Is it a music genre? Is it one of those infernal hipster trends? Is it the Growler’s signature sound, a marriage between sunny guitar melodies and a dark, brooding mentality? Is it the annual music festival which the Growlers have organized at the Observatory for the past four years?
Turns out, it’s all of those things, and a little bit more:it’s just a small fraction of a music community that keeps gaining strength in Orange County.
Last weekend teenagers and twenty-somethings in Doc Martens and chokers gathered beneath a searing sun and garlands of drug inspired sculptures strung across the Observatory parking lot, ready for a day of music.
Curious concert goers roamed the grounds, checking out the booths, which featured local businesses such as thrift store Dee Lux and label Burger Records, and showed off some awkward pelvis thrusts at the scheduled Rocky Horror Picture Show showings in the Constellation Room.
When they weren’t complaining about the price of food ($6 for a slice of pepperoni pizza, $3 for a bottled water) and overflowing bathrooms, they were milling their way anxiously between the festival’s three stages like swarms of hungry ants lured by the sweet sound of music.
And what a lot of options they had to headbang and dance to, from screaming banshees The Coathangers to 70s legends Parliament Funkadelic to a Selena impersonator.
Aracely Fernandez, first-time Beach Goth attendee and aspiring music event host, noted the eclectic lineup, finding that they “…mostly had rock music, but they also had Spanish, reggae, and hip-hop too.”
Rock fans gathered early to see the Growlers close off on the main Beach Goth stage on both nights and had to sit through artists like Grimes (who debuted new songs in her set) and Die Antwoord (who did, well, Die Antwoord things). Although they might not have been their typical cup of tea, they gave them their due respect.
A kid in a spray-painted Cramps vest noted rappers Ninja and Yolandi with admiration: “They’re not my kind of music,” he admitted. “But they put on a really sick performance. They really got the crowd going.”
An openness to different music is what manages to make this motley crew of music fans into a cohesive movement-and it keeps the music fresh.
Fernandez, who’s begun hosting music events at Santa Ana venue The Beatnik Bandito Emporium, says that, “The OC has a thriving music subculture because more and more people are starting to realize that there are music events and shows everywhere in the OC almost every day and that exposes them to other genes of music too. Small unsigned bands, groups, or musicians in the OC are unique because they try to come up with new ways to stand out from a typical band in which it also exposes people to different musical styles.”
Smaller, underground bands are less likely to commit to established genres, and because they tend to have a small, devoted audience, they can get away with experimentation. The melding of genres results in some interesting combinations of sounds; some ingredients that are commonly used are folk, punk, rockabilly, 60s girl group, metal and grunge.
This is what made fans at Beach Goth equally excited for rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson as they were to see Juicy J. It may also have given them the patience to sit through Julian Casablancas’ new experimental, vocoder-laden set more out of respect for the Strokes frontman than out of fervid interest.
Followers of the OC’s underground music scene keep their ear wide open to all these different types of sounds, especially sharing an appreciation for past musical styles and using them as a heavy influence in making music and cultivating aesthetic.
Attendees at Beach Goth flounced around in a hodge podge of by-gone and resuscitated styles: 90s crop tops, chokers, and grungy Docs; 60s-inspired floral blouses and go-go dresses; blunt bangs and signature red pout of a 50s pinup girl; piercings and studded denim vests a la 70s punk.
Because of its proximity to Halloween, and perhaps just to match the ghoulish delight of the theme, many also came dressed in costume, as did some of the performers. The Growlers took the stage Saturday night in skeleton suits while punk band No Parents came dressed as another band entirely:heavy metal band Slipknot.
This kind of silliness, coupled with an eagerness for these artists to stage dive and interact with the crowd, ties the underground artist and their fans further together.
Small bands tend to play small venues, allowing most fans a chance to get up close and personal with the band that’s playing or even get up on stage with them, if they’re really gutsy. It decreases the gap between the two, both physically and mentally.
A large portion of the audience aspires to be a musician and watching your favorite band-say,
party-punk band Fidlar-get by on, like, five chords and some relatable lyrics makes it seem less like a dream and more of a possibility.
The meeting of the struggling artist with their new fame sometimes takes form in amusing ways: surf-punk band The Frights were in the midst of a song about struggling to get laid when a girl threw her lacy pink bra at the surprised bassist.
Of course, as with all good shows, there’s some bad mixed in as well. Those who don’t subscribe to the peaceful community values of the culture (or just had too many drinks too early) coupled with uncomfortably packed crowds made some trouble hard to avoid.
In addition to a couple groping incidents (which were promptly called out on), there were many times when the crowds just got way too tight or way too rough. This resulted in many sweaty, claustrophobic people needing to be fished out by the playful yet watchful security stationed about the perimeter.
It did not escape the notice of those on stage. Die Antwoord’s Ninja took a moment to appreciate the security’s efforts and a member of Marc deMarco shared a friendly PSA: “If the person next to you doesn’t like being pushed, don’t push ‘em. Have fun but be courteous.”
This community spirit remains even when the festival is over and all that’s left is a dark parking lot littered with spilled beer and lost iPhones.It’s just the tip of the iceberg of the music boom that has taken hold of Orange County. To see the rest of it, one need only look in small places.
“The music scene is poppin in OC,” agrees Nathan Ortiz, third-time attendee of Beach Goth and a rabid music fan. “Downtown Santa Ana is where most of the music and shows are at. We have Burger Records in Fullerton and we have the Observatory in Santa Ana where it all goes down.”
While these small bands may seem like small potatoes at the moment, just give them some time. It’s the passion and DIY approach of the scene which is propelling them forward. As the Growler’s music festival gets bigger and bigger every year, it becomes more and more apparent just how large the tribe is.