Photo by James BunoanTeresa De La Torre did it to herself, really: she goes to art galleries and hates their boring music, she goes to shows and hates their boring blank walls, and now there's only one place left in the world she can truly be happy. Not coincidentally, she helped put it together herself: Santa Ana's Ground Flor monthly extravaganza at the Spurgeon building, an all-night sensory overload built from only the best aspects of a hipster electronica club, an avant-garde art gallery and that after-hours loft party only your coolest friends know about. Even in New York or LA, Ground Flor would be something to notch on the Palm Pilot—in OC, it's so unexpected you almost don't wanna tell anyone it exists.
The rumbling starts outside—but just barely. Ground Flor's 4,800-watt sound system (Could you pulverize a small animal with that? we ask. "You know," they say, "you probably could.") is hidden in the Spurgeon's courtyard, up a flight of stairs and around a corner. From the street, it sounds like a boom box on a table—maybe rattling around next to a bowl of Doritos, which is just how De La Torre says things used to be. But then you step through an airlock, and you're in a Prince video.
The experimental Intelligent Dance Music kicks in early, just before sunset. "You like drone?" Rob Roy Roades, the KUCI-and-elsewhere DJ who plays godfather to Ground Flor's electronica/dance soundtrack, asked us happily. "You should have been here!" Then the crowd starts creeping in at 10, just as Roades and his resident DJs—Post Midnight, Reddevil and Tzara—squeeze behind the turntables. Stretched across one wall are tarps wet with graffiti; through a window—the peeping-Tom gallery?—are a set of J.J. Martin's lush acid-pointillist fractalscapes, a neat visual echo of the shut-down ARC gallery on Fourth. Peek down from the roof—if you could get on the roof—and you've got a better view than the aliens over the First Interstate building in Independence Day. Through De La Torre's latest installation (angel-mannequins snagged mid-flight by camouflage nets like dolphins by a tuna trawler) and beneath filmmaker Tara Verdugo's blown-out Super-8 film loops (projected on giant balloons)—you'd see a hundred or more people, bouncing off one another like excited atoms in a filmstrip. And it's not over until the small animals are pulverized.
"Total building takeover!" says De La Torre later, taking a break from prepping next month's Ground Flor—this month, spotlighting local Santa Ana artists and photographers in the Spurgeon's black-box gallery, plus adding special Brazilian/Latin house and electro DJ sets to the roster—for dinner at the Gypsy Den with fellow organizers Roades and Verdugo.
"People shouldn't have to leave OC to have a good time," adds Roades. "I took a vow of chastity when we started Ground Flor: I wouldn't go to any events in LA. And that makes you hungry!"
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The Ground Flor story drags slowly and carefully through a prickle grove of bureaucratic challenge, paucity of resource and clogged Spurgeon toilets, but it's really a neat little triangle hanging on three lifetime locals getting things done in visionary OC tradition: in a place where nobody does anything, somebody has to do everything. After Koo's shut down—which axed a baby Ground Flor event—and after the Sign Language club at Santa Ana's Broadway Billiards fizzled, Roades & Co. put 90 days of negotiation, phone-tagging and heavy carpentry into their own bid at defibrillating Santa Ana nightlife. Like LA's movable gallery-cum-rave Cannibal Flower, they wanted to do it all: "Nothing," says De La Torre, "can fill a room like music." Since November, they've nursed an every-first-Saturday Ground Flor from that boom box on a table into something so overstimulating they're expecting too many people next month. And even the cops love it—one officer's getting Saturdays off just to come by and visit, says Roades.
He says "synergy" a lot while we talk—as a marketing and promo guy by day, it's sort of his license to do that. But he's right: Ground Flor isn't so much a gallery as it is an ecosystem—a four-story, 75-room ant farm for arty types. Or, says De La Torre, one giant installation: New York's (or Manchester's) Factory with better parking and louder sound.
"We want people to be overloaded," she says again. "And I'd rather transform a room than a canvas."
GROUND FLOR AT THE SPURGEON, 206 W. FOURTH ST., SANTA ANA; WWW.INSIDETHESPURGEON.COM; WWW.GROUNDFLOR.COM. SAT., 6 P.M. SEE WEBSITE FOR COVER AND AGE RESTRICTIONS.