How to Run a Club for 19 Years and Get Away With It: Los Angeles’ Das Bunker

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the United States, there are few clubs that can boast a track record as substantial as Los Angeles’ industrial (and sometimes goth) club, Das Bunker. Having just celebrated its 19th anniversary, the club has hosted a never-ending list of international bands such as Front 242, Severed Heads and The Frozen Autumn (just to name a few more recent ones) alongside local favorites Youth Code, Pure Ground (whose members are resident DJs at DB) and High-Functioning Flesh. With dance nights called “90s Goth Klub” and the frontmen of Nitzer Ebb and Covenant hitting the decks as guest DJs, there is no lack of variety in the club’s lineup.

Anyone who has ever promoted a party knows it’s hard work to pull off a prosperous night… it’s almost unheard of in the United States. I was curious to find out how the co-promoter and DJ of Das Bunker, Rev. John (aka John Giovanazzi), managed to keep a club on its feet for two decades. He was generous enough to share with me some secrets of how to achieve historical – or, dare I say it, legendary – club success.

Photo by Gustavo Turner for LA Weekly.

There’s no such thing as luck.

“I don’t believe anything is luck. At least by the traditional definition. Luck is being ready to take advantage when a favorable situation presents itself. But making it seem like you are lucky, or have the magic touch is the key. It’s the ‘Wizard of Oz’ all over again. Keep the details and hard work behind the scenes and present things in a exciting and fresh way. No one cares how hard you worked, how much money you spent, or what went wrong behind the scenes – all that matters is if they will have a good time at your party.

Make rules and stick with them.

“We give each room and the DJs for it a rough outline, and then let them kind of establish their own vibe in that format. We call ourselves an ‘all industrial’ club – but are totally fine with that being ‘stuff that influenced industrial, or stuff influenced by industrial’. We have some harder established rules in place – nothing with guitar solos, stay away from dubstep wobbles as much as possible, and try to avoid the obvious overplayed megahits – especially when it comes to bands with a large quality catalog. there is no need to play ‘Headhunter’, ‘(Every Day is) Halloween’, or ‘Join in the Chant’ with all of the things that exists in those artists discography.”

Be accepting of change.

“Everything changes. Our club has changed drastically about 5 times now. The music we play has shifted… probably close to the same number of times. We get excited about emerging styles of music, and if anything, catch a lot of flack (locally) for jumping on them too soon and abandoning popular styles too soon after their peak. And we feel it in the short term – but a small step back attendance wise is the right play if it means long term sustainability. I mean, we were founded on the concept of playing unpopular styles of music, so its not as much of a huge leap for us as people unfamiliar with Das Bunker make it out to be.”

We made it a point from the get go to have our own identity: look different, sound different, and have a different vibe than your standard “goth” club. – Rev. John

Balance your tastes and finances when booking bands and DJs.

Always ask: “Would our fans like this, and would fans of this like [my club]?”

Choose an interesting venue.

“If you have to pick one thing to set the atmosphere, have it be a room that isn’t just a big rectangle. Great sound is good, cool lights and decor are great but if you have a interesting space, the rest is workable. If you have a room thats a big rectangle then it makes everything else pretty difficult.”

And what about fog, how important is it for the atmosphere? “My opinion on this has changed over the years. I used to like fog and more fog. I guess thats what you need to do when your venue is a big boring rectangle. I’m kind of over it these days.”

It’s all about the experience.

“As for the music, our mantra was always to have the best music possible – but at the same time not making the club about the music, if that makes sense. People will go to a fun place with shitty music a lot more often than they will go to a boring place with good music. So the focus was always make it fun and exciting, and then augment that experience with a good soundtrack. This strategy also helped us a ton to push new music, and that let the DJs really not concentrate on playing hit after hit and relax and take some chances.”

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Courtesy Rev. John.

Don’t be afraid to mix different crowds of people…

“We make a strong effort to reach out to anyone who would potentially be a fan of what we do. Some people have accused us of ‘selling out to attract hipsters’ but honestly we have always done this – and more importantly never changed what we do to suit potential new audiences. I think there is a very definitive line between being welcoming to people that like what you do and watering down your experience to attract a larger crowd. The best clubs I have ever been to are a mix of different crowds and each area is like its own mini club – and we have always strived to keep that same vibe.”

… or to take chances.

“We have made tons of mistakes. There were times we booked bands based off of the label they were on and it turned out…. not very good. Same with guest DJs. Sometimes you have to take a chance and there were times it really came back to bite us.

But giving up is not an option.

“When stuff goes wrong (like the power going out with 1,000 people in the room) and everyone blames you – you spend the next couple of days wanting to hide under your bed. But you get over it. You have to use stuff like this as motivation to keep going and work harder.”

Make all your patrons feel safe.

“Its no secret that the frat dude element has always looked to try and go to these types of places to ‘pick up hot goth vampire chicks’ or whatever – so we really put a lot of effort into coming up with a strategy on how to attract new and different people without making it a open meat market vibe for douchey dudes to sleaze on our core supporters. So it started with a core [graphic] design element to not go the stereotypical route of putting a fetish model in latex on the flyer, or anything of that nature. And making the women feel comfortable goes a long way to building your audience.”

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Photo by Gustavo Turner for LA Weekly.

Success is not measured by the money you make.

“Success is determined by our patrons. [By] people who met their future spouses at the club, that had the time of their life at the club, that tag us in favorite memories or discover their new favorite band/song/music style. Thats success in our minds. Four different artists have written songs about Das Bunker – I think that is a pretty major accomplishment. “

But most of all, support your scene.

“We try and help [others] however we can. Its how you keep your scene solid. If your band is deserving of a chance, we do our best to get it out there. We had have always had a policy that if you are out of work I’ll let you in to the club for free. It’s not something we ever advertised, we just reached out to people we knew were having tough times. Our old taco vendor is about to open his second restaurant. The industrial scene takes care of its own, or at least it should. “

UPCOMING EVENTS AT DAS BUNKER

November 15 – 90s Goth Klub

November 20 – The Horrorist with DJ Andi  (yours truly)

December 11 – History of Industrial with Covenant (DJ Set), Labrynth, Hands Profuctions vs Ant-Zen DJ Set

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