On a chilly Thursday night in Hollywood, a crowd of roughly 80 people funneled into a dark room that was lit only by a dancing disco ball and burning candles. Surrounded by heavy theater curtains and the glare of a projector screen, the room mimicked a movie theater sans the popcorn and bags of peanut M&Ms. With cocktails in hand, guests sat in rows of chairs or on a cozy bench that faced an illuminated stage, but they weren’t there to watch the latest blockbuster film.
The main attraction? Listening to an album — specifically John Mayer’s 2006 release “Continuum” — with other music aficionados at a monthly gathering called the Record Club. The ticketed event, which starts at $20, was held at Grandmaster Recorders, the storied recording studio turned public rooftop bar and restaurant, where artists like David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have recorded hits.
As a longtime DJ and music producer, Free Oribhabor dreamed up Record Club because he wanted to create an immersive album listening experience that could replicate the grandiose feeling of sitting in a theater and watching a film on a silver screen with other fans.
“I think listening to [music] on your own is amazing,” says Oribhabor, who hosts another event called the Music Video in which he interviews directors in Los Angeles. “But there’s just something about doing it in a room with other people that makes it even more special. It just magnifies the experience of listening to music, especially if you just zero in on the music and allow yourself to go where it’s taking you. It’s like a group meditation.”
And much like the sound equipment used at movie theaters to make you feel like you’re actually in a battle scene with the character you’re watching on screen, the Record Club uses high fidelity (a.k.a. Hi-Fi for short) equipment — a 1950s term used to describe the high-quality reproduction of sound — to ensure that it is presenting the album in its full glory. For the setup — which is handled by Eddie Junior, the Record Club’s “sound wizard” and DJ — it uses a 1200 Technics turntable, an E&S rotary mixer, an Audio-Technica needle, its own vinyl records and speakers supplied by Grandmaster Recorders. (It sources half of its equipment from Gabriel Tumlos, who throws a hi-fi party in L.A.)
“When you get into a room with some great speakers and you listen to the album on vinyl, it’s like you’re sitting in the studio with the artist while they’re recording,” says Oribhabor, adding that they are working to amplify their sound equipment even more.
For the Record Club’s first event in February, they played D’Angelo’s Grammy Award-winning album “Voodoo” — one of Oribhabor’s personal favorites — at the Slow Jamz gallery in the Arts District. Since then, they’ve held listening sessions for Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun,” Janet Jackson’s “The Velvet Rope,” Prince’s “1999,” Sade’s “Diamond Life,” Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” and a back-to-back Coachella session with Frank Ocean’s “Endless” and Rosalía’s “Motomami.” To create an environment where people can hear and digest the music, they keep the sessions intimate with no more than 85 guests.
As guests arrived at the “Continuum” event, they were given a complimentary joint from San Francisco-based Devi Cannabis (which they could only smoke outdoors) and goodie bags filled with a candle and incense cones — all of which were meant to help get them into a meditative state for the experience. Many of them stopped by the bar to grab a cocktail before finding a seat in the venue.
“Welcome, party people,” Oribhabor said excitedly, as he made his way to the stage and sat next to Junior. A small production crew, including three camera operators and a photographer, were spread out throughout the space to capture scenes from the night.
As the Record Club’s music historian and host, Oribhabor played a few of Mayer’s early records and interview clips to help audience members understand his musical journey, before starting “Continuum,” which they played in full, from top to bottom. They took a brief intermission halfway through.
Before long, a hush covered the room and all you could hear were Mayer’s smooth vocals. Most of the attendees had their eyes closed as they bobbed their heads rhythmically. One woman rested her head on a man’s shoulder as she lip-synced the lyrics, while others acted as if they were playing invisible guitars to replicate Mayer’s impressive riffs. Most people, including myself, couldn’t help but make a stank face — that common facial expression that musicians and music lovers make when they are feeling a song — on the particularly funky parts on the album.
Ashleigh Glazer listens to “Continuum” at least “once a week,” but she decided to go to the event because she wanted to be around other people who enjoy the album just as much as she does.
“It brings so much fun energy into the room that you just don’t get at home by yourself,” says Glazer, 27, who was on a date. Neither she nor her date had been to a Record Club session before. She learned about it from a Camber newsletter. “Even though everyone is just enjoying it silently by themselves, you can still feel the energy of everyone else kind of bouncing off each other.
“And no one has weird vibes in here,” she adds. “Everyone is very welcoming.”
It was also Joni Weatherhead’s first time at a Record Club event. She brought a friend along, who was equally obsessed with the album, and hoped to meet other like-minded folks there.
“I find it hard to meet people with similar interests outside of the workplace, and music is such a unifying part of any community,” the 29-year-old says. “L.A., at times, can feel so isolating. Everyone is all doing their own thing, but we can all get together and listen to music because it’s something tangible that we all have in common.”
The Record Club attracts an array of attendees from folks who are fans of the featured album, to people who simply enjoy music and are open to whatever is going to be played.
Oribhabor’s passion is “very infectious,” says local filmmaker Chester Toye, who had never heard “Continuum” in full. “I feel like I was invited to someone’s living room and they’re playing something that is close to their heart.”
“Now, I’m going to go back home and run some of these records back.”
Thom Gage said she appreciated the Record Club session and would go again because she hasn’t found many places in L.A. like it.
“I’m into going to places where you can actually go to hear, listen and appreciate the music,” says the Highland Park store manager. “So with this, I’m so thrilled! People were listening. People were engaged.”
She recently went to a local listening bar, but was disappointed. “I went by myself. I was ready to have my drink and listen to music, but people were talking so loud. I was like, ‘No! Why do we have this sound equipment if we’re not going to listen?’”
While the “Continuum” event was meditative and quiet, “The Velvet Rope” session was much more lively with people singing aloud together on certain songs and dancing in their chairs.
Aside from live music events, which are less common for legacy acts like Stevie Wonder and Janet Jackson, there aren’t many places you can go to be in a room with people who stan the same album or artist as you — let alone listen to it in full.
“Outside of a Janet Jackson concert, [for example], when do you get to hang out with a bunch of people who are obsessed with Janet Jackson?” says Junior, the sound engineer. “So you just know you’re going to meet people who you have a common bond with.”
For this reason many people go to the event alone. “You know that everybody in that room is somebody that you are safe with … you’re going to be with family.” After each event, there’s either a social hour or an after-party on the rooftop, which gives attendees an opportunity to mingle.
Oribhabor says he hopes to take the Record Club on the road to other cities around the globe like Japan and London, and to create a TV show around the experience. “I want to get it to a place where people anticipate it and people trust it so much that they don’t even need to know what the album is.”
As someone who’s made a career of playing music for people, Oribhabor says the Record Club has brought him a different type of fulfillment.
“I want [people] to leave with a deeper connection to the music and a deeper connection to the album as a cultural artifact,” he says. “And also to feel like ‘Damn, this is cool.’”
“Sometimes the coolest thing is to be around people and to not talk,” he adds. “To just be around [people] and be a little stoned, and to be hearing the album of a lifetime — that’s like going to space.”
The next Record Club event will showcase OutKast’s 1998 album “Aquemini” on November 15 at Grandmaster Recorders.