Bulldoze Something Else—Save The Smell
Eat our shorts, L&R Group of Companies.
As you have no doubt heard (or maybe smelt), The Smell is in grave danger. Just before the start of a three-day weekend, LA’s preeminent DIY venue was unceremoniously served a demolition notice. Clear your shit, get out, that kind of thing. No options, no timeline—just a looming “prepare to fuck off” message on a blue, 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper.
The notice applies to a number of other businesses as well (the New Jalisco Bar and the Downtown Independent Theater are presumably also in jeopardy, to pick two notable and unfortunate examples), but The Smell is obviously the locale of biggest concern. No background should be necessary regarding the ongoing importance and legacy of the venue—just the fact that a non-corporate, nonprofit, volunteer-run enterprise is receiving the amount of support and concern that it is should speak to its impact. But given that Jim Smith, the owner, never seems to dig his nose for compliments, now seems to be the time to provide some.
The Smell has been in its current location for nearly seventeen years—and during the course of those seventeen years, trying to make a career out of playing music has gone from absurdly tough to damn right impossible. It’s now the norm for notable, acclaimed musicians to be working second jobs. This type of artist always has—and always will—exist, but it’s getting worse thanks to a broken digital payout system and an amorphous blob of an industry eating itself in a fight to break even. To put it shortly, it’s discouraging enough to see someone you admire working the register at Goodwill, but it’s doubly discouraging to see it happening more and more often.
For the majority of bands, playing shows just for the fuck of it is all they really have. Music is never going to pay their bills—let alone their student loans or whatever—and God forbid if they want to get married and start a family one day. But it’s an outlet. It may not often be a physically healthy activity, but it’s creatively healthy one, and it’s essential for a sense of community, particularly in a city as sprawling and unconnected as Los Angeles.
Through a dark, dirty alleyway in downtown, The Smell has provided a home for that community aimed at serving those who need it most: bands and artists who don’t do it for the money, who don’t have publicists and labels to help, who don’t even necessarily have any recorded music to offer. There is no benefit for the venue to welcome these types of performers except to foster good experiences, and to that end, Smith and his brick hallway of noise have provided a service that is incalculable.
I’m not particularly optimistic about the current likelihood of being able to save The Smell from the ominous L&R Group of Companies—LA simply has too bad of a track record for situations like this to have much hope—but that doesn’t mean it’s futile to try. There’s currently a petition that you can and should sign, because why not. If ever there was a legitimate case to be made for a venue this young to qualify as a cultural landmark of some kind, this is it. So we’ll cross our fingers and do what we can.
But if we can’t save the current Smell, we have to save the future Smell. We have to support the enterprise in its struggles the way it’s supported us in ours. Because let’s be real: despite the rustic charm of the current facility—and the history that lurks through it—the literal building itself is not responsible for what The Smell means to the world of music. Just like CBGB was, it’s kind of a piece of shit, actually. But it’s our piece of shit, and wherever the operation ends up, we need to be there.
Currently, you can donate money to a GoFundMe campaign set up to aid whatever transition may be needed—whether that ends up being a move to a new location or not. GoFundMe is not an incentive-based system; any money you give will simply go toward the venue. So if you can spare something, give something. In honor of their standard price of entry, maybe five bucks is in order? Then you can go seek out the dirtiest, dankest, most pothole-ridden alleyway you can find and have a smoke (and maybe sneak a Tecate or two).
Long live The Smell and long live its foul stench.