The influence of Low End Theory - the L.A. club night that just ended its 12-year run as the country’s most vital proving ground for experimental, bass-loving producers - has spread to nearly every corner of the globe. Still, it’s a surprise to hear an LET-style mix of cosmic synths and West Coast boom-bap emanating from a yacht cruising past the bayfront mansions and swanky seafood restaurants of Newport Beach, an Orange County enclave down the coast from L.A. whose wealthy, conservative residents probably think “Flying Lotus” is the name of a Chinese restaurant.
Aboard the boat, 80 revelers are knocking back Coronas and sparkling rosé and dancing to Wave Groove, one of the resident DJs of Beat Cinema, the 15-member crew that’s hosting the cruise. His set seamlessly mixes familiar trap party-starters with slow-rolling, deeply funky originals. The crowd rides the yacht’s sway to Lil Uzi Vert’s 'Money Longer' and the neon bass lines of Wave’s own 'Jazz Orbital' with equal enthusiasm.
His Beat Cinema cohorts, Rick G (the hyper-focused, quietly ambitious one) and DMM (the laid-back, making-sure-everyone’s-having-a-good-time one), look on with approval. DMM just stepped away from the decks after soundtracking our departure from the dock with a high-energy hip-hop set. “I don’t usually play that turnt up,” he yells over the music, with a grin. “But we’re on a boat!”
A yacht party in Newport Beach may seem like an improbable backdrop for the futuristic sounds of L.A.’s still-fertile beat scene. But Beat Cinema are old pros at turning any venue, however unlikely, into a party space for underground sounds. Their first home, the Hip Kitty, was a jazz lounge and fondue bar in the L.A. suburb of Claremont, where the sister of the crew’s founder, Rick G (the “G” stands for Gonzalez), hosted a movie night.
“I started DJing during intermissions,” Rick remembers. “And then the owner was like, ‘Hey, there’s nothing inside if you want to book some of your friends.’” His friends included Low End Theory regulars Ras G, Dibia$e and Daedelus, all of whom were early guests. Somewhere along the way, his sister stopped showing movies, but the name Beat Cinema stuck.
Back then, in 2009, “it wasn’t just Low End,” says Dan Nguyen, a DJ and producer who goes by Demonslayer and who, along with Rick G and DMM (aka Mike Davis, who also worked the door; the initials stand for Door Man Mike), was among Beat Cinema’s first residents. “There were beat shows all over the place. Everyone knew each other. The outside world wasn’t really looking yet.”
Still, Beat Cinema occupied a unique geographical niche. Claremont is in the heart of the Inland Empire, a sprawl of freeways, strip malls and suburban subdivisions east of Los Angeles that’s home to many a bedroom producer, but few places for them to play out. At Hip Kitty, Beat Cinema soon became the hub for a distinctly Inland Empire version of the beat scene — more DIY, more community-minded, more “trippy and experimental,” in the words of Beat Cinema member Margaret “Mousey” McGlynn, who combines moody R&B soundscapes with her own jazzy sung-spoke vocals.
As Beat Cinema continued to develop their own vibe, greatly augmented by the addition of a visual artist, Major Gape, with a talent for psychedelic, 3D-mapped projections, word got back to Los Angeles. “The greater L.A. area was really feeling the beat scene, but they were doing their own version of it,” says Daedelus. “As a pure outsider, I felt welcome and felt [it was] a home base immediately.”
Daedelus was especially impressed at the crew’s eclecticism. A night at Beat Cinema could feature anything from Demonslayer’s heavy-hitting trap to Wave Groove’s jazzier excursions to the broken soul samples and laid-back house beats of Jerms. “You can’t in one fell swoop know their sound,” says Daedalus. “But you know there’s a party happening.”
After Hip Kitty closed in early 2015, the party moved to various homes in nearby Pomona, then eventually landed at Tokyo Beat, a karaoke bar in the Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles. DMM says that, after years of trying to get L.A. crowds out to the Inland Empire, the crew was finally ready to try a more central location — even if it meant competing directly with Low End on Wednesday nights, the only night the club would give them at first.
“It hasn’t really been our decision,” says DMM of Beat Cinema’s frequent Wednesday night events. “Venues operate more than anything on the basis of money. … Sunday [to] Thursday are the slower nights that are reserved for the ‘artsy’ events.” Eventually Tokyo Beat also gave them one Thursday night a month, which “tended to do better than the other nights because of no competition with Low End.”
Tokyo Beat brought another new wrinkle to Beat Cinema: breakdancers. “There’s a really great scene in Tokyo Beat of professional dancers,” says Mousey. “And they’d come to Tokyo Beat every night to practice their chops.” She contrasts their presence with the more “head-nodding” crowd at Low End, saying it’s created a more “whimsical” atmosphere — especially after the breakdancers followed Beat Cinema to yet another new home base earlier this year, a Koreatown club called Apt. 503, with kitschy white decor and a DJ booth shaped like an ‘80s boombox. True to Beat Cinema’s penchant for odd locales, it’s tucked away on the top floor of an office high rise, across from a private banquet hall and a rooftop driving range.
You can find Beat Cinema at Apt. 503 on the first Wednesday of every month — but at this point, the collective’s activities stretch far beyond just a monthly club night. The boat party is one of several one-off events; others have included outdoor barbecues and club takeovers as far afield as San Diego. They also host beat battles, at which producers vie for cash prizes by using controllers, drum pads and other hardware to recreate their best instrumentals live; after winning twice, a young L.A. producer named Linafornia became one of the beat scene’s rising stars. They’ve started a label to release music from their own members and like-minded producers. And for the past five years at Coachella, they’ve hosted an ambient music tent in the festival’s campgrounds called the Turndown, a showcase for Major Gape’s mind-bending visuals and the crew’s most abstract, expansive sounds.
As Beat Cinema became more active, Low End Theory’s popularity ebbed -- a trend exacerbated by last year’s controversy surrounding former resident The Gaslamp Killer, who was accused via social media of drugging and raping two women in 2013. (Gaslamp has denied the allegations and filed a defamation suit against his accusers in November.) In June, Low End announced that August 8 would be its final night, a decision founder Daddy Kev acknowledged, in a recent L.A. Timesarticle, was hastened by fallout from the Gaslamp accusations.
“Low End Theory ending does mark the end of an era. It does make me sad. That was like our church,” says Dibia$e, a beat scene veteran and Low End regular who has also, over the years, played Beat Cinema “around eight times.” “At the same time, if you’re from L.A., you know that Low End Theory is just part of the journey.” He cites earlier clubs like Low End founder Daddy Kev’s drum ‘n’ bass night, Konkrete Jungle, as well as legendary hip-hop open mic Project Blowed and embryonic beat scene night Sketchbook, as examples of the continuum along which Low End Theory existed. “This is not the end; it is the beginning of something new.”
Back in Newport Bay, Beat Cinema resident Coby is putting on a finger drumming show with a Midi Fighter 64, whose buttons cascade with light as he nimbly taps out a groove. On the upper deck above him, Rick G, DMM and Major Gape take a moment to clink beer bottles and quietly celebrate another successful event. When asked how his night’s been going, Rick says he’s been spending it “just walking up and down, getting different ideas for the next one. Maybe do it during the daytime, see how that goes.”
As avowed longtime fans of Low End Theory, all the members of Beat Cinema are careful to pay their respects to the long-running club, and hesitant to claim any sort of “heirs apparent” status. They cite other clubs nights and groups around L.A. — Boombox, a long-running Chinatown hip-hop night; Juke Bounce Werk, a footwork crew; the future bass scientists at Shlohmo’s WeDidIt Collective — as vital carriers of the Low End torch.
“I think everyone in the scene feels like once the last Low End happens, there’s gonna be this really interesting energy,” says Dragonslayer.
“A vacuum, man,” says DMM.
Daedelus thinks Beat Cinema, for all their humility, are the best ones to fill that vacuum. “Inadvertently or on purpose, they’re the future,” he says. “They’re next up.”
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.