Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Riley More, a DJ, roller skater and dancer, has strong opinions about both music and rice.
Riley More is a walking, talking encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Anything you can dance to, she knows where it came from, why it exists, how it changed things, and probably how it will be remembered in a hundred years. She's that on it.
It's only fitting we share our meal at Toi Rockin' Thai Food. If Riley comprises the text of an encyclopedia, Toi provides the pictures. Plastered from floor to ceiling with artifacts of American musical history, from decades-old concert bills to mounted saxophones and snare drums, Toi might as well be the lost and found closet at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Over the course of a 2am dinner, I get a crash course in music. As a Los Angeles native, Riley's seen fads, bands, whole movements come and go over the years, and what starts with a discussion about Electroclash -- and how her love of one of its bands landed her a regular gig in WeHo -- somersaults back further and further through time, from Riley's involvement in the 1990s Silver Lake scene to go-go dancing in LA clubs and on into her vast knowledge of all that preceded her and informs the music she loves.
But first come the gigantic, laminated menus.
Riley: Here. Let me help you out with the food. What is so awesome here, in particular, they have this rice-- Their brown rice is like something you haven't had anywhere else.
She sees my reluctance.
Riley: You're not keen on brown rice?
Henry: I like it, I like it. But I've never been blown away by brown rice.
Riley: Because this is the weirdest. It looks like this black, purple color, so you picture the skinny, long, black ones that are in the mixed rice thing, but they're fatter and shorter and purple-er and browner -- it's really good.
I agree to the challenge, and we settle on two staples: yellow curry with chicken and pad see ew with beef.
Riley: What's weird about LA at night, and why everything should stay open late like this place. Think about it: how do you fit more people into the same amount of space? If everything's open twenty-four hours, you could have more people in a smaller space. Then the traffic's spread out. Everything's spread out. Like New York. Why is New York open all night? Because so many freaking people live there. That's how you fit more people into the same amount of space. It should happen here, but it doesn't. A really long time ago, there was this dance club, The Odyssey, that was open until four during the week and five during the weekends. And it was all ages, so probably not serving, but still, the kids had somewhere to go dancing. Then, the city starts to close things down and enforce hour restrictions, and we end up with gangs and people shooting each other. Why? Because kids have nothing to do. They can't go out dancing. They have to do something. So they're just wandering around.
We've just come from "Big Fat Dick" in WeHo, a weekly event at FUBAR that Riley's been DJing since it started nine years ago. What is Big Fat Dick? The short answer is a night where people come to dance, drink, and take anonymous pictures of their junk to be judged in an end-of-the-night contest. The long answer usually wins.
Henry: I went in thinking, "This is going to be kind of intense."
Riley: But it's intense funny.
Henry: Yeah, it was really relaxed inside.
Riley: A lot of the people are so nice. It's not like other big West Hollywood things, where all they play is Top Forty, and you probably get a less diverse crowd, know what I mean?
Henry: Totally. I was saying when I was there that most places I go -- there's the preppy bar or the hipster bar, and there's always one kind of reliable crowd, even at The Abbey or bars like that, but at B.F.D., it felt like convergence of every kind of person.
Riley: Yeah, we get like basically the people who create the hipsters.
She rattles off celebrities they've spotted over the years, from the lead singer of Erasure to the creator of the internet sensation "Charlie the Unicorn."
Riley: And this little Thursday night, this little bar, we're nominated almost every other year for "Best Club Night" at the WeHo Awards. We're up against these clubs that have like a thousand, two thousand person venues, so it's not like we're ever going to win. But we're always nominated because the music's good and Mario [Diaz, the promoter for B.F.D.] has his little thing he does.
Henry: So take me back to your first set. How did you get into DJing?
Riley: There was a club overlooking Macarthur Park, back when it was the hood, and in the '80s, we were all into the '60s, so they had this '60s club there. So I pull up in my 1964 Chevy Nova station wagon, and everyone's hanging out in the parking lot. I throw my ghetto blaster on the hood of my car, and everyone starts dancing. They're like, "Where did you get this tape?" I'm like, "I made it," and they ask me, "Why aren't you the DJ?" And I'm like, "I don't know. Nobody ever asked me to DJ before." And this club promoter apparently heard that story and asked me to DJ at his club, which was this famous, old-school, punk rock club. So the first night went well, and then the promoter, said, "Hey, I love all the sixties music you guys play, but next week, could you play like some new music from Madonna?" And I was like, "F@#k this," so I went and started my own '60s night at club.
Henry: Really? Just like that?
Riley: Oh yeah! Nobody tells me what to spin. They hire me and keep calling because I choose good music that makes people come to the club. Club promoters, a lot of times, don't know shit about music. A lot of club promoters will say, "You want how much money?" and it's not that much, and they'll be like, "Well, all these kids with laptops, they're offering to do it for free." So they go with that, and eventually, people stop coming. Eventually, their club dies. And club promoters don't know why. Because if you don't have good music...
The food arrives.
Riley: Okay. Have you seen brown rice like that before?
It is lovely. Gone is the beige carpet banality of most brown rice. This rice looks like it's dressed in its finest fabrics, ready to be escorted to a ball.
Riley: You got to try it. It's just steamed, whatever-the-hell-it-is rice, I don't know, but it's like magic they put in there.
We dig in. The rice and curry, more than usual, make for a perfect combo. We jump back into her DJing gigs over the years, and how they led her to the movie industry.
Riley: We did this club "Shout" once a month at the El Rey in the '90s. It was half soul and go-go dancing and half Britpop, when it was still new in the '90s. So it was this huge night at the El Rey, and it leads to me getting the phone call, "Hi, Riley, this is Sandy calling from casting for 'Austin Powers?'"
Henry: Wait, you were in 'Austin Powers?'
Riley: You can totally freeze frame on me in the second one.
Henry: Doing what?
Riley: Go-go dancing. We're just extras. Because half the night at the El Rey, I was DJing, and the other half, I was go-go dancing on-stage. The movie was a lot of fun. But then, when they make 'Austin Powers 3,' they call, and they're like, "Hi Riley, this is Sandy calling from 'Austin Powers,' and I want you to bring all your friends down to the audition, but you know in this new movie, we're going to be doing roller disco." I'm all, "Sandy, do you know who throws the LA roller disco party?"
For years now, a roller disco party has been taking over the World on Wheels Skating Rink the last Saturday of every month. It's become an LA staple, and all the while, Riley's been in the booth, dropping disco, funky beats.
Riley: She had no clue. So Sandy comes down, and she tells me they plan to have a roller disco scene, which is going to be Austin Powers dancing --
Henry: Fair warning. I haven't seen the third one.
Riley: Okay, well, it sucks, and the scene's not in the movie. You'll find out why. So yeah, Austin Powers was going to be dancing in front of a bunch of people doing roller disco, so I try to warn Sandy because being someone who dances, which she knew, and someone who skates, which she didn't know, I can tell you: roller disco is really hard to learn because, basically, the first thing they teach you is this move called "The Downtown." Except they leave out the part that "The Downtown" is in three-four time. So you're like, "Why the f@#k can't I get this?" until you realize, after a long period of frustration, you can't hit it because they're not telling you it's in three-four time. It's like rubbing your head and patting your stomach. It's a total mindf@$k, and it makes no sense and whoever invented it is an idiot. Because all the music you're dancing to is four-four time. Point is, roller disco is a total muscle memory thing that you have to have training for, or you can't do it. A regular dance choreographer can't choreograph that because they wouldn't know. So I tell Sandy that the choreographer [Marguerite Derricks] might want to come down to our roller disco party and see what we're talking about. So Marguerite ...
She intones a deep, sultry voice.
Riley: Marguerite shows up, with her French accent -- "oui, oui" -- and I'm sure she's been dancing since she was two. Whatever, right? And I'm explaining what it is, right? And she's like all ...
Riley does an impression of an old dowager -- think Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey" -- huffing at something frightfully embarrassing.
Riley: Like I told her. That's what I've been saying. Of course I'm totally right, and the scene's not in the movie. They didn't even film it. Because you can't. You can't take dancers who say they can roller skate and have them all the sudden roller disco.
Henry: Speaking of disco, which used to get a lot of flack, what in your opinion is the worst year of American music in the past half-century or so?
Riley: See, I could definitely make some enemies here. I would say what kind of sucked was in 1967, there was the Summer of Love, and they had the Monterey Pop Festival, and so there's Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and all that rock stuff --
Henry: Wow. You are going to make some enemies.
Riley: It's just sad because when people in America think about '60s music, when you say, "the '60s," they're going straight to that hippie thing. I mean, really? That's it? That's all we're going to remember from the '60s? We're going to forget about Aretha Franklin? Are you shitting me? Oh yeah, f@$k that James Brown guy, who created everything that everybody likes now. 1967, 68, 69 -- what percentage of the '60s is that, like a third? The last third. They like it because it sounded like what was to come: the hideous, rock 'n' roll seventies.
Henry: A lot of the soul you play comes from that period, at the end of the '60s, what you call "Northern Soul." What is that?
Riley: Northern Soul refers to the mods, in the northern part of England in the late sixties, when all this hippie shit was going on, who were listening to soul and dancing to soul music. American soul. During that whole time period, soul was being released in this country, but no one was promoting it. They still put out records, but there weren't that many, so a lot of it became totally obscure. And because it became obscure, the really good ones became worth tons of money in England. Basically, there were a couple guys, who were really rich trust-fund babies, that would fly to America once or twice a year, buy up all the soul we didn't give a shit about, fly it back there and spin the records in the clubs. That's what Northern Soul was about.
Henry: Do you consider that the last real era of soul in this country, or do you like the modern stuff?
Riley: What happened to soul and what happened to funk after what I'm talking about -- It was all awesome until we got vocal aerobics, which we now call R & B, where you take all the rhythm and all the blues out of Rhythm and Blues, call it "R & B," do vocal aerobics, and it sucks. Now I'm assuming that all of these new, English singers -- Adele and Kate Nash and Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse and all of these young, English soul kids, I'm going to assume, by the age they all are, that they're the kids of the Northern Soul parents, and they probably grew up listening to their parents' records, and that's why they're putting out these awesome soul records.
Henry: So is your answer 1967? Is that the worst year?
Riley: Look, I'm sure I could find you a top twenty list of my favorite songs from that year, so that's why this is a problem. But yeah I would guess that's around the time we essentially forgot about soul in this country. Whatever year that was, I'm going to call it "1967." The Summer of Love.
Henry: On the polar opposite note, if you had to limit your music selection as a DJ to one year, to spin for the rest of your life, what year would you pick?
Riley: This is sounding like a nightmare. Not a dream. This is a recurring nightmare. That's what it is. I guess if it's one year, it would have to be "the next year."
Henry: But then you're stuck with it.
Riley: Not if my answer's "the next year." And then the next year and the next. Next year's always next year, so it's always whatever you don't know yet. I'm always looking for what I don't already know about.
The perfect answer for someone who really knows music. All she wants to know is: more.
The lights in the usually dim interior of Toi flicker on. All the tables lie empty. The kitchen has shut down. It is four-fifteen in the morning, and even one of the latest of late night restaurants must shutter its windows some time. We are brushed out onto the sidewalk. The city is quiet and still. Two kids left to wander.
Toi's Rocking Thai Food
7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., 323-874-8062
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