Doing Cultural Geographies

Research Spotlight

Sonic Regulation and Roller Skating on Venice Beach

Perry B. Johnson, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania & Courtney M. Cox, Assistant Professor, University of Oregon

This project examines the intersection of music/sport in one specific geography: Venice Beach, a vibrant enclave of Los Angeles recognized globally for its free-spirited ethos, artist colonies, and famed boardwalk. As home to the legendary Muscle Beach gym, oceanfront basketball courts, and Skate Dance Plaza, Venice is central to mythical representations of eccentric Southern California life. With this project, we argue Venice is a compelling locale for examining how music/sound and sport alert us to the cultural distinctions of a particular region, and specifically that Skate Dance Plaza, a historic site for the street roller skating craze of the 1970s and ‘80s, is a generative entry point for exploring how political and economic shifts within this territory impact/ed the sovereignty of its inhabitants. We consider how community, identity, and belonging are constructed and challenged through sporting sounds and mediated representations that reconfigure this space. Specifically, we analyze how the Los Angeles Police Department’s targeted regulation of amplified music on Venice Beach in the 1980s, following the rise of “gangsta” rap, led to the closure of Skate Dance Plaza and ushered in the decline of this once-vibrant community. The (re)constitution of this soundscape was thus (re)mapped and (re)zoned on and through the bodies within it. Through the LAPD’s actions, the regulation of music served as a pretext for broader practices of racial discrimination, reframing sonic regulation as a matter of public “safety” and erasing the diverse bodies that comprised this sought-after sporting geography.