Los Angeles is known as the place where stars are born and legends are formed. It’s not just Hollywood, either. From punk to hip-hop to indie rock to New Wave and beyond, LA music venues have launched the careers of some of the world’s biggest performers. From Echo Park to Compton to the Sunset Strip to North Hollywood, this is a city with history at every turn. This guide will discuss some of LA’s best and most historic clubs.
No discussion of essential LA music venues would be complete without The Troubadour – known for both its drama and its history. This is where Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity charges, where John Lennon and Harry Nilsson got kicked out for drunken heckling, and where Janis Joplin spent her last night. Somehow, this tiny venue (maximum capacity is only 400) has a knack for fostering amazing talent. James Taylor, The Eagles, The Byrds, Carole King, Guns N’ Roses, and Pearl Jam all played key shows here, and it continues its amazing track record today. New headliners like Florence + the Machine, Lana Del Rey, and Odd Future all played their first gigs in LA here, and big names like Prince and Nine Inch Nails have been known to play secret shows at this venue.
With its cavernous 1,100-person capacity, insane acoustics, and amazing history, the Avalon is LA’s premier destination for house music and EDM. Skrillex, Wolfgang Gartner, Dada Life, and Bingo Players all got their feet wet here, and the Avalon’s weekly CONTROL Fridays continue to attract amazing up-and-coming DJ talent. The venue’s history goes all the way back to the 1930s, when it hosted everyone from Judy Garland to Tina Turner and played a key role in bringing New Wave to the US. Back in the ’80s, the Avalon booked the first North American gigs for Duran Duran, The Clash, Eurythmics, Fine Young Cannibals, and many more.
If you can get past the name of this venue, you’ll find that The Smell is a spot that’s always willing to take a chance on something new and exciting! It has played a key part in developing LA’s vibrant punk and noise scene. No Age, Mika Miko and Abe Vigoda all launched their careers at the venue’s all-ages shows, most with under-$5 covers.
Perhaps no genre is more closely associated with LA than gangsta rap. The West Coast sound was born in basements and tiny LA music venues, and no club was more iconic for the scene than The Radio (a.k.a. Radiotron), located in MacArthur Park. Somewhere between a nightclub and a community center, it was a gathering point in the early ’80s for B-boys and several soon-to-be hip-hop legends, such as Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Jurassic 5, Air Force Crew, and Kurtis Blow. It’s also where the 1984 film “Breakin’” was filmed. Unfortunately, Radiotron shut down in 1985, but a recent push has brought back at least the dance competition side of things.
With its many free shows, notoriously discerning crowds, and beer fridges stocked with PBR, The Satellite has become a stomping ground for up-and-coming indie rock talent. Beck, Elliott Smith, Foo Fighters, Silversun Pickups and Foster the People all cut their teeth playing for the Satellite’s crowds (although it was first known as Spaceland), and it remains one of the city’s best and most eclectic LA music venues. On any given night, you may be in for a folk singer-songwriter, a horrorcore band, an electro-dance collective or something truly out there!
So, ready to start exploring the music scene? Check out one of the many venues or concerts in LA, and you’ll be in for a treat. And years from now, when the “next big thing” hits the airwaves, you might already know all about them!
Photo by Charlie Salazar