There’s a venue in North Hollywood called the California Institution of Abnormal Arts (CIA). It’s on one of those big, Valley boulevards that practically beg for you to speed along without a second glance. But this spot, set back only a bit from the street, is marked by a clown on the gate and a clown on the front door. They aren’t as eye-catching as the big, polka-dot guy atop Circus Liquor a few blocks east, but you will notice them. I have plenty of times before Saturday night, but for some odd reason or other, never stopped to peek inside. I’ve actually had friends, a lot of them, play here and yet, it wasn’t until two nights ago that I made the trip here.
Clearly, I have been missing out on something special. CIA is the coolest venue I’ve seen in the Valley. It appears small, even after you walk inside. The actual performance area is roughly comparable in size to an itty-bitty punk club. It’s a little rough around the edges too. Look closely and you’ll find tiny cracks in the patterns on the floor of the stage. The scruffiness goes with the decor, which is a mix of oddball vintage finds. There are old mannequins done up in bizarre fashion, skills, dolls heads and lots of candles. The more you explore, the more bizarre this space is.
I was here for a DJ gig. Seth and Michelle Sternberger, aka 8 Bit Weapon (Michelle also records as ComputeHer), invited me to play with them at Club Microwave. This is a monthly party with a chip music bent. I don’t play chip music, mostly because it’s not the sort of thing you typically find on vinyl, so I played a synthpop, etc. set. Since CIA is in the vein of DIY art and performance spaces, there’s no house DJ gear available. I brought my own gear, two Technic 1200s and an old Behringer mixer. The sets were pretty short. I opened the night and then played between the live performances in a tiny corner of the stage that we turned a DJ booth.
In the tiny bit of downtime I had, I tried to check out the rest of the space. CIA is a maze-like venue. To the side of the performance room, near the font door, there’s a hallway that leads to a bar and the bathroom. The hallways is orange and blue and made me feel like I was Agent 99 on a psychedelic Get Smart mission.
Closer to the stage, there’s an exit to the patio. Outside, there’s a mummy, some other odds and ends, and a large projection screen playing music clips that date back to the ’60s or ’70s, a lot of vintage trailers and some complete random finds. At first glance, it appears as though there is just the one, average-sized outdoor area. But there’s more. Turn the corner and you’ll find a desolate tiki bar. Turn another corner, keep walking. The wonders never cease. It’s retro and a definitely a little bit creepy.
Back inside the club, Robot Vengeance, Dasid, WizWars, ComputeHer, Trash80 and 8 Bit Weapon all played. The music was a great mix of fun, electronic sounds. WizWars and Dasid covered The Smiths together. I caught that on video from the side of the stage and may post it at a later date. Not sure if it came out alright or not. In the meantime, check out my set list.
Flock of Seagulls– Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)
Fad Gadget– Lady Shave
The Flirts– Passion
Golden Boy and Miss Kittin– Rippin’ Kittin
Depeche Mode– Fools (Bigger)
Tapps– My Forbidden Lover
Book of Love– Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls
Royksopp– Remind Me (Someone Else’s Club Mix)
Chicks on Speed– Wordy Rappinghood (Playgroup Mix)
Human League– Seconds
M83– Reunion (Mylo Remix)
Kon Kan– I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)
Trans X– Living on Video
Marc Almond– Tears Run Rings (Justin Strauss Mix)
The Twins– Face to Face
Visage– Shameless Fashion
Duran Duran– Hold Back the Rain
Cold Cave– Icons of Summer
Soft Cell– Torch
New Order– Confusion
Solvent– My Radio
Daft Punk– Digital Love
ADULT. — Idle (Second Thoughts)
Flock of Seagulls– Telecommunication
Le Tigre– Deceptacon
Depeche Mode– It’s Called a Heart