The following is an excerpt from Bedroom Beats & B-sides, reprinted with permission from Velocity Press.
Tape 16 – The Sound of L.A.
Besides home studios, another thing Los Angeles was perfect for in the second half of the twentieth century was record shopping. The topography of record shops in L.A. in those decades reflected the city’s unique position as an industry town, a haven for independent artists, and a tourist destination. There were chain stores—Tower Records, Licorice Pizza, Wherehouse—alongside local shops like Rene’s All Ears on Melrose Avenue, Poo-Bah in Pasadena, Rhino Records on Westwood Boulevard, and Record Surplus on Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite lacking the name recognition of chains, local shops had the edge: Their stocks could be riskier, and they ran trade counters.
It’s in this busy landscape that one particular shop arose as a hub and focal point for L.A.’s beat culture. Aron’s Records opened in 1965 at 7725 Melrose Avenue, tucked between West Hollywood and Fairfax, and named after its founder, Manny Aron, who wanted to offload his collection of classical records. Over the following decades, Aron’s grew in tandem with the nearby music industry. It stocked new genres, releases, and formats but, crucially, also carried imports, independent, and used releases, catering to the complete spectrum of music fans, no matter the depth of their pockets or knowledge.
As the 1980s rolled in, Aron’s found itself in the middle of a revived stretch of Melrose Avenue popular with fashionistas, punks, and thrill seekers. In 1989, it relocated to Highland Avenue, just off Santa Monica Boulevard, on the gritty western edge of Hollywood most know today. A former meat market, the new location was rebuilt to give Aron’s 9,000 square feet of space. Bigger and brighter, the new Aron’s somewhat disguised its mom-and-pop roots, but within its white walls and mix of tiled and carpeted floors you could still find what had made it popular: deep selections, a motley crew of knowledgeable staff, affordable prices, and the warmth of a dive bar where everyone knows your name.
The Code of Interdependence [Sun Ra]
Visits to Aron’s Records were an important weekly ritual for Gregory Shorter Jr. Starting in the mid-1990s, the young DJ and producer would take the bus from his home on the border of Gardena and Compton to Hollywood three times a week. Inside Aron’s, he spent hours browsing crates looking for beats to play at Project Blowed, where he was a resident DJ, or samples to flip on his MPC. As was the case for so many young Black American men like him, music provided an escape from the realities of his surroundings, a way forward that could be his own. Looking down from the shop’s white walls were covers for prized records, some seeming to speak directly to him. They were like nothing he’d ever seen before, a mix of custom fonts, abstract artwork, and photos of a man who seemed cool and crazy. “You know who this is, what this is,” they said. But Shorter, a South Central native known as Ras G, didn’t know who Sun Ra was yet.
Still, the records kept bugging him until one day he went to the jazz section and reached for a copy of My Brother the Wind. The 1970 album by Sun Ra and his Astro Infinity Arkestra, full of wild stylistic synth experiments, shattered all preconceptions Ras G had about what a jazz record might be. “I had never heard a record like that in my life,” he told me. “It blew my head. I liked it all.” It was a classic, pre-internet digger move, inspired not by what the music sounded like but what it looked like. And it was the kind of move that spoke of the importance of record stores—places where discoveries could change a person’s path, personal connections were made, and communities could grow.
“Anyone who lived in L.A. in the 1990s shopped at Aron’s and has at least a big stack of records [from there],” said Eric Coleman. A photographer, director, and co-founder of the production company Mochilla alongside Brian Cross, Coleman is also a DJ and producer with connections to multiple generations of L.A.’s hip-hop scene and shopped at Aron’s for the best part of three decades. “I knew damn near everyone in that place. It was like our meeting ground. I’d see you all week [around town] but I could go in there on a Friday afternoon and bump into all my friends.”
Whether DJ, producer, or rapper, those who gravitated to Aron’s during the decade were on a path of discovery. “It was a place where we could share knowledge. When I started going they had no listening posts, so you’d have to trust and go with recommendations and that’s how you created your camaraderies, associations to these other people.”
Random Selection [Ras G]
Many of the staff at stores like Aron’s were part of L.A.’s new generation of DJs. It was a perfect day job, a way to help pay the rent and cheaply feed a love of music and the need for more of it to play out. Tomas Palermo, co-founder of Umoja Hi-Fi, worked at Rhino Records before moving to Aron’s where he was the hip-hop, dance, and reggae buyer in the early 1990s. Alongside the counter managers who oversaw trade sales, buyers were responsible for ordering new releases and essential in shaping the shop’s musical aesthetic and sensibilities.
“There were other, bigger used record stores, but they did not buy new stuff,” explained Carlos Niño, who began shopping at Aron’s in the early 1990s and also briefly worked there during the decade. “Aron’s had the hippest staff, like Tomas. Tomas brought more hip beat music in than anyone in L.A. Anyone. And he knew it. He knew what it was. He was into it.”
In 1997, Jon Liu took over as the hip-hop buyer. Liu is a native Angeleno and self-described “product of record store culture” who’d begun working at Aron’s three years earlier thanks to Palermo. The new position put him in direct contact with the independent hip-hop scene that had burgeoned around the Good Life and Project Blowed, as well as up and down the California coast from San Diego to the Bay Area.
“Whether it was 12-inches or CDs, there was a lot of people who hadn’t made the connection to distributors,” Liu recalled. He was the point of contact for those who came in the store hawking their wares. Freestyle Fellowship, Living Legends, Celestial Recordings, ABB Records; name a Californian indie act of the time and it’s likely they passed through Aron’s looking for cash or consignment.
“That was just the available channels. You’d come in and we’d take it, especially if it was local. You wanted to represent and you knew people would be looking for it.” Liu’s support didn’t stop at just stocking releases. According to Coleman, he is the reason Keepintime, Mochilla’s first documentary and music project, got off the ground. “He was the first dude to be like, ‘I’ll loan you some money so you guys can make this happen.’”
Joining Liu behind the counter in the late 1990s were two other members of Palermo’s Umoja Hi-Fi. Cokni O’Dire, the reggae buyer, and DJ Jun, who handled electronic and dance. The pair expanded Aron’s appeal via their involvement at the intersection of Jamaican music, dance music, and hip-hop. Liu credits Jun with cementing Aron’s reputation as a shop that catered to deeper abstract tastes and interests. While other specialist shops had opened throughout the decade, including the dance-minded Beat Non Stop and a local branch of NYC hip-hop mecca Fat Beats, Aron’s was more than a match.
“Jun’s an insane DJ because of his skills and knowledge, he can move dance floors. But he would also buy stuff that was more leftfield because there was a market for it,” said Liu. “IDM and Warp, that stuff was really ascending and it was huge, all the Wagon Christ stuff, Mo’ Wax, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow. The Prodigy was big too, but it was more on the commercial side of what we were doing. There was a dedication to the more independent, maverick stuff.”
Swing Set [Cut Chemist & Numark]
Spend enough time in L.A.’s used record stores and a composite image of the city’s entire music culture would emerge: promo records, white labels, cut-outs, one-off recordings, rare pressings, personal collections, radio station cast-offs. All of this sonic detritus found its way into the nets of a store like Aron’s, feeding the endless appetite of customers eager to digest and repurpose it.
For Alfred “Daedelus” Darlington, Aron’s was where he could really indulge his early interest in drum & bass. “I found so many more [special] records at Aron’s than in San Francisco where the scene was stronger,” he recalled. “Like a Dillinja white label, or some label test press. ‘Why is that record here? What’s going on? Who?’ It felt like somebody was whispering me secrets.”
Step into Aron’s on any day of the week and you might catch Tha Dogg Pound’s Daz Dillinger knelt down on the floor sifting through the discount bins for soul records, or Warren G grabbing $200 worth of vinyl in the hope of making a million. Quentin Tarantino once came in asking about a guy called Bobby Digital. Redman stopped by for a Nate Dogg cassette to bump in his rental car. Local drive-time DJ Garth Trinidad was a regular at the trade counter, selling unwanted promos. When Biz Markie asked about kung fu movies, the staff dug in the back and he walked out with a stack of thirty VHS tapes. Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist was another frequent presence. A friend of Liu’s, he was one of the rare few allowed upstairs, where staff kept carefully selected records (often for their own purchases) and stock awaiting pricing. When Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow pooled together a collection of little-known funk and soul 7-inches for a multi-turntable live performance called Brainfreeze in January 2000, Aron’s was chosen as the only location where tickets for the L.A. show could be bought.
Stones Throw, who had relocated to L.A. in 2000, also made regular cross-town trips from their home office in Mount Washington to Aron’s. “Madlib would always have a big stack, $300 every time,” said Ramon “PayRay” Limon, who started on the register as a teenager. “Peanut Butter Wolf would have a more conservative selection. Seeing them every week, you’d get to know them. Quasimoto was out around that time. Yesterday’s New Quintet was a big record at Aron’s.” A typical Madlib find was the Swedish psychedelic pop-funk of Doris, whose “You Never Come Closer” he rearranged into Quasimoto’s “Closer.” “That was my favorite store back in the day,” Madlib said. “They had good records, I was cool with all the employees and I get discounts.”
After Jay Dee relocated to Los Angeles in the spring of 2004, he would also make frequent stops at Aron’s, browsing the selections in his careful, quiet manner, whether on his own or accompanied by Common, J Rocc, and, towards the end of his life, his mother. The Detroit producer had been an L.A. favorite for years and Aron’s was where many of his fans in the scene first got a chance to see him in person, transforming the myth into man. “That’s where he was buying most of his records out in L.A.,” confirmed J Rocc. His last album, Donuts, most likely used records from Aron’s, among others. “Dionne Warwick and Raymond Scott are two that come to mind,” said J Rocc. “Those records were always at Aron’s.”
In November 2001, Amoeba Music opened its L.A. location. Overnight, it became the largest independent store in town, with 31,000 square feet on the corner of Cahuenga and Sunset. While barely a decade old, the San Francisco shop was already an institution and its opening sent ripples into the tight-knit record store community. Liu and DJ Jun left for Amoeba, replaced at Aron’s by Stanley “Sacred” Swinger, co-founder of the Soul Children DJ collective, who continued the store’s tradition of combining a depth of knowledge about the quirks of music history with a deep love of beats that connected generations of its customers. “[Sacred] was the older, knowledgeable guy who not only knew stuff but also had a good ear and loved good music. He would constantly put me onto records,” recalled Tom Wilson. A DJ and producer known as Take, Wilson asked Swinger about a job after returning to L.A. in 2002, eventually becoming the new electronic and dance buyer.
Living in L.A. at the time meant having to contend with some of the best DJs in the world. Justin McNulty knew that if he wanted to make something of this hustle he needed to find his own niche, and Aron’s was the ideal place in which to study. “It was the spot, like in Cheers, where you walked in and say hi to ten people,” he told me. Born in England to an Egyptian mother and Scottish father, McNulty was sent to Hollywood in the late 1980s to live with his uncle. A late bloomer, he picked up DJing in his twenties but instead of focusing on the technicalities of the craft he explored the magic that can be found when records are blended together to create something new. McNulty spent hours in Aron’s listening to records. One day he spotted an unusual figure among the racks and eventually went up to ask Sacred, “What’s up with the rasta in the experimental section? Is he lost or something?” The rasta was Ras G and he wasn’t lost, he was also educating himself. Soon after, the pair found themselves side-by-side at the listening booth, commenting on their respective picks—a Prefuse 73 record and some Asheru instrumentals. Despite the friendliness many recall, record stores could still be intense and intimidating places where staff looked down on unknowledgeable customers and diggers fiercely hid their picks from each other. But those two heads at the listening post were on a mellower frequency. “I didn’t give a fuck [about any of these politics] and he didn’t too,” said Ras G. “This dude knows beats? Rasta dude with the turban knows beats? Okay. Word. Nothing to it.” Soon enough they became close friends.
In 2001, McNulty attended the first installment of the Root Down’s soundclash series, hosted by DJ Dusk, which pitted Cut Chemist against Madlib for a friendly beat battle in the sweaty confines of Gabah. By then McNulty had been DJing as Kutmah for a few years, including slots at Sound Sessions and Firecracker. “I was unhappy with how [the DJing] was going, thinking I was playing good music and I wasn’t getting any love for it,” he recalled. Seeing the crowd’s response to Madlib and Cut Chemist convinced him there might be something to a night dedicated to just beats. Further inspiration came from attending the Soul Children’s Juju, which took place every other Saturday in Leimert Park. “You could play Moodymann records, Roy Ayers, rare grooves, breaks,” said Sacred of his sets there. “It was the kind of thing where I could play sets of samples, just crazy for forty-five minutes. And later on, come back with a set of something else, and I would bring the beat element.” Sacred developed a reputation among the heads at Aron’s for his access to beat CDs from Sa-Ra and Madlib and for his trick of cutting digital files to dubplate so he could spin them at the party.
Kutmah turned his idea into reality in late 2003 after his friend, a barmaid and DJ known to most as Okasan [mother in Japanese], offered him a Tuesday residency at the Room, a Hollywood venue she managed. The Room was an unremarkable bar on a busy block. Two doors down was indie rock staple Beauty Bar, with hip-hop leaning Star Shoes around the corner, and another two doors down was Cinespace, home to Steve Aoki and DJ AM. You entered the Room via a grimy back alley. Inside, the space was longer than it was wide, creating a cozy atmosphere. It was dark and, according to most, the sound system was surprisingly good. Kutmah called the night Sketchbook, after the actual sketchbooks he left on tables and at the bar for people to doodle on while listening to music. With a penchant for visual arts, Kutmah created hand-drawn black and white flyers for the night featuring intricate line drawings and the tagline: “dirty beats all night long.”
Stunt [Mr. Oizo & Sebastien Tellier]
From its inception, Sketchbook was an Aron’s party, its residents including shop regulars Orlando Reneau and Coleman alongside staff member Take, who quickly developed a close DJing partnership with Kutmah. “It was where dudes who found weird records would go play them,” said Daedelus who attended and performed alongside many others who shopped at Aron’s—Ras G, Carlos Niño, Brian Cross, J Rocc. Those weird records were the creative niche Kutmah needed, full of beats that better known, and more skilled, DJs couldn’t necessarily make space for in their sets. “Take and Kutmah would go upstairs and listen to everything when it came in [the shop],” said PayRay. If hip-hop’s early pioneers had gone looking for the perfect beat, this was a search for the dirtiest beat. “From there they gathered a small group of records to make that Sketchbook sound, that beat sound.”
That beat sound PayRay referred to was really a feeling, the physical feeling when the beat hits: a scrunch in the face, a snap in the neck, a shout that erupts uncontrollably. It was culled from the B-sides of hip-hop singles, records from Mo’ Wax, Warp, and Chocolate Industries, maybe that one segment in a Rapture single, a little-known Neptunes bonus beat, new cuts from Dabrye and Prefuse 73, a dance record at the wrong speed, pitched up. One day Kutmah found a cheap copy of “Stunt”, a 2004 French electro single by Mr. Oizo and Sebastien Tellier. He took it home and experimented. He played it at 33 RPM, instead of the original 45 pressing. Then he brought it up to plus 8 on the turntable. At this point, the punitive, 147 bpm drum machine and synthesizer jam morphed into a more malleable, slurry 100 bpm head-nodder that could be mixed with classic hip-hop joints. “I knew I couldn’t play a James Brown record at [the wrong] speed, everyone knows it. I can’t play Pete Rock at the wrong speed. But no one knew this weird shit I was finding,” he explained. The “Stunt” trick became a Sketchbook staple, with Kutmah and Take trying to one-up each other every week with new finds and ideas for dirty beats.
When German label Sonar Kollektiv released A/DD, the debut EP from a little known Swiss musician named Dimlite, Take took no real notice of it as he filled a sales-order fax from the European distributor. That changed once he put the needle to the single copy he’d ordered in at Aron’s and heard its bubbling beats and delicate electronics. “By that point Dabrye and Prefuse  were already hot,” he said. “I remember going to get Sacred and we were both just like, ‘Holy shit.’” Take bought the copy and played it for Kutmah. The following week he ordered ten more. “Everyone got it. Ras, [Kutmah], Orlando etc.… We all started to rinse it like crazy. Carlos [Niño] heard it, I think Kutmah put him on it. We all became the biggest Dimlite fans.”
Sketchbook was a small hometown preoccupation, at best there might be thirty people there, but those who attended were passionate about its approach and purpose. “You could always catch real heads there,” said Andrew Lorejo, a local promoter who was getting started at the time. “I’d always see Sacred there, I’d see J Rocc from time to time. All the more quiet dudes that just headnod that’s where they would go and get their real meditation on. It was so incognito and it cut out all the fat. If originally in hip-hop they were like, ‘All the strings and all the chorus and all the other shit is bullshit and all we want is the breaks,’ that’s what Sketchbook was for modern music. It was just the juicy, nasty, disgusting bits of music.”
As Serious As Your Life (Jay Dee Remix) [Four Tet]
“It was kind of a competitive culture of guys out here,” said Brian Cross. “There was nothing in it, it was just that if you were the cat who came up on the Dabrye or Dimlite or Birdy Nam Nam [record], everyone was like, ‘Whooo!’ When cats first started DJing, to hold it down for an hour was huge.” Still, you couldn’t just play the obvious cuts. “It’s like, ‘Nah. Raise the motherfucking bar.’” According to Cross, Kutmah and Coleman displayed the same technical sensibility that had made DJs like Cut Chemist, Numark, or Z-Trip popular at the time. But they applied it to an entirely different class of beats. “They were trying to take those [beatmatching and mixing] skills to break weird, glitchy, fucked up music that no one was trying to listen to. And that was the geek.”
When Elvin “Nobody” Estela started going on tour with Prefuse 73 in 2003, he would return to town with early promo copies of new records none of the heads in L.A. knew much about yet, including Dabrye’s “Game Over” and Jay Dee’s remix of English producer Four Tet. “Eventually they started leaking [those records] at Aron’s, so people got them, but for about three or four months, I was the envy of every Jay Dee freak in the city. That was a great time. It was a competition.”
That’s My Jam [AmmonContact]
L.A. favors those willing to act as connectors. From Uncle Jamm’s to the Good Life, Project Blowed to Konkrete Jungle, Urb magazine to dublab, the common denominators are individuals who see links where others might not and who make efforts to establish connections that support existing communities and foster new ones. For Carlos Niño, born in Santa Monica and raised across L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, connecting people and sounds has been the engine of a long and sinuous career. As a fresh-faced teenager, Niño hit the L.A. streets in his car looking for the musicians he’d only heard or read about on the radio and sleeve notes. He quickly immersed himself in the hip-hop and jazz scenes that were converging in Leimert Park, while also turning an internship at local station KPFK into a regular show dedicated to hip-hop, soul, jazz, and world rhythms. One of the first people he sought out was Darryl Moore, aka JMD, a drummer and the leader of the Underground Railroad, who played with Horace Tapscott and helped Freestyle Fellowship and the Pharcyde develop their early sound by combining samples, programming, and live instrumentation. Through Moore he was introduced to the poet and activist Kamau Daáood, a central figure in the Leimert community. “Because I was into records and because I was learning so rapidly, anyone that I would meet or anyone that I thought might be around I would just ask for,” Niño told me. “It was like digging the way you might for records but I was digging for musicians.” Within a few years, Niño, still a teenager, was organizing live events both locally and on the radio featuring many of the musicians he was meeting including vocalist Dwight Trible, drummer Derf Reklaw, and composer Phil Ranelin.
“I met Carlos writing for Urb,” recalled journalist Joseph Patel. “We both had columns in there. And we were both not writing as journalists but as people who loved the music and wanted to be close to it, close to the sun. When I’d go to L.A., I’d hit him up and we hung out and played records. And then he started making his own records. I’ve never seen anything like that since, he didn’t really have a musical bone in his body, he just loved the music and opened himself up as a vessel to it. There was so much love and energy in him.”
It was this same energy that eventually turned Niño into a catalyst for L.A.’s beat culture revival in the 2000s. Starting as a promoter and radio host on KPFK and dublab, Niño began making music as Ammoncontact, a duo with his high school Fabien Ammon Alston focused on beats and instrumentals. From there he quickly moved into producing in a more traditional sense, as a bandleader and organizer, channeling creative energies through human conduits. Throughout his career, collaboration has remained at the heart of Niño’s many endeavours while sonically his sensibilities lay at the heart of a Venn diagram that included the work of Q-Tip and Jay Dee, London’s Dennis “Dego” McFarlane of 4 Hero and Reinforced, and the Leimert Park jazz scene. Binding all this together was a distinct love of the beat. “I was always known as the guy who would play instrumentals. If producers were around I was like, ‘I want the instrumental.’ To this day if you were to ask people what’s a trademark of Carlos Niño, they’d be like, ‘He always wanted instrumentals.’”
Freedom Dance [Dexter Story]
As a promoter, Niño worked with the owners of the Temple Bar, a live venue in Santa Monica. When they decided to open a sister location, Little Temple, in East Hollywood, he invited dublab and local label Plug Research to move into the upstairs office. Niño also offered the live space to some of his favorite parties including The Root Down and Sketchbook, which were both looking for new locations. “For me, Sketchbook was the most progressive blend of what I would say is hip-hop, beats, and beat-oriented music,” Niño told me. “I might go and buy that 12-inch Kutmah told me about and be like, ‘I’m not feeling that at all.’ But I was feeling it in his set because of the way he presented it. That, to me, was the essence of Sketchbook. It was a lot of amazing mixes by guys who were looking at it really creatively. It wasn’t just hip-hop, but it wasn’t a broad diverse amount of music either. It wasn’t an L.A. thing. They were playing music from all over the world. It was very much its own thing, you know?”
The vibe at Little Temple was different to that of the Room, less cozy to some, less intimidating to others. But the main change that the switch in the venue brought wasn’t heard through the speakers inside. By then the main attraction of Sketchbook had moved outside, next to the entrance, under a billboard that stood tall over a patch of dirt on the corner of Santa Monica and Virgil. Back at the Room, regulars had taken to hanging in their cars during smoke breaks, so they could listen to beats. The way Kutmah remembered it, Donell “Dibiase” McGary, Ras G’s friend and Project Blowed regular, started bringing an old, compact boombox so everyone could smoke in the back alley and listen to beats at the same time. Once at the Little Temple, the boombox became the only sound system anyone really cared about. Standing outside in a circle, in the shadow of the billboard, people passed around CDRs and tapes to feed into the machine. The beats would play, heads nodding, smiles and daps, blunt smoke floating in the cool nighttime air as traffic went by.
“I was bringing the boombox to Project Blowed, that used to be my thing, radio rocking,” Dibiase told me. “A lot of cats would be bringing boomboxes to Blowed and banging out their beats. At Sketchbook, if people made fifteen beats that week, they played they whole shit. Then pass the boombox around like a roundtable of beats. Shit was wild, it was all stuff you’d never heard, like, ‘Let me test this out in the boombox.’”
Georgia Anne Muldrow was one of those boombox regulars, one of the few women in the scene and the only one who actually made beats, which for many were just as good if not better than those of her male counterparts. “I think the draw of it was, we actually doing this stuff by ourselves, we in our room, a lot of us just got headphones,” she told me. “It wasn’t like people have monitors. So to even hear the music amongst others and be bouncing it off, I don’t think that we realized how cold blooded that was.” The daughter of musicians, Muldrow had a keen technical mind and was beginning to explore her creativity through the beats of hip-hop and the soul of the music she grew up with, kickstarting a long and fruitful career that continues to this day. “I think it was a really cool thing because it helped me open up and share. And then it helped me have confidence in myself too, you know, because I got a chance to play my stuff all the time.”
Two Bottom Blues [Flying Lotus]
The little scene that was congregating between Aron’s and Sketchbook—producers, DJs, promoters, and fans—was growing and Niño, ever the connector and instigator, got the idea to capture a snapshot of it. He convinced the owners of Little Temple to put down some money and solicited tracks from residents and attendees. The cover was a simple horizontal sticker of portraits taken by Eric Coleman in the same outdoor area where everyone played their beats. Released in February 2006 as a double 12-inch, The Sound of L.A. was the first document of what would become the L.A. beat scene, tracing the stylistic contours of the sound—funky breaks, jazzy noodling, smoky boom bap, filtered samples, slow and gritty electronics, swinging beats. Its sixteen tracks also represented the different generations and backgrounds that had followed the L.A. roads to this particular intersection: veterans like Cut Chemist, Sacred, Madlib, Sach, Coleman, and Sa-Ra; alongside new kids Kutmah, Daedelus, Black Monk, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Ras G, and Flying Lotus.
For Niño, the inspiration for the release had actually come from halfway across the world in London. At Aron’s, he had found the 2000 Black records that Dego started releasing in the early years of the broken beat scene. To him they felt like a survey of the London scene. “It would be some people you know and some you’d never heard of,” he said. “To me, that was probably the most direct influence on The Sound of L.A. The 2000 Black people going, ‘Yo, this is the sound of London right now.’ They didn’t call it that but that’s what it was. I wanted to have a generic title so it could be anything that’s representing L.A. It wasn’t like this is the only sound of L.A., but it was a document of what was happening at that time in that community.”
She Flew Away (In Baby Steps) [Kutmah]
The Sound of L.A. proved timely. In December 2005, Aron’s announced it was closing. The news was a blow, if not necessarily a surprise. Things had been going downhill, with less staff and less attention to the stock. Speaking to L.A. Weekly in January 2006, Jesse Klempner, an early employee who’d become the owner, pointed to Amoeba, digital sales and chain stores like Target as reasons for the closure. In many conversations I had with the shop’s regulars, Amoeba was pointed to as guilty for the shrinking of L.A.’s indie record store world, earning it the nickname “the germ.” The truth, as always, is less palatable.
“There was maybe, I think, a depth to [Aron’s] sections at the expense of breadth,” said Jon Liu, who still works at Amoeba today. “Certain sounds and scenes were supported. And probably to its detriment, a lot of the buying reflected the buyer’s predilections. It wasn’t necessarily about something being a strong seller, it was more, this is great stuff and people should have the opportunity to get it.” Many of the staff and regulars also mentioned management issues. Klempner worked hard—fifty-hour weeks for the best part of forty years by some accounts. Had he tried to keep the shop open it may have become a scene-focused institution, like Submerge in Detroit or Amsterdam’s Rush Hour, kept alive by its dedicated fans. Ultimately though, Aron’s value had become monetary rather than cultural. “I asked him once if he was still a fan of the music, or if he saw the CDs and vinyl as commodities,” PayRay told me. “He was like, ‘I was a big fan, but being so involved in the work I became more business-minded, so I see them as six or ten-dollar CDs now.’ It was just a business that wasn’t working anymore at the end.”
Aron’s shut its doors in the spring of 2006, and by the autumn, Sketchbook had also come to an end, with Kutmah deciding to cut his losses as the party wasn’t really making anyone money and some of his friends had been robbed nearby. In its time at the Little Temple, Sketchbook had also started hosting showcases inside by the same producers who spent their time banging beats on the boombox outside. Dibiase remembers seeing Flying Lotus in there playing beats out of a Roland drum machine. Daedelus would light a way towards what was to come with his monome controller. Nobody’s Blank Blue project, with singer Niki Randa, performed. Sketchbook also hosted the launch party for The Sound of L.A. with Ras G, Coleman, and Black Monk all bringing their MPCs out of the studio and Flying Lotus hosting. No one knew it yet but something had started that would soon become much bigger than any of the regulars could imagine. And just like that, a loop found its end point and the beat could go on.