AG Club headlines student-led concert
If you took the Mission Road exit off of Highway 101 on Friday night, you probably got a quick glimpse of a completely reworked L.A. Skate Club, with people lining up on East Alviso Street in front of a giant poster created by senior Jack Parker, or p0sted, anxiously awaiting the highly anticipated Live2 Showcase 4.
With an artist lineup featuring Nemo Lakes, Allen Haley, CHASE PAVES and Bay Area hip-hop group AG Club as the headliner, Live2 and 29th Street Productions organized a concert in just two months that defied a lot of odds — and they offered it to 500 people for free.
“I don’t like doing things that have been done before,” said Live2 founder and CEO McClain Portis, a senior majoring in business, cinematic arts.
Friday’s showcase was the fourth of a concert series produced by Live2 and 29th Street that began in September. The goal of the series, Portis said, was to document the process and drive it takes to put on a show that just gets better and better. As a multimedia company with branches in digital marketing, live concerts and music video production, Live2 values telling the full story behind its unconventional work to “break the industry in any way that [it] can.”
“I wanted to be able to take people on the journey of being able to watch something grow from the ground up and knowing every single bit of work that went into it,” Portis said.
The first to take the stage, alt-rock artist Nemo Lakes — whose first ever single “Piggy Bank” was released Feb. 4 — made a call to the dancing audience that began to fill the venue with great anticipation for the show.
“Make some noise if you don’t know who I am,” said Nemo Lakes.
The crowd erupted, and it was the first sign that it was going to be a show to remember for all involved. Despite the inexperience of some acts and being only the fourth show orchestrated by the collaborating organizations, all signs of anything amateur were completely disguised by the production level and efforts from those involved — which included several worthy-of-attention up-and-comers in the music industry.
For Nemo Lakes — also known as Tyler Simpson, a senior majoring in business administration — this was his first live performance since 29th Street’s show dedicated to the passing of his friend Colin Jacobs last July. Starting off his set with his recent single, Lakes captivated the crowd through a variety of hip-hop and punk tracks and showed off his impressive skills on the guitar, certifying that he is an artist to keep an eye on.
“Feels like dreams are coming true,” said Nemo Lakes in an interview following his set.
Allen Haley, an artist out of Pennsylvania who “got to meet everyone through the internet,” took the stage after and made his mark for a Los Angeles crowd. Two weeks prior to the show, Haley flew out to L.A. and shot a music video for his debut song, “TAKEN BACK,” released Feb. 4, all while crashing on a mattress on Portis’ floor — a tell to the level of dedication that went into this show.
Haley’s drive was evident as he performed. Beyond immediately connecting with an audience previously unknowledgeable of his craft, a noticeably large group of the new performer’s family members in the crowd served to ground the otherwise surreal experience.
“My whole family was here; it was an insane, super crazy moment,” Haley said. “It was the beginning of everything. It really is the beginning of something absolutely insane, I can’t even fathom.”
The new artist brought on Arden Jones during his set as a special guest to perform “Serotonin Highs,” an unreleased song Jones wrote and posted on TikTok last December. Jones, discovered by Atlantic Records after going viral on the app the year prior, asked artists to duet the video and add their own verse, allowing Haley an opportunity to rise to the challenge. Ever since, Jones has been one of the many people in Haley’s corner.
“[Haley’s] at the very beginning of it. Two years ago, I was at the very beginning of it, so I’ve been trying to show him the ropes as much as I can, and I know he’s got a shit ton of people out here doing that,” Jones said. “I’m just happy for him.”
Returning for his second showcase — the first being the inaugural show of the series — CHASE PAVES, a senior majoring in music industry, was an immediate crowdpleaser. With a deeper catalog than the former artists, his experience shined through his flow on both his solo songs and EDM-esque track “Guest List” produced by Nitti Gritti and shnd.
As the crowd roared with energy following three impressive acts and a quick transition set from their DJ, the entirety of AG Club rushed the stage. Although leading vocalist Baby Boy, rapper Jody Fontaine and singer/rapper Mick Anthony comprise the core members, the Avant Garde Club is not complete without its dozen-or-so crew of rappers, filmmakers and designers.
The blaring horns and bass rumble of “COLUMBIA” engulfed the room — thanks to the notably impressive sound system built entirely by the people of Live2 and 29th Street — and ignited battle cries from the crowd. After the hit track from their album “Fuck Your Expectations PT. 1,” captured the audience, Fontaine, who notoriously has asthma but no inhaler, placed himself at the front of the stage and (in between catching his breath) asked the crowd for a simple favor: Have a good time.
“If I, like, asphyxiate or whatever it’s called, y’all gon feel really bad if y’all wasn’t going crazy. So y’all gotta match my energy, because otherwise I’m guilt trippin all of y’all,” Fontaine said. “So let’s turn up.”
Students who attended the Welcome Back concert hosted by USC Concerts Committee in August are familiar with the intoxicating vigor the group yields from a crowd. Almost exactly at midnight, the group finished their final song — following a small sound issue — and the audience was left nothing short of satisfied.
According to Portis, Live2 was born out of a desire to put small artists on and tell stories of passion, work ethic and an overwhelming love of music. After coming to USC, Portis noticed that, to be a successful new artist nowadays, one has to build and maintain a following online, which requires an entirely different skill set beyond their craft.
“I knew that I could tell stories and I’ve always loved building followings online so I was like, ‘Why don’t I start a brand where the entire idea of it is: I find people that deserve to have the spotlight, and I tell their stories and try to jump start on their career that way?’” Portis said.
For the three openers at least, there is no doubt that Portis succeeded in accomplishing this goal, and it will continue to be bolstered by the community he and 29th Street co-founder Joseph Arboles, a senior majoring in communication, have fostered.
“They really gave me one of the biggest opportunities of my life,” said Simpson of the organizers.
The first three showcases were held in the backyard of houses located within University Park, so organizing an event at an off-campus venue was a new feat for the crew. The price of attendance, or rather lack thereof, was also a decision Portis said he made in good conscience to prove that everything’s not about money.
“I’m going to try and keep the concerts free moving forward which makes it cooler because then, with the artists … I can be like, ‘Hey, we’re not trying to make money off of you guys coming to play. We just want to do something really cool, and it’d be dope if you guys came back to the roots,’” Portis said.
Blood, sweat and tears — and sponsorships from Liquid Death, Red Bull, Stash Co., Nectar Hard Seltzer and Study Break Hard Seltzer — made the show come together.
When asked if they would take a break to celebrate the success of the show, Portis laughed and made it clear that the work never stops.
“No, tomorrow I’m going to start on the next one. It’s too addicting,” he said.