He was called a gentrifier. Then he opened his laundromat to L.A.'s underground bands

Mango Gwen cheers on Hidhawk & Meanstreetz at Laundry Wand.
Mango Gwen cheers on Hidhawk & Meanstreetz at Laundry Wand during a recent concert at the laundromat.

For the record:
2:50 p.m. April 17, 2024: Quotes and actions from Spenny Tungate were misattributed to Brian Chippendale in an earlier version of this story. Tungate is a fan of Chippendale’s, who performed that night at Laundry Wand.

If you’re lucky, some concerts are free with RSVP. This one is free if you bring dirty laundry.

Laundry Wand is a nondescript laundromat in Highland Park on a residential street a few blocks from the trendy bars and boutiques of Figueroa Street. Dozens of coin-operated washers and dryers line the aisles. Vending machines sell detergent and Takis. On this Friday night, there’s a drum set against a wall of dryers. Another one is set on top of a row of washers. Band T-shirts are spread out across machines by the entryway. It costs $10 to get in unless you’re doing laundry. Fliers for discounted fluff-and-fold services come with admission wristbands. At 8:30 p.m., the first band will play to the Laundry Wand’s biggest crowd since it hosted its first concert last June.

Before the show starts, impatient concertgoers doodle on the steamy glass walls with their fingers. A crowd sporting green hair, skull tattoos and gigantic septum piercings blends with puffer vests, sweaters and responsible ear plugs. Before the music even starts, people stand on top of machines — one person is in a tabletop sink — to secure the best view. Some have been to Laundry Wand to see a show, others just to wash a duvet. Most seem to not know the bands by name, but the unusual setting drew them in.

People stand in a laundromat in a view through a round, portal-like laundry machine door.
Attendees at Laundry Wand seen through one of the round, portal-like doors to a laundry machine.
People do laundry during the show at Laundry Wand.
People do laundry during the show at Laundry Wand.
Two people at Laundry Wand stand next to detergent vending machines.
Audience members at Laundry Wand gather wherever there's space, even around laundry detergent vending machines.

“I love live music and I love small venues and weird venues, so why not a laundromat?” says William Hourigan, who came from El Sereno after hearing about the event online. He frequents the nearby Lodge Room for live music and, as long as it’s inexpensive, prioritizes seeing artists he’s never heard of before.

Before David Mollison, 50, opened Laundry Wand last April, the space was operating under a different name and ownership. Mollison, a London-born entrepreneur who currently runs vacation rentals and previously worked in the technology startup industry, had a goal of growing the laundromat business with pickup and delivery. He talks about it like a startup: “I wanted to get the business to 10 times where it started,” he says. But getting there hasn’t been as streamlined as anticipated.

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Mollison, who is white, has lived in Highland Park for 20 years and is raising his Jewish-Latino family there. Despite identifying as a local, he faced backlash upon opening Laundry Wand when an Instagram account dedicated to neighborhood news deemed him a gentrifier. He says he received dozens of hateful messages, some antisemitic, some targeting his children, and blames the post for killing business for weeks. The Instagram post was taken down, he says, but he wanted to find a way to show the neighborhood he was committed to meeting them where they were. He posted fliers for the business in English and Spanish, but they were continually removed from lampposts. “I was shaking a tree trying to figure out what would work,” he says. He considered offering coffee for those washing clothes. He debated hosting a Taco Tuesday, before deciding it was a “disingenuous” move.

“In Highland Park, basically every other person is in a band. Kids need somewhere to play and watch their friends’ bands,” he says. Enter the live shows.

A person stands in front of a laundromat window.
Owner David Mollison at Laundry Wand.

When Mollison walked around the neighborhood with fliers advertising a rock show inside the laundromat, people got excited. “Every single person we spoke to came that night. People are dying for this kind of wonderful, novel thing. I wish it was a thousand people that wanted me to do their fluff-and-fold, of course. But at least this place will be in the mind of a lot of kids knowing it was a welcoming space,” he says.

It isn’t the first of its kind. Mollison references SaGa Launder Bar and Cafe, a former Chicago laundromat with a bar inside, and reminisces about attending small raves inside laundromats in the ’90s in London. Here in L.A., Goyo Club, a YouTube channel, hosts Electric Cleaners, a DJ livestream series at an unnamed Koreatown laundromat — albeit without a live audience.

The shows won him the affection of his neighbors, some of whom attend while others hang out in the parking lot and collect recyclables to redeem cash. He says only one neighbor has an issue with the noise. To appease her, he tried to shift from punk and hardcore to less aggressive musical genres. At least for a few shows.

Muscle Beach performs on top of laundry machines at Laundry Wand.
Muscle Beach performs at Laundry Wand.
Two men shake hands at Laundry Wand.
Audience members introduce themselves at Laundry Wand.
A person's feet in front of a laundromat washing machine
Muscle Beach performs at Laundry Wand.
People watch as a person swings from the rafters at Laundry Wand.
Performers and audience members sometimes get carried away at Laundry Wand.

To the unenthusiastic neighbor’s dismay, this night’s lineup consists of experimental punk and noise artists, starting with Hidhawk & Meanstreetz, who perform an improvisational set banging on drums with everything from bike chains to feet. Midset, the drummer throws a load of laundry in the dryer behind him as the crowd hollers.

Next, Mike Watt, best known as the bassist for Southern California punk band the Minutemen in the early 1980s, plays with his new band, the Mike Watt Quartet ft. Galecstasy & Lisa Cameron. With a face shrouded in mesh, a female vocalist sings in an eerie tone. A crochet maraca shakes along a funky bassline.

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Just when attendees who’ve scaled certain machines think they have the best vantage point, Muscle Beach begins performing from a second drum set on top of another row of machines. An amp is moved into the middle of the crowd; a guitar player appears in the middle of the crowd by the sink. It feels like a sauna. There are fewer phones out than one would expect. A few people tend to their laundry quietly. Some bop to the unpredictable beats; others stare. Everyone knows better than to mosh and damage any of the equipment. The novelty Mollison wanted to create is in full force.

A person holds a video camera next to three band members.
Muscle Beach performs at Laundry Wand.
Musicians perform on top of a row of washing machines at a laundromat
Muscle Beach performs at Laundry Wand.

Nathan DiMercurio was walking his dog just an hour before when his friend Spenny Tungate drove up next to him and invited him to Laundry Wand. “I come here all the time to clean my clothes,” says Tungate, who started a load before the first band went on (and bypassed the $10 cover). The two are regulars at Frogtown venue Zebulon, also known for left-of-center performances.

The music isn’t exactly DiMercurio’s cup of tea, but the offbeat setting makes it worth it. “It’s a spontaneous Friday night,” he says and shrugs.

Julia Aoun drove up from Long Beach to catch the show with her boyfriend, who is a fan of the bands. “This isn’t my usual Friday night, but I’m down,” she says. “It’s so great how this place ranges from 12-year-olds to 70-year-olds. It's a fun, eclectic group, which is always something to revel in.”

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Unlike other attendees, Alex Coletto and Tim Roch knew exactly what they were getting into. Members of the Orange County-based punk band X-Acto, Roch and Coletto performed at Laundry Wand in January. Tonight, they’re standing tall on top of washing machines to record the bands using a vintage Panasonic video camera.

“We play all around L.A. One of our frequent spots is the Church of Fun, but we’ll play anywhere we're booked. Of course this one is different because it's a laundromat. … Unusual venues like this in L.A. come and go quickly. This one probably will too — it’s getting too popular already,” says Roch.

A tangle of wires, cords and mic stands
Galecstasy at Laundry Wand.
A group of people applauding musicians who are about to hug and high five at a laundromat
Brian Chippendale greets Baby Aspirin DVD after their set at Laundry Wand.
The exterior of a laundromat lighted up at twilight
Attendees arrive at Laundry Wand for the night's concert — or maybe to do laundry.

They’re not wrong. There’s a nervous energy inside Laundry Wand. Rumors buzz that it might be the last show, that something this special and earnest can’t last. Outside of the concerts, Mollison has been hosting artists who want to film livestreams or music videos in the space; a fashion photo shoot is on the calendar. He wants to make the laundromat the go-to spot for musicians and artists. A contact he met at a Laundry Wand concert set him up with a recurring gig picking up bands’ dirty laundry from their hotels on tour stops in L.A. He hopes it might lead to a consistent rock star clientele.

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But if tonight’s show is any indication, the concert crowds are growing faster than anticipated, spilling onto the street. And not enough of them are doing laundry. Mollison plans to scale back and refocus the programming at the laundromat to be more directly tied to his ultimate goal — more laundry customers.

“We’ll find a way to make these shows keep happening in some form. Maybe instead of free entry with laundry, you have to bring laundry to get in,” he says.

Follow Laundry Wand on Instagram to stay up to date with upcoming events.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.