Parties focused on the irrepressible sounds of the African diaspora are energizing the Los Angeles underground. Matt McDermott looks over the city's increasing prominence within a global movement.
Prior to Junkyard Jouvert, soca didn't have much of a foothold in the Southland. "LA is a unique spot because the black immigrant population hasn't made its mark on the city in the same way it has in New York," says Chief Boima, DJ, musician, INTL BLK label head and longtime champion of the Afrodiasporic electronic sound, a blanket term which now encompasses everything from gqom to the Príncipe crew to Afro house and Chino Amobi's cutting-edge experiments. "Culturally, New York is a black immigrant city and I would say LA's general culture leans toward its Asian and Latino communities. Obviously there was space for Adam to do his thing and connect with the existing communities that don't have as much visibility."
Cooper has carved out a vibrant niche in the LA underground with singular events like Junkyard Jouvert. He also throws ROADBLOCK, in which Afrobeat, dancehall and soca are presented in a warehouse strewn with used BMWs, as well as PLAY, which embraces a more open format, threading diasporic sounds into sets that also include rap, house and ballroom. "He has the keys to that city," says Hervé Kalongo, cofounder of Moonshine, a Montreal party with an equal focus on Afrodiasporic club sounds. "He's the go-to guy when it comes to Afrodiasporic electronic music."
When Cooper arrived in LA seven years ago, the Afro-Caribbean sounds he'd partied to in Trinidad, Brooklyn and at his alma mater, the historically black Howard University, seemed like a distant memory. "Initially the best parties that I had experienced would be techno and house stuff, like Rhonda, with these incredible international DJs," Cooper says. I'm speaking with him at his loft in Lincoln Heights, hours after he's returned from his first European tour. "I had come to the conclusion that we're in California man, just chill, we're not gonna hear no soca, no dancehall, you're not gonna hear that stuff. This was a really ignorant decision I had made, thinking places that played it here wouldn't compare to the East Coast or wouldn't compare to back home in Trinidad. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, South Central had a whole scene going on with Belizean crews like Illusive Sounds. Fade 2 Mind was doing work and so was Nacho."
In the early '10s, Fade 2 Mind affiliates like Nguzunguzu and Total Freedom, as well as the now-deceased Mustache Monday cofounder Nacho Nava, were setting the stage for today's minor boom in Afrodiasporic sounds. "It was the Real Scenes: LA film, there was one line in there that stuck with me and I talk about it all the time, 'All of the cool, worthwhile shit in LA is behind closed doors,'" Cooper says. "You have to really go above and beyond and explore or let that three-year period pass and the good shit will find you. And that's what happened to me with the Fade 2 Mind stuff, hearing Kingdom... he has this one track called 'Stalker Ha,' I remember [Fade 2 Mind cofounder] Prince Will playing that, I had to go up to the booth, this was 2014, it had a soca kind of swing to it. People play that track to this day. And then hearing Asma and Daniel [Nguzunguzu] on Boiler Room, doing their thing. And Kelela performed. Back then I noticed those things and it inspired me to try to mix in that fashion and that's been a huge inspiration that heavily informs the way I play now."
An exclusive mix from foreigner charting the thrilling trajectories of Afrodiasporic club music.
Cooper rented a large space in the warehouse district and started throwing small parties. After a period of making mixes and uploading them to SoundCloud, he began DJing in public. "It was real hit or miss," Cooper says of these early forays. "There were a few where I played what I considered to be my sound. Crash and burn."
I ask him to describe that sound. "Afrodiasporic, to put it lightly," he says. "Playing Afrodiasporic sounds in an unexpected way and trying to draw the connections across genres so that people who know said genres understand the relationship, but people who may not have been exposed to those connections understand it in a way that they may feel is a part of their identity. Case in point, Miami bass running parallel to Baile Funk, traditional big room house linking with stuff coming out of South Africa and so on."
After a chance meeting at one of these early loft parties, Samantha Blake Goodman, AKA Muñeka, invited Cooper to join the Rail Up! Crew. Goodman, Cooper and Kelman Duran quickly found a foothold. The bootstrap parties, which featured Duran's ambient reggaeton live performances, Goodman playing baile funk and Cooper DJing a mix of afro-house, dancehall, kuduro and soca, became a phenomenon, setting the stage for the events foreigner now throws on his own.
LA has a notoriously trendy dance music underground. Within a year, a fledgling party with the right sound, crowd and ethos can draw large crowds. "The beats that are emerging as Afrodiasporic compliment and blend really well with popular music, so people can bounce to it in ways they're accustomed to bouncing to the stuff that they normally listen to," Cooper says. "It's surprising to them, but it still feels really good." Cooper recalls a Rail Up! party where he mixed Kendrick Lamar into a track from Lisbon's Deejay Mika. "The anger and the aggression of the Kendrick Lamar track was a mirror image of the energy of the Deejay Mika track and the place exploded. That was one of the earliest experiences where I was like, 'Wow this is crazy.'"