In the 1980s, Los Angeles was graced with a particularly vibrant alternative art scene: Music, punk, pop, new wave and early hip hop artists were finding acclaim and popularity, though the shadow of HIV/AIDS was beginning to cast a pall, increasing the urgency and poignancy of the temporal art forms.
While the LA club scene has often been overshadowed by New York’s, the Lhasa Club–the main venue where unknown and established artists would showcase and develop new works– was the vibrant crucible for theater, spoken word, visual and performance artists, often migrating towards Los Angeles, especially from New York. Many of these performers were forerunners and have gone on to pursue successful creative careers.
On any given night an eclectic, electrifying mix of punk, New Wave and conceptual performers would take the stage and fill the club’s floor, joined by the likes of Cher, Herve Villachez, Val Kilmer, Tom Petty Rick James.The club was all-ages (one DJ was a 16 high school student who traveled 15 miles by bus in order spin) and mixed LGBTQ+straight, allowing for a cross-pollination of unheard of anywhere else in the city. Gender bending club kids hung about with hardcore punks, and all that mattered was art.
The unique wealth of talents brought about the idea of filming 100 short performances in order to capture a record of the “performance art” scene at the time. The result is the Lhasa Club Tapes 1985 which features award winning actor John Fleck before his controversial performance art earned him a place on the conservative Congress’ hit list and made him one of the NEA Four, members of the San Francisco performance troupe the Cockettes, members of Devo, and a who’s who of the LA underground scene.
The setup was simple and relatively raw: one camera, one shot, one short performance. Cheap high definition cameras did not exist then and neither did personal computers. The filming was never completed but this little time capsule of 22 performances remains to give a teaser of what was happening.
Club owner Jean-Pierre Boccarra has compiled these tapes and released them thirty years later as a love letter to Los Angeles, and to inspire current and future performers.
The featured artists: Henry Rollins, Exene Cervenka, Kim Fowley, Victoria Williams, John Fleck, Tomata Du Plenty, Fayette Hauser, Weba Family Singers, Philip Littell, Barbara Smith, Rikky George, Linda J. Albertano, The Visiting Kids, Jane Anderson, Brian Chic, Linda Sibio, James Trivers, Nicola Atkinson Griffith, Greg Travis, Marina La Palma, Laura Lee Coles, Colin Gorman.
The Lhasa Club Tapes 1985 and the companion YouTube videos which include a 43 minute performance by Sandra Bernhard, a pphot slide show and fliers for performances (including Angie Bowie and a double bill of Nick Cave Cave and Henry Rollins–now that’s a dark and dangerous coupling!) give a backwards glimpse into art and performance at a place where labels–gay, straight, queer, young, old, famous, notorious–weren’t an issue, and what mattered was creating a nightly, fleeting experience.