How A Metal Swap Meet And A Latino Nightclub Became An Unlikely Couple
The patrons spilling out of Club Bahia last Saturday night didn't look much like the Sunset Boulevard spot's usual crowd. Since the 1970s, the nightclub has been a beacon for Latinos who want to shuffle and zig-zag to a steady beat of cumbia, salsa and reggaeton. But on that day, nobody had come to dance.
Decked out in black jeans and leather jackets, metalheads had come together to thrash, to bang heads and maybe do a little shopping.
One day, every three months or so, Club Bahia's dance floor and outdoor area transforms into a metal swap meet. You'll find vendors selling the kind of stuff you'd probably expect — records, cassettes, obscure t-shirts. But you'll also spot more esoteric items. Hand-woven blankets with images of album covers from Slayer, Motorhead and Dissection. Paintings depicting Judas Priest and King Diamond. Animal bone art coexists with vegan skincare products and acid-etched jewelry.
"People wanted to meet the band, and I thought it'd be a nice way to do a casual meet and greet," Galdamez says. More people came than she anticipated. The combination of an outdoor market, appealing weather and a bar was a success.
Around that time, several people Galdamez knew were launching record labels, distros or small businesses, and she thought the market could be a lucrative opportunity for them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her work booking metal shows dried up so she shifted her focus to the metal market. She found an outdoor space in Boyle Heights but the venue canceled on her the week before the event.
In a panic, Galdamez and a friend were driving down Sunset Boulevard when they spotted the Club Bahia sign with a phone number for booking.
She immediately called and asked, "Can I use your parking lot?" Galdamez says Club Bahia's owner responded, "I have two parking lots."
Featuring 25 vendors, the first Metal Merchants Markets, held in the COVID-era of November 2020, was a hit. Since then, Galdamez has hosted the market five times, each one a little bigger than the last. The most recent event had 50 vendors.
"I think not having shows, a lot of people weren't able to interact with friends that they probably would on a weekly basis. It's nice to have different generations interact and have everyone in one place," Galdamez says.
Aaron Hernandez has been selling vinyl at Metal Merchants Market since 2018. His online distro, Driptone Records out of West Covina, offers everything from metal to punk to hip hop, including some hard-to-find records including The Bags reissues and Death LPs.
Hernandez has seen firsthand how the market has boomed. "It's just a lot bigger man. Things are relaxing with COVID restrictions, so it's cool that we're doing [the market] at Club Bahia," he says.
Even before the pandemic, Galdamez felt the need for a space where people could get together in one space to shop for unique items. During the last two years, she thinks that need has only increased. With the return of live music, she has been able to book shows again. Last Saturday, five bands played the Metal Merchants Market. For people who weren't lured by the wares, headliners Devil Master did the trick.
Amid the social distancing of the pandemic and the broader trend of retail moving online, Galdamez thinks there's still something special about shopping in-person. It helps when vendors, like Hernandez, bring rare finds that will pique buyers' interest.
"Surprisingly, there aren't many metal shops. I mean, there's record stores and stuff but nothing in Central L.A. that caters to [this] crowd," Galdamez says.
Besides, some things, you just need to see in person — like Cat Zapata's bone art. At her stand, Recycle the Dead, she sells headpieces of boar skulls, deer vertebrae and inverted crosses with animal legs attached. They range in size from a foot high to three feet tall and they're made from coyote, racoon and goat bones that she buys from a processor in the Midwest or roadkill she finds herself.
"There's no harming animals in any of the stuff that's made by me. I don't even hurt flies," Zapata says.
Zapata, a body piercer who has been making these sculptures for more than a year, would be the first person to tell you she's not sure why her work appeals to people. "It's all chains and bones… I honestly don't know. People just like dead stuff, I guess," Zapata says.
She does know that as Club Bahia filled up, she saw a steady stream of visitors. Metal Merchants Market has been one of her most successful events and she hopes to vend at the next one.
That's good news for Galdamez, who says she hopes to send some of the metal markets' vendors to similar events in other cities and states.
The last few markets at Club Bahia have almost hit capacity and Galdamez may need to look for a new spot but she feels so tied this.
"I like it so much and it has so much great history, it's hard for me to go to another location," Galdamez says.
At the next Metal Merchants Market, on March 5, you might find more than metal records. "I think someone bought a couple of classic country records, which you wouldn't expect at a metal market," Galdamez says. "But you know, everyone has enough stuff for all types of taste."