In May, Los Angeles DIY venue The Smell posted a photo of a notice that the iconic space was set to be demolished.
Since 1998, the volunteer-run punk paradise has hosted affordable and accessible shows every night, and all of them are all ages. The response to the impending closure was massive. Petitions were started, fundraising efforts to save the space began, and stories spanning nearly two decades made it clear how important all-inclusive spaces are to the scene.
Baritone guitarist Claudia Meza of Explode into Colors grew up in LA, and spent every possible chance at The Smell. “It’s the club I used to go to when I was a teenager and I’m still good friends with Jim [Smith] who runs it. Downtown LA… maybe ten years ago it was uninhabited. As soon as the businessmen went home it was like a post-apocalyptic movie…. It was pretty sketchy. But now it’s so bougie. The reason [that transition] is happening is because of The Smell. So now The Smell can’t afford to be there. It’s going to be a parking lot.” This weekend, beat-driven punk trio Explode Into Colors will reunite for the first time in six years for two shows at Portland’s Mississippi Studios supporting The Smell and Portland organization Friends of Noise, which supports all ages music.
Explode into Colors was formed in 2008 by Meza and a rhythm section of drummer Lisa Schonberg and percussionist Heather Treadway. The trio quickly generated a huge buzz with their thumping, echoing punk. Following the release of their 2010 EP, “Quilts” on Kill Rock Stars, the band dissolved to pursue different artistic endeavors.
The band’s eclecticism can be partially attributed to Meza’s time as a volunteer at The Smell. “Before The Smell became more democratic, Jim would just hand it over to the kids. [So the shows were] our taste in music, and we were freaking weirdos. It was mainly noise music or what you might call “art rock,” quick is why we had Nels Cline playing all the time.” This kind of power over music spaces, the kind of access it provides, is rare.
While organizing the reunion shows, it became clear that something needed to be done for the future of other all ages venues, including in Explode Into Colors’ local scene in Portland. Friends of Noise was launched last year to preserve the local arts scene by educating youth. Made up of Portland music professionals and teenagers, the organization has been raising funds to create a brick and mortar space. In the meantime, they are providing workshops and classes for people of all ages.
High school senior, Stella Augustine is involved in Friends of Noise, focusing on booking and promotion. “As someone who has been to a show, experiencing the all ages section of the show [Editor’s note: In Portland some venues may section off part of the room for underage concertgoers], there is a clear level of separation and access,” she says. Noting the recent gunfire on October 6th at a Portland venue, the Roseland, which is a frequent host of all ages shows, and the fear of sexual harassment, especially towards young girls in larger crowds, Augustine sees a huge need for a safe space that carries a real sense of community and inclusion.
LA, Portland, and other DIY scenes around the country are struggling against the forces of development, where people are moving into neighborhoods shaped by the artists and residents. The countless closure of spaces around the world like Brooklyn’s 285 Kent and Aviv, and The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich, UK, are eerily similar to the demolition of The Smell. This type of growth and change makes it hard for all ages spaces to continue because it is a group with no financial stake in development. As an artist of color and young artist, Meza remembers “It was really hard for me to exist,” in two cities that are increasingly whitewashed.
Advocating for a space where people of all ages can be expressive is vital to the future of music. Most importantly, it takes a lot to run a space, so community support is integral. Meza decided to bring Explode Into Colors back together for this express purpose. “I don’t have enough money to just donate thousands and thousands of dollars, the only thing I could think of to raise that money was to get Explode Into Colors [to reunite] because it possibly would get people excited,” she says.
Get all the info on Explode into Colors reunion shows here. If you are interested in supporting The Smell and following their fight to survive, there is a petition against the demolition of the building as well as a fundraiser to save the building or move into a new space. Friends of Noise also accepts donations.