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The DIY Music Community Comes Together to Honor One of Its Own

William Lu was a beloved fixture at The Smell and Pehrspace. Friends and family remember his impact.

Photo of William Lu (Photo Credit: Tobechi Ugwumba)
Photo of William Lu. (Photo Credit: Tobechi Ugwumba)

On Sunday, The Smell took a break from its usual programming of underground punk, hardcore, and other hyper-local acts to celebrate a beloved member of its community in advance of his birthday on September 28. William had passed away on July 9 last year of pneumonia at just 37.

William Lu was known to many people as a mainstay at the small, historic venue downtown. In his honor, The Smell had a special show featuring local musicians and free french fries — a favorite of Will’s.

“William was my best friend, and probably the best I will ever have,” says Rachel Cole, who booked the musicians for the event. “He knew me from drumming in the band Blackblack, and struck up a conversation with me online. Through our love of underground music, and all things Disney, we quickly became close friends and started hanging out IRL. He supported all my music endeavors as my #1 fan, and he did the same for any band he liked.”

One of the performers at the tribute show, Bobb Bruno (half of LA indie rock band Best Coast), saw him regularly when they were volunteering at The Smell. “I think I first met William at a show by his cousin Dat’s band,” says Bobb. “Anytime I ran into him, he always had an upbeat vibe and was so dedicated to our LA scene.” 

Musician and promoter Sean Carnage, who commemorated William in his own publication, tells me, “William Lu was one of the bright lights of the LA DIY scene. William was unpretentious and easy to talk to, and a really great artist. He had a passion for the things that mattered — video games, art, bands, moshing, friends. Artists and musicians and gamers all over the world miss him terribly, and that includes me. More than a year has passed but it hasn’t made this loss any easier.”

Will got his start in the music scene in part with his cousin Dat, who moved in with Will when Will’s parents sponsored his family’s visas. “As kids we didn’t get along because I would take his toys and stuff and we’d get in little fights. I learned English watching shows with him, Family Matters and Full House.” 

“Will was a big part of my life and every transition of my life,” he continues. “As teenagers we really got into music. Will’s brother was involved with promotions, so Will would always get these new singles. He introduced me to Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, all these amazing bands. We learned how to play music together, literally taught each other to play guitar and we were in a band ourselves.”

William and Dat formed the band Phobia Wrecked Her with their friends Stephanie Montes and Jose Oseguera, right out of high school. “The band was so special,” says Dat, “because everybody wrote. They didn’t have one lead singer, everyone sang, everyone played every instrument. We taught ourselves everything, every song we’d switch instruments.” 

As Phobia Wrecked Her was looking to book shows, William began volunteering at The Smell. Ultimately, Will and Dat took different paths with their love of music. “I wanted to pursue music more seriously and Will wanted to support bands, book shows, and volunteer his time,” says Dat. “He found a love for that and he really loved making friends in the independent scene.”

In addition to supporting countless local artists, sometimes literally by carrying and breaking down their equipment, William helped organize many shows. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an aspect of The Smell that William wasn’t involved with. He even played for The Smell Summer Non-Competitive Soccer League that was active for several years. He was friends to many, many people, who knew him as a selfless and caring person who was always helping out others and surprising people with adventure.

“I was often one he would call for spontaneous rendezvous,” says Rachel, “Whether they be to Amoeba, karaoke in Little Tokyo, to the arcade, to Tree People, to a show, a movie, and also Disneyland!”

William was an unabashed Disney fan who often went to Disneyland with other members of the punk/DIY scene. “William never wanted to stop being a kid, he always wanted to keep that part of him,” says Dat. William went by the handle carpetfromaladdin in the gaming community, where he also had an outsized presence. 

William Lu's artwork, pixelated t-shirt reading "I ❤️ The Smell" (photo credit: William Lu)
William Lu’s artwork, a pixelated t-shirt reading “I ❤️ The Smell” (photo credit: William Lu)

Luis Naranjo, formerly of local band Hello Astronaut, Goodby Television, explains, “Will was such a quiet person, but he really wasn’t introverted at all. Will loved to go up to people and start conversations about art, music, video games, whatever.” Luis met William at a show he was playing. “He came up to me and we started talking, the conversation switched to the topic of video games, and I got so excited that I found someone in that scene that was as interested in video games as they were about music.”

Luis and William would sometimes even hang out for a game session in the middle of a show, says Luis. “If we knew we were going to be at the same shows we’d take our 3DS or PlayStation Vita to play together before the show started, between bands, and sometimes after the show, it was awesome. What I’ll miss most about him is his daily message about whatever the latest video game news was, or whatever game he was thinking of getting.”

Another friend, Nathan, met William through the Samurai Shodown (or “Samsho”) gaming community, where he was especially well-known. After initially meeting William online, he met him in person for a weekly tournament once they realized they both lived in LA: “He immediately struck me as a warm and friendly person, the type that you feel like you’ve known for a while even though you’ve only just met them. I got to know several people I wouldn’t have otherwise if not for Will. He genuinely saw the best in all people, and it really spoke volumes that everyone who knew him was enthusiastic about how friendly and welcoming he was.

“I had the privilege of attending his funeral, at which attendance was heavily restricted due to COVID, on behalf of the Samurai Shodown community. That’s where I first heard of his involvement with The Smell, when one of his friends gave a speech about how they knew him, and all the lives he had impacted there through his volunteer and musical work. I was in awe of the reach of his influence and positivity. It immediately was clear to me that Will left an impression everywhere he went. I said a few words about his time in our community, and some of his friends from The Smell expressed similar surprise that he had such a large group of friends in gaming. After meeting his brothers and his cousin Dat, I learned how much time he devoted to supporting his family as well. Consistently, he put others first.”

“It’s impossible for any one person to know all the people William was close to because he just branched out so much,” agrees Walt.

William was commemorated at his funeral on behalf of his Samsho friends: “Until our swords cross again.” Another close friend in the gaming community, Angela Nguyen, said of William, “He befriended everyone and welcomed them into the community. During difficult times, he saw goodness in the Samsho scene and expressed that it gave him hope. He undoubtedly rallied different local and international scenes together across the globe. We were lucky that he considered all of us as family. Most importantly, he always gave us his best without asking for anything in return.”

Among other ways, the Samsho community honored William with several different tribute videos and events. He was also memorialized in an article on toptier.gg. But that wasn’t the only way they contributed. “He made so many friends,” says Dat, “that when I posted our GoFundMe [for his funeral], within a week we reached our goal … People from Japan, Taiwan, Germany, all over, were sending us messages and contributing to the GoFundMe. It blew us away, he really impacted people.” Not only that, the Samsho community created a line of merch to raise funds for the National Alliance of Mental Illness in William’s name.

William’s love of gaming stretched into more dimensions as he was also fascinated by 8-bit art, which he also created. In his own artist bio, William wrote: “William Lu has always been fascinated by the creativity of 8-bit video game artists, to express so much personality in characters using such limited resources. Lu has a fondness for the idea that something can be simple and crude but still beautiful and heartfelt. That is why Lu has chosen to pay tribute to some people, artists and musicians, that inspire him by trying to represent them as simplistic 8-bit drawings.” William often liked to portray his favorite local LA bands in 8-bit form. Bobb Bruno says he feels honored to have been included among them.

William showcased his art in several different video game art shows, says Walt Gorecki, William’s friend and gallerist. Walt worked with him on a couple of video-themed art shows, one at Pehrspace. “He did a ton of 8-bit style portraits of people; Mika Miko, No Age … he re-skinned Mario Brothers to have the members of Foot Village in there as a playable game.” 

Walt remembers William’s special relationship with The Smell. “Will was always doing everything possible to help everyone out. And that especially extended to the Smell community, a lot of people in the DIY scene. Anytime you’d bring up William Lu, people would say, oh, he’s the most selfless guy.” He continues, “It was always about putting other people first. He touched so many people. He was throwing an event in somebody else’s honor, and he said, he had a lightly macabre sense of humor, ‘When I die you have to make an art show for me.’ And I said, ‘No, I’ll be too old.’ And I really wish that were true.”

The Smell is one of the most appropriate places to honor Will. The venue is known for its all-ages, everyone-included shows, and only allowing vegan food to be served, in the spirit that everyone there would be able to eat it. It was the same way with Will, says Walt. “He would always hit up vegan spots but it always seemed to be more about including everybody rather than anything else.” The show featured tribute art by the people William impacted, as well as his own artwork. The musical lineup for the show also included Songs by Thom and Goodnight Cody, two other local bands who were friends of William.

Above all else, people tell me about the remarkable ways that Will expressed affection for others. Dat says, “Countless people in the independent scene would vouch, if you needed a ride anywhere, he would take you. He’d help you move. That’s my cousin, man. Will treated everyone like they’re family in our family, we do things for you, no questions asked. Will extended that to everyone else. Everyone was his family, and he went out of his way for them.”

He adds, “I’m a Buddhist, in Buddhism, to really honor or celebrate a person that passed in your life, you live life in their stead. Every day I try to be a happy person, try to be kind and compassionate, and I do it in honor of my cousin. That’s what he did with his life, he was always so kind and giving to people.” Dat has recorded a tribute song for his cousin that reaffirms his many positive qualities.

“He was also very dependable”, says Rachel. “If he said he would be somewhere he would never back out, which is hard to find in LA. I’d always go to him for help — when I moved, when I needed advice, he was even the person I called when I crashed my car to take me to the hospital.”

“He was the most reliable, caring, selfless person you would ever be lucky enough to meet,” agrees Walt. Walt describes the elaborate birthday shows that William would put on for other people, and others agree that he is known for being generous with gifts, as well as understanding each person’s taste.

Dat had firsthand experience of this with his cousin. “He said, you have to watch this show, it’s so like you man. You’ll relate to the main character. And I said nah… It’s funny because I watch that show now when I want to have some me time, when I want to relax and think of him. It’s just so funny… He was right, I really love that show.”

Knock LA would like to thank Sean Carnage and Walt Gorecki, who contributed a great deal of material and personal connections to this article.