After describing watching the band No Age play a Misfits cover they just learned to a packed sushi bar in London, Jessica Hopper, the writer of last week’s L.A. Weekly cover story, proclaimed that the local noise-rock-post-alt-whatever band are “deliverance … everything we’ve wished and waited for in punk.”

It’s an extreme statement – blunt, hyperbolic – and it caught me off guard. While I want very badly to believe that No Age and other “Smell bands” are still a scene existing outside of mainstream influence, the last year-and-a-half of corporate-aided exposure seems to have negated that possibility.

As the poster boys for the raw, gritty scene surrounding alcohol-free-all-ages downtown L.A. venue the Smell, No Age signed with Nirvana-alma mater SubPop Records in 2007 and embarked on a non-stop marketing campaign for debut album Nouns. The local two-piece was thrown on MTV; they did the Craig Ferguson show; and, most recently, had their album packaging nominated for a Grammy.

Several Smell-mates followed suit and left the den: Abe Vigoda went around the country with Diplo, and Mika Miko toured Europe and Japan. This close-knit community of bands was paraded around as the new hope for Los Angeles’ burgeoning underground music scene so much that when they returned back to the Smell, they found that their burgeoning underground music has changed hands.

The crowd at No Age’s homecoming show lacked the energy and substance of Smell legend. Hardly anyone danced, cell phones were raised high to capture video for YouTube and the audience members came across as young, nervous and eager.

Does this signal the end of the organic aspect of Smell bands, or is it the start of a larger movement? Only time will tell.

But when a musical subculture like the one surrounding the Smell becomes massified, it eliminates the essence and detracts from its authentic nature. Because our gritty downtown scene is so hinged on its context, once you send a Smell band on tour, they cease to be Smell bands and all performances not done at the Smell are just attempts to reproduce one. Doing this draws even greater distance between the audience and the band so that a sold-out show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom has no correlation to the actual scene that the band embodies.

No Age is as punk to European teens being fed Los Angeles underground as the Sex Pistols are to American kids buying Never Mind the Bullocks on iTunes (which is to say, not a lot).

The dirty underbelly of L.A. music has come a long way since the Masque days of Hollywood punk, but it risks being eliminated at the hands of its inceptors. They created a new culture as a vehicle of protest against the mind-numbing, static banality of the Sunset Strip rock scene and although these punk rock ethics had a nice run under the radar in downtown Los Angeles, the influx of publicity to the scene is threatening its fragile existence.

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