It’s no secret that Burger Records and the Observatory are the most formidable power couple in OC’s music scene. Over the last five years, we’ve watched both empires grow exponentially as the rest of the world slowly started to take notice. While the venue certainly benefits from the caché of the Fullerton-based label and its legion of young followers, there’s no doubt that aligning themselves with the most relevant venue in OC gives Burger a homegrown platform to make their wildest dream gigs come to life.
OC fans received a generous precursor to their annual Burgerama festival this year with a week long celebration of the 5 year anniversary of The Observatory. It also served as an acknowledgement of the burgeoning success of Orange County’s biggest DIY label featuring their roster of (mostly) brightly colored, lo-fi oriented power pop/bubblegum punk bands.
While talking to Sean Bohrman about the hectic daily routine at Burger Records, it became apparent that there simply isn’t enough time in the day for their insane schedule. Between booking SXSW, promoting new releases and e-mailing bands, Bohrman was able to squeeze in a phone call with us, in which he confided to me that, “It would be so much easier if I didn’t have to sleep every day.”
Bohrman and his partner Lee Rickard started putting on shows in 1998. They started the Burger name in 2005 and officially founded their label in 2007, partly as a means to release the music for their own band at the time, Thee Makeout Party. The two opened their store in 2009 and have been putting on shows at The Observatory since it first opened in 2011, (after being closed for a year following its long running stint as The Galaxy.)
Since then they’ve booked countless events at the Observatory and the smaller Constellation Room, including Burger-a-Go Go, their celebration of all-female fronted bands. Chief among them is Burgerama, which increases in popularity each year, leaving untold numbers of anxious ticketless fans outside last year, unable to get in due to capacity restraints.
While booking Burgerama 5 this year, it dawned on Bohrman and Rickard that the normal weekend they traditionally booked landed on Easter. To avoid drawbacks, Jeff Shuman, The Observatory’s promoter, had the idea of doing a last minute 5 year anniversary show and pushing the Burgerama date back a few months.
Burgers excellent relationship with The Observatory can be found in a matching set of uncompromising values for bringing new music to the fans that are actively seeking it out. When we had the opportunity to talk to Shuman last year for our People Issue, he mentioned, "A big part of what I like to do here is make sure [fans] know that we're into the music, just like they are. We're not just booking the big artists; we're also booking the next one that they're thinking about."
The festival kicked off with a bang last Monday, March 7th, with a heavy representation of the female gender, headlined by Shannon and the Clams. The Garden, Andre Nikatina, and Angry Samoans kept the party going strong through Tuesday and Wednesday, supported by a host of wild punk and garage rock bands.
Saturday and Sunday were the main events, jam packed with psychedelic, synth pop, garage rock, hip-hop, punk and electronic bands, making for a notable eclectic mix of live sounds and a constantly full house of energized avid fans.
While we were there we asked a couple concert goers to shed some personal insight on what Burger Records is doing. 26-year-old Weston Garr from Long Beach mused, “I think it's really important what these guys are doing for the garage rock revival because there's not a lot of DIY labels putting out rock and roll right now. It's also great that they put on free shows at their shop because it gives a lot of people the invitation to hear a lot of new stuff that's out right now that they wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to become aware of. It makes it a really inclusive scene.”
There’s something to be said in the fact that many of the people we ran into (Including Weston) opted to pay the $70 for all 5 days, proving there's still a strong scene for new music in Orange County. Weston himself remarked that, "I just really wanted to see some new bands."
19 year-olds Liam Galligan and Naruto Bridgeman from San Clemente came out Tuesday night to see Andre Nikitina. "This is our first time seeing Andre Nikitina but we've been to the Observatory 10 times before. We heard he was really good live and it was only eight bucks, so it was pretty much a no brainer." Partnering with Shuman and a venue who can book pretty much any artist they want also results in the festivals bringing in artists like electro experimentalists Crystal Castles or O.G. rappers like Too Short who are definitely fall outside the focus of the Burger aesthetic, which helps introduce their audience to artists they might otherwise expose themselves to.
Some of our own personal highlights included The Gardens frantic calisthenics induced set, when Wyatt moved away from the mic during ‘The Apple’ and their ardent fans still had enough energy near 1a.m. to cheer "have you ever seen an apple walking around" in lieu of his vocals. Or the no holds barred finale show with some of the best sets of the entire week.
And more personally significant moments, like Rikk Agnew playing "Ameoba"’ to a room packed like sardines with punk kids. We caught up with Rikk afterwards to see what he had to say about his cassette releases with Burger, and his countless times playing The Observatory with the Detours, Wrong Beach, Adolescents, and his solo band:
"I fucking love it here. They treat you well, and they know how to take care of their clients and their performers.”
When we mentioned Burger Records, Agnew had nothing but kind words, saying, "I'm so proud of those guys. Just a couple of fans of OC music and their love and passion for what they do has just exploded into this great new scene. I watched their baby grow up. And they're still so grounded. Great guys."
Burger’s success is definitely very inspiring, though they themselves have their own elementary idea of what success means to them. "Me and Lee were talking about success being able to eat whatever you want,” Bohrman says. “Like, 'let's go to Lucille’s and get a steak.' and not having to worry like, 'oh my god it's 20 dollars.’ THAT’S success."
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Nevertheless, the true success story lies in how one concert venue and a couple of kids with a DIY label have effectively salvaged what would otherwise be a ghost town for new rock music in Orange County, and Sean and Lee have been able to enjoy some of the perks that they’ve earned for themselves. While driving 24 straight hours to SXSW, Sean tells us over the phone that, “For us, right now we’re most excited about meeting Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop actually texted us today.”
The godfather of punk has been playing Burger Records on heavy rotation on his radio show as of late and the duo reached out to him earlier in the week and were able to exchange numbers.
On a more earnest note, he continues to say, “I’m very excited about creating our own legacy, and that we’re solidifying our place in music history and hopefully we’ll be remembered in the annals of rock and roll.”
At the very least, the boys will be remembered for subverting Orange County’s ostensible visage of conservative republicans and narcissistic Newport housewives in the wake of our own musical and cultural relevance. On behalf of myself and the rest of the self-respecting music junkies in OC: Thanks, fellas.