Finding the underground Los Angeles

In the 1930s, the master detective writer Raymond Chandler called his perennial setting of Los Angeles “a neon-lighted slum” with “no more personality than a plastic cup.”

Fortunately, history proved Chandler wrong. Since then, the city has kept the neon and gained a personality. The problem is not so much that the city lacks an identity, but that it has become a parody of itself. Although Los Angeles has grown and changed over the years, it developed a very limited view of its culture.

For all of its growth and diversity, Los Angeles’ “mainstream” scene has narrowed to the point of suffocation. Hollywood has become the go-to outlook on entertainment.

Everything is flashy, overdone and focused solely on the glitz and glamour aspect of Los Angeles.

With the completion of L.A. Live and the opening of new clubs that trend has only grown. It seems that these days Hollywood and L.A. Live are the only places to go to for a good time — or at least, that is what the message seems to be.

In a city like Los Angeles, that is unacceptable. USC students would do themselves a disservice not to go beyond the stereotype and find the rest of the city. Whether it is hidden, underground or local, there is a lot to see.

A good, easy way to begin exploring Los Angeles is to simply look at the alternatives to the “big name” locales.

Take the more traditional alternative to the Original Farmers Market at The Grove: the Grand Central Market. Located at Fourth and South Broadway streets — and dating back to 1917 — the market offers a wide array of produce from around the world and local, non-chain eateries. It is an interesting way to spend the day, get some good food and see some of Los Angeles’ history first hand.

One of the great things about Los Angeles that seems to get lost in the cultural osmosis is the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Funneled through Hollywood’s perspective, Los Angeles just looks like one singular entity to the rest of the country. For anyone living in the city, especially students, knowing the neighborhoods and what they offer is essential.

One of the most interesting neighborhoods in the area is Silver Lake. Just northwest of Downtown, the area was once the gritty “Gray Lake” of Chandler’s writings, but is now one of the centers of the arts in Los Angeles.

No place better encompasses the neighborhood’s cultural streak than the Bootleg Theater on Beverly Boulevard. Essentially a one-stop shop for the arts, it plays home to concerts, plays and art exhibits.

Silver Lake also hosts the Sunset Junction Street Fair. Running on Aug. 21-22, the festival features five stages and more than 20 different acts, from DJs to local bands and even a few national artists, including past guests The Henry Clay People, Built to Spill and The Eels. For anyone looking for a very dense set of live music, this festival is a great place to start.

Like Hollywood, some genres of the Los Angeles music scene get more exposure than others. Who would have thought that Los Angeles — the home of West Coast hip-hop and a strong indie music scene — would have a vibrant folk music culture?

In fact, Los Angeles has a unique, progressive folk scene, with artists blending traditional acoustic music and New Wave electronic. The New Los Angeles Folk Festival not only recognized the growth of the genre in the city, but is also committed to showcasing it. Although the main concert is on Aug. 7, the festival organizes shows across the city throughout the year.

At the same time, there are many things to do near campus for those without a car or the time to travel across the city. Take Downtown for instance. USC is practically adjacent to it, but aside from L.A. Live, it does not seem to be a hub for student activity. Unbeknownst to most USC students, there are many unique and unexpected events under the surface of the city’s label.

One of those events is the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival. Running in early September, the festival is an offshoot of the successful Silver Lake Film Festival and focuses solely on Downtown-based artists and culture.

“We work, live and play in Downtown L.A., and so we want to share with others what an amazing place we think our ‘hometown’ is,” said Greg Ptacek, the festival’s director. “We don’t want to be everything to everybody. We’re not like Los Angeles Film Festival in that respect. If you live on the Westside or the Valley and don’t ‘get’ Downtown, that’s fine with us.”

And ultimately, that’s one of the best things about Los Angeles. It is a mix of cultures coming together, creating an eclectic urban blend that has its own individual flavors.

What makes the Los Angeles entertainment scene so strong is that it isn’t just a reaction to the staid mainstream, but rather a natural end result of it’s residents passions.

Don’t spend college only seeing a fraction of this city. Look around, and a whole new world will open up. After all, Los Angeles is much more than just a cliché.