You don’t go to karaoke bars to hear the progressive, head-nodding instrumental music emanating from L.A.’s internationally renowned beat scene. If you’re lucky, no one in your besotted cohort will belt a tone-deaf “Don’t Stop Believin’” or attempt their best Scott Stapp impression. For the last year, however, if you were to stumble into the dark, red-tinted confines of Little Tokyo karaoke/ramen bar Tokyo Beat on the second Wednesday, third Thursday or fourth Wednesday of the month, you’d enter Beat Cinema (BC).
Backed by visuals that oscillate between Day-Glo psychedelia and the precise geometry of the Tron universe, BC’s resident producer/DJs and guests — both burgeoning (Linafornia, Eureka the Butcher) and widely renowned (Tokimonsta, Open Mike Eagle, MNDSGN) — play and perform forward-thinking permutations of everything from footwork and house to hip-hop and jazz, with thundering low end the unifying sonic thread.
Since its start at Claremont’s Hip Kitty in 2009, Beat Cinema has slowly become a fixture in the beat scene. Admittedly inspired by Low End Theory, BC and the tight quarters at Tokyo Beat offer another gateway for fans who aren’t able to get into the often-packed Airliner on Wednesday nights. And with a steady stream of shows, podcasts and beat battles, as well as live innovations and increasingly high-profile new ventures (e.g., soundtracking Coachella’s Turn Down Tent), BC has cemented its place alongside other prominent L.A. collectives like Team Supreme as a hub for some of the city’s elite beat-centric sounds.
It’s a bright and boiling Monday afternoon in early August when I meet BC founder/DJ Rick Gonzalez (Rick G) and BC creative director/DJ/producer Michael Davis (DMM) outside of Tokyo Beat, which has been BC’s home base since the Hip Kitty shuttered in 2015. Both enthusiastic and affable men in their early 30s, they’ve also brought Westley Ulit (wave Groove), the stocky and soft-spoken BC resident producer/DJ who also handles BC web maintenance. After we head to Far Bar, an air-conditioned gastropub with a reasonably priced happy hour across the street from Japanese Village Plaza, they discuss the recent relocation.
“We went through a year and a half of searching,” Davis says. “We did a lot of spots in Orange County [and] one-offs at maybe 10 different locations.”
In addition to its three nights a month at Tokyo Beat, BC also throws a show at Acerogami in Pomona on the first Wednesday of every month.
“Tokyo Beat is our partying vibe ... Acerogami is where you go to experience more of our aesthetics,” Davis explains. “If you want something to look beautiful and sound perfect, we do it at Acerogami.”
The Acerogami shows illustrate BC’s growth but also its allegiance to the Inland Empire and the San Gabriel Valley, areas historically lacking in nightlife compared with L.A. proper. “We want to hold onto that spot,” Gonzalez says. “That’s where we started. We still want to cater to that area.”
For Gonzalez and Davis, the Inland Empire was also once home. During their teens, their respective families moved into newly developed prefab homes in the Riverside County city of Eastvale. They spent the long bus ride to Norco High School bonding over their shared interest in thrash bands and battled suburban ennui by hanging together after school. Though Davis left town before graduation, the two kept in touch online. When Davis moved back to L.A. in his early 20s, Gonzalez offered him a place to stay.
“He was supposed to stay for a week, and it ended up being like two months,” Gonzalez says, chuckling.
Davis’ return coincided with Gonzalez’s growing interest in the music he heard at Low End Theory. After a brief tenure as a bar back at Hip Kitty, Gonzalez started booking scene stalwarts like Gaslamp Killer and Daedelus to perform there. The response from music fans in the area was immediate.
“The early shows would hit capacity,” Gonzalez says. “There were no shows like that out in Claremont. You had to drive to L.A.”
As attendance increased, Gonzalez improved as a DJ and began filling out the BC roster. Davis, who initially ran the door (DMM stands for Doorman Mike), eventually became so inspired that he started DJing. Today, the roster remains purposefully in flux.
“It’s still changing,” Davis says. “We pick people along the way if they have talents that fit with us and vibe well. … The people with us now are the ones that have the same passion we do.”
Shawn Curley (aka Major Gape) is arguably the essential addition to the BC team. After editing together movie clips for the projection screen on the Hip Kitty’s outdoor patio, Curley began experimenting with live video manipulation inside. Today, he controls the visuals in real time at Acerogami and Tokyo Beat, mapping them onto any number of screens and light boxes.
“Without him, [BC] would just be a normal, regular beat club,” Davis says. “That’s what separates us.”
Gape also was instrumental in two of BC’s latest developments. When Goldenvoice approached him to do visuals for Coachella’s Turn Down Tent in the camping area, he lobbied to get BC residents on the bill. He is also responsible for the visuals in a virtual reality documentary about BC, Do What You Love: The L.A. Underground Beat Scene.
A mix of live sets and interviews, the short documentary will premiere at L.A. Weekly’s Artopia on Aug. 26. Those at the event, held at Union Station, will be able to watch the short film on headsets with BC residents. “The premiere is at Artopia,” Gonzalez says. “We have no idea what it looks like.”
Despite their already exhaustive output, Beat Cinema continues to expand, now throwing a show once a month at the Lash downtown with several like-minded collectives, booking BC DJs at other L.A. shows, and releasing albums through its Bandcamp page. In many ways, it's solidifying the definition of a beat collective as much as it's expanding it.
“There are people who throw shows, put out albums or do podcasts, but I don’t think there’s one collective that’s a one-stop shop for everything,” Davis says. “It might seem like we’re doing too much, but I don’t think so.”
After a day filled with standing for hours on end, trekking acres of polo fields and shaking your ass to uptempo jams, you could really use a place to unwind. The Turn Down (a tent located at the Arts Center right by the Silent Disco) is just the place to grab a pillow, lay down, and take in some mind melting visuals and ambient downtempo grooves.
The Turn-Down tent has provided Coachella goers with a late-night, mellow and psychedelic hideaway for 3-years and counting.
“It’s become such a staple that people look for the Turn Down,” says Michael Davis who performs as DMM and one of the founders of Beat Cinema and the Turn Down tent. According to Davis, word of mouth about the trippy yet mellow space has spilled from across the Coachella campgrounds to Coachella Reddit forums.
For those unaware of the local beat scene in SoCal, the Turn Down is the perfect place to discover what Beat Cinema— a local collective of beat heads from L.A to O.C. and even the I.E.— has become known for since 2009. It’s an intimate environment of live abstract visual projections provided by Major Gape and a gathering of eclectic producers from Beat Cinema residents such as DMM, Rick2Fresh and Mousey to notable guests from the beat scene such as Gaslamp Killer, Dreampanther and Ras G.
After a friend of the Beat Cinema collective who worked for Goldenvoice (the production company behind Coachella) asked Major Gape to perform his projections one year, the idea grew and Beat Cinema founders Rick Gonzalez and Davis were eventually asked to join the Turn Down crew too. With Coachella literally becoming bigger very year, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Turn Down tent expanded into a larger experience.
After laying down on the dozens of pillows on the floor of the Turn Down tent, I couldn’t help but think that this space felt like an opium den yet the ambient beats and kaleidoscopic visuals were all the drugs one needed. In a span of a few minutes, eccentric mixes of Radiohead, Chance the Rapper, Slum Village and Toro Y Moi floated across the tent and made the environment feel like a low-key, musical oasis nestled in a corner of the massive Coachella festival grounds.
“I’d describe it as a place to come if you want to unwind—at the same time, we don’t just play sleepy stuff…it goes everywhere every night,” Davis says, “it’s just something different—if you want to dance, you can dance, if you just want to relax, come to the Turn Down.”
Turn down at the Turn Down tent every weekend of Coachella at the Arts Studios in Camp Center (LOT 8) Thurs 9p.m.-3a.m. and Fri-Sun 11p.m.-3a.m. Still want more trippy beat shows post-Coachella? Catch the Beat Cinema collective at Acerogami at the Glass House every 4th Wednesday of the month and bi-weekly at Tokyo Beat in Los Angeles.
The underground beat scene in LA is alive and thriving. With parties like: Low End Theory, Juke Bounce Werk, Soulection, Elevation. Beat Cinema, created in 2009 with a mission of showcasing subterranean producers & djs has moved homes in the LA area during the decade, coming to currently reside in the Japanese Village at Tokyo Beat, a spot where you can get ramen AND beats late night. The Beat Cinema family is an umbrella collective with interests in many of the subfacet beat genres from deconstructed drum machine Hip Hop to pretty Study Beats and minimal Footwork. The crew is made cohesive by their mutual support of each other’s production work, playing complimentary sets and careful curation of guests. They also have a visual lightmaster by the name of Major Gape who blankets the whole scene in illuminated displays that polish the tiny club experience.
Lately they’ve stepped into the realm of ticketed events at Apt503 and will be featuring guest producers Zikomo, Teklun, Nick Pacoli and Dom Vincent on May 2nd in LA. With resident DMM opening the Gobi tent at Coachella and the whole team programming the chill Turndown Tent at the festival, releasing music and throwing shows, no stop is in sight. The Beat Cinema crew just posted their Resident 2018 Compilation. It gives a clear insight into the sonic personalities of the residents. Sample flips inspired by Jerms, pretty synth soundscape by Wave Groove, whispery juke by Etta X Mu. and Mousey McGlynn likes laying stripped vocals down.