Music Features

If I Could See All My Friends: On Dance Yourself Clean, LA, and Leaving


The worst night of my life happened at Los Angeles’ interpretation of Dance Yourself Clean, “an indie-pop dance party created by music lovers, for music lovers.” Appropo to the general gist of the recollection, I can’t recall all that much. I don’t remember why I got so drunk, I don’t remember why I got so mad, I don’t remember the specific bone I descended upon The Satellite that fateful day in September of 2017 that I intended to pick.

But dear reader: It was bad.

I screamed at the DJ to play “the good LCD Soundsystem songs” instead of the full version of “how do you sleep?” off of the polarizing AMERICAN DREAM (honestly, not going to apologize for the sentiment, but I will apologize for the delivery), I was allegedly within half an inch of the hair on my chinny chin chin from knocking the living daylights out of someone who (rightfully) accosted me for encroaching on their space, my girlfriend at the time tried to dance with me and I instead inappropriately moshed with foundation-shaking force against any unfortunate soul to cross my path, and I ended the evening screaming about how I hated my life and would do anything to die.

It’s the kind of night that becomes infamous.

What was said about me writ large to the people I cared most about at the time that I had so desperately tried to hide? That I was volatile. That I was unmoored. That I was, to be blunt, a hot mess. That I had something to cower from and how I cowered from it was to break through the perceived mundanity of sobriety by whatever means possible. It showed the world, but most specifically and heartbreakingly, my own world, that I would dash it all away in a heartbeat. Whatever was happening, I wanted “it” to end.

Admittedly, this is a lot of baggage to have lent to an innocuous dance party event that spun Passion Pit, that one song from (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, and The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” without fail every week. All Dance Yourself Clean asked for at the door was that you pay a (legitimately not all that unreasonable) entry charge, drink some (legitimately rather unreasonably priced) drinks, and make out with a stranger. On the surface, it was no different than the myriad other dance events and loose interpretations of “club nights” that proliferate in whatever constitutes the Los Angeles “scene” these days. But there was always something slightly elevated about it, something that made it feel like a stalwart of the city that nights at the Virgil could never replicate: Dance Yourself Clean bore the weight of the projections its clientele made on Los Angeles, how to be young and fun, and the supposed combination of the two. Somewhere in the mire of it being one of the city’s biggest weekly events despite at least, on the surface, promoting and playing music that doesn’t inherently scream being ready for the dancefloor, is indicative of its role in the larger consciousness of mid-20s singles and couples adrift in one of the least forgiving cities in the world.

Los Angeles is a place tragically shackled to perceptions of “hipness,” where cultural cache constitutes your worth, where there’s a dull, throbbing pressure to always be “on,” propagated and bolstered by all residents who participate in the local social threshing machine. You know the best brunch spot, you know a guy who knows a guy who can get you into an SNL-affiliated party in the hills, you know what movies are current and bands are hot, especially the “indie” ones, you know the spot where Shia LaBeouf gets his coffee in the Silverlake area, these are simply just things you know and spread around like currency. You answer calls and emails for your boss on the weekend. You have forced first-date conversations with someone you don’t actually care about over a seven-dollar coffee or nine-dollar beer and call it “networking,” pretending it’s a break from work. You’re probably underpaid. Standing apart from the crowd is a necessity in order to “make it” and you’ve been told at one point or another that you’ve got something special: that’s why you’re here. We’ve left small towns all across the world with dreams of film, fashion, music, cuisine, art, and any and everything else in between, now having the unique privilege of attempting to stand out in a crowd of people who believe that they’re doing exactly that. Everyone in LA wants the sympatico comfort of belonging alongside the rare-card-in-a-pack possibility of “being discovered,” an energy I believe to be somewhat unique to the two American coastal beacons.

And from its very conceit alone, Dance Yourself Clean promised a perceived sense of exclusivity, or at least inclusivity amongst an exclusive group. This wasn’t Bar Lubitsch’s POWER 106 spinning board regurgitation. This wasn’t the vibe-y tropical house of a downtown rooftop bar. This wasn’t a retro-fitted, rose-goggle disco night at Oil Can Harry’s (dear God do I miss Oil Can Harry’s, Los Angeles’ best night out by a moonlit country mile). No, you were a music lover, surrounded by fellow music lovers. After all, who didn’t love their high school iPod? Pabst Blue Ribbon flowed like the Nile. 80% of the people looked like they walked out of the Salvation Army sweater rack. The overall ethos and presentation of the event was imbued with a coded “alternative” nature, a term which has long struck an atavistic notion that that which exists outside the mainstream is inherently more “authentic” or “genuine.” When you were at Dance Yourself Clean, you were among a group of allegedly discerning and inarguably good-looking and vibrant personalities, and people who recognized themselves as such. I’d bet money it had a higher rate of Tinder meet-ups and subsequent one-night stands than any other space in Southern California. It had a hard-to-pinpoint draw, almost to a degree that was “cursed,” as the kids like to say, always the first suggestion of what to do, always where you’d end up walking home from, always with the promise of it somehow coming to mean more the next time you’d go. It was the kind of thing you dreamed about being able to attend when you were in high school, the kind of oasis that posited that you weren’t like all of those fake, shallow people out there, but rather like all of the people searching for their own purpose and meaning amidst the urban spread in here. Also a lot of people from Emerson College. An exorbitant amount. Like really just an unprecedented ratio of Emerson graduates.

But all of those things (well, apart from the people from Emerson College stuff) are why I hated it so much at the time. Whereas others saw Dance Yourself Clean as a solution to the mire of the 24/7 grind that Los Angeles propagates, I saw it as everything wrong with the culture of the city. And look… I was full of shit. Looking back, I know at the time I was coming from a place of burgeoning discomfort and unease, an inescapable sense that everything and everyone around me was passing me by while I stayed the same. All of the people I knew and cared about were making strides at their jobs and in their personal lives, finding a metaphorical and literal place in the city, and seeming to love both themselves and the process. While they started living healthy, I drank more. While they got promoted and recommended all about town, I only managed to get a second interview once during my three years of trying to. While they found joy in looking up and checking out the buzzworthy eateries, swanky cocktail bars, and weekend escapes (including Dance Yourself Clean), I continued to turn to the rancorous pop culture opinions that had gotten me through college as my form of escape. Simply put: I was resolutely miserable for an entire two years of my life, didn’t know how to pinpoint it or talk about it at the time, and subconsciously made the city an inhospitable place for myself on purpose, with Dance Yourself Clean as my pick for the worst of the worse, on my Holden Caulfield shit navigating a cesspool of fake people spouting recycled niceties who wouldn’t last a second on my RateYourMusic or Letterboxd profiles, thank you very much.

But as you could have guessed, it really stemmed from a place of why do they get to look so good? Probably because they’re not so self-conscious as to loudly insist on only adhering to a decades-long brand of frumpled and garish Aloha shirts, attempting to sidestep ever trying (and failing) to be stylish. What are they doing that’s so different than what I’m doing? Probably not looking for any reason to look down at someone’s tastes or interests as inferior or stereotypical. How can they tune out and get swept up in what’s around them? Probably by simply looking to escape and have fun after a week of working hard instead of having demanding forever jobs that ruined what you once loved about the industry you once dreamed about. Simply put, why do they get to be happy?

The recent news that The Satellite, the venue that hosts Dance Yourself Clean, would be shutting down, hit me more than I expected it to considering all you’ve read above.

In many ways, I expected I’d get a chance to have a redemptive return. The fact of the matter is that things are different now. Despite being single, working two low-paying jobs, and living with my parents, I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve fixed my sleep schedule. I’m exercising regularly. Finally, for the first time since 2013, I’ve managed to stick with not drinking during the week. I’ve found an intense passion for cooking and plan to leap off of square one to pursue it as a career. And I no longer hate Dance Yourself Clean. I suppose I never really did. But I did use it as the signifying beacon of my purported hatred for Los Angeles, and tragically, irreparably poisoned that well in the process. I was run out of LA back to my childhood home by the coronavirus pandemic, as were many others, but if we’re being honest, I don’t think I’ll be returning, at least not properly or full-time. My goals have shifted and ships have sailed. I’m not ever going to obtain full-time employment in entertainment. I never had the courage to give it a shot in the infamous LA “dating scene,” and it now seems like I never will. I’m never going to make it into the Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastards at Tonga Hut Tiki Lounge. Recognizing all of these things is honestly a relief, one that has finally allowed me to regret all the time I spent wishing I was anywhere else. Los Angeles wasn’t meant to be my city, but it’s meant to be so many others’, and I’ll love and miss that about it.

But I’ll especially miss Dance Yourself Clean. I wanted to see a bunch of people I only sort of knew in college and don’t really know now. I wanted to stand in that long line for the bathroom and see somebody who smelled like a Macy’s cologne display that got left in a hot car with a wet dog doing coke. I wanted to chat up some “cool” people that would mention how Candi Pop was much more fun. I wanted to arrive there too late and within 30 minutes have someone suggest we go to an after hours party at the Alvarado House instead. I wanted to see Benny from the Bronx again, a sallow middle-aged man who was there more often than he wasn’t and had a penchant for wearing Deadpool hats and suspicious indoor sunglasses (he once told me I looked like “a real how-ya-doin-fuhgetaboutit kinda guy”). I wanted to buy a gin and tonic and drink it really fast because there was only that one shelf on the right side of the stage that was too crowded to put your drink on. I wanted to hear LCD Soundsystem songs, whether I thought they were the good ones from AMERICAN DREAM or not. I wanted to meet someone new instead of almost fight them on the dancefloor. I wanted to actually dance with a girlfriend I’d be going with. I wanted to be as happy as all the people I’d always seen there be.

I really think I could’ve done it.

Thomas Seraydarian
Thomas founded Merry-Go-Round Magazine and acted as Editor-in-Chief until 2020. Now he yells about fish for a living and does Merry-Go-Round's taxes.

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