WHILE A WISE WOMAN ONCE SAID THAT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT ‘TIL IT’S GONE, WHAT’S ALSO TRUE IS THAT SOMETIMES YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU NEED ‘TIL YOU’VE GOT IT. SO IT GOES WITH ZEBULON, THE FROGTOWN MUSIC VENUE THAT IN ITS TWO-YEAR EXISTENCE HAS DEFINED ITSELF AS A SOPHISTICATED YET BLESSEDLY UNFUSSY DESTINATION FOR AVANT-GARDE AND UNDERGROUND ANALOG MUSIC. PERHAPS THE NEIGHBOURHOOD DIDN’T KNOW IT NEEDED SUCH A PLACE, BUT MUSIC LOVERS FROM FROGTOWN AND BEYOND CONTINUE TO BE THRILLED BY ITS OFFERINGS.
Located on Fletcher Avenue – Frogtown’s main drag – Zebulon lives in a sprawling, 5,000 square foot industrial space built in 1930, which originally housed a bakery, and more recently served as the distribution centre for Altamirano Records, a venerable shop specialising in ranchero, mariachi, banda, cumbia and other imports from across the Mexican border. When Altamirano owner Mario Espinosa decided to downsize, Zebulon jumped in, opening its doors in spring 2017.
This grand opening came after a casual 2,700-mile cross-country relocation. Founded in 2003 by French brothers Joce and Jef Soubiran and friend Guillaume Blestel, Zebulon was originally located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood, where the venue served as a happily unconventional clubhouse-style destination for jazz fans, and later, upstart New York acts such as TV On The Radio and Dirty Projectors. The gentrification of Williamsburg resulted in the closing of Zebulon in 2012, with all three owners then moving to LA. When they decided to open a Southern California incarnation of their venue, they recruited Mia Doi Todd, a respected singer/songwriter who grew up in Frogtown, along with her musician husband, Jesse Peterson, as business partners. “Jesse and I both played at the old Zebulon,” she says, “and thought LA could use something with that spirit of musical openness.”
Indeed, Zebulon is a music lover’s venue, with everyone from Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 to King Krule, Keiji Haino, Ozomatli, Moses Sumney and Dave Harrington playing on Zebulon’s petite corner stage. Programming is decided by committee, with the owners meeting to discuss every show in order to ensure that all viewpoints and musical tastes are satisfied. While the concert calendar is thus eclectic – think jazz, funk, afrobeat, experimental, punk, post-punk and more – the through line is artfulness, authenticity and an unwaveringly indie spirit. It can get weird in Zebulon, loud, and whimsically surprising, like the night Greek duo Xylouris White led the audience in a sing-along of traditional Greek folk songs that left more than one audience member misty-eyed. The space fits 300 people, with an open seating format including standing room as well as a few benches, chairs and tables on the side of the stage. Tickets are available at the box office before each show, but bring cash.
The schedule here includes more than just music, with film screenings, lectures, fundraisers and other independently-minded, community-oriented special events happening regularly. On any given night you might catch a screening of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, a Valentine’s Day event featuring LA icon Angelyne, bingo hosted by comedian Neil Hamburger or one of the Voyager Institute’s ongoing lectures. “It's important these days to promote an appreciation of the arts and positive human creativity,” Doi Todd says, “ideally outside of a purely commercialised sphere.” Zebulon’s Golden Hour, which takes place every day between 5pm and 8pm, features a rotating selection of local DJs, as well as the obligatory drink specials.
Indeed, another major draw is Zebulon’s vibey and often bustling bar and restaurant, where you can, and should, grab dinner before the show. Salads, small plates, larger plates and three varieties of French fries are all up for grabs. There’s also a brunch menu, from which Doi Todd recommends the shakshuka. At the bar, there’s a refined selection of wines, aperitifs and local and imported beers, with the bar top itself coming from the original Brooklyn location, after a five-year stint in storage.
This spirit of honouring the past is emblematic of the neighbourhood as a whole. Like Zebulon, new businesses in the area have largely maintained the style of all the historic buildings, while simultaneously fostering the community in the area. Doi Todd’s father, the sculptor Michael Todd, still has his studio around the corner from Zebulon. While once deserted after workday hours, the area now comes alive after dark with a network of creative individuals interested in art, music, community and French fries. And that’s kind of the point. “The best thing about Zebulon,” Doi Todd says, “is how it's brought people with different perspectives and backgrounds together.”