It's Wednesday night in Los Angeles, and the club is so humid, it's like breathing through a screen. Union's “Disco” room has a capacity 800, but the 400 or so people lingering in the adjacent Lt and Circle Bar rooms must have pushed their way through the doors. Bodies are packed shoulder to shoulder as they awkwardly try to jump to a stomping beat. It's the only way to dance in this human sauna, and staying still is simply not an option.
It's hellish moving through the crowd, but the chance to see Madeon, Anna Lunoe, Mr. Carmack, SLUMBERJACK, and more for free is simply heaven on earth for some. You probably couldn't catch such a star-studded even if you paid for it. But the craziest part? These kids didn't know who'd be on stage when they left their houses.
“These artists that play our parties are extremely comfortable to play whatever the fuck they want,” says Kush Fernando, co-founder the fast-growing weekly party series Brownies & Lemonade. “All these enormous sets that they do for festivals and huge venues, they have a responsibility to obviously play for their fans. But when they come and play at our party, they have none those responsibilities. The only responsibility they have is to come and have a good time.”
Brownies & Lemonade has a reputation for giving fans a chance to do the same in a free-for-all environment. Every week, the B&L team packs venues with thousands people eager to witness the mystery lineups -- even if it's the middle Chanukah. Despite the numbers, the vibe resembles that a house party from a bygone era, where anything goes on the decks and the dance floor. DJs try to one-up each other with unreleased tunes and stunts until the party shuts down.
Demand for that trusted, community-oriented atmosphere has taken the brand to Chicago, Miami, Phoenix, and more. In recent years, B&L has gone to Australia with Alison Wonderland and Japan with Skrillex. In 2018, it has curated stages at Holy Ship!, Ultra, and Coachella. This weekend, B&L hits the electronic dance music mother lode with two curated sets at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas.
Fernando couldn't have imagined this when he was throwing "real ratchet-ass rap parties" at his UCLA apartment 15 years ago. Back then, he and his roommate, Jose Guzman, would open their doors twice a month to people looking to cut loose. They had a proper sound system -- Guzman is something a gear geek -- but no DJs. Fernando would just burn mix CDs that week's hottest hits. There was a lot 50 Cent, Ying Yang Twins, and Fat Joe.
“I just love the idea bringing people together,” he says. “Growing up, I didn't have those type outlets … My] parents had really strict values, so when I got older, I really wanted to not only do it myself but share it with other people … You knew it was getting really out control when you couldn't even recognize most the people, like 'Who the fuck are these people and why are they here? You don't go to school here.'”
He graduated with a science degree in 2006, but kept the party going with a music and events blog he and Guzman started, also called Brownies & Lemonade. (The name is an inside joke they won't divulge.) In 2010, a friend Fernando's launched a label and wanted to throw a party in celebration, so he talked him into branding it under the blog's name.
They found a “sketch-ass warehouse” in Culver City. The guy who owned it was an old Burning Man regular who filled the space with weird mannequins, and he said it was cool to run amok as long as they cleaned up. Fernando had no idea what he was doing, but thanks to an open bar, the party was a smashing – if not exactly law-abiding – success.
That's about when Chad Kenney met the crew. He was a fellow UCLA grad who came to campus in 2007. Like Fernando, he threw well-regarded house parties, but he could also DJ. “I was in the DJ world for a while, and I had hit a ceiling,” Kenney says. “I didn't know what I was going to do, I just wanted to continue doing it, so we started throwing parties together.”
B&L hosted regular day parties, a popular attraction in always-sunny LA. They stuck mostly to hip-hop, but Kenney introduced dancier beats to the mix. And after trap music reached new levels popularity in 2012, and anything that sounded good was fair game.
“No one told us how to throw a party or grow a brand," Fernando says. "We had to figure that out on our own. We didn't have any industry connections. We didn't have any hand outs, and we didn't have anyone giving us any type assistance whatsoever. No money, nothing like that. Were just kind floundering, trying to throw parties the way we thought was cool but not really going anywhere with it.”
They trusted their taste, though, and there were a lot producers on Soundcloud they followed getting tons plays, but they never seemed to tour. In 2013, the free music platform was peaking, teeming with fresh young talent. B&L figured it could be a hidden gold mine, and since these artists weren't asking for much in the way fees, they took the risk.
The team started booking relative newcomers such as DJ Hoodboi, Falcons, and Prince Fox, with great reception. In 2014, the crew hosted a co-branded event with Moving Castle, an online music community and creative collective, at downtown LA's LASH. “Moving Castle was kind defining the lane in emerging, unique bass music,” Fernando says “That was a big turning point for them as well, because they saw that there is a way for them to do something outside online.”
Word B&L's tastemaking lineups spread. “Suddenly, A&Rs are showing up to catch these acts no one else will book,” Kenney remembers. “The parties] became part this movement, and they gave it a physical infrastructure. They also started getting a loyal fan-base that was down to check out the party without knowing the lineup.”
Artists appreciated the loyal audiences, too. “When I played Brownies & Lemonade, it was my first ever show in the States ever,” says Canada's Ekali. “Back then, Brownies wasn't shit, I wasn't shit, nobody was shit. There were maybe a hundred people there, but at the end the night, hanging out with Kush and Chad and all the guys, I realized they were the only guys I want to work with in LA. Since then, every show I've done in L.A. has been with them, and it's really cool that they came to Miami, where they've never been before, and sold out a huge show without even a fucking lineup. As an artist, I'm very proud them.”
A rising tide lifts all boats, so other B&L favorites, including Jai Wolf, Shawn Wasabi, Hotel Garuda, Sam Gellaitry, and Louis The Child, have seen their careers grow too, with charting singles and bigger show billings.
“From the beginning, Brownies & Lemonade treated me like family,” says Manila Killa, a regular the B&L stage who played a surprise set during its Ultra takeover. “Whether it was between Manila Killa, Hotel Garuda or Moving Castle, they always went above and beyond when it came to supporting whatever vision the artist or groups artists they were booking had. They’re a dope group the coolest people that I’m lucky to call my friends.”
Says DJ Craze, “They're showing us love, and they like showing love to what we do, what we're trying to bring to the culture and to the kids. That's my main thing. I'm like, 'Word, I fuck with y'all.' I don't fuck with a lot people, but I fuck with that.”
Perhaps that's why Skrillex felt comfortable coming through unannounced with Mija in 2014. Back then, B&L was throwing gallery parties after their warehouse gatherings kept getting shut down. Eventually, it found a permanent home at LA's Union. Its first night there, the party was booked for the smaller room downstairs, though organizers move them upstairs after only an hour due to the size the crowd.
In two and a half years, Brownies & Lemonade hasn't taken a single week f. And though the operation has grown considerably, Fernando says its core mission remains the same.
“If we think an artist is dope, we are going do as much as possible to make sure that person is in front a targeted audience,” he says. “We realize with music, or with any form art, it's always ever changing. You have to adapt, and you have to be at the cutting edge. These artists that put out things that other people aren't, we want to] help them get to that next level, because they're going to be the ones that are going to continue moving things forward.”
See who Brownies & Lemonade brings on stage during its two-day EDC Las Vegas takeover. Catch the crew at the Corona Electric Beach stage from 11:00 p.m. - 3:00 a.m., Saturday, May 19, as well as in the EDC Camp Grounds 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. Sunday, May 20.