There’s a myriad of music and dance-driven events to choose from every night in LA. But the shindigs and clubs that last, and ultimately become the stuff of after-dark legend and lore, always seem to push things further, visually and thematically, creating an energy and excitement that you mark your calendar for, plan your outfit for and prepare to party your socks (or top and bottoms) off for on a regular basis.
I’ve been covering nightlife for a long time, and could go on and on about many magical evenings the past few decades, from early warehouse raves in Downtown to poly-sexual neo-glam bashes like Club Makeup and Club Cherry, to drag events like Dragstrip 66 and dark-minded destinations like Scream, Coven 13, Fetish Ball and Bar Sinister, to the hipster haps of Hollywood that later spawned Steve Aoki, Iheartcomix and A Club Called Rhonda… The ones that everyone seems to remember share some key components: mixed crowd, ultra creative, inspired dress-up, and a focused musical curation that felt fresh for the moment (whether it was new stuff or old). This hasn’t only been true in LA, of course. Think Studio 54 in the 70’s, Manchester U.K.’s Hacienda scene in the 80’s, and NYC club kid era hubs like Limelight in the 90’s.
Danny Fuentes, best known for his subversive LA art gallery Lethal Amounts, was definitely thinking about all of the above when he created Sex Cells a year ago. The monthly event recalls bodacious bacchanals of yore, but with a modern approach to new dance music, DJs and live performance. As he prepares to celebrate the party’s one-year anniversary at the El Rey (with guest DJs Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus and Poptone spinning a special, more flashbacks-driven set) we talked with Fuentes about the milestone, his nightlife highlights and his formula for sex-cess.
“I always start with a strong name that conjures up an image in your head before you can even get a description. Sex Cells does just that,” he tells me of the club’s genesis. “The name was a homage to one of my favorite bands, Soft Cell and their song, “Sex Dwarf.” They were a soulful pop band rich in imagery but when you looked a little closer the lyrics were dark and campy. I think that’s what I always try to do with everything. It’s that mixture of John Waters and The Cramps’ pulp trash meets concept art. A little ridiculous and frightening, yet beautiful and inspiring at the same time.”
Indeed, while the soiree is as seductive as the name suggests, it also has a wacky, anything-goes side, meshing party monster club kid, drag, punk, goth, ghetto-chic, and DIY style statements into one big beautiful mess, a hodge podge Fuentes honed throwing art events and theme nights -Pure Trash and Sado Maso Disco- at The Monty Bar a few spaces from his gallery. “I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do in creating a successful night at Monty. Pure Trash was very focused on 70’s Glam and Punk with almost exclusively guest DJ’s from big bands,” he says, referring to the event that put him on the map as a promoter. “I made lots of friendships and cemented relationships there. Getting Cherie Curie to perform Runaways music, Cheetah Chrome to do Dead Boys and Jerry Casale to do a Devo mini set were some highlights, not to mention our Bowie/ Lemmy tribute night.”
That tribute saw rockers including Cevin Key of Skinny Puppy, Clem Burke of Blondie, Danny Lohner of NIN, composer Clint Mansell, Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle, Nik Turner of Hawkwind and more play meaningful Bowie tracks and tell an intimate story of how he inspired them. Another party he did at Monty, called Sado Maso Disco, dedicated to goth, post punk and darkwave, sought to attract dark fashion-fiends, but also brought out the S&M crowd, which wasn’t a good fit for the bar, but did inspire what he’s doing now.
Backstage at SC’s Christmas party last month at the Teragram Ballroom, Fuentes’ gift for throwing together disparate pop culture figures, attention whore types and music styles was on full display. Waters muse Traci Lords, NYC nightlife queen Amanda LaPore and rapper Brooke Candy were “fan-girling for each other,” as Fuentes recalls, as wigged boys, body-painted girls, sassy elves and S&M-styled Santas milled about and posed for pics. Soaking in the ambiance of it all, I actually forgot to take photos, even though the surreal scene begged for it. And that’s when you know you’re at a great party. Thanks to some inspired booking, Sex Cells has had quite a few too. Fuentes shares his favorites here:
Prayers & Brooke Candy– “Prayers are one of those bands that cause a reaction. People love them or love to hate them, and well, that’s star power. If you’re indifferent about something then it hasn’t made an impact. Brooke shares that same ability to make you stop and take it in. They both play on elements of rap and electronics so they made perfect sense together. Neither had met each other and both were into each other’s music. Prayers were so psyched over the event they decided to do a mini set for the fans. The place was packed with people from every walk of life, from punk, to cholos, to drag queens and club kids. Even Tommy Lee from Motley Crue and Paris Jackson turned up.”
Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black’s Kembra Pfahler– “She’s one of my all time favorite performance artists and radical feminists. It was a pleasure and a privilege having her perform as she represents that amazing blend of art, music, and sex perhaps like no other. She came out in a Darth Vader pajama jumpsuit and thigh high patent leather boots, intense and ready to attack. The performance was amazing and I got in trouble for full nudity. But it is called Sex Cells after all.”
Hunx and his Punx’s Seth Bogart, Le Tigre’s JD Sampson & hostess Angelyne- “I adore Seth Bogart and his creepy and campy music. It’s fun and awkward in a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse for sociopaths sorta way. I had JD deejay and Angelyne host. She had a bit of anxiety before walking on stage so I had to calm her down. We walked in way behind schedule, but I introduced her and the crowd went wild! She said hello and whispered to me, “ok im scared lets go!” We both introduced Seth to the stage, she gave her signature wave and kiss goodbye, and she was out.”
Party Monster Halloween- “It was a pivotal point for us this year. We invited Michael Alig (the original Party Monster), his ex, Superstar DJ Keoki and Miss Kittin. It was a homage to the New York Club kid scene that we are obviously finding inspiration from. It created a lot of buzz, but people were both excited and disturbed. [Alig murdered a fellow club kid in NY. Read more about the controversy here]. We had to change locations but in the end it was one of our best parties. Miss Kittin and Keoki both said LA is alive and well with a party like Sex Cells keeping things interesting.”
“It will be a loose tribute to Bowie with the fellas from Bauhaus, Kevin and Daniel Ash, deejaying a mixture of postpunk, glam stompers and groovy electronics. We got Shannon from Light Asylum to perform some songs with Douglas Macarthy of Nitzer Ebb. They’ll both be playing music from their bands whom are both no longer active, so it’s a rarity for sure. “
Though Sex Cells called the Echoplex home until the Michael Alig controversy, it’s been flourishing as a traveling event since then. The anniversary marks Fuentes’ first time working with Goldenvoice as a co-promoter, suggesting big things for the future. It will also be the first time he does something at The El Rey Theatre, which by the way, was the home of the aforementioned Club Makeup, one of LA’s most memorable monthly gatherings (and maybe my favorite LA club ever). Makeup celebrated the 70’s glam era personified by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and brought together rock n’ roll and drag queens for an outrageous night of glitter and gloss-drenched debauchery. Baby clubsters may not know this history, but many do, Fuentes included.
It may be a cutting edge nightclub experience in terms of music (most of the time) and provocative social media promotion, but Sex Cells’ inspiration definitely comes from the parties of the past. “Every generation has a club that it can look back on and say, “Yeah, I was a part of that” and “No, you don’t get it, you’d had to have been there!” says Fuentes. “I want that to be Sex Cells, something you can be proud that you contributed to by being part of it, and not just as a patron.”
Sex Cells Anniversary Party at the El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd. 18+; doors at 9 p.m.; $20. More info: http://www.theelrey.com/events/detail/348138