In the wake of the tragic fire at Oakland venue The Ghost Ship weeks ago, city authorities in Los Angeles have begun a city-wide crackdown on unlicensed venues. City attorney Mike Feuer told the LA Times last week: "In the wake of the tragedy in Oakland, I think it’s especially important that we be vigilant." The next day, a team of eight fire inspectors rolled up to Purple 33, an after-hours spot popular with the Burning Man community, and effectively shut the place down.
The proprietor of Purple 33, Donald Cassel told LA Weekly that he opened the venue after losing almost $100,000 trying to get licensing for a legitimately licensed venue nearby in the Culver City area. “There’s a live/work permit you’re supposed to get," he said. "But it’s so frightening to go to these people, because they’ll take your money and just say no." The difficulty of opening a legitimate venue for people to congregate and enjoy underground culture means that many have to go it alone, illegally.
Purple 33’s landlord David Coons also commented, stating: "We’d like to see a clear and straightforward path toward moving facilities like this into a live/work-zoned environment, permitted and everything," he says.
Ghost Ship in Oakland after a fire at the venue/live space killed 36 people on December 2nd
Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the fire department, stated to LA Weekly that Purple 33 had been ordered to cease operations, calling the building as an "un-permitted nightclub space," adding, "Our inspector found violations throughout the building, including an illegally constructed bar, dance floor and DJ booth, as well as illegal wiring throughout, in addition to multiple living spaces that did not have permits."
A number of lesser known venue spaces have also been forced to close in what seems to be a city-wide crackdown. Despite all of this, Cassel does plan to find a new space and begin again. “I want to do it again. I’m not a quitter. I’m willing to do it again and show, hopefully, that it can be done...I’m not trying to hide anything. I’m trying to make it so we can set a precedent so others can follow and it won’t be this underground stuff all over town." His intention is to organize a group that will lobby City Hall to encourage safe, legal venues for marginal communities to gather in the future.
This looks to be one of the first steps in what will undoubtedly be a long, protracted, and difficult battle between the underground dance music community and authorities. After what happened in Oakland, this is to be expected. We can only hope that the City of Los Angeles and similar organizations around the West Coast will understand that only by working together can we prevent situations like Ghost Ship from occurring again.
"The reason there’s so many [illegal venues] is that there’s a need for it," says Cassel. "People across the country want to have a space to go that is not a bar, not a club, not a church and not some hotel banquet room. They want to have a creative space."