This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW
If you are under the age of 21, your options for going out to see live music in a club setting can be pretty limited. If you are under the age of 18, those options are even more remote. There are the nightclubs that bounce between 21 and over, and all ages but those clubs aren't consistent for an under-age crowd.
The problem, of course, is those clubs serve alcohol. Music venues rely on alcohol sales to keep their doors open. It's the primary source of income for them. So if you are under age, then you're either a lost opportunity to sell alcohol, or a legal liability if you attempt to buy alcohol. As a result many clubs don't want to deal with the hassle. Teens and tweens are forced to sit out many shows. It's nothing personal, it's just business.
So, what's a teenager in search of a nightclub to do? There are music venues peppered throughout the country that cater to all ages of audience. These venues offer a variety of music and arts programs run for the youth, by the youth. In Seattle there is the Vera Project, in Berkeley there is 924 Gilman, and right here in Los Angeles we have The Smell, an all ages music and art center located in downtown LA.
The Smell has attracted a lot of attention lately, (no pun intended), because of the vibrant scene it has created around music bands like No Age, Abe Vigoda, and HEALTH.
All of these bands have graduated to the national scene in the last year or so, and have dramatically increased the visibility of The Smell. As a result, hipsters of all ages now flock to the venue looking for the next great band to emerge from the scene. Groups like Lucky Dragons, BARR, and Devon Williams are the latest buzz bands that will keep this club relevant for years to come.
What is so remarkable about the success of The Smell is how unusual and grassroots the club is. Everything about the club is against the traditional live venue ethos. They don't sell alcohol. The shows are very inexpensive at $5 bucks a ticket. The club is run by teenage volunteers. The Smell is a not-for-profit organization focused on a giving LA's youth culture a music and art venue that's all their own. While it's owned by Jeff Smith, it's ultimately the kids who keep it open. They have the power; they can destroy it or watch it grow. The club has been in business since 1998. The fact that it has produced one of the most talked about music scenes in the country is really just a cherry on top. The real success comes from the fact that these guys have built a clubhouse that values art, community and the DIY ethic above anything else.
The Smell is a prime example of how important it is to have more dedicated all-ages venues throughout the US. Aside from giving teens an opportunity to experience and create art, it also gives them a chance to participate in running a business, fundamental skills for navigating in the adult world later.
There is a national organization called the All Ages Movement Project, or AMP, which helps facilitate the network of all ages venues. AMP has been a valuable resource to the growth of venues like The Smell. Early next year, they'll release a book titled, In Every Town: An All-Ages Manualfesto to help others build all ages venues. If you're interested in learning more All Ages Movement Project.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.