The dining area inside Mexican restaurant La Riconada is unusually packed. But instead of munching on sopes and shredded chicken enchiladas on this Saturday night, most of the rappers, DJs and producers are busy networking and feeding off some friendly conversation. This year, Santa Ana hip-hop crew Konsept Collective—the driving force behind downtown Santa Ana's East End Block Party—decided to embrace the spirit of collaboration with artists beyond the Orange Curtain. Konsept founder Tyson Pruong realized that if they were going to attract more talent to the lineup, they first had to reach out. Though the festival has relied on cooperation between various factions of the Santa Ana scene—from rappers to punk bands to producers—for its third year, organizers decided to supplement the roster of local artists. "I wanted to bring more attention to Santa Ana by bringing people from other places to the city before I decide to do big, headlining artists next year," says Pruong.
Pruong says 75 percent of the artists he booked this year have never played the Block Party before, and many have never played anywhere in OC, despite being neighbors in their respective scenes in LA, the Inland Empire and San Diego.
This year has been one of evolution for Konsept, starting with the collective creating its own record label, Konsept Records. Pruong explains that growing his brand meant putting more time into his artists' marketing and music production and less time on throwing monthly events. That allowed him to store up resources for the Block Party. Plus, Konsept and their collaborators—promoters OC Music League (OCML), Top Acid, Curious Entertainment and Beat Swap Meet—agreed to scale back the East End Block Party from two events (winter and summer) to just one blowout on June 3.
"We wanted to make sure that the summer one is the one we put all of our focus and money into," Pruong says. However, each promoter involved in the fest will still produce their own stages and curate their own lineups. Beat Swap Meet will host a stage for DJs and beat-scene producers in the parking lot in front of the Yost Theater, while Curious Entertainment is doing a lowrider car show on Third Street. Top Acid has its punk-and-garage-band bonanza on the corner of Fourth and French streets. OCML will serve up alt-rock in the 4th Street Market, and Konsept's hip-hop lineup takes over the corner of Fourth and Spurgeon.
"The other groups always bring great music that I have never heard," says OCML founder John Safari. "Collaborating with all different scenes, genres and fans, we create an event people can feel free to express themselves."
While most of the time it feels as if everyone is in a rush to get bigger and better, Pruong says, before they can really do that, they have to get the rest of SoCal engaged and excited about them and talking to one another. "It's not about labels and stuff anymore," he says. "It's about collaboration and providing opportunity for one another. Artists aren't going to promoters for shows anymore; they're doing it themselves."
For rapper Roby Supreme of IE rap group Y.L.$.N.M.T. (You're Lucky She's Not My Type), playing the festival will give them the ability to connect with new artists, which is a huge asset as they continue to make inroads into OC's music scene. "A lot of times, artists don't feel like they can approach other artists because it's a competition or everyone's trying to get theirs," Supreme says. "But you need that because you grow off each other. Some of the best advice and things that I've been getting that [have helped our career] have come from other artists."
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That included an artist media event at La Riconada, at which various press outlets conducted video, print and podcast interviews. It was a scene reminiscent of SXSW, which is not surprising since Pruong visited Austin this spring and gained a lot of inspiration for his own event. "It opened up my eyes to doing things a bit more organized and working harder toward everything I'm doing now," Pruong says. "This block party is a good reflection of everything I learned over there at SXSW."
While there's definitely a possibility for future East End Block Parties to land major sponsors and add marquee talent to its roster, one thing that sets it apart from pop-up festivals that can be capitalist and self-serving is the fest's roots in the local community. The spirit of fostering up-and-coming artists and creating a dialogue among those in the Santa Ana scene and beyond is the key to its longevity.
"We want the locals to come out and realize this is a festival put on by actual Santa Ana people," Pruong says. "Chris Gonzalez [founder of Top Acid] and I were born and raised here. And those that come here from other places do their part for the city, so it's like supporting people who do things for the community, instead of for money."
East End Block Party happens throughout Downtown Santa Ana, centered on Fourth and Spurgeon streets, Santa Ana; www.facebook.com/konseptproject. Sat., noon-10 p.m. Free. All ages.