RE/FORM LA is Keeping the Underground Alive

Harry Levin

RE/FORM LA is Keeping the Underground Alive

In the history books of dance music culture, there aren’t many pages dedicated to Los Angeles. Other than a general receptivity to new genres, LA pales in comparison to the evolutionary influence of hubs like Berlin, Chicago, and Detroit.

However, one tenant comprehensively unites Los Angeles with dance music. The tenant is so strong that Los Angeles has once again emerged as a leader in pushing the boundaries of the culture as it becomes a modern phenomenon in the United States.

That uniting tenant is the spirit of diversity, and RE/FORM, a new house and techno festival in Los Angeles, manifests that union on all levels. Everything from the crews producing the event, to the venue, to the artists performing hinged on a spirit of inclusion and diversity. 

RE/FORM is the brainchild of two key members of the LA-based promotion company 6AM Group: Jia Wang, Founder/CEO, and Marco Sgalbazzini, Chief Growth Officer/Events Director and Founder/Curator of Synthetik Minds, both of whom are transplants of LA. Wang moved to the city in 2008, shortly before launching 6AM and Sgalbazzini came in 2015.

The pair have also been working with a third partner, Andrew Suoto, Owner/Curator of Dirty Epic, another LA-based event brand, in producing every edition of RE/FORM since the first.. Suoto was an Orange Country resident for his whole life until moving to Long Beach 13 years ago.

These three transplants found a home in Los Angeles. They then decided to bring house and techno to their new home.

“For us it’s about what experience we can deliver to the LA community,” says Wang to Gray Area over Zoom.  

RE/FORM first came about in the summer of 2019 as a day-into-night concept to be held over Labor Day weekend. Attendees enjoyed the sounds of Robert Hood and Insolate in an outdoor daytime setting before migrating to a local warehouse for the throbbing techno of Perc and Adam X.

The day and night sections were a single stage back then, but RE/FORM has evolved quite a bit since then. At the most recent iteration, which took place this past weekend (Saturday, April 2, 2022), five rooms at the legendary LA dance haven of Catch One were filled with diverse music, creating the widespread dynamic of a full-fledged festival.

“We felt that LA deserved to have a techno [and] house boutique festival that really focuses on the music. That brings acts that are not the same milling around in a lot of the other lineups that we see,” says Sgalbazzini. “We just felt that it was time. That the LA techno scene had grown to the point where we could unite forces and bring this about in the city.”

LA has been without a proper house and techno festival for years. Insomniac has created very impressive offerings in the outdoor/daytime realm, but this culture was born in the later hours of the night and the early morning hours. 

RE/FORM offered that late into early experience, and the best place to do so was Catch One. Originally opening in 1973 at the height of the disco era, Catch One was one of the initial manifestations of the shared culture of diversity between LA and dance music. 

Catch One built its reputation as a gathering space where the Black and LGBTQ communities could party and enjoy this new style free of judgment.

“I think one of the good things that we’ve done is to really book with a lot of diversity,” says Sgalbazzini. “By properly representing the roots of house and techno as well as the different sounds of house and techno. By featuring experimental, by featuring a lot of local acts, featuring a lot of acts from diverse backgrounds, I think that’s how we’re honoring Catch One’s history.”

Of the five different areas of music at RE/FORM (not counting the after-party), the core 6AM team curated three of them, mainly focusing on techno.

“We love techno,” says Wang. 

Headlining acts like Dax J and SNTS performed contorted and obscure sounds upstairs in the main room, while Sara Landry helmed the underground room directly below with her towering, rapid-fire kick drums.

Down the hall from the main room was the Discovery Stage, where local acts like the RE/FORM DJ mix contest winner Amuck Indstrl spun alongside LA stalwart Stephan Disario. This stage reflected the strength of the LA dance music community as it never lost a solid crowd even though the headliners were mere steps away.

Each of the two other rooms represented a section of LA’s diverse sonic and cultural inclusions while contributing to the overall curation of RE/FORM. 

One came from LA-born event collective and record label Understated, which offered smooth and funky house selections. 6AM focuses primarily on techno across their catalog of events, and so the Understated room sought to provide a change of pace on the more chilled-out side of things.

“I wanted some real true blue house music,” says Michael Frazier, Co-Founder of Understated. “People have gone more into breaks and faster stuff and harder stuff, and I feel like house music has lost a little bit of its coolness. I wanted to really show that house music is still fucking cool.”

In that regard, the Understated room was a success. Walking in provided the intoxicating feeling of groove synonymous with house through the musical supervision of BIPOC and female artists: Kyle Hall, Heidi Lawden, Juliet Mendoza, and Frazier himself

The final space to mention was hosted by BL_K Noise, which, as a brand, demonstrates its own connection to the history of Los Angeles, one that stems from the city’s proven reputation for industrial advancement.

BL_K Noise came to be nearly 15 years ago as an event series to coincide with the Southern California arm of the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show. 

With so many artists and technicians arriving in the region to display or purchase new gear, Moe Espinosa—respected producer and DJ known as Drumcell and the founder of BL_K Noise—saw an opportunity to create something special for Los Angeles. An event centered around “music technology in general. Less focused on DJing and much more focused on the live aspect of electronic music.”

“We’re mainly fixated on the fringe artistic element of electronic music. Not necessarily the dancefloor,” says Espinosa over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles.

For five hours straight, the artists cycling through their different command consoles of music tech in the BL_K Noise room exhibited why “noise” can refer to audio and visual fluctuations. 

Despite intermittent issues with the projector, the seasoned music technologists combined forces with the BL_K Noise resident visual conductor, Oktaform, towards a complete sensory overload. It was like these artists were conjuring a new world within Catch One.

And yet Catch One felt all too familiar that evening. Events like RE/FORM are why the space exists, and the diverse LA community is meant to fill it. The spirit of diversity has been emanating through those walls for nearly 50 years, and the people of LA carry it with them wherever they go.

That spirit followed the crowd to the after-party, and even when the cops came to shut everything down just a few minutes before Sara Landy and Selective Response finished their back-to-back set, that spirit remained. 

Perhaps RE/FORM won’t make it into the history books of dance music either (although in speaking to the 6AM crew, there’s a good chance it will), but this last party was one for the history books of Los Angeles.

Words by: Harry Levin