By Jiv Johnson, Styled and Produced by Viviana Lira, Los Angelionized photos by Nico Nathanson
It’s a Thursday at No Vacancy, with a line extending out of the parking lot, around the corner, and past the next street. The party-goers about to enter are more diverse and random than you’d expect for Los Angeles— not just the film crowd, not just the same people you talk to about The Safdies at Hills mansions: it’s an excited indie actress who finished writing her first short film; a software developer who took time off from his job in Wisconsin to fly 2,000 miles for the party; a power couple with collectively three published novels; Michael Collins of Drugdealer, a timeless songwriter plucked—seemingly—from the 1970s; a hyped up, sweaty guy skipping his closing shift at Home Depot; a freelance graphic designer with his unemployment running out (but, who stated, the party was worth spending a few dollars for); a few guys in a Santa Ana punk band; Charlie XCX. Countless others. We are a tiny portion of the lucky 300 who get into the bar before 10PM, before the bouncers started denying everyone, even if you’re a host of the party, due to Covid regulations. We are here for Los Angelionized, the second edition of The Ion Pack’s summer party series. The doors open at 8PM and the line has been wrapped around the block since 7PM.
The Ion Pack began as a meme page, sometime in 2018, way before the -cellectual account explosion of summer 2021, before Zoomer Tik-Tok took over our collective sense of humor, before the Pandemic, before top comedy was Joe Biden licking an ice cream cone, before, seemingly, everything normal became not normal. Ion 1 and Ion 2, the anonymous creators of the Ion Pack, started the account for understandable reasons: to dunk on the film industry with targeted memes—because nobody else was doing it, because they were bored, and because, really, it’d just be funny to mess with film nerds. To Ion 1 and 2, they were already making fun of the movie scene to each other, why not post it online?
For the Ion Pod, their transition into podcasting happened spontaneously. According to the Pack, it was Lucien Smith (@feareatsthesoil on IG), founder of Serving The People and original fan of the meme page, who told the two to create a podcast in early 2020. On Lucien’s suggestion, Ion 2 listened to a few seconds of Cum Town since neither of the two were really into podcasts. After this, the Pack thought maybe podcasting was not for them. Then, two weeks later, the lockdown began. They did an episode: just to do one. After a repost by Lucien on Instagram, they were charting on top of multiple podcast lists. Since then, their rise has rapidly increased episode by episode.
After knowing they had an audience, finding consistent guests came naturally for the two members of the New York art scene, where both members of Ion have lived for the past twelve years. For them, the Ion Pod seemed to be the logical endgame for years of making friends, playing shows, and partying. In one of their most recent episodes with Michael Collins of Drugdealer, Michael gave Ion 1 a piece of sound equipment that he had from a show 15 years prior. Almost every guest, it feels like, has some long-standing subtle or outright connection to the two.
The happenstance and randomness, based in a longstanding sense of community, seems to also influence the Ion Pack’s general following. In the Ion Pod discord, members of their Patreon, who refer to themselves as ‘Packers’ from around the United States (and world, at large) hover around 800 users. My exposure to the Ion Pod was from a Packer on a Lower East Side rooftop party, on my first visit to NYC earlier, in March of 2021. The Packer was sniffing a bottle of Rush, talking about scripts he was writing, talking about recent short films he shot, and talking about his newfound obsession with poppers. It was Rafa. Rafa (@rafastinks) made me laugh for about thirty minutes straight as I tried to figure out if he was doing poppers as a bit or to get recreationally horny at a party. It was one of the easiest conversations I’ve experienced in NYC—no clout chasing hidden objectives, no desire to ask me for anything else: he just wanted to sniff poppers and laugh with me. As I was leaving, he gestured to a spot where a few guys were standing, noting, “Those guys? They’re the Ion Pack.” It was, unknown to me until then, the Ions—the first time I had really encountered the two. Also, it was the first time I met someone from their discord, their donating community. Rafa was from Portland. I was from Kentucky. Ion 1 & 2 were from Pennsylvania. However, we were all there, standing way above the sin on Canal Street and way below whichever God looks over Manhattan.
In the months since I first passively encountered them on a rooftop, I had somewhat become friends with Ion 1: this was due to our mutual friends, but also a chance meeting at the end of the summer. A mutual online friend, infamous scammer (but also a friendly and generally kind scammer) Caroline Calloway, convinced us both to eat seafood with her (which was pleasant) on my last day in NYC. It was dinner with Caroline—maybe in contrast to her larger-than-life persona or the consistent model-esque friends of hers coming up to our table—that Ion 1 first stood out to me as a real person, relaxed but plucked from a town smaller than the cities we both now lived in: not an abstract, niche Internet celebrity like Dasha Nekrasova or the Chapo boys. No, we were both eating somewhere upscale at the colloquial Dimes Square, somewhere with only one beer on tap but infinite wines, making conversation with someone much different than ourselves. After dinner, he gave me a ride back to my hotel. In the car, through the July night, drenched in sweat from the northeast humidity, we talked about music we both liked (shout out to The Wonder Years and to Philly punk in general), about an upcoming Ion party in Los Angeles, about being online, about feeling generally optimistic about our own personal trajectory. It felt good. We stayed in touch.
Now, a month later, we were both in Los Angeles. New York was abandoned in the haze of a post-Covid vibe shift summer, which now feels like a bad meme, as Los Angeles goes into another pseudo-lockdown for the delta variant and New York floods. The Ion Pack landed in Los Angeles 4 days before the Los Angelionized party. Ion 1, upon landing and feeling sick from his flight, took a covid test to be cautious. Coincidentally, he tested positive days before the party months in planning. Disappointed and forlorn, he took refuge at The Line Hotel. Before heading out, I dropped off a bottle of Stolichnaya at his hotel and told him to drink it throughout the night. I was on the guest list for Los Angelionized, but he said, as many now know, that “[The] list can’t save you.”
After descending down the hidden stairwell underneath a burlesque girl (No Vacancy, as a note, has a speakeasy aesthetic), I stepped into Angelionized. Slowly, over the course of an hour, the bar became crowded with people from different art scenes, different places. By 10, security began to hardcap the party at capacity, with hosts and guest list attendees also getting denied entry. Drugdealer, one of their most recent guests, played a live full-band set; The Hellp, also recent guests, dropped by to perform their new tracks; DJ sets were performed by a range extending from members of the Discord to Caroline Polachek, to Terminal 27’s own stylist, Viviana Lira. Needless to say, it was a quintessentially Ion night.
It is about a week after the party and we’re at Terminal 27’s open-air concept space, outside near Beverly Hills. The Ion Pack pulls into the back parking lot in a white mustang convertible. Viviana’s playlist is being blasted upstairs in the studio where our interview is happening, which, according to Ion 2, is “pretty sick,” and he asks for it. For LA, it’s relatively cool outside, with Terminal’s concrete walls opening up to the blue sky but blocking out the afternoon sun. We decided to chat on the balcony table. After catching up, we all start talking.
JJ: You guys went from essentially being a movie podcast, which is what many people used to describe you as, but now—you’re a major fixture in every art scene, it feels like. How did it all start?
Ion 2: We’ve existed trying to do creative projects pre-2018 in so many different capacities when the world was not on hold and it just so happened that starting a podcast in the middle of a pandemic was the first thing that worked. We were just out here procrastinating, making memes.
Ion 1: We started the Instagram account in 2018 and it wasn’t even supposed to be “just film.”
JJ: How does getting called a movie podcast even come up? Because that’s what I was introduced to you as.
Ion 2: It’s because we were roasting film people. There were a lot of meme accounts that were roasting musicians but musicians had a good attitude about it. Filmmakers didn’t. It just felt like a fun group of people to pick on. I have a close proximity to the film world and it was generally with people who were so humorless about the way they interacted with each other. The culture of film was so far away from our world of music: everyone having a good sense of humor, being very self aware. Film people are the complete opposite. That’s why Eugene Kotlyarenko has become an amazing mascot: he has a good sense of humor and is extremely self-aware. And we still roast the shit out of him.
Ion 1: The most egotistical musician lowkey hates themselves—no one in music is so self-serious that they can’t take a joke. It’s the complete opposite in the film world. We just started making fun of film people because it seemed more entertaining.
Ion 2: No one was making the jokes! That’s how we found Peter Vack. Peter was like: “It broke my brain when I saw you guys roasting the Safdies, that felt like the most subversive thing you could possibly do.” I was like: “It’s so obvious.”
JJ: So it essentially just started out as an IG meme account?
Ion 1: Right, so all the stuff about the trajectory. The page started being film memes in 2018. And then, the film meme account started to spread into the film world. Eugene memes— that kind of thing. Then we started posting a few short film programs in 2019. It was the first time we took it IRL. That was the first time we realized there was a community around this thing. Meeting with people we had been in DMs with for a long time. It was cool.
Ion 2: Well, because the community in New York really does exist for indie film. The Safdies did start it but underneath that Caveh and Dasha and Eugene, that community already existed but no one really had defined what it was. We always felt like outsiders, we’re always trying to pierce into different worlds, music or movies or whatever, but it seems like nobody really had this perspective: oh there is this community it’s kinda funny and cringe but let’s party. We were throwing parties in the early 2010s that were riffing off the scenes we did like, like the PC music scene, Ed Banger, Salem, that kinda thing.
Ion 1: China Chalet was this hub in New York for that kinda stuff. It was in some way a scene, then by 2018, maybe this comes with the territory of getting older and not being as invested, but I really don’t think so, the scene was gone. We just had our friends and nothing happened.
Ion 2: What was hilarious was the emergence of metrograph in New York, a very specific intersection of “now movies are cool and fashionable and e-girls and e-boys will be all in the same space going to see a Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie” I had no conception that they could ever be exposed to outside of a tumblr still.
Ion 1: People didn’t like movies, but metrograph became the hip place to hang.
Ion 2: People would be dressing up to go to the movies, which in New York was a new thing. I grew up going to the movies in New York like it was Anthology, the types of people you would encounter sucked. Very buttoned up denim jacket, nerdy film critic, not sexy. There started to be this sexy element of like, “I’m not really gonna go see the movie but I’m going to hang out at the movie theatre bar tonight. All the hot people are going to be there.”
Ion 1: It’s like random Instagram people wearing designer clothes to see Possession.
Ion 2: A fashion designer and a very good programmer teamed up and turned it into this place where weird fashion designer people would be, who had attractive friends and the nerdy film crowd would go for the movies and it was this intersection where all these people were in the same space now. And it’s attractive. It’s the best thing that has happened in New York since China Chalet.
JJ: So both of you guys, and tell me if this is going to accidentally dox, but you guys are both artists in your own right, from two completely different fields?
Ion 2: That’s been the problem all along. It’s like what he was saying. We are perfectionists, annoying artist people, but have spent years working on things we’ve never released. This creative outlet where you have to release something all the time, has been very healthy psychologically. We still in our own personal lives haven’t really done that, once, ever. I think it’s healthy though, it is anonymous, it serves whatever ego in the opposite way that our serious, personal art would serve, which includes your face being perpetuated and broadcasted to the world. Podcasting reduces the pressure, there’s less on the line. That in turn somehow makes it more successful because we are less precious about it. It’s been a very interesting and spiritual journey.
Ion 1: We did this Instagram Q&A the other night and someone asked: what’s the best and worst part about being anonymous? My answer was, best part: being famous, worst part: not being famous enough. It’s also kinda this thing that has contextualized our entire lives up to this point. This goes back to your first question too, it was a film podcast but it’s not really. I feel like we’ve lived in New York for 12 years, both of us, and over that time we’ve met a ton of people ranging from famous to just very interesting.
JJ: Out of curiosity, the LA parties, the New York parties, are they over for now in the foreseeable future?
Ion 2: There’s definitely another live experience thing that we want to do soon. We’re trying to plan. I just think that physical manifestations of the internet are very exhilarating for people. For everyone at the LA party, there was definitely some sort of emotionality that I felt in the air that was very unique and special. We also felt that at the New York party.
JJ: I mean you guys have people flying from middle America, hundreds of miles away, just to attend a party with people they’ve met through the Ion pod. That’s kind of a romantic concept.
Ion 2: Right. It is romantic.
Ion 1: We talked about this on Vicious Circle and said that there used to be a narrative of it being unhealthy to make friends on the internet and don’t trust it, stay away, I feel like that has shifted. Especially post-COVID, but even before that it became less taboo, there’s no shame in being hyper-online. The coolest, most outgoing people are mad online. And make friends from whatever they do whether it’s Reddit, Twitch, Discord, everybody is meeting online. That’s no longer a taboo thing and it shouldn’t be a taboo thing, I think it’s sick. You’re able to find people you have a lot in common with, spiritually, who you would never find otherwise.
Ion 1: I forget who said this, it was someone from the studio 54 era of New York, but they were talking about how in previous iterations of New York but this true for other art scenes, there used to be this thing where the audience was as important to a scene as the artists. During pre-internet New York there was lots of theatre stuff happening in the 80s village, whether it was art or music, it would happen at clubs, and the same people would come to the clubs every night. They would watch these people perform and then they would maybe perform the next night, and everybody kind of fed off each other. Bands and artists grew based on the people in the scene that were watching it, it was like a level playing field. It wasn’t fans looking up to an artist. Everyone was part of this ecosystem and traded ideas, that doesn't really exist anymore in a physical way.
Ion 2: The Brian Eno thing—scenius rather than genius—
Ion 1: Exactly. Brian Eno calls it “scenius” instead of genius where it’s not one person’s genius, it’s a collective thing that happens over time, scenius, it comes from people existing in a scene in one physical space and feeding off each other. Which I think is incredibly true, like the greatest artist from New York you can think of. Obviously, their work stands out, Basquiat or whatever—
Ion 2: They were part of the scene there.
Ion 1: It was part of a scene. And it wouldn’t be what it was if it wasn’t for the people around them. Because of social media, the level playing field died more than ever because everyone was using social media to present themselves as a figure to curate an audience. Then, when someone did get successful it was very hierarchical. You know, fans looking up to someone. I think the way in which the internet can exist, the way that it does around Ion, that’s the modern way to create the scenius thing, it starts online and it becomes physical. I think it’s important. When you get into Ion, you don’t just become a fan, when you get into the ecosystem of it, you’re a part of the fold. You’re in it with everyone. It’s not a fan vs. hero dynamic.
Viviana: What’s the most “LA night” you’ve ever had while visiting?
Ion 2: I had an experience last night which was really interesting. I went to the new Beverly cinema to see Reservoir Dogs. I tested negative for COVID for the first time yesterday after quarantining for a while and my brother had tickets and it's not the top thing on my list to rewatch, but I haven’t seen it since I was like 14. But referencing what we were talking about earlier with Metrograph and the sexy cinematic experience of that venue, the harsh contrast of going to the new Beverly for an old Quentin Tarantino movie last night was completely unbelievable. But in a way it was really inspiring to see that network of gaffers and filmy guys, people who are wearing a Clint Eastwood t-shirt with a weird plaid over it who are clearly on cinematography message boards; it was not a sexy experience. But I was recognizing that this was actually the same thing in a way, this event was essentially what we did the other night, just in a completely different context and it was actually inspiring. It's cool to see people with shared interest showing up to the same venue and celebrating something that they're about. It's about fandom. I think fandom is something that you and I have always been obsessed with, like we're huge fans of almost everybody we have on the podcast. We love creating new fans for new people; fan culture in LA is different than how it is in New York. In LA, people are fans of things, they get obsessed with shit, they're obsessed with art and that’s cool to me.
Ion 1: That’s the one thing that bothers me about New York. The New York disaffected thing.
Ion 2: Underneath that people are still obsessed with shit.
Ion 1: I’ve said this before, as soon as you are encountering a New York disaffected person, as soon as you aren’t that to them, it breaks away. It's like everyone tests out the other person. You meet someone and pretend that you don’t know their work, you pretend that you don't know who they are. But if you’re like, “Oh I really like what you do, I’m a fan,” the wall breaks away.
Ion 2: Varying degrees of cool. In New York everyone is obsessed with being cool and LA people are more down to be corny. People are just more open. I mean it's literally, physically a more open place. We grew up in the suburbs away from any major city. Something I recognized recently, is like people in the Midwest, people in the suburbs, people outside of metropolitan areas, they’re surrounded by people who don't fuck with art at all. People who have a completely different course with what they're doing with their life and they're just not interested in culture in any capacity. What's sick about a city is that you find like-minded people through common interests, which for us and I imagine you guys, is art, which is so corny.
JJ: You’re in LA right now, so you can say that. You're allowed to say that right now actually.
Ion 1: I love being corny but also…
Ion 2: We love being fans.
Ion 1: There's never been one cool person that wasn't at least a little cringe.
Viviana: That’s so good, let’s sign off with that.