Photo by Madeline Feig
The Inland Empire is known for suburban sprawl, biker gangs and not much else. It is the region East of Los Angeles that stretches from somewhere around West Covina to San Bernardino. Despite its proximity to LA, it is about as far a stretch from the beaches of Santa Monica, art galleries of Culver City and clubs of Sunset Boulevard as you can get in the state of California. So it came as a huge surprise when we found out that a beat scene (albeit a small one) is present in the quiet town of Claremont, CA. A few weeks ago I was introduced to Beat Cinema, a hip hop, experimental, beats, funk, soul and psychedelic night at the Hip Kitty Jazz and Fondue Lounge. Claremont is a small college town swimming out-of-place in the extended suburban and industrial sprawl of Los Angeles county. It is known fondly as “the city of trees and PhD’s,” and couldn’t be more displaced from the streets of Lincoln Heights where the fabled Low End Theory takes place.
There was no doubt in my mind that I had to check Beat Cinema out. Low End Theory is a mecca of sorts for people like us, and the idea that Beat Cinema could provide at least a portion of the culture, community and musical talent supplied by LET was enticing to say the least. We spoke with Beat Cinema’s founder, Rick, about a possible interview. This Tuesday, the night’s bill boasted (DJ) Nobody, Portland’s Quarry, Alpha Pup rep Dot and all the club’s usual residents, so we decided to make an appearance.
As we walked into the Hip Kitty around 9:30, we were greeted by leather-wrapped booths and a large upscale bar; the venue was, in fact, a jazz club. The only real indication that this was Beat Cinema was the assortment of turntables, mixers, MPD’s, and APC’s on a long table at the front of the room. We found Rick and walked out to the patio to get the interview started. Outside, there was a DJ playing some Domo Genesis, a black and white film being projected on the far wall and (DJ) Nobody mingling with the crowd. This felt more like it.
Beat Cinema first started out as a movie night curated by Rick and his sister. Rick started DJing in between films as a sort of intermission, and eventually got the idea to combine the two concepts; thus, Beat Cinema was born. Rick says his motivation to begin the project stemmed from fatigue and annoyance after one too many 40-minute drives into LA to see shows. Beat Cinema’s debut featured The Gaslamp Killer and Ras G back in September of 2009 (an event Rick still considers one of the best Beat Cinema’s), and the concept took off from there.
In the years since, Beat Cinema has brought in a wide variety of impressive guests, such as Samiyam, Mono/Poly, Tokimonsta, KNXWLEDGE, Salva and more. Dublab took over for a night and Daedelus, Matthewdavid and more made appearances. Despite the impressive list of artists they’ve brought in, Rick likes to keep the night low-key, preferring to avoid the type of promotional flyers that he considers “litter;” according to him, 90% of the beat scene probably hasn’t heard of Beat Cinema. It really is a hidden gem nestled in the expanse of the Inland Empire. Cult classic films still regularly, but the emphasis is now decidedly on the music.
This is not your average club night, though. The crowd is slightly older than you would expect, and there is far more milling about and socializing than dirty dancing. In one perplexing moment, a middle-aged couple began ballroom dancing in the middle of Quarry’s set. With stuttering bass music blaring, the couple pulled off moves with aplomb as the younger crowd watched from afar with wry smiles. Like I said, this is a far stretch from your typical LA club.
In the middle of the conversation, Rick told us a story about his roommate’s birthday party a few weeks back, where Flying Lotus just happened to play his new album for the party guests. It goes to show that even out here in the desert, the sense of community in the beat scene is still apparent. Claremont is far removed from Lincoln Heights, but Beat Cinema is closer to Low End Theory than you’d think.