Column: Smells like teen spirit

People laughing and dancing outside The Smell. The underground music scene at The Smell entices teens from all zip codes. Photo used with permission from: The Smell.

People laughing and dancing outside The Smell. The underground music scene at The Smell entices teens from all zip codes. Photo used with permission from: The Smell.

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When we decided to write a column about our lives as teenagers in Los Angeles, we knew we wanted to explore our raw, authentic experiences of growing up in the whirlwind of LA culture. We realized that each of our memories and experiences in Los Angeles indicates a broader truth about the stereotypes and identities that make LA what it is. We are excited to further explore the teen culture of a diverse city and share the cultural experiences all teens can relate to.

Sick of our typical Friday evening routine—ramen in the Palisades or a quick stop by the Grove’s sticker store—we decided to venture off to the foreign land of Downtown, Los Angeles. Our venue of choice was The Smell, an esoteric punk haven we had only heard of through the grapevine of rebellious Los Angeles teenagers.

The Smell, complete with a vegan snack bar and DIY ethic, is a showroom dedicated to local, avant-garde performers and artists.

You may be wondering, “Why would Lauren agree to drive from the quaint, distant town of Santa Monica – some may even call it the Bethlehem of Los Angeles – for some amateur bands at a random hippie hotspot?”  The answer lay in Grace’s explore page on Instagram. What isn’t found through social media, after all? A post about The Smell’s 20th anniversary gave us hope that we could live out our dreams of being cool Los Angeles “art kids” even if we weren’t willing to shave our heads.

After digging through our parent’s old ’90s garb for the perfect cropped band tee, we set out on our journey carrying fully charged phones in our hands and hope in our hearts. We arrived at a graffiti-covered brick alleyway and soon spotted the light at the end of the tunnel. There stood the sign for the Smell, written in a bold thrashy font, surrounded by a sea of trash and a few equally unaware stragglers.

The time was 7 o’clock. We leaned against the brick wall of the alley with a contrived jaded look in our eyes, waiting for the doors of the venue to open. Oh, how naive we both were. Seeing that we were only pretending to be the notorious art kids that populated our city, we had no idea that 8 p.m. was actually code for 11 p.m..

So, after four eventful hours of wall-leaning and light mingling with our fellow teens, we entered the venue – which did, in fact, have a smell – and were greeted by the first performer.

Picture this: a middle-aged man with a keyboard that plays alien-like sounds. We stood at the base of a large podium where the techno-beat man played a bizarre original, his eyes sealed with pride. Around us, valley kids, declaring their carefree, anti-establishment attitudes, ever so casually nodded their heads in approval of the almost nonexistent beat.

To clarify: when we describe “Valley kids,” we don’t mean the Alicia Silverstone Valley girl, nor an Archer Bus 802 affiliate. In fact, someone who is a “Valley kid” doesn’t have to be from the Valley at all. Instead, they belong to a subculture of their own – a subculture of yellow tank tops, corduroy pants, way-too-small sunglasses and the occasional chain.

Our night at The Smell represented something greater than the two of us. This event space — its atmosphere, dedicated followers, music — was a microcosm of the attitude of teens in Los Angeles: an attitude characterized by eagerness to reject the status quo and embrace unique forms of expression and art.

Our time spoke to the distinct experience of living as youth in Los Angeles. The city nurtures individuality and provides opportunities that teens from other cities cannot share. Transcending the many zip codes and neighborhoods of the city, there are unmistakable stereotypes and subcultures that only LA kids know.