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Claptone's Masquerade Ball was the rave filled with Los Angeles' freaks and geeks

Stranger Things characters, Sandy from Grease, the Halloween bash was full of 'em

  • Words: Nicolas Stecher | Photos: Jamie Rosenberg, Chris Soltis, Dan Reid
  • 22 December 2017

The warehouse district of Boyle Heights was the incubator of LA’s early-90s rave scene. This was once the land of bolt-cutters and map points, where after a two-hour drive around the sprawling megalopolis one somehow always ended up in this vast industrial no-man’s-land. The scene has morphed and shifted countless times in the three decades since, yet something lingers from that era.

As we arrive at a secluded warehouse location for tonight’s party, wryly named Minimal Effort, Frylock from Aqua Teen Hunger Force bumps past, alongside a brilliant simulacrum of his friend/nemesis/co-detective Master Shake. An Energizer Bunny bangs away on a toy drum, and there’s a euphoric kid in a Katie Perry Superbowl shark outfit. Suddenly it all becomes clear: oh, it’s the costumes, stupid.

That’s because this night is unique for two reasons: one, it welcomes the freak show that is Claptone’s travelling Masquerade party to LA for the first time; and two – perhaps more saliently – because it falls on the Saturday before Halloween. Welcome to Minimal Effort: All Hallow’s Eve.

Once we get inside the otherness of the night becomes even more pronounced. Everywhere you look, weird creatures and forms emerge from the shadows, including several Elevens and Billys from Stranger Things. Sandra Dee from Grease mills around among Egyptian gods. Nothing makes you feel like you’re in another place in time like a fleet of intergalactic pirates on the dancefloor. There are several Guy Fawkes and a fair share of winged fairies, a duo dressed as blue-eyed soul maestros Hall & Oates, and more Marvel Universe mainstays roaming the large indoor and outdoor areas than at ComiCon (Batman? Really, guys?).

“The idea is to bring people together and have them dress up, put on some masks, Claptone tells us later in his precise German accent. “And Halloween is the perfect day for that. The main thing when you put on a mask is you lose your history; you can be somebody else. You can be whoever you want to be.”

We’ve managed to corner the musical enigma behind a throbbing brick warehouse on a dirt patch near the empty tracks. As is his uniform, the producer is dressed head-to-toe in black, from his black-on-black sneakers to the top hat on his head to his hands in signature white gloves. And the focal point, of course, is the golden carnival mask – a nod to the famed Venice Carnival parties, but also to the hedonistic Eyes Wide Shut-level indulgences he orchestrates.

“You can meet people you usually wouldn’t meet with, and you can look eye-to-eye with them,” he tells us, pupils peering through the golden mask. “And you don’t know their history, so it’s ground zero for everybody.”

And that is really the point. We lose identity. We craft new ones. We shed the failures, regrets and inadequacies of our identities like dead cells, and become whom we always wanted, if only for one night.

Of course, the idea of masks in dance music is nothing new. Once Daft Punk made robots a tenet of house music one would’ve thought the practice would be laid to bed, but that hasn’t stopped everyone from Deadmau5 to Bloody Beetroots to SBTRKT to Marshmello from adopting an identity-masking/making device. But the fact that the crowd here joins in on the anonymity and extravagance makes the night feel pretty far out.

There must be over 2,000 freaks and geeks spilling between the Masquerade Room into the outdoor area, migrating to and fro. In the massive outdoor courtyard, flanked by giant screens, artists like Damian Lazarus, Lee Burridge, Dusky and Behrouz entertain the revellers. Even in this ‘traditional’ Minimal Effort area, however, the Halloween moon casts an uncanny light on the proceedings.

As Claptone’s hour approaches we move along with the masses into the Masquerade room where things get decidedly ravier. Overhead there’s camo netting with fake plastic leaves, and wrought iron and crystal chandeliers. And there are bird cages and oriental lamps among the lasers, too. MK, who has opened many of Claptone’s Masquerade fetes, steps off the stage and the masked headliner appears to much fanfare, bathed in white light. Above him, a massive bird mask hangs precariously, as if it were about to drop and impale the front row. Behind, the word ‘Masquerade’ shines and reflects in large mirrored letters. He lays a white glove on the mixer and fades Fisher’s ‘Stop It’ onto the Funkworks soundsystem. The “Moving up and down, side to side, like a rollercoaster” chorus seems to choreograph the costumed hordes. Up front, a guy with a shirt declaring “0 F**CKS GIVEN” is dancing next to a clearly inebriated Hunter S Thompson, who, fittingly enough, is dribbling onto his Hawaiian shirt.

Behind us towering electricity poles crackle. The menacing black metal bars that border seemingly every property in East LA run along the tracks, defining the edges of this Masquerade fantasy. They cut a sharp incision into the star-dusted illusion of the evening – like a cameraman standing just outside the frame, a rip in the silver screen, a missing pixel in the hologram.

But then you turn around and the white-gloved magician in the golden mask mixes in his anthem ‘The Drums’, or Format:B’s ‘The Score’, and the heady illusion returns. The rip in reality is lost in a vision of a white unicorn shaking hooves with a dancing crawfish, his claws snapping playfully in the air, giving precisely zero fucks at all.

This feature is taken from the January 2018 issue of Mixmag

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