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There Goes The Neighborhood

Lyndsey Parker
Maximum Performance

Most people assume the definition of the word "downtown" is "hub of the city, where all the action is." Unless, of course, that city is Los Angeles, where bizarrely "downtown" more accurately means "gang-infested, litter-strewn, utterly isolated wasteland of government buildings, industrial warehouses, bus terminals, metal-detector-equipped courthouses, skid row shelters, and broken dreams." Suffice it to say L.A.'s downtown is NOT the downtown that Petula Clark dreamed of.

Until now, maybe. See, over the past couple of years, L.A.'s final frontier has undergone an arty/yuppie gentrification process--which is both a good and bad thing. On the minus side, some L.A. old-schoolers bitch and moan that downtown is losing its renegade "charm." And of course I have trouble getting my own head around the concept of shelling out $500,000 for one of downtown's trendy new lofts, which are essentially just concrete boxes in renovated factory buildings. Call me crazy, but shouldn't half a mil buy me more than just four exposed-brick walls and a 600-square-foot polished cement floor?

However, on the plus side, I do like all these new hipster bars, clubs, galleries, and swishy eateries cropping up among downtown's once-crumbling ruins. And I'm all for having new things do to with my weekends, so now I find myself heading downtown two Saturdays in a row. Next week is the Detourfest (Justice making the masses D.A.N.C.E. in front of City Hall? Bloc Party headlining a proper L.A. block party? I am sooooo there); this past weekend was the Neighborhood Music Festival, aptly named because it reminded L.A.'s residents that downtown is slowly evolving from a pack-the-pepper-spray no man's land into a bona fide community. And what better way to welcome everyone to the neighborhood than with an all-day disco party featuring the Faint, Chromeo, Crystal Castles, Spank Rock, a squad of scenester DJs (Steve Aoki, Brent Bolthouse, DJ AM), and everyone's favorite flamous L.A. ambassadors, Har Mar Superstarand Mickey Avalon?

Kudos to the Downtown Welcoming Committee behind this event, because the Neighborhood Fest turned out to be the most pain-free, hassle-free festival I've ever attended. The field was small enough to migrate from stage to stage in two minutes or less; the grounds were crowded enough to make me feel like I was part of big happening, but not so congested that I feared becoming the unwitting victim of a Who-in-Cincinnati-style stampede; the backstage VIP area was an oasis of leather couches, free beer, and crudités; and even the porta-potties were relatively unsmelly. And at the end of it all, the journey back to my car thankfully wasn't some sort of harrowing, Blair Witch-esque hike through the wilderness, and once I found my car (in about 30 seconds!) there was no demolition-derby auto pileup in the mad race to flee the parking lot. Man, if only Coachella was this pleasant.

Anyway, most of all, the Neighborhood Fest's music kicked some serious butt. Highlights included:

1) The dynamic duo of P-Thugg and Dave 1, aka Chromeo, saluting the Cali crowd with a party-hardy, talkbox-heavy cover of Tupac's "California Love," and then further blowing my mind with a medley of the Outfield's "Your Love" and Journey's "Any Way You Want It." To quote another song by Chromeo, I was a needy girl, because all I wanted was [insert Chris Crocker voice here] MORE MORE MORE!

2) Toronto techno terrorists Crystal Castles completely tearing the entire electronic music genre a new one, thanks to fearsone frontwoman Alice's ferocious,

totally unhinged performance. Alice became my new heroine (sorry, Karen O, you've been replaced) after I witnessed her crawling around on the stage floor in her riding-up pencil skirt, mental-patient eyes bugging out like Marty Feldman's and mic cord coiled noose-like around her pale porcelain neck. She was just the coolest. It seemed like every awestruck girl in the crowd wanted to be Alice--myself included.

3) Philly rap trio Spank Rock making all the indie kids shake their pasty white rumps and wave their hands in the air like they just didn't care. With their funky-fresh beatz, bowel-loosening basslines, and sex-obsessed rhymes ("All you white girls shake it till my d--k turns racist" was one of their many tasteful shoutouts to the laydeez) and supremely skilled MC Naeem Juwan (rocking a massive gold rope chain, DMC spectacles, and some very impressive neon pink pants)--not to mention the accompaniment of special guest Santo Gold (imagine a sort of Brooklynese M.I.A.)--this was one group that really got the party started.

4) New-wave-damaged Nebraskans the Faint making everything old sound new again. Yes, like Chromeo, the Faint often seem like they've spent the last two decades sequestered in a Patrick Nagel-painting-appointed loft, watching I Heart The '80s documentaries in a constant loop while taking copious notes. But somehow, like Chromeo, they always sound very now and very wow. Their headlining Neighborhood Festival performance was, like [insert '80s-era Valley Girl voice here], totally bitchen, fer sure. (And by the way, the Faint's "Agenda Suicide" is still THE best song about offing oneself--yes, better than the theme from M*A*S*H*, better than that Sean Kingston tune, even better than that lawsuit-generating classic by Ozzy Osbourne. Who knew a suicide song could be so life-affirming?)

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