MEET A MEMBER - RICHARD BENCE
Meet Richard Bence from London who moved to LA a year ago to pursue journalism
Was there a particular reason you chose LA?
That LA is having a 'moment' is well documented, but I didn’t really know what to expect; it was more of a hunch, an innate calling. There is such an amazing and inspiring mix of people here from the worlds of art, film, technology, music, architecture, fashion and food, all doing interesting things. It just made sense, professionally speaking, for me to plant myself here at the epicenter of this creative explosion, rather than New York. Turns out I chose exactly the right spot.
What do you miss most from home?
I think it’s the reassuring sensibleness of everything at home. Here things can go to DEFCON 1 very quickly. Maybe being bundled together on a small island has required us to work stuff out without too much fuss, or perhaps we’ve just had more time to learn the art of compromise. America was born out of revolution, so it makes sense that things get so heated otherwise they’d still be ruled by Queeny! Obviously the gun thing is something I will never get my head around and if I watch the news I can suddenly feel like I’ve stepped into the twilight zone. But then I see a hummingbird on my balcony in the middle of February and I forget all about the negative stuff. LA is my idea of paradise but the public transport sucks; in London the bus and tube are great levelers, here you don’t have cause to rub shoulders with your fellow man so much. People moan about the tube but when you get to a place like LA you realise how good we have it back home. I’ll never grumble again! That’s about it though I’m afraid. Because I work from home I don’t commute which means I haven’t become jaded by the traffic anyway and because Los Angeles is enjoying a renaissance I never feel culturally malnourished.
What was your first impression of LA and has it changed since? If so why? I stayed with a fellow Brit in the Franklin Hills (Silverlake) when I first arrived back in October 2014. He lived at the top of a vertiginous street with a beautiful deck and killer views of the shimmering city below. I fell in love with LA right there and then. I was immediately struck by how incredibly lush it was, despite the drought. Coming from London I’m used to living somewhere that isn’t a picture postcard. I prefer it that way. It’s the simultaneous ugliness and beauty of the urban jungle that I love and there are still fallow patches that haven’t been sanitised or blighted by boring chains like most British high streets (if I never see Costa coffee again I’ll be very happy).
What do you find the biggest difference is living here versus London?
Well, besides the coyotes, cacti and the canyons, I guess it’s the drinking culture (or lack of). In London, alcohol is inserted into every social situation by default, regardless of whether it’s a birth, death, marriage or leaving do. Here, people are less bothered about getting hammered and staying out late. I’m an early bird so the rhythm of Los Angeles suits me better. The great outdoors inspires me and here you are cradled by nature so energetically I am more ‘at home’ here than I was in London. Crikey, I’ve only been here 18 months and I’m already talking like a Californian! Seriously though, I’m just a sucker for the sunshine so swapping gunmetal grey skies in England for cobalt blue in California is probably the most noticeable difference--and a panacea for all ills. The cultural distance I feel as a Brit in a foreign country is amplified by being in sun-baked southern California for sure, that and being always seemingly an inch away from oblivion (be it quake, fire, drought, coyote or rattlesnake attack). It feels like I’ve stepped onto Mars some days.
Do you have a hidden gem in LA that you want to share with us? Not so hidden anymore I guess, but Downtown is definitely worth a visit. Cicada restaurant in the Oviatt Building (617 Olive St). Built in 1927, it was the first Art Deco building in LA, with interiors by Lalique, and serves as the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s spooky Hotel Cortez in American Horror Story: Hotel.
What would you suggest to others who are thinking about making the move here?
At 38 I was still on the right side of 40 and wanted to give this a go before I lost my nerve. If you only have yourself to consider, as I did, just do it. So many people avoid taking risks and end up regretting it. I realise that taking risks is in itself a privilege, and I get that not everyone can just up sticks and start over. I took a massive hit financially so factor that in too if you’re a freelancer, it takes time to build up your contacts. Building a network of buddies is my number one suggestion. You can have a top job, a great car and a fabulous house in the hills, but it can feel very isolated if you don’t have a pack to bounce off. I have been lucky in that way. I turned 40 in February and it felt cool to mark that milestone with a bunch of people I would never have met had I not moved out here. To build this little ecosystem from scratch took time and energy. Being a transplant is exhilarating but sometimes a little overwhelming. They say ‘the bigger your dream, the more important your team’. The new friends I’ve made are my lifelines, without them I’d be toast in this town. Be brave and take the plunge, it’s totally worth it.
Lastly, how can we find out more about you?
You can visit my blog richard-bence.com that chronicles all my adventures. I recently covered Palm Springs Modernism Week and LA Art Book Fair. As a writer I focus on art, architecture, music, film, style and travel. I post any published articles in the portfolio section. I was editor at large for BritWeek magazine last April, which celebrates British creativity and innovation in Los Angeles, and will be doing more with them this year I hope. I also contribute to a radio show on Monocle 24 so tune in for my musings on the cultural goings on in this magical city we call home.