t write with, etc. These are men who hit immediately and then laugh as you twitch on the floor. The women were showing a lot of skin: Guts hung over short dresses; breasts threatened to leap out of tops.
From my window, I noticed that many of them were loading incredible amounts of alcohol out of their cars and into the hotel. I had a feeling as to what was coming and I was right. On the two nights I was there, the noise in the hotel got louder and more violent in the halls and parking lot until, for some reason, it suddenly fell silent around 0430 hrs. On the second night, police came to the parking lot to disperse them. Why had these morons and their slutty women amassed? A football game, I was told.
So I did the show in Dorset, before another great U.K. audience. Next stop was Amsterdam, also for some sleep, and then a train this morning to Tilburg for a show as I wait for the Wacken Festival in Germany to start days from now.
The train ride to Tilburg reminded me of what I admire about Holland. The immense and perfect flatness of the land has been turned into great expanses of agriculture. The straight discipline of the corn, the relentless greenness of it all as it flies by the window, is incredible. Solar panels everywhere, people on bicycles all over the place. Life is what you make it, and the Dutch have decided to make it good. They’ve looked down the road and decided that health, sanity and sustainability are key in order to "promote the general welfare” of their people.
Tilburg has plenty of young drunks, in case you were wondering. A good many of them are underneath my hotel window right now, swinging to a DJ playing some of the worst music I have ever heard. It sounds like spedup beer hall sing-alongs with bad beats and a bunch of people howling off-key. Hell is absolutely other people.
I guess this is where I show my age. I want censorship. I want it right now. I want this music to stop. I want these slender, good-looking European children to leave the immediate area. The small room with a bed I am currently inhabiting is growing hot with no moving air.
Old Man Revelation Dept.: Some music really does suck! The perpetrators of the crap I am now enduring knew what they were doing when they devised this aural awfulness. There is no possible way these sonic sadists sat and listened to the final mix, looked at each and smiled, knowing they had just created something to the world’s benefit. No, they proclaimed that drunken idiots all over the world will love this, and they were right.
Somehow I was able to get to this moment, never absorbing inessential music. There’s not one record I have ever had that I parted with wondering what the hell drove me to purchase it in the first place. I have sold records out of poverty, given them away or had them stolen, but that’s it.
The crap that is blaring below me at this moment won’t be remembered by the celebrants as the vomit dries on their shoes a few hours from now. They are taking their time and throwing it into the wind. Fail.
If this utter garbage ends up being the soundtrack to your youth, you’re already done. There will be no revolution of the mind! There will be no push back! There will just be you, overrun, infiltrated and occupied — high on the man’s poison, rutting in the bunk below the one Mediocrity flabbily snores away in! Chances are, there will not be a single thing you will do that will be taken seriously besides your ability to waste time.
Youth is two or three summers of your life — then you have to get to work. Use it well, not like the good-looking sons and daughters on the street below me.