V100: City Of Angels

V100: City Of Angels



Photography: Hedi Slimane

Text: Natasha Stagg

For the past couple of decades, Hedi Slimane has closely documented scenes, starting with those that he found himself surrounded with in Paris, Berlin, and London. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2007, his work has orbited around the musicians there, those both up-and-coming and of epic, immeasurable influence. His “Rock Diary,” which chronicled current garage and surf rock in action, is serialized in V. His “Legends of Punk” series (V85) and “Soul Diaries” (V88) included some of Slimane’s many musical heroes, and caught both Lou Reed and Bobby Womack, respectively, in what would be their very last sittings. For V’s 100th issue, to commemorate the work Slimane has contributed since the start, a portfolio of everyone from the unsung heroes to the rising stars of counterculture (all of whom are either from or relocated to L.A.) was in order.

Back in New York in the mid-1960s, Reed met the man who would co-found the Velvet Underground with him: a classically trained Welsh musician named John Cale. With Moe Tucker on drums, the band unequivocally defined the sound of the era. The musicians owed their popularity in part to manager Andy Warhol, who owned the city then, at least in terms of scene-making. Sonically, though, it’s hard to believe now that the Velvets’ songs were all written before 1970, as their influence is still so noticeable in all things glam rock, proto-, post-, and punk. Cale, in particular, has stayed ahead of trends in music and art for his entire life—from co-conducting a drone orchestra performance to his most recent project, M:FANS (Domino Records), which re-envisions his purely improvised 1982 solo album, Music for a New Society. “I bore myself real easy,” said Cale, after this—his first—sitting with Slimane. “I don’t think in terms of style because I think in terms of increments of songs and how a song can be done in any number of ways. It’s important not to repeat yourself.”

But style does become—or at least inspire—substance every so often. Rodney Bingenheimer, before he was “Rodney on the ROQ,” opened the Sunset Strip nightclub Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, where everyone in satin pants and platform boots who was anyone rubbed elbows with Marc Bolan, Elton John, and the like. Bingenheimer opened the club, he has famously noted, after David Bowie encouraged him to do so. The Disco closed in ’75, and in ’76, KROQ offered him the radio show that would become a bridge from London glam to Hollywood’s seedier sounds. “I basically started the L.A. punk scene,” laughs Bingenheimer, now. “That’s what I was playing—bands like X, the Germs—all those punk bands. Social Distortion would drop off their demos and I’d have it on the radio by the time they’d get to their car.”

A scene, paradoxically, can’t be truly assessed until it’s pretty much over. A scene exists; it has barriers that prohibit just anyone from entering. Inside of it, though, there is no defining it. The L.A. punk scene, for example, in its fight for autonomy from its Warholian New York prototypes and from Malcolm McLaren’s big-time U.K. creations, ended up defining itself by virtue of its own struggle. The first hardcore acts and bands like the Mau Maus and the Bags were born from the dissatisfaction their members felt as lower-class citizens of star-sidewalked Tinseltown, ghettoized by both West Coast hair metal and East Coast art house. In restating the ideals of a fashion-backed punk movement across the country (and across the pond) in their own words, the world was introduced to something entirely new.

In most books, punk rock took hold of the studded leather reins that the glitter and glam scene left free after a white-hot burnout. But one genre did not oppose, or even consecutively follow, the next. “Johnny went to see the New York Dolls and dressed up in glitter,” says Linda Ramone, Johnny’s widow. Punks like the Ramones slashed up and threw out the glam agenda essentially for marketing reasons, she insists. “He got all his stuff from [New York vintage store] Granny Takes a Trip. Because the Ramones, they’re totally into the Dolls. Tommy Ramone convinces Johnny and Joey and Dee Dee that Middle America, they were never gonna catch on to glitter rock because guys cannot fit into spandex. You have to weigh like 120 pounds to wear spandex, otherwise you don’t look good. So Johnny and Dee Dee and Joey—everybody was into glam rock, but the vision of the Ramones was leather jackets, T-shirts, ripped jeans, and sneakers. And it felt like it was more universal, everyone everywhere could wear that.”

Bingenheimer describes the concentricity of the scenes by recalling an episode of The Tomorrow Show, filmed in his own club: “In the footage, David Johansen from the New York Dolls is actually dancing to David Bowie. He was dancing to a Velvet Underground song that David did, ‘Waiting for the Man.’ It was only shown once on television and nobody could ever find it after.”

Don Bolles, who played drums for 45 Grave and many other early punk bands, now plays with psych rock outfit Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, but most recognize him first as the drummer for the Germs. “It was basically Darby [Crash] and Pat [Smear]’s deal,” he recalls now of his so-called biggest claim to fame. “It certainly suited me. When I heard it, it seemed like either the best or the worst thing I had ever heard, and I just had to be a part of that band. I called them up from Phoenix, Arizona, and told them I was going to come be their drummer, and they said, ‘Eh, yeah, okay.’ They told me they were into David Bowie and Queen. This was in, like, 1977, and I’m just like, ‘What? Are you kidding me? Are you trying to be clever? Are you trying to be ironic?’ They said, ‘No, that’s what we like.’ I couldn’t even believe these people existed they were so weird.”

Rick Wilder has played in so many L.A. bands, he’s lost count. Lately, he has been spending time as a music video vixen, of all things, with Abel Tesfaye, aka pop megastar The Weeknd, and Ariel Pink. Besides his extreme look, it’s Wilder’s experience, and the ability it has afforded him to contextualize music that pulls from music made at an earlier, more fertile time, that gets him the gigs. He recalls L.A. punk at its infancy, when the Go-Go’s were a lo-fi act and the Runaways were not yet managed by the late game-changer Kim Fowley (whose last production credit is on an Ariel Pink album): “We played Halloween night in 1978 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It was haunted, of course, by Marilyn Monroe and others.  Continued on page 261 We rented her room upstairs and to get in you had to say, ‘Use a gun, go to prison.’ I remember Black Randy and Kickboy Face from Slash magazine were up there and I had my little heels on. The show lineup was Michael Sinatra opening up, then the Go-Go’s, then it was us [the Mau Maus], and then it was supposed to be Darby Crash as a special guest, but by that time, the riot had happened: the cops came in and stormed the place. It was after we had already played, but not before Darby had started a fire on the curtains because he didn’t want to get out. And then Black Randy started a fire in the room upstairs. We got disinvited of course, but the next year we did it again only under a different name.”

By the late ’70s, the Sunset Strip was teeming with the ’zine-makers and self-mutilators who would question the role a fresh-faced Penelope Spheeris played in documenting their tribes. Her film, The Decline of Western Civilization, filmed from ’79-’80, shows unrest unlike anything else going on at the time. Here, the Germs and the Bags (miscredited as Alice Bag Band), among an onslaught of other acts, writhe onstage. The doc was received with mixed emotions—the punks depicted were hesitant about being displayed on a big screen, while the LAPD hoped to stop the raucous concert footage from inspiring a new audience. Alice Bag would later write about the period in her first memoir, Violence Girl, citing laments from several key figures. “I think punk attracted people who were interested in questioning things that were accepted by the mainstream,” says Bag, who will soon release her first solo album. “Punks loved to barbecue sacred cows, metaphorically speaking of course. The violence was there too. It was fueled by alcohol, hormones, frantic music, and unresolved problems; however, it was usually not extreme violence. In many cases, I think the violence was almost therapeutic, at least in my case it was.”

Elsewhere, the Ramones were recording with Motown legend Phil Spector and the world was mourning the loss of Sid Vicious. Glenn Danzig and his band the Misfits were diversifying the punk genre with a classic horror show sound and image. But histories weave through one another. Scenes are not as neat as a flowchart or Venn diagram. Film, art, fashion, and current events inform one another in ways that are human, complex, and indivisible from the experience from which they are born. “Visually we took it in a different direction,” says Danzig, looking back. “I designed all the stuff back then and I actually printed the T-shirts in my basement. I knew exactly what I wanted the look to be. I think [the Ramones] had a guy doing it for them, if I’m not mistaken.”  Besides his ongoing music career (his band Danzig recently released a covers album), Danzig owns a record label and a graphic novel publishing company. This year, he says, is when he will finally embark on his directorial debut.

Legendary horror director John Carpenter soundtracked his early films because he couldn’t afford to buy rights to songs, but he ended up falling in love with songwriting on the side. His ready-made cult-classic movies (Halloween, Escape from New York, and Assault on Precinct 13, to name a few) would create the color palette and alternate sonic texture of the punk moment throughout the ’70s and ’80s. He continues to influence a counterculture today with films and music, like his latest solo album, Lost Themes II (due out this April from Sacred Bones Records).

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, underground artist Jim Shaw squeezed the psychedelic into high camp, creating physical worlds from his dreams that ranged from anxious to perverted. The New Museum’s massive retrospective of his 30-year career, which closed in January of this year, felt both too soon (the artist continues to create and to collect the religious paraphernalia and outsider art that inspires him) and not soon enough. Having moved with his friend Mike Kelley away from Michigan to attend CalArts, his obsession with dogma and fetish hits home for viewers who have trekked west, or at least far from a conservative home. “Having beliefs makes you politically strong,” says Shaw. “I’m part of the world that’s weak, in that sense.”

By the mid-’80s, the youth had a fresh set of politics to be pissed off about—especially the females. L7 was started in 1985 by a group of women who were over the fashion-y side of rock and roll, among other things. Their brand of grunge inspired a whole wave of disheveled dressing, and the Riot Grrrl movement of the ’90s. “We were [called] punk, grunge, hard rock, and someone even considered us metal,” says lead singer and guitarist Donita Sparks, who, due to overwhelming demand, recently reunited the band for a tour. “We’re fine with all those things. We’re even fine with Riot Grrrl. However, that was really a political movement set to music. We were from Los Angeles and we were very urban, whereas Riot Grrrl started out very college-campus. We didn’t go to Riot Grrrl meetings. We didn’t have rules at our shows. We predated Riot Grrrl.”

What post-dated Riot Grrrl was a bombed-out area perfect for female-fronted bands with little to no agenda. Clementine Creevy of L.A. garage band Cherry Glazerr bristles at questions she gets asked about her gender now, pointing out that the more interesting aspect of her status as lead singer and songwriter is her age. “I wrote my first album when I was 14,” she says. “And then that album became successful, so we started touring when I was 16...I had to be creative in a professional way, which is weird. But that’s what you do if you want to survive being an artist.” Kim House of the rotating cast of musicians known as Kim and the Created is mostly compared to other L.A. women in rock, too. It’s a sneaky catch-22, aligning one’s image with a feminist struggle that one hopes to have moved past. “I do find it in some ways annoying to always be discussing my gender,” she says, “because the point is that my gender shouldn’t be the point. It shouldn’t be such a big deal that I’m doing what I’m doing and am a female. However, I am proud to be who I am and it is fun breaking down ideas of what women should or shouldn’t do.”

What angers the youth now ranges from adults, uncool peers, and hippies, to big government and mass consumerism. And really, according to everyone pictured here, nothing’s changed, even if everything has. Since the beginning, the glam rock revolution was about acting out in style. With the untimely death of all-around musical hero David Bowie this year, artists who weigh image equally with output are reflecting on the importance of stage presence. Seth Bogart, former member of Gravy Train!!!! and Hunx and his Punx, whose first solo record was released this year, says his next direction is a sort of image annihilation. “I truthfully wanted to make a cartoon band and not be in it at all, but I’m at an awkward in-between age, where I kind of want to become a cartoon, until I can emerge as a creepy old man. That’s my fantasy.” Bolles, for his part, says he’s at the creepy old man stage now, and loving it.

A common thread, if one can find one, between the subjects of this portrait series is an instinct to freak out the squares, using whatever means necessary. At the start of the punk rock movement, using fashion to illustrate the new ideals of an anarchist collective made sense, but as it splintered into subgenres, fashion became the enemy, or an eliminated player. The message was in the music, the live show, the album art, or later, the music videos and the online presence, or lack thereof. And sometimes, it was still in the fashion. Hedi Slimane’s long and impressive design career can attest to that: in his clothing—for any house he helms—and in his photography, art imitates a quite reckless life.

Ariel Pink perhaps best sums up the attitude of Slimane’s subjects, and what draws them all to one another. “We like being freaks and that’s what it comes down to,” he says. “It’s something you can’t really teach anybody. You’re a freak when you’re born and you’re a freak when you die. If you’re lucky enough to get old before you die, you get to experience a big dose of feeling like junk and that you’re discarded, like there’s nothing left for you, even in the punk world. Everyone wises up. At best, you have a Richard Hell, someone who’s trying to relive the old days and capitalize on movements that have come fairly recently that seem to share a sensibility with what they had going on a long time ago. But there are very few people who can ride out the wave with the same level of authority. It’s still Kim Fowley. It’s still Don Bolles. You’ll always see them. They’re still here, you’ll always find them, and they’ll never fucking make it. Essentially what they’re dealing with is that, every day. They’ve been dealing with that for their entire lives. I typically feel that’s where I want to be.”

RICK WILDER: Kim Fowley smelled money so he decided to have us [the Berlin Brats] as the little boy punk band and the Runaways as the little girl punk band. You know, Kim came on to me so hard. He looked good then¦he had hair, for one thing. It was before the Ramones. It was before punk. 

Credits: Production Kim Pollock and Yann Rzepka Digital technician Alex Themistocleous (Milk Studios) Photo assistants Frank Terry, Matt Hartz, James Perry Retouching Dtouch Equipment Milk Studios Location Quixote Studios Catering Food Lab


Backstage: Vivienne Westwood F/W '16