2. Luke Kim
Interview with Luke Kim
Highland Park, Los Angeles
Jan 12, 2018
I wanted to start one year back from now, you wrote an article called “A Letter to the Los Angeles Underground”. It brought up issues endemic to the Los Angeles warehouse party scene. Do you want to talk about what made you write the piece?
That was really a beginning for me. I had just gone to a party at the infamous Agatha. I had a good time, I saw K-Hand, it was great. The next morning I met up with a friend and he asked me if I heard about what happened the night before. I looked into it and saw that my friend had posted a Facebook status talking about harassment he experienced by the security. I already had a lot of feelings about Agatha and I decided that I wanted to talk about out.
For people who might not know, Agatha is a warehouse space in Los Angeles and the incident that you were re- ferring to involved someone being racially profiled by the security staff at the venue. I was reading through some of the comments on that piece and I actually found one that I thought was funny.
It said, “Luke, if you feel you are being slighted put your money where you money where your mouth is and start your own party”. Your party Directory began as a response to what you felt was lacking in the LA party scene. Can you talk about what you wanted to correct?
I saw that comment, I took it to heart, and a lot of other people said similar things to that. I wrote that piece in June or July and in August I found this venue that was available. I came to the space and told them I was interested in doing an event there. I ended up throwing a $5 party with all of my friends, there were like 9 people on the bill. It wasn’t the biggest party or most incredible but it became a monthly thing. Eventually I realized what I really wanted to do and created Directory. I booked Jayda G for the first party in November 2016. I sunk a lot of money and took a lot of risks to have my dream lineup. Jayda G is still one of my favorite DJs, she was my hero. My friend Bianca, who I didn’t know was well at the time, played the party. I looked up to her, she started at a young age too in LA and just worked and worked. I had them play all night and it was beautiful. I lost a lot of money but I learned a lot. I felt like I had fulfilled my dream of creating a space where there was a fun party with the right people that felt safe and diverse. Not the same homogeneous late 20s early 30s white male audience.
Can you talk a bit about the specifics of the piece? It was a response to a specific incident but also to things that were endemic in the culture of the scene.
I started going to these parties in late 2015. I was the younger kid there, I was going in with fake IDs and I would feel a little bit removed from everyone else. As a queer non-white person I was surrounded by these late 20s white people. I was getting into house and techno around the time that music publications became more outspoken about the black, gay, origin of all this music. I noticed a discrepancy between that history and what was going on in LA. I felt uncomfortable. I wanted younger peo- ple to know about this music just like me. I wanted to understand why these older people were able to attend all of these parties. For one it’s like $20 to get into a party, you can’t do that every weekend if you are poor or if you have life restrictions with jobs or school. In that piece I said that parties should be more reflec- tive of the music. Promoters should take that extra step to make sure that these people feel welcome and protected. Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe in LA the people that liked house and techno music were just an older crowd. But I wanted to know why there couldn’t be a younger, more diverse audience.
I get what you mean, even if there’s not an explicit policy keeping certain people out there are still things acting like filters that more or less dictate the demographic of a party. Directory is the only party that I go to in LA where there are people that are younger than me. What specifically did you do to cultivate this reality?
I’m just more open about my intentions. I speak about why I’m throwing the party, why I booked this specific DJ, why I’m excit- ed about it, why I want certain people to be there. I put posters up saying stuff like “Marginalized Bodies Dancing Is Power”. I’ve invited my younger queer, non-white friends and they’ve invited their friends. When I first started Directory it was kind of the same as other parties and I felt bummed, but making my inten- tions clear paid off. I tell people what I want and it comes true.
Directory is a product of Los Angeles and it is irreducible from the context in which the city exists. How do you create a safe space in a city that pushes these parties out to the margins?
It’s the hardest question that you face as a promoter. It really kicked in when the Ghost Ship fire happened. The first venue that I used for my parties was a tiny storefront with a wooden ceiling and one exit. When I look back it gives me shivers down my spine. I have been lucky enough to find a space for the past year with concrete walls run by a close friend who is open to my pushes for safety. We’ve always had several fire extinguish- ers, fire alarms up to code, and clearly marked exits. Now we’re working in a venue with the same friend that is even safer. It’s one level, and is accessible and large enough for people to com- fortably be together.
That brings me back to something we talked about earlier, the question of access and demographics of parties. For many good and important reasons these parties often exist late at night in places that the average person doesn’t normally go. It’s good to have that zone removed from the rest of the world, but it leaves some people out. Do you see a future for this culture that allows it to go beyond the late night?
Some of my favorite parties are daytime parties, they don’t happen as often anymore unfortunately. They’re more safe and they create a more open space for people. Everyone can see each other, you don’t get lost in a dark warehouse. Eventually I’d love to do something like that for Directory. As safe as I try to make these spaces, it’s still late night, it’s still dark, you might have to take an Uber to a far away place late at night. It’s a lot of back- wards safety. A lot of queer people need this. I need to go these parties to unwind and feel like I’m together with the people that I need in my life, but maybe it doesn’t need to be in that unsafe way.
Pivoting a bit, how did you get into electronic music? I know for a lot of people around our age, their introduction to club music happened long before they ever stepped foot in a club.
I learned about electronic through the internet and through friends. I got into electronic music in general around the time that Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 had just come out. I was in sixth grade I think. My new classmate was really stoked about “Hard- er Better Faster Stronger” and told me to check it out. It was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. I wasn’t much of a music fan before then, I had heard whatever my dad played me or CDs that I found at Hot Topic.
I couldn’t stop listening to this song on iTunes and I started to check out other parts of Daft Punk’s discography. I listened to Discovery several times trying to process how they made songs out of samples of other songs. In the recommended tab I saw that Justice’s Cross had just come out and from there I fell in love with blog house. My first concert was a Hard show, which was like the premier electronic/EDM promoter at that time. I went to see DJ Mehdi and Boys Noize. I was 12 I think and everyone was so nice to me there. I started watching videos of Justice and Daft Punk playing live on YouTube. There was this one specific video of Thomas Bangalter playing Busy P’s birth- day in Hollywood. I learned a lot about music just from watching these videos, staring into the computer screen with my earbuds in at 2:00 in the morning.
Thomas plays a remix of DJ Mehdi’s “Signatune” and then he closes out with “Raspberry Beret” and everyone goes nuts. It made me realize you can play whatever the hell you want. Later on I fell in love with people like Hunee and Antal, Jayda G, Floating Points. They all play records from everywhere, sometimes with no transitions. That’s the spirit of Directory, it’s not just flat techno or house music all night, all of these artists have a flow to them. I’m so happy that I learned about electronic music through the internet because it informed me with context, not just a soundsystem.
What parties inspired you when you started thinking about doing events?
One big thing for me was hearing about Plastic People and all of the artists that grew around it. My biggest inspirations were local parties like Far Away and States of Being. My first party was a States of Being and Icee Hot collaboration. Shout out to Low Limit, my hero, my big brother. Going to the that party and seeing all local DJs playing their own stuff, with no set times in a tiny loft with a focus on the dancers was a huge inspiration. Everyone there was so nice, people just danced in silence. Far Away too, just an incredible soundsystem and party.
In my mind Far Away elevated things to the level that I was seeing in other cities. I started to feel like we were on the same level as New York.
Absolutely, I know that Cooper was inspired by parties from all over the place. A city can create its own scene and rules, but in this new culture everything is global. Electronic music is everywhere now and you have to look at it from a global perspective. All of these parties informed me and I enjoy the idea of there being no culture as the culture. It’s just a party.
You did a party with UNIF exploring some of the history of Los Angeles dance music culture. Admittedly that’s some- thing I’m not the most knowledgeable about. My parents showed me some freestyle and electro music growing up but that’s about the extent of it. Have you been able to learn more about the history of the city as you’ve gotten more involved as a promoter?
Definitely. One wonderful thing going on right now is Veteranas and Rucas Instagram account. Guadalupe Rosales is docu- menting photos and promotional items from Latinx youth cul- ture. An extension of that is the Map Pointz account that is more rave focused. There were these “ditch parties” where people would ditch school to go party in a backyard all day. That’s a real daytime party! That’s an important thing that I’ve been learning more and more about and I really want to pay tribute to. UNIF had these DJs that have been around for so long. Some of these crews have been around for 15-20 years. It’s important to pay respect to that and learn why this culture is this the way it is. Embracing the youthful spirit that those kids had is important, I want to continue that with Directory.
What’s next for Directory?
In 2018 I have a goal of booking the people I want to see but haven’t been financially able to bring out. I just want to have these DJs, small and big, that I’ve looked up to play out here. I want to focus less on a full lineup and more on letting people play all night. Making it more about the music. I finished 2017 with Acemo who I’ve been wanting to book for a long time. I want more of that, DJs who I see as the future who make people move more than anyone else who I have seen. I want to fall in love with everything around me at my parties again.