See and Be Scenes

The many subspecies of OC bands in their natural habitats

There are things in life we know we shouldn’t do but can’t help, like ordering fries at TK Burgers or compulsively searching “Bieber” on Twitter. Another thing we do that we wish we didn’t: slap labels on people. You do it; we do it. So in the process of assembling a lineup for OC Weekly’s Locally Grown music series at the Grove of Anaheim—the final show of which is on Saturday and features Reel Big Fish and other ska acts—we got to thinking about the labels we could apply to Orange County’s music world, which, contrary to what we’ve heard from some people, does exist.

How can we classify Orange County music, as a whole? That’s a tricky one; maybe the best word to use is “fractured.” It’s easier to segment the county by genres, pick a few places where you can see a certain scene thriving, and then let you, the reader, explore. The result may be overly simplistic and leave a lot of music out in the cold, but again, this is the inherent problem with labels. But we figure it can’t hurt to start a conversation about local music scenes, then let you guys tell us what we missed. “That’s really the beauty of Orange County,” says hype-catching DJ and Newport Beach native Steve Aoki. “It’s the pockets of community that are doing it themselves.” Consider the guide below a starting point for you to begin doing it yourself, too, whatever you fancy it to be.

The Scene: Button-Down Indie
Hear it at Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa

We believe it was the Supreme Court of the United States that ruled the term “indie” is impossible to define, but you know it when you see it: Kids in slightly mussed hair, wearing flannels or American Apparel tees, guitars over their shoulders, emitting sounds that are less likely to offend grandma than to put her to sleep. Orange County’s biggest indie scene—geographically sprawling but close-knit—produces acts with real pop sensibilities, usually inspired by the wry hummability of the Shins rather than the frayed countercultural edge of, say, Sonic Youth. There are alt-country acts and singer/songwriters in the mix as well, as well as the bizarro hip-hop trio BLOK. The uniting feature seems to be a vibe of aw-shucks friendliness.

Steve Greenberg

Location Info


Detroit Bar

843 W. 19th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Music Venues

Region: Costa Mesa

The Continental Room

115 W. Santa Fe Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Music Venues

Region: Fullerton

Doll Hut

107 S. Adams St.
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Music Venues

Region: Anaheim

The Juke Joint

735 N. Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805

Category: Music Venues

Region: Anaheim

The Crosby

400 N. Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Santa Ana

Surf City Saloon

18528 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Huntington Beach

Chain Reaction

1652 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Music Venues

Region: Anaheim

Downtown Santa Ana Artists Village

208 Spurgeon St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Santa Ana

The Coach House

33157 Camino Capistrano, Ste. C
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Category: Music Venues

Region: San Juan Capistrano

It’s a scene that has produced successes. A few years back, Detroit Bar-frequenters became infatuated with blues and soul, leading to a renaissance that shot Cold War Kids and Delta Spirit to national prominence. More recently, the overlapping harmonies and percussive patter of Local Natives—who gigged in Orange County for years as Cavil At Rest—became the toast of Pitchfork and KCRW, leading to a joint national tour with local kindred spirits the Union Line. Next up might be the Colourist and the New Limb, both of whom spackle puppy-eyed melodies over structurally segmented anthems.

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The Scene: North-County Scuzz
Hear it at the Continental Room, Fullerton
It’s easy to forget that grouchiness has given us some of the best music of all time. But there’s a batch of kids who flit between Anaheim warehouses, Fullerton record stores and Long Beach dives that certainly hasn’t forgotten. Take a listen to the vocals from half of the artists signed to Fullerton’s Burger Records, and you’ll hear a distinctive, constipated whine that sounds as if it were recorded at least 15 feet from a working mic, immersed in scuttling punk clamor and kissed with psychedelics.

Bands crossing chicken-wire surf guitars with hangover-haze atmosphere, such as the Growlers and My Pet Saddle, have kicked around Orange County for a while. But with the opening of a physical store for Burger Records last year (see “Who Are These Meatheads?” Oct 1, 2009), it feels as though grimy, irreverent art rock finally has a home in the county. Anaheim three-piece Audacity consistently astonish with their somersaulting ferocity, while La Habra’s Cum Stains mewl out lyrics as filthy as their name would lead you to expect. Fullerton’s Dahga Bloom, formerly the Living Suns, run with this crowd—their practice-space warehouse often doubles as a venue—though their hypnotic, tribal thrum comes with vocals that are less Black Lips and more Talking Heads. That’s not so surprising, by the way: Garage and psych might be in the majority, but there’s also room for nostalgic pop, scuffed-up blues and crossbreeding with the sunnier indie-pop scene. As for the whole grouchy thing, it’s more sonic than attitudinal. Grow out your handlebar mustache and put on a filthy, vintage, summer-camp tee, and you’ll find yourself part of the freaky family.

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The Scene: Descendents’ Descendants
Hear it at the Doll Hut, Anaheim
The pool of musicians and fans that identifies with the term “punk” in Orange County is vast and deep, as well it should be. The ’70s and ’80s saw our fair county give rise to entire wings of the movement; host some of Black Flag’s most notorious gigs; and birth such snotty legends as the Adolescents, the Vandals and TSOL. The ’90s were no slouch, either, spurring on innovation that was quickly dubbed heresy, from the Offspring’s rowdy sing-alongs to Throwdown’s sludge-whine to Social Distortion’s roots-rock devolution.

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