Respect Turns 16. This is the Story of Drum and Bass in Los Angeles
The drum and bass weekly has been a constant since the days of jungle. Now it's time to celebrate.
Drum and bass. Los Angeles. There's only one word that can come next: Respect. The weekly club night, now based at The Dragonfly in Hollywood, turns 16 this week and celebrates its influence on generations of junglists as it has evolved into an essential node in the international dance circuit. From R.A.W to Roni Size to the EDM revolution, the story of the Respect traces the path from jungle to the multifaceted current milieu in lockstep with movements across the pond. But through it all, the story maintains a distinctly Angeleno twist.
THUMP sat down with founders Rob "Machete" Gonzalez and Justin Ford in the back room of Respect last week as Scooba delivered another in what's become a lifetime of eternal jungle sets. "Our crew, Junglist Platoon, we had been raving from the early 90s," Machete begins. "My first experience with rave culture was going to a high school backyard party in 1991 where Oscar Da Grouch and R.A.W were both playing. R.A.W is the one who inspired all of us. He's the man. He was coming from hip hop and diving into the rave scene from there. As far as LA is concerned, he's the original junglist."
It wasn't long before the nascent young jungle scene was spawning its own stars. "My first jungle mixtape, in 1994, was called Respect," says Machete. "I didn't even put my own name on it." From there, the early Respect crew - Machete, Scooba, Noface, Clutch - began to crystallize as they cycled through the scene. "There was a jungle weekly before us," explains Ford. "Jungle was at the old Belmont Tunnel, this graffiti tunnel where people would go party, do fuckin' nitrous and wig out to techno, breakbeat hardcore shit."
Rob and Justin met in 1997 at Raymond Roker's Science and formed a relationship that's been the backbone of the Angeleno drum and bass scene. "We became friends and our dynamic led to Respect," explains Machete. "Justin found out that Boardner's in Hollywood needed someone to come in on Tuesdays. We already had a crew. It just fit."
The rest is history. "The first Respect was on March 2nd, 1999," explains Machete. "It was a Tuesday night. Our first month had all the OGs of the scene: E-sassin, Curious, Deacon. Our first UK act was Mampi Swift, our next was TeeBee. This all happened right around the time of Roni Size and Reprazent, Goldie's "Timeless" album. A lot of breakthrough music was coming through. It was still very underground, but there was a buzz for sure."
It wasn't all smooth sailing, though. "In the early days, there were plenty of nights where we lost money and got kicked in the ass," laughs Machete. "We were doing it for $5 with no expectations," continues Ford. "We would go to the ATM on most nights to pay the promoters and the artists." Still, things progressed at pace. "We outgrew Boardner's within a year and went over to The Martini Lounge. We were there for nine years,' says Machete. "That's what most people would consider the original home of Respect."
It was at The Martini Lounge that a moment that defines the Respect ethos went down. Machete recounts, "When Roni Size played for us, he wasn't booked. He came into LA to do The Tonight Show with Cypress Hill and got linked last minute to come and play. He didn't want any money and just played dubplates for an hour and a half. It was incredible, but I'd had Curious come down from Lancaster to play. I felt weird even asking Roni Size to get off the decks, but because I had so much respect for George as a friend and an OG, he had to have his time up there."
Drum and bass has always maintained this grassroots sensibility and an affinity with working-class, urban fans in whatever city it calls home. From the beginning, most Angelenos who answered the call of the emerging jungle sound were of hispanic origin and drawn from the hip hop scene. "I was a hip hop DJ for three or four years before I started spinning drum and bass," confirms Machete. "The roots of jungle in LA are mainly a lot of hoodie-wearing, weed-smoking hispanics."
Machete himself is a testament to his assertion. "I'm half mexican. R.A.W's Mexican. Oscar Da Grouch is Mexican. We all have the same last name. Gonzalez. Through my experience, the people who were at the root of the scene in the early days were all hispanic. But from the time we started the club, it's always been a good mix. We accept everybody. Our club has always been about the music. You have hot girls, fat girls, skinny girls. There's no dress codes anywhere that we've ever gone. Our club has never been at any venue that was bourgeoise in any way. They all have the right kind of griminess."
An essential aspect of the right kind of griminess is the affinity for homegrown California grass. "The weed culture is strong," laughs Machete."The jungle vibe is very reggae based, hip hop based." Ford continues, "Obviously, everybody in drum and bass loves to smoke a little bit of pot. They used to call the upstairs patio at The Martini Lounge 'Baby Amsterdam' ."
"Our first big night, sixteen years ago, was Bailey at Boardners," says Machete. It's fitting, then, that Bailey will headline Respect's 16 year anniversary show this Thursday at The Dragonfly. Like clockwork, Machete will arrive early to set up, just like he does and has done every week. And though the world may change around them, Respect in Los Angeles is a constant, like a force of nature that bends and sways but never breaks.
"We always manage to move with the ebb and flow," says Machete. "Drum and bass is pretty broad. We've never been just a jump up night. We've never been just a tech or a jazzy night. I book across the board. As long as it's someone I respect as an artist, as long as the music's hitting. One thing that's always been kind of a constant is the old-school, jungle, reggae vibe, and when we do all-vinyl or all-resident nights, we maintain the ideals we've had since day one."
Check the flyer for the party below:
Jemayel Khawaja is THUMP's Managing Editor - @JemayelK