Storefront with “happy hours” written on the window, next to a store with the sign LaunderLand over the glass windows

Basgo’s Disco, 1990, Ed Ruscha. Negative film reel: Coronado headed west (Image 0151). Part of the Streets of Los Angeles Archive, The Getty Research Institute. © Edward Ruscha

“Crazy, noisy, freaked-out dance music for weirdos.” That’s how Carla Bozulich of the band Ethyl Meatplow once described their music. “And don’t forget very sexy.” “Sexy” is a PG euphemism for the early ‘90s crew of former L.A. art-punks whose notorious live performances mixed blistering drum machine alt-disco with hardcore kink, nudity, and the occasional dildo-dangling go-go dancer. They were in their element at 3909 Sunset Boulevard where the Sunday night sexual sanctuary known as Club FUCK! was held from 1989 to 1993.

Alongside local underground heroes like queer industrialists Drance and Vaginal Davis’ punk-metal experiment, Pedro, Muriel, and Esther, Ethyl Meatplow was one of the club’s reliable house bands even after packing gigs farther west on Sunset at the Whiskey and the Palace.

Club FUCK! was headquartered at Basgo’s Disco, which was sandwiched between Dr. Benjamin Borja’s dental office and LaunderLand, a neighborhood staple that by 1990 had installed a Galaga arcade machine next to its washers and dryers. Basgo’s was originally known in the ‘80s as Tabasco’s (“Silver Lake’s Hottest Disco”) where mirror ball divas like the Watts-born Viola Wills held court, but a cease and desist from the hot sauce company forced a name change.

The building that housed Basgo’s—which started its life decades earlier as a Safeway grocery store—was no stranger to gay and lesbian refuge. Now designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, the address is most remembered as the site of The Black Cat, which opened as a gay bar in 1966 with a pool table and a jukebox stocked with Motown hits. In the conservative shadow of the gubernatorial election of Ronald Reagan, it was quickly designated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department as a magnet for “persons of known homosexual tendencies.”

Brick building with Medical-Dental Bldg sign next to slightly taller but plain building with a sign that says The Black Cat

The Black Cat, 1973, Ed Ruscha. Negative film reel: Across from Akron headed east (Image 48). Part of the Streets of Los Angeles Archive, The Getty Research Institute. © Ed Ruscha

On New Year’s Eve of that year, after the Supremes blared on the speakers, men kissed at the strike of midnight as a trio known as The Rhythm Queens sang “Auld Lang Syne.” Undercover LAPD officers unleashed their batons and arrested fourteen people on charges of “lewd or dissolute conduct” (six were convicted and forced to register as sex offenders). The court battle and street protest that ensued were pioneering pre-Stonewall episodes in the struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights. The “PRIDE demonstration,” held at Sunset and Hyperion in front of the Black Cat in February 1967, joined linked protests against police brutality across the city.

That spirit of resistance lived on in all the bars that followed at 3909, from the cowboy-themed Bushwacker to the Mexican drag shows of Le Barcito. But Club FUCK! at Basgo’s Disco (which even made an appearance in the 1992 singing nun favorite Sister Act) was its wildest apotheosis. The sticky Sunday carnival of BDSM, piercing, filthy burlesque, and body morphing performance art consistently delivered on what one flyer promised as “Boys, girls,  go go, S and M, gender fuck, nudity, sluts, spontaneous guest performances, and sweat.” Club FUCK! was where generations and proclivities mixed in the midst of the AIDS crisis, including new school Act Up and Queer Nation activists, old school Tom of Finland devotees, and barely-21-year-old disciples of the Wax Trax! industrial dance sound screeching out of Chicago.

“It was like an organism when it was filled up,” performance artist and Club FUCK! regular Ron Athey told me. “It was a horny space. You would always see people’s transformations. They would come in jeans and a T-shirt the first time and three weeks later they would just be wearing a bare G-string. For people like me who were getting pierced and tattooed and corseted in the ‘80s, suddenly we had a stage.”

At Club FUCK!, the Black Cat sin of kissing at midnight had evolved. It was now sex in handcuffs on a bale of hay while Ethyl Meatplow howled about tranquilizers and the utopia of never coming down.

Further Listening

The Supremes: You Can’t Hurry Love

Viola Wills: If You Could Read My Mind

 My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Kooler Than Jesus

Over the next few months, we’ll be exploring the musical legacy of Sunset Boulevard. Find more from 10 Songs for 12 Sunsets here.  And explore artist Ed Ruscha’s archive here.