Last Saturday night, Los Angleles celebrated diversity and counterculture. As the Latin and Korean-owned businesses on Pico Blvd locked up for the night, a different kind of scene emerged from the side streets. Everyone was headed to Union Nightclub—formerly Jewel’s Catch One, America’s first gay black disco—a space that has always represented a divergence from the mainstream. The crowd hanging outside the show represented different niches of Los Angeles underground culture, but all gathered under one cause: Nature World Night Out Fest, the only event to artists as polar as Soulja Boy and Trash Talk under one roof. Nature World, the brainchild of rapper Antwon and Andre Martel, has created a lifestyle brand that goes much deeper than T-shirts and shows. It has cultivated a happy medium between punk fundamentals, underground/school hip-hop, and the celebration of friendship by becoming a unifying movement for the counterculture, 'do-it-yourself’ way of life that is so vibrant in LA.
Union was set up so people could rotate between two stages—one upstairs and the other downstairs. The size of each stage drastically varied, resulting in a very intimate experience downstairs and a massive stage upstairs. For the first part of the night, downstairs definitely had the vibe. The first band that stood out downstairs was Dress Code, the hardcore outfit from Houston, Texas. My favorite part of their set was their ability to transfer the punk/hardcore sound of '80s-era Dischord with nods to 86 Mentality into an impressive live performance. Following them was Cities Aviv, who’s a part of the Nature World fam. Cities Aviv was in a trance, vibing to his own beats and interludes as free-forming as his dreads. The heavy reverb, dark sound, and eclectic production style showed the influence of his punk and hardcore days, now expressed through hip-hop.
As Cities Aviv finished his set, the next slot was taken by Goth Money Records, the coast-to-coast Internet trap collective. Although Karmah, Luckaleann, and MFK Marcy Mane were the only Goth Money affiliates to make an appearance, their self-proclaimed 'Positive Thuggin’ was in full effect. It doesn’t matter that they were 15 minutes late to their set, because the energy of their trap-infused chants had the whole crowd turning up. As the downstairs room was packed to the brim, it felt like the headliner was already on stage, with the crowd screaming Goth Money lyrics at the top of their lungs. Karmah’s overall presence on and off the stage makes juggin’ look easy—he’s definitely on our watch list of rising artists in 2016.
The Nature World family did a great job at curating the best pockets of underground music out right now under one bill. Since the line-up was quite diverse, the green room became a communal space where all of these artists were able to cross paths. Backwoods passed from circle to circle, Patron bottles popped, special purple cups cooled out, while buckets of Colt 45 tall boys emptied and refilled. At one point, the WEDIDIT crew (Shlomo, Deej, and Nick Melons), Trash Talk and co., the Nature Boys, Ho99o9, TM88, Tyler the Creator, Kali Uchis, Mikey Alfred, James Dennis, and a bunch of others were all partying, reuniting, and enjoying the green room vibes. The post-Internet influence on culture was undeniable. It was a rare sight to see so many influential and successful people within their medium, sippin’ on the same double cups and bottles.
Antwon, the unifying figure behind Nature World Night Out, kicked off the tail end of headliners. Before his set, he was seen holding down his area by the touring hardcore bands’ vans, keeping calm before the storm. I asked Antwon if he was excited for tonight. He replied, “Nah man, I’m always keeping my composure—that’s how I roll and make sure I can have the best performance possible.” When he arrived on stage, he embraced the crowd with open arms and a calm demeanor. As his first song queued up, the room of 500+ people began to move. Antwon, the crossover punk-to-hip-hop-and-everything-in-between artist has always had a intense live performance—his stage presence setting precedence for what the rest of the night would look like.
As Trash Talk began tearing up the stage upstairs, Lee Spielman commanded more and more stage diving, encouraging attendees to ring anybody by the neck and drag them into the pit if they were not moving. And although the aggression was certainly there, above it was a sense of community that helped those that were getting too roughed up. Punk shows are funny like that: the baddest motherfucker in the pit can push you down, but they’re always willing to pick you back up in order to keep the energy going.
After the madness that was Trash Talk, humbled electronic aficionados, WEDIDIT, produced a different type of environment for folks to groove to new music. Schlomo, D33J, Nick Melons, and Groundislava started with one track, developed it, and then passed it onto the next guy, making a continuous stream of bangers for the crowd to work with. Rising rapper and vocalist, Pollari, made a guest appearance to do a track with WEDIDIT, as a result of the previous months spent cooking over at their studio off of Melrose Avenue. It was great to catch a sneak peek into what Pollari and WEDIDIT have in store for upcoming releases; this kind of collaboration is built on trust, and shows us that these dudes don’t call themselves WEDIDIT for nothing—they’ve actually achieved what they’ve set out to as a music collective.
Lastly, the crowd was joined by Soulja Boy for the ultimate throwback. Back in 2007, there wasn’t a corner of the country that was not dancing to “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” the self-released single that took Soulja Boy to the top of the Billboard charts. Now, the rapper continues to thrive with his most recent track, “Snapchat,” an ode to the social media platform, which released this past February. Soulja Boy has played an incredible part in the Internet movement of self-produced and self-released hip-hop. As affirmed by Pitchfork, “Soulja wasn’t just facilitated by the Internet—he was the Internet. His was the ultimate representation of a brain that had grown up and found solace online: restless, resourceful, chameleonic, quick-witted, with zero patience for anyone unable to keep up.”
He was the first one to truly reach the charts on his own, and has since paved the way for the Internet-grown rappers using social media to facilitate new cultures. When Soulja Boy came onto stage, all of the performers and artists from earlier in the night were brought back to a state of nostalgia. I looked back at MFK Marcy Mane of Goth Money and he said, “Dawg, I can’t believe how hard this shit is bringing me back right now!” Soulja Boy reminded us that his influence will always be felt in the DIY scene. Nature World Night Out brought out the best of Los Angeles for a night centered around community—and we all felt it.
Photos by Julian Berman.