Underground music scrutinized after deadly fire
LOS ANGELES | The party is over at Purple 33.
About a week after 36 people died in a fire at an underground music party in Oakland, inspectors acting on a complaint discovered a makeshift nightclub and unpermitted living quarters concealed in a warehouse near Los Angeles International Airport.
Authorities searching the drab, twostory building found an illegally constructed dance floor, paired with a bar and DJ booth. Haphazard wiring snaked through walls, and an outdoor staircase capped by a bamboo canopy was flagged as a fire threat.
The unlicensed club was shut down, and operator Donald Cassel, who also lives there, was ordered to clear out.
The closing of the space dubbed Purple 33 highlights growing friction between underground music venues that can be the only option for experimental or emerging performers and their fans, and authorities who see disasters-in-waiting.
Finding them is another matter, when clandestine events can be announced with a fleeting Facebook post or text message and, in many cases, vanish after the music stops.
“You have a situation where folks are coming together and they are not applying for special permits. They’re just posting fliers 24 hours in advance, and they’re bringing hundreds of people in for different functions,” Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said at a news conference days after the Dec. 2 fire during an electronic music party at an illegally converted warehouse nicknamed “Ghost Ship.”
“We do not have the resources to track those types of functions,” she conceded.
After the blaze, officials in Los Angeles, Baltimore and other cities announced plans to aggressively pursue illegally converted warehouses and other jerry-rigged living spaces. The threat of a crackdown is unnerving musicians and artists who live in them, and routinely accept risks that can come with performing on unlicensed stages.
The Los Angeles case has similarities to Oakland, where a leased warehouse was converted into living space and an entertainment stage without proper permits or inspections.
“Lesser-known artists are happy to play nearly anywhere that will host them, because there are very few options,” said Amanda Brown, co-owner of the Los Angeles record label 100% Silk, which lost two of its artists in the Oakland fire.
“These events are way more about community and shared experience than they are making money,” she said in an email. “Most artists are very flexible and willing to deal with strange venues as long as there is a sound system and some enthusiasm for the music.”
It’s difficult to generalize about underground music and the places it’s played, which sometimes hide in plain sight. Purple 33 has a web page.
It’s like a jukebox, encompassing everything from punk to metal to electronic, a branch that itself is divided into dozens of splinters. Similarly, the events can range widely: a couple of dozen people in a garment factory, an after-hours gathering in a coffee shop, 150 electronic music fans in a clearing in a forest.
About a week after 36 people died in a fire at an underground music party in Oakland, inspectors acting on a complaint discovered a makeshift nightclub and unpermitted living quarters concealed in a warehouse in Los Angeles.