Roving Venue Top Acid is a Magnet for OC's Underground Culture
Chris Gonzalez of Top Acid
DIY music venues rarely get a second chance at life after closure, but that ain't Top Acid's game. Since its inception, the venue/blog/state of mind has remained a platform for underground music in one form or another for several years. Its physical location at 305 Fourth St. is vacant on any given weeknight, but on a recent weekend, it housed a large art and music show that attracted swarms of sweaty youths from throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties. In June, Top Acid occupied a former vape lounge on Fourth and Bush streets; prior to that, it hosted DIY concerts at a former hair salon on Bush Street before the spot was turned over to its new tenants.
Much of Top Acid's trajectory has involved bouncing from one address to another, all the while attracting new bands, fans, attendees, artists, haters, lovers, friends and enemies. Even as the music-and-art promotion machine has faced the rockiest of circumstances in running events, it has cast a large net over the Southern California music scene, bringing in the widest variety of bands--from up-and-coming acts in LA and OC to obscure genre bands from all over the world.
The founder and innovator behind Top Acid, lifelong santanero Chris Gonzalez, acts as talent booker, promoter, graphic designer, technical support, set up and clean up. Gonzalez handles all the emails, payments, contacts, event planning, vendor outreach and social media, with a little help from curating artists from time to time. Despite the workload, he unabashedly loves it. "Top Acid is the equivalent of all my interests and weirdness," Gonzalez explains. "I can't let someone else get involved with it because it wouldn't reflect what I want it to."
As a teen, Gonzalez immersed himself in DIY shows and his own musical ventures at long-gone venues such as the Clinic and the Mort. He was later recruited by his best friend, Joellen Lu, to help run her vintage clothing store, Tarte Vintage, in downtown Santa Ana's East End (which started as a blog and online store in 2010). Gonzalez came up with the idea to hold art shows and tiny DIY concerts for the monthly Santa Ana art walk. It wasn't long before the shows became so popular that the clothing portion of Tarte took a backseat to the music, and Gonzalez began regularly scheduling shows and building a name for Tarte as an underground music venue.
Later renamed Can U Not, Tarte hosted small shows until its first closure in 2014, when property owner Ryan Chase received a higher offer for the space. It broke Gonzalez's heart. "I was really depressed about it. I felt like a huge failure, like I had let so many people down," Gonzalez admits. "I stayed away from [downtown Santa Ana] for a long time after that. I don't think I ever felt that defeated."
Chase, however, took notice of Can U Not's wide appeal and kept Gonzalez in mind for potential location openings. Six months later, Top Acid opened its doors at an adjacent spot. By this time, Lu turned the project over to Gonzalez, who changed the name to Top Acid, after a roller-skating trick (Gonzalez is an avid skater).
Even without the benefit of a shelter, Gonzalez had enough clout with bands and Chase to bring shows to just about any wide space with access to an electrical outlet: alleys, French Plaza, small driveways, etc. Sometimes, he has to borrow equipment last minute or improvise; Gonzalez says he's had to configure a makeshift stand by tying a microphone to a mop multiple times. The rawness and ingenuity only adds to Top Acid's mystique, drawing an audience that enjoys seeing the unexpected.
Inside Top Acid
"Top Acid is totally 'fuck it, let's do it.' I feel that's why a lot of people support it, too, because they can just tell it's real and authentic," Gonzalez says.
This DIY ethos has also drawn its share of ire. "It's gotten me in trouble a few times: angry emails, the cops know me, etc. The cops are surprisingly cool, though," he says. "Any time there's an issue, they bring it to me, and I take care of it right away. It's a respect thing."
The range of bands and musical acts that have performed at Top Acid is staggering: touring groups from Portland to Japan; local-OC bred acts such as Grinning Ghosts, GRN+GLD, Rudy De Anda, and Media Jeweler; and Los Angeles buzz bands on the rise including Sloppy Jane, Deadpanzies, Mechachief and Levitation Room. Noise bands, experimental music, beat producers, LGBTQ punk groups--whether it's an intimate show or a large-scale, two-stage festival, Gonzalez won't book anything he doesn't personally like or wouldn't pay to see. "I think it's weird how there's a bunch of kids who show up every weekend for every show, no matter what the bands are, because they trust Top Acid, as if they're playing here they have to be good," Gonzalez says. "That's kind of good that people trust us to show them new bands they wouldn't have necessarily have heard of otherwise."
Participating bands and artists also feel a kinship to Gonzalez and Top Acid and see it as a space to let their freak flags fly. "[Top Acid] has always been a home away from home." says GRN+GLD member Dirty Merlin. "It's a space where we can be completely unrestricted and test our own and the audience's limits. It's a genuine space where you never know what you'll see."
Meg Gonzalez (no relation), an occasional illustrator and art curator for Top Acid, agrees the space has a welcoming vibe to it, "not just as an artist, but as someone who thoroughly enjoys listening to music and going to shows. Chris is super-rad and brave because, you know, not everybody can do what he does and be able to pull off so many amazing events and art shows within a small period of time."
Top Acid has grown in strength and popularity, with bigger plans on the horizon. Gonzalez wants to focus on rebuilding the online clothing store, amp up the blog and develop a record label to build on the brand. He has built a relationship with Burger Records, hosting the official Beach Goth after-parties. And on Saturday, Top Acid presents its largest event yet: Way Too Fun Fest, a four-stage extravaganza of bands, art and clothing vendors. Even with all its success and attention, Gonzalez won't move Top Acid out of Orange County, "because Top Acid is a product of Santa Ana. I wouldn't be able to leave it."
Way Too Fun Fest, featuring Surf Curse, Death Hymn Number 9, the Lovely Bad Things, Gooch Palms, So Many Wizards, Melted and more, at Top Acid, 425 French St., Santa Ana; www.facebook.com/shoptopacid. Sat., noon-10 p.m. Free. All ages.
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