One month ago, The Satellite announced they would no longer be doing live shows, dismantling the stage and turning the room into a restaurant in order to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. While nobody can fault them for it, the announcement caused many to take a trip down memory lane, nostalgic for the 15 years (1995-2010) the club was Spaceland, arguably one of the best live music venues in Los Angeles. Here LA Beat writers – some of whom played the stage in various bands – reminisce about the music, community, and good times that were had.
Bob Lee (Backbiter, Claw Hammer, Jon Wahl and the Amadans, and many more)
In the same week we officially lost The Satellite/Spaceland and the newer, but promising, House of Machines in DTLA. The news of the permanent loss of venues that cater to unique, creative and original artists is bad–and likely to get worse. I have only been inside the former Spaceland building a half dozen times in the last fifteen years, and the last time I tried to do something there we had an unnecessarily hard time with the money, which left a bad taste in my mouth. But I’m not cheering its demise.
For its first ten years of existence, I was a card-carrying member. All my bands played there. I launched new bands there. I held parties, got to put on shows with Neil Haggerty, the Watts Prophets and RL Burnside. It was a crucial venue for me and every musical partner I had at the time. Even though it had moved on to a new scene and younger crowd by the early 2000s, I still appreciated that there was a place where somebody could present independent music at a high level of quality in the neighborhood.
As for the other local venues, the news is gonna be bad for a while. I don’t have an answer for it, although if you do care about people in the arts getting help in this emergency, I recommend signing this petition endorsing an extension to FPUC for entertainment industry workers. The short term looks very bad, and the long term solution – being able to safely host crowded indoor events like the old days – seems a long way off.
The economic impact needs to be dealt with for all workers – for all people. When I say I’m optimistic for the future, I certainly don’t want to minimize the immediate impact on people who have devoted their lives to the creative arts, who are now facing financial ruin. That’s real. They should be protected from that, along with everybody whose business model has fallen apart under lockdown conditions.
The loss of established venues stings, and the shift of control to national bookers like Live Nation is a blood drain on any local music scene. They may have the upper hand at first.
But I firmly believe that once conditions permit live music again, artists will find a way. We always have. It’s going to require new people and new partnerships. But I have an innate optimism that artists are going to be desperate to get in front of people and will find a way to do it. We may find ourselves going back to the 70s: back to the time before there was a functional independent scene, and you had a million bands ready to bubble up at the same moment with no record industry potential and no club willing to book them. Somehow, despite it all, music ends up getting made. Some plucky individuals lead the way and figure out “how does that work.” Other people see them do it and follow their example.
I think that can happen at any time.
Spaceland deserves a place in the pantheon of great, moment-defining clubs like the Whisky, the Fillmore(s), CBGB’s and all the rest. You can point to all the local bands who went on to success and all of the special shows and it’s more than justified. I saw more than my share of great shows there, from young artists just starting out on their road to stardom to legends that I never expected to see in person. But, as much as all that, I remember Spaceland as my local bar for the five or so years that bridged the turn of the century. I can vividly recall seeing the Negro Problem and Lutefisk giving their all on the stage; just as indelible are my memories of shooting the shit with Stew and Brandon in the upstairs bar. Yes, I treasure getting to witness heroes like RL Burnside and John Fahey up close, but not as much as getting to know Jorge and Becky, Liz and Roy, and so many people who are important in my life.
Billy Bennight (photographer)
In 1986 I spent a week in Silverlake with Sue Stella and April Napier getting to know an area that would soon take on new cultural meaning. I remember going to the LA Weekly office on Silverlake Blvd (near Spaceland, then Dreams) to drop off photos for L.A. Dee Da and Rocker’s Report.
When I moved to Santa Ana in the mid-90s I found myself connected to the music scene and caught wind of a hip new place. I’d occasionally migrate north to explore, and slipped into Spaceland on a weekday night. There was a band sporting kimonos (anybody remember who that was?) and to my surprise Ronnie Barnett of the Muffs was there so I stopped to chat and take in the vibe. I didn’t return for at least 5 years.
I moved to Silverlake in 2001, less than a mile away from Spaceland and began to visit regularly. Silverlake was by then a musical/cultural hub. Monday nights were the nights to see and be seen – the club was comprised of artists, filmmakers, music fans, scenesters, and musicians alike. It was an arts jambalaya simmering with aesthetic drive and boundless creativity. During the summer Bear managed the door. Knowing Bear was essential to the Spaceland experience. He was a cheerful ex-New Yorker who’d come to LA from Spring to Fall from Florida to be the door guy. He was beloved by all and would help out a brother or sister in a pinch. A part of Spaceland died when Bear died.
Some of the bands I can remember seeing there: Nick Scott, The Walking Sleep, The 88, Jason Faulkner, Carina Round (with members of Alanis Morissette and A Perfect Circle), Nightmare and the Cat (Django and Sam Stewart), Gram Rabbit, The Muffs, Pete Shelly, Frank Infante, and Steve Fishman and Clem Burke of Blondie in a New York Dolls tribute. These are only the ones I can remember off the cuff, there were way more that deserve mention.
I developed many friendships there and hit a few Christmas parties too. Jennifer Tiff booked the place for years and eventually left. The energy slowly changed until the last time I was there it had turned into a wine bar for millennials, serving no beer. I no longer lived in the area, Bear was gone and there was an emptiness that could not be filled. The final blow came with the Coronavirus. Rest in Power Spaceland!
Spaceland was probably the first music venue I went to after moving to Los Angeles
from Boston in 1996. I can’t remember every show I saw there, but it had a sense of community and connection that I found lacking at other venues in LA. Everyone seemed to be on an even playing field. Some standout moments from shows I saw at Spaceland: Mike Maker of the Makers picking what were most likely pre-planned fights with the front row; Deadbolt’s drummer “handling” snakes (cheap rubber ones) with great determination for maximum comedic effect, and the late, great Rudy Ray Moore performing his comedy act. Rudy Ray was clearly feeling under the weather, but once the spotlight hit him, he stepped
gingerly off the stage and waded into the crowd to verbally devastate anyone in his
path. It was the classiest thing I’d ever seen (and the filthiest thing I’d ever heard).