The raw sounds of a young band tuning their instruments on stage begins, as a crowd starts to close in. The crowd is a combo of friends, curious teens out on a school night, and 30 or 40-somethings looking to keep up with the newest sounds emerging from the area. Welcome to The Smell, an all-ages venue spilling out of a Downtown alley.
Some of the kids here might even be catching their first live music show without the hassle of trying to outsmart a bouncer. At The Smell, cocktails are replaced with hot tea and vegan snacks while young volunteers run the door.
The inside’s splattered with murals and band posters. The bathroom walls aren’t exempt. Here the curators are people who have come through its doors through the years like the yearbook pages of the popular kid at school. Simply put, this place is a cave coated with the stories of the artists and musicians who see it as their sacred sound space. “That’s what we set out to do, offer that space for artists to get their start,” says owner Jim Smith, a highly respected figure in the local music scene who’s been at the helm since day one.
The Smell first came on the scene 18 years ago in North Hollywood, but it’s called Downtown home for 16 of those years. The Smell used to sit near a coffee shop called Aroma Café, and so Smith thought, “What if we did the punk rock version of Aroma.”
Through the years Smith’s seen so many kids grow up, some even graduating to musical success like No Age’s drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt. Spunt is known to still stop in. “He started coming to The Smell in the North Hollywood days when he was like 15, he was playing in bands and eventually started booking shows here.”
And it’s that start, that chance, that makes The Smell an institution of sound and sentiment. It’s where amateur musicians can look to past “graduates” like Spunt for inspiration.