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Locals Only: Pop and Politics at Experience Music Project L.A.


When putting together this year's EMP festival the organizers were interested in investigating sonic moments in a city's musical traditions, while searching for the smaller scenes that are sometimes harder to find, the ones bubbling beneath the surface of locality. This year's theme, "Locals Only: Pop and Politics in This Town" takes aim at pinning down these elusive movements.

Kicking off on the April 17, with "It All Dies Anyway," a panel about legendary Mid-city club, Jabberjaw and its raucous heyday, the festival hopes to track down those lesser known and more carefully protected pockets that changed and altered the musical landscape. Jabberjaw, for instance hosted acts from Hole to Beck and had a formative hand in shaping the burgeoning indie scene, which eventually culminated with Elliott Smith, crawling slowly toward the eastside like a zombie searching for cheaper rents.

Los Angeles, of course, is synonymous with the film industry and its many flickering reels of black and white venetian blinds, long streams of yellow headlights turning down dark alleys, happy endings and Technicolor daydreams. Equally mythic and not as often called to memory however, is the city's long and vibrant musical history. One that involves the better known dusty Laurel Canyon environs of 1960s, the psychedelic happenings of Jim Morrison and the Doors, the L.A. first wave punk fire of X and the Germs, all the way to the cheetah striped, bouffant hair sprayed sculptures of 80's sunset strip metal a la Motley Crue.

Simmering close to the surface and often times influencing more popular musical happenings however, are scenes such as the Long Beach music movement of the late 80s and early 90s, while perhaps known within the local legend sphere are still alien to a larger public. It's these small movements however that speak to more than just a local story, but instead illustrate their part in a growing global village of internet and changing technologies. Physical musical community is not only what's at stake in today's audio climate. As the description for the April 19th panel at USC, "Revisiting Long Beach Music Scene," points out:

In our contemporary moment when local scenes mean less than ever and the internet has changed the way music is produced and consumed, we end by addressing current challenges facing musicians in Long Beach--a site of spatial, sonic and social difference that tells us more than just the story of the city itself, for it represents Southern California's multicultural identity in microcosm.

EMP aims to engage in conversations not just pertaining to popular lore but also shed light on the rich multi cultural tradition of Los Angeles and it's varying inhabitants, many of which have been ignored by mainstream media. At "How We Hear, Here" moderated by music journalist and EMP board member Evelyn McDonnell, panel will investigate the musical traditions of the city's Mexican American population, African American queer disco scenes, and New Wave queer pop sexuality.

Music by virtue of its availability remains the most accessible of the creative arts. Whether listening to War's "Lowrider" in an empty Thrifty's in 1978 or slamming your teenage head against the wall of Madame Wong's while bouncing to the Plimsouls, the boundaries between what is considered worthy and throwaway fodder is often obliterated and blurred by the listener. In this case, decided by those consuming it, the environs of Los Angeles. Which of course has always meant a varied pallet of cultural tastes, socio economic backgrounds and small hubs of youthful convergence.

Music remains the property of the people and as this year's event strives to illustrate, music largely, has remained elusive to the halls of academia. Perhaps this is what keeps it an always-transforming art; one that can't seem to be held down. Even now as the changing infrastructure of the music industry twists itself into a pretzel trying to play catch up with the Internet, music still slips beyond the reach. As EMP coordinator Karen Tongson points out, "EMP is a rare opportunity for academics to interact with music."

Music is more than just background noise, it's a memory in a moment, one that can be brought back in a glorious bright instance: A sunset on the Long Beach pier, a cold walk home the sunrise on your back, the sound of mariachis rising to the early songs of morning, the hills of East L.A., smoggy in the distance.

EMP Schedule:

April 17
It All Dies Anyway: Los Angeles and the End of an Era

West Hollywood City Council Chambers on Wednesday at 8pm

EMPL.A.'s opening roundtable will feature authors, performers and musicians active in the independent music scene spawned by the all-ages venue Jabberjaw (1989-1997), formerly on Pico Blvd. in mid-city L.A.

Moderated by musician, Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, Partyline, and a member of the EMPL.A. planning committee), the panel features: Michelle Carr, Jabberjaw co-founder and editor of the forthcoming anthology, It All Dies Anyway: L.A., Jabberjaw and the End of an Era; Raquel Gutierrez, a volume contributor and local performer, writer, community organizer and Jabberjaw-scenester; Eric Erlandson, a local writer, and co-founder of the band Hole with Courtney Love; and David Scott Stone, a local musician who was formerly a member of such bands as LCD Soundsystem and The Melvins.

April 19

USC Tutor Campus Center, Franklin Room Suite
So-Cal Scenes 9-10:30am:

How We Hear, Here: 10:45am-12:15pm

Revisiting the Long Beach Music Scene: 1:30pm-3:00pm

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: 3:15pm-4:45pm

April 20
Destroy More Monsters

good kid/m.A.A.d. Panel: 12:45pm-2:00pm

Sandwiched between Fiona Apple's tongue-twisting The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do and Frank Ocean's brilliant Channel Orange on Time Magazine's 2012 "The Top 10 of Everything: Albums" list was another Los Angeles newcomer, MC Kendrick Lamar and his autobiographical good kid, m.A.A.d. City.

This roundtable brings together academics(/musicians) in dialogue over the work and impact of Lamar and his relationship to the geographies that he claims. We imagine a kind of listening session with commentary, as we dissect, connect, and disturb the narrative flow of good kid, m.A.A.d. City and its reverberations beyond this specific time and place.
Krumpin' In North Hollywood: 2:15pm-3:45pm
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of krump, a street dance created by marginalized working-class black youth living in South Los Angeles. Since its establishment krump has grown into a dance form celebrated and performed globally.

This roundtable will bring together Lil' C and Miss Prissy, two of krump's founders and the organizers of the 818 Session, as well as several krump dancers, dance journalists, and scholars on popular culture to discuss the importance and creative value of street dance as well the multifarious politics of the 818 Session.

Critical Karaoke 3.0: 4:00pm-6:00pm
Critical Karoake is the brain child of Joshua Clover who introduced the idea at a past EMP conference: each speaker gets to talk about a song, for the length of the song, as the song plays behind them. The approach can be as personal or experimental as the speaker wants. Consider it a jukebox of eclectic tastes, knowledge and styles.

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