When I moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2013, 18 and too young for most of the other clubs, I wanted to listen to some of the freshest new electronic acts. It was Low End Theory, the stalwart weekly of the beat scene, that welcomed me: a fabled club night that began in 2005 and helped accelerate the adoption of electronic music both locally and globally. Named after the seminal A Tribe Called Quest album, Low End Theory represented more than a club night: it became an ideology and methodology, an approach to music-making and community-building that resonated throughout California and then across the Pacific Ocean with a quarterly residency in Japan.
This morning, Low End Theory announced its end after 12 years of serving the global electronic music community with its future-leaning bookings and ear to developing different scenes. Before I continue, here is the unabridged statement from Low End Theory’s residents:
What a long strange trip it’s been. First and foremost, the residents of Low End Theory would like to offer our sincerest gratitude for the nearly 12 years of support. It has been an honor and privilege to serve in the capacity we have, rocking over 600 Wednesdays at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights, as well as various tours and spot dates across the US, Asia, Europe and Africa. To every artist who has blessed our stage, we are grateful. To every person who has joined us on the dancefloor, you are the primary source of inspiration for making Low End Theory happen every Wednesday since October 2006.
The journey has not been without its challenges. It is therefore with a sense of sadness that we are announcing our last ten shows, starting tonight at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights, with the final Low End Theory planned for August 8. There are several factors affecting this decision. Family obligations. Work demands. Life. The general consensus amongst the residents is that we have overstayed our welcome, and our greatest hope now is that the final ten weeks of Low End Theory can serve as a time for the beat community to set aside our differences, come together, and hopefully remember what made Low End Theory a special place to begin with: the music. Very truly yours, @daddykev @nobodybeats @djdstyles #lowendtheory
It’s hard to overstate Low End Theory’s impact on the larger scene. It was a formative ground for 21st century electronic music in the same way that Chicago’s The Warehouse created a space from which house music was born. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, beat scene pioneers like Flying Lotus, The Glitch Mob, Daedelus, Nosaj Thing, and James Blake honed their craft in its dimly lit space. Visual geniuses like Strangeloop, who now produces visuals for the likes of Bonobo, Zeds Dead, and The Weeknd, also mastered their acumen by playing around in that room.
Even through the sonic evolution of hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and OFWGKTA, or the dramatic rise of jazz artists like Kamasi Washington, you could hear the influence of Low End Theory. Here, we’d be remiss if not to mention Austin Peralta, the pianist prodigy who passed far too soon, but made such an impact in his short time, uniting so many people in the process. I never got to see Austin play, but it was his energy and spirit that allowed for Low End Theory to spark a jazz renaissance in the city, one which won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Each of Low End Theory’s residents brought forth something different. Daddy Kev, founder of Alpha Pup Records and a leading force behind the event, always encouraged innovation by example, using different controllers and finding new ways to manipulate music in real-time. DJ Nobody kept a vibrant catalog and buoyed between experimental beats, rising hip-hop, and a psych-rock mentality. DJ D-Styles balanced things out with classic hip-hop and timeless turntablism, and longtime MC Nocando, who departed from the crew a couple years ago, had some vital free-thinking moments during its heyday.
The past couple years have seen Low End Theory’s lines slowing. These lines, which used to wrap around the block, have been dwindling not as a result of Low End Theory losing its eye on the pulse (indeed, their bookings in the past year have maintained their high bar), but rather as an unfortunate outcome of a larger crunch that the electronic music scene is facing. It didn’t help when last year, one of its founding residents, the Gaslamp Killer, was accused of sexual assault (we addressed those allegations in our #metoo op-ed). Though it did not take place at Low End Theory, and despite Low End Theory being quick to respond to its community by parting ways with the Gaslamp Killer within hours, the incident put a damper on the event. Still, Low End Theory never lost its identity or community. Even through all the challenges and mayhem, there were always a faithful few at the doors by 9:30 p.m. sharp to catch Daddy Kev’s opening set.
Let’s remember Low End Theory for its people, its music, and for all the good it did in the community. Its end is a sad loss for the city and the global electronic music scene at large, but instead of focusing on what we won’t have, we should instead keep looking to the future of the beat scene, and look forward to all the new events and genres that will sprout out of the impact Low End Theory has made. Instead of wishing they could have had a chance to play at Low End Theory sometime in their lives, artists should look to creating new events that fill the void and keep the scene growing; they should see this as an opportunity for all of its artists to leave the homestead and expand the reach and scope of electronic music: it’s what I imagine they would want from us. The community of Low End Theory will live long past the night itself, and I have a feeling that notion will be very satisfying to its founders.