Los Angeles is Red Hot

My research examines the relationship between the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the cultural trends of Los Angeles from the early 1980s to present day. The intent of this investigation of connection was, initially, to uncover the impact of the city’s social and political shifts on the style and genre of the band’s productions. As my work progressed, I began to focus in on the relevance of the Los Angeles soundscape, using what I had already gathered to interpret the correspondence between sound and place. It became apparent that the auditory backdrop of the city has changed in accordance with its various sociopolitical alterations. Knowing this, I argued that changes in the Los Angeles culture—effectively, change in place—prompted change in its accompanying soundscape, which was causatively related with the evolution of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music.


During the 1990s, when the song Under the Bridge was written and recorded, Los Angeles was heavily ridden with crime and drug abuse. The soundscape was filled with the sounds of the urban bustle of life, but also the sounds of the struggling Los Angeles Police Department. Sirens, gunshots, and screeching tires were all far from uncommon, each contributing to the auditory interpretation of melancholy. Under the Bridge mirrors such despondency, with its downbeat tempo and tortured vocals, which contain lyrics referencing the desperate condition of substance addiction.

A Connection to Place: The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California is a city unlike all others, its uniqueness established by a variety of constituent components: its large size and population, its location between coastline and mountain range, the immense ethnic diversity of its inhabitants, the complicated social and political strife of the past and present, and the multifaceted nature of the activities that take place on a daily basis within its bounds. In the past 50 years, Los Angeles has undergone many changes. After the end of World War II, its populace increased significantly, provoking the expansion of city limits into new geographic regions. Along with this growth came an explosion of artistic ingenuity, manifested especially within the realm of musical creation. Hollywood became a hotspot for the production and recording of new albums, attracting aspiring musicians of divergent styles and backgrounds from the around the city, and more broadly, the entire state and country. When punk rock became a staple of the Los Angeles music scene in the late 1970s, the genre gained rapid popularity across the nation. Despite groups originating in New York City, like The Ramones, or other large urban areas, L.A. was renowned as being at the forefront of the punk rock movement.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers entered the Los Angeles music scene in 1983. Their lineup consisted of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Hillel Slovak, bassist Michael Balzary, and drummer Jack Irons. Heavily influenced by the punk epidemic in the city, they released a self-titled album 1984 that presented an unprecedented combination of punk rock and funk. Although the album was a radical release, the band was not satisfied with its overall vibe—the group sought to truly encapsulate the tumult of progressivism within the rapidly changing culture of Los Angeles, as reflected through their own experiences. While embracing the punk scene that surrounded them, the band members wanted to express their creativity through new forms of music by further modifying and perfecting their sound. In recent years, the music of the Chili Peppers no longer aligns with the genre of punk rock. The vibrant, upbeat, and smooth compositions found on albums like Californication and By the Way still have funk-driven undertones, but would be best categorized as light rock. Nonetheless, the group still writes music about the city of Los Angeles and its ever-changing cultural scene.

I intend to study the relationship between the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the cultural trends of Los Angeles from the early 1980s to present day, in order to find out more about the impact of the city’s social and political shifts on the style and genre of the bands productions. Through numerous replaced band members, a constantly changing and evolving sound, and great lyrical diversity, the group has been far from uniform over the years. Likewise, the city of Los Angeles, between the push and push back for civil rights and equality, shifts in governing forces, and variation in its racial diversity, has proven itself to be just as progressive and radical. I believe that the changing music of the Chili Peppers over the past 30 years will mirror the changing cultural dynamic of L.A. in many regards; furthermore, the band’s music may lend a uniquely subjective interpretation of the social turmoil of the city during said era, from the standpoint of a group of individuals experiencing the matter firsthand.

The connection between sound and place is a simplistic, yet revealing, notion that can be examined in an endless number of contexts. Music is a particularly interesting reflection of place in that it contributes the subjective aspect of human experience. Author Steven Feld argues in A Rainforest Acoustemology that the music of the Kaluli people mirrors the soundscape of the natural rainforest environment. He uses an understanding of the connection between sound and place to contend that the industrialization of rainforest areas will cause a shift in the tribe’s music, due to the introduction of a new, harsher, and more discordant soundscape. In Jacques Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music, the concept of music’s reflective nature is taken a step further. Attali makes the case that music has prophetic tendencies regarding the changes to come in a given place or environment. Bearing these examples in mind, the connection between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Los Angeles will be further analyzed with regard to the changing soundscape of Los Angeles, and examined for any possible prophetic relationship between musical composition and cultural shift.

Works Cited:

Feld, Steven. “A Rainforest Acoustemology.” Anthropologies of Sounds. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 223-39. Print.

Attali, Jacques. “Noise: The Political Economy of Music.” Sound Studies Reader. New York City: Routledge, 2012. 29-39. Print.

Annotated Bibliography:

Funky Monks. Dir. Gavin Bowden. Perf. Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, Michael Balzary, Chad

Smith, and Rick Rubin. Warner Bros., 1991. DVD.

The director—bassist Michael Balzary’s brother-in-law—was an amateur filmmaker who sought to document the creative processes involved in the production of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The target audience primarily consisted of Chili Peppers fans who desired to learn more about the group, and also those with general interest regarding the creation of music. The film lends a perspective unlike other cited sources, in that it provides unique and candid insight into the interactions between band members during the processes of writing, collaboration, and recording. Analyzing the musical tendencies of the group during the creation of Blood Sugar Sex Magik from the film facilitates the understanding of the relationship between the sound of the album and the location of its recording, Los Angeles.

Kiedis, Anthony, and Larry Sloman. Scar Tissue. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

Primary author and singer Anthony Kiedis wrote this autobiography as an intimate description of his life from birth to 2004 (the year of publication), including his experience with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The intended audience was comprised of fans of the band and those who wished to know the story behind such a talented and enigmatic vocalist. The book provides an interesting first-person perspective into the group dynamic of the four Chili Peppers, revealing many profound and previously undisclosed details that the other cited sources never touch on. Kiedis delves into the significance of the city of Los Angeles throughout his life, which can be used to understand the different stages of musical career with the band.

Modarres, Ali. “New York & Los Angeles: Politics, Society, and Culture—A Comparative View.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94.3 (2004): 678-80. Print.

Modarres is a professor of geosciences and environment and at California State University, Los Angeles, where he also serves as the chair of his department. His intended audience includes college students and adults interested in the sociological analysis and comparison of Los Angeles and New York City. His work provides a notably intellectual viewpoint of the cultural trends of L.A. in recent times, diverging from other cited sources due to the complexity of Modarres’ thought and insight. This article provides information regarding the unique societal qualities of Los Angeles, as contrasted with those of an eastern city like New York; this can be used to better understand its relationship to the unusual and distinct music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Herbert, Steve. “The Normative Ordering of Police Territoriality: Making and Marking Space with the Los Angeles Police Department.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86.3 (1996): 567-82. Print.

Herbert is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University. His intended audience is comprised of young adults and adults seeking information regarding the cultural relationship between the city of Los Angeles and the L.A.P.D., or more broadly those who wish to examine the sociological impact of law enforcement. This work, unlike other cited pieces, delves specifically into the struggle between chaos and order within the city, and the resultant impact on the cultural trends of Los Angeles. His writing can be used to give light to the darker side of the city’s dynamic, which is relevant to many components of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music.

Splitter, Henry W. “Music in Los Angeles.” Ed. Gustave O. Arlt. The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 38.4 (1956): 307-44. Print.

Splitter, an author and journalist, wrote primarily about the topics of music and nature, and their relationship to one another. His target audience for Music in Los Angeles consisted of intellectuals intrigued by the historical progression of music in L.A. and its surrounding areas. Unlike other sources, Splitter’s writing examines the musical past of the city, and how its musical scene came to be what it was in the 1950s. This piece can be used to analyze the differences between Los Angeles music in the mid-twentieth century and late twentieth century, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers were most prevalent. Understanding the musical divergence of the two eras can facilitate an understanding of the concurrent cultural shift that occurred.