See and Be Scenes

The many subspecies of OC bands in their natural habitats

The great thing about having this rich legacy is not only that you have an old guard of show-goers and their kids, but also that a hefty contingent of bands who either reunited or never gave up is still delivering blistering sets on a near-weekly basis (see the Adolescents, Agent Orange, etc.). Young acts, such as Bad Religion revivalists Longway and throat-shredders the Sparring, have access to labels that give them a leg up by, say, helping to book Warp Tour dates. Upstarts such as the Yeastie Boys both pay fealty to punk and defile it—in the Yeasties’ case, by dressing as clowns. And all the splinter genres—hardcore, thrash, etc.—engage in a kind of a cold war locally, booking bills on consecutive nights at the same venues. Dingy joints such as Huntington Beach’s Surf City Saloon, Johnny’s Saloon and the Blue Café; Dana Point’s Coconuts; and Anaheim’s the Juke Joint are battlefields as well as classrooms. Go every evening of the week to one of these places, and you’ll come away with a history lesson.

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The Scene: Hootenannamericanabilly
Hear it at the Juke Joint, Anaheim

The bramble of genres represented at the yearly Hootenanny festival in Irvine isn’t easy to peg—there’s rockabilly, country, swing and the inexplicable Halloween-all-the-time saunter of psychobilly—but according to organizer/promoter Bill Hardie, all involved worship one deity: Elvis Presley. Greaser culture has been with the county for a long time, but Hardie recalls it really solidifying into the sprawling scene it is today after Hootenanny began in the mid-’90s. Evidence bears this out: In 1999, OC punk icon Mike Ness of Social Distortion went full-on folkie. The most recent local punk-to-pompadour transformation comes courtesy of X singer John Doe, who released an album of classic country tunes last year.

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

At the average rock club in OC, though, acoustic roots strumming improbably plays second fiddle to a vibrant something-or-other-billy scene. The cowpunk rhythms remain the same, but the lyrics, intensity and vocal styles vary. South County’s Faraway Boys have built a big following on a tried-and-true blueprint, while acts such as the Whorehouse Massacres dabble in ghoulish themes—and, in this particular band’s case, makeup—as they muddle genre lines. The Sugar Daddys, a reconstituted bunch of scene veterans, claim to play “neo-rockabilly,” though you might not be able to tell what’s different. Rockabilly and psychobilly are staggeringly pervasive at most local punk clubs; the Juke Joint, however, boasts regular “psychonights,” promoted by fliers with zombie imagery that often somehow references the King.

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The Scene: Ska Lifers
Hear it at the Locally Grown showcase at the Grove of Anaheim on Saturday; the Ska Parade 20th Anniversary Party at the Glass House on Sept. 25
It has been nine years since No Doubt released an album and 10 years since they released an album that could even vaguely be described as “ska.” Reel Big Fish had their last real big hit 13 years back. And Ska Parade—Tazy Phillips’ influential, KUCI-birthed radio show—can no longer be heard on the radio. Orange County was ground zero of the 1990s’ “third-wave” ska revolution. Chase Long Beach, Starpool and Half Past Two, all founded in the past decade, remain active. But have the trumpets and checkerboard motifs finally been laid to rest? “Ska never dies,” Phillips says in a tone so chipper it’s almost ominous. “It always manages to continue through the thick and thin.”

Case in point: For the first time, Phillips was granted the opportunity to operate a “Ska Stage” at four dates on the 2010 Warped Tour, and by the Irvine resident’s account, the bands weren’t in want of a crowd. But the scene certainly isn’t as cohesive and consistent as it once was; Phillips struggles to offer the name of a single venue where you can hear ground-level ska any night of the week. Instead, he says, it’s a community reunion whenever the old standbys play at one of the region’s catch-all venues, such as the Grove of Anaheim or the House of Blues. And to be sure, there are new acts, though they might not identify so closely with the term “skank.” The Fox Theater Pomona hosted the yearly Ska In the Park festival this past June, and Orange County was represented well, from the punk ska of Save the Swim Team to the electro fusion of Pilot Touhill.

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The Scene: Downtown DJs
Hear it at the Crosby, Santa Ana
The Low End Theory night at the Airliner club in Los Angeles has caught a lot of buzz over the past few years as a breeding ground for a new wave of experimental, bass-heavy hip-hop. Little do the kids snaking out the door there realize, though, that there’s a club within orbiting distance that doesn’t boast as much hype, but often hosts some of the biggest names in instrumental hip-hop—Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing and Gaslamp Killer, plus DJ Free the Robots, one of the founders of the miracle on Broadway Avenue known as the Crosby.

The dimly lit restaurant and bar is the center of OC’s arty DJ culture, but Avalon and Detroit in Costa Mesa also book some of the same crate-diggers. The defining sound is murky and omnivorous, stitching together jazz with glitch with rap with curveball genres such as, say, kraut rock. Rappers and rock bands from various other scenes enter the mix, but unless they’re wearing wide-brimmed baseball caps and tastefully oversized tees, they stand out a little bit.

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