Here are the selections for the Best Music in Orange County from our 2016 Best Of OC Issue.
Best Club DJ: Funk Freaks
Funk Freaks are more than a hipster attempt at nostalgia. For the DJs who pack the dance floor at Original Mike's every last Friday of the month, it's a lifestyle. Since 2007, they've built their reps on endless crate digging, online scouring and dealing with record collectors around the world for the next song that's destined to slap you silly. In the past few years, their brand has gone international, with chapters sprouting up and pledging allegiance to the mothership by spinning and sharing shit that YouTube doesn't have, that Shazam can't identify and that Pandora will never stream. Traveling and connecting with like-minded DJs, the crew's name is showing up not only in the usual musical hotspots—San Francisco, LA, Austin, Chicago and New York City—but also in Russia, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, places where international DJs proudly wave the Funk Freaks banner. Crowds come from all over SoCal, drawn to this crop of OC and IE-bred funk connoisseurs for their boogie and modern soul selections, as well as live performances from the old-school pioneers of the genre.
Readers' Choice: DJ Johnny Knight
Best Local Music Store: Jim's Music
Tustin isn't typically a city that pops up on a local musician's radar, unless they're trying to buy some gear. But if they're smart, the first place they'll check out is Jim's Music. With mom-and-pop service and competitive pricing that outdoes the big-box competition, Jim's is definitely our jam when it comes to buying new or used gear. It's also the place where most school-band musicians can go to get great deals. For the sonic perfection you seek, chances are you'll find it here.
14061 Newport Ave, Tustin, 92780 , 714-644-6874, JimsMusic.com
Best OC Reppin' Song: "Welcome to the Juice"
There are a few indisputable rules when picking a nickname to represent a city's hip-hop scene. It has to be a) short, b) easy to remember and c) fresh as fuck. Enter "The Juice," the ubiquitous moniker for OC's hip-hop landscape among many millennial rhyme-slingers. We're not sure who came up with it exactly, but it's probably the consortium of rappers who created the trap-heavy hometown theme song "Welcome to the Juice." Rappers Kevin Parx (a.k.a. K Parx), C-Sharp, Matt Allenn and Kaliber rattle off a potent posse track that has a gritty luster synonymous with every OC reference they shout out in the song, from the Anas (a.k.a. Santa Anas) to Anaheim, and the "7-1-Fizzo" to MainPlace Mall. Props to these OC rappers for keeping it real, right down to the retail.
Best Venue for Live Music: Constellation Room
We know it would shock no one for us to give this award to Observatory. That's why we're sidestepping the big room this year to give props to its little brother, the Constellation Room. Though it's technically in the same building, to any local band or touring act on the way up, these two rooms are a solar system apart. It's about a quarter the size of Observatory, but it has killer sound and the kind of electricity that surges in a room packed to the gills. It's also the place where the most daring booking experiments happen, whether it's a popular local band or a genre-bending, underrated touring act. We can pop in any day of the week and find the good stuff that's not quite mainstream enough to make it to the big room . . . yet.
3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana,714-957-0600, constellationroom.com
Readers’ Choice: The Observatory
Best Festival: Boogaloo Music and Art Festival
The family vibe is what makes this music festival the best in Orange County. Although the Dirty Beetles aren't from OC, their recent ascent upon Silverado Canyon was the best thing that happened here last spring. With fewer than 2,500 people in attendance, art cars, live bands, DJs, crystal healers, painters, pop-up tea lounges and food trucks, this intimate camp-away festival is the place to go to make friends for life. There's even a family-style barbecue on the last day for everyone to participate in—pretty awesome, right? Definitely the best three-day festival in the county.
Best Alternative Venue for Live Shows: Programme
Chris Gronowski and Efrem Schulz's Fullerton skate shop widens its space to welcome all ages after dark to experience local and touring punk and hardcore acts on a regular basis. And the bands are consistently stellar; among these under-the-radar, underground bands, POC, female and gender-nonconforming singers are given space to wail and rage to discerning listeners, proving that punk isn't just a white dude's game. Though Programme is a tiny store, tucked away in a remote corner of a strip mall, it still houses a band, a PA system and a small crowd comfortably, giving youths from all over Orange County something to look forward to on a weeknight.
2495 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, 714-798-7565, programmehq.com
Best Indie Band: Leather Tramp
Even though they're relatively new on the Long Beach music scene, Leather Tramp already feel like a supergroup. Let's face it, any outfit that can organize band practice with 10 members is pretty damn super. Plus, it's the way all of those members use their variety of strings, percussion, brass and woodwinds to create a sound self-described as folkestra (folk + orchestra). The winners of this year's Busker Fest made a sterling impression on the roving crowd of live music fans with a backwoods sound that's fresh, whimsical and wise. Crowd favorites such as "Strays," "The Bear Prayer" and "Sunday Come Soon" showcase their ability to build each track from a contemplative campfire song to a lush, harmonious bloom of concert-hall perfection.
Readers’ Choice: Rocky’s Revival
Best Live Band: Bad Antics
A throwback to the glory days of the 1980s, OC skate-punk band Band Antics transform any placid bar crowd into an electric vortex. In other words, the kids really dig it. Snotty songs such as "Where Did I Go Wrong?" are a call to arms for any beaten-down millennial who's had a rough week at work and one too many beers. The Fullerton thrashers have a frenetic stage presence and dexterous musicianship, which is like adding a stick of dynamite to any punk-rock bill, especially as an opening act who can keep pace with OGs including JFA and Negative Approach. In other words, the old guys really dig it, too.
Readers’ Choice: FlashPants
Best Rock Band: Big Monsta
Big Monsta are on a mission to scare up a sound that's far fresher and more ferocious than that of your average three-piece power trio. Working in the template of blues rock à la the Black Keys, each song is an evolution of the style that brought the fiery vocals and guitar work of Jimmy Hua, bassist Adrian Sanchez and drummer Mike Willson to our attention several years ago. Since winning Best New Artist at the OC Music Awards in 2014, the band have continued grinding, with the help of producer Jon O'Brien, on everything from last year's British Invasion-tinged record Monos to the hooky, pop-driven, sitcom-ready ear worm "Come Back to Me" earlier this year.
Readers’ Choice: Flashback Heart Attack
Karaoke: Sunset Lounge
Looking for an unassuming dive bar that isn't trying so hard to cater to millennials and is aesthetically stuck in the 1970s (in the best way possible)? Sunset Lounge's friendly regulars and chatty bartenders provide a welcoming atmosphere in the midst of stiff drinks and karaoke. The jukebox's expansive song list carries everything from the most obscure indie bands to Top 40 favorites, from soulful oldies to rap anthems. Go ahead and show off your best, most drunken Jim Morrison cover here—sans the judgments.
1043 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, 714-525-0311
Readers’ Choice: Totally 80’s Bar & Grille
Best Record Label: Ghoulhouse Records
Despite the vastness of OC's garage-rock scene, there's always going to be a crop of bands that don't quite fit the mold of every other popular band pining for a piece of the '70s. Whether you prefer the horror-punk persuasion, acid-trip audio freakouts or pummeling all the wrong chords in all the right ways, Ghoulhouse Records is the answer to your prayers. It started in 2013 as a collaboration between founders Sean Danson of the Nightstalkers, Paul Gonzalez of Death Hymn Number 9 and Jim Bell of Sludgehammer, who wanted to make a home for bands that didn't quite fit the Burger Records roster. Since then, Ghoulhouse has blazed a path for the darker, freakier side of the garage scene with bands including Shirley Rolls, Octagrape, the Bad Machine and Feral Kizzy.
Best Punk Band: Bad Cop/ Bad Cop
Recently signed to Fat Wreck Chords, the ladies of Bad Cop/Bad Cop have been hard at work since 2011, writing personal, self-aware lyrics that have been cathartic in expressing their personal experiences. And they're punk as fuck. Their smart, irreverent lyrics are emboldened by three-part harmonies led by vocalists Jennie Cotterill and Stacy Dee, as well as a high-energy pop/punk style infused with multiple other punk influences that caught the ear of NOFX's Fat Mike, who produced their full-length 2015 release, Not Sorry. Unapologetically badass and charismatic onstage, their music is hard and fast, with a catchiness that has created new fans stateside and abroad in Europe. Their imminent world domination is only a matter of time now.
Best Festival: Viva Pomona!
Slam dancing is a recreational activity that was created for everyone to enjoy. That's the primary reason for the existence of multicultural fest Viva Pomona. This wild party drawing bands from all parts of SoCal and Latin America is enough to break down the sonic and phonic barriers that allow punk legends such as Alice Bag to share the same stage as Los Blenders from Mexico, Latin psych-rock darlings Chicano Batman or rockabilly-tinged garage punks Shannon and the Clams. Built on a raucous foundation of local psych bands since it started in 2011, Viva Pomona continues growing into a formidable festival in the heart of downtown Pomona's Arts District. Boasting a mix of gabacho badasses and Latino bands looking to break into America, the fest seizes cultural relevancy by unifying the crowd with adventurous sounds . . . and, this year, plenty of "Fuck Trump!" chants from the crowd.
Best New Band: Apollo Bebop
"I'm the future of hip-hop and the best MC currently, bitch!" That might sound like lyrically laced braggadocio, but in the case of rapper Brian to Earth and his band Apollo Bebop, their ability to use more than just bars to control the stage makes this a reasonably true statement. Driven by furious jazz grooves, a ferocious sax and a soul rooted in hip-hop's Golden Age, this Santa Ana five-piece consistently impressed us with their power. Their debut EP, Sushi No Rubber (released in July), splits the genome of their sound between jazz-hop, hardcore and the cerebral beats that provide the backdrop to some heavy and humorous tracks. It all points to the potential of a band that, on top of their raging rap fusion, still have many exciting layers left to peel back.
Readers’ Choice: Neonderthal
Best Hip-Hop Act: Gremlin
By his own admission, Gremlin is a weirdo in rap circles; he even sports a snapback with the word emblazoned on it. The Santa Ana rapper has the rhymes to back up the brand, venturing into personal cycles of hell for gut-wrenching, storytelling songs, a feat without parallel in Juice County. Released in May, Gremlin's Sprits EP brings more of the same, with harrowing song titles such as "Inner Demons," "Mark of the Beast" and "Devil's Curse." Yeah, he's definitely gone through some shit! But tortured navel gazing remains Gremlin's signature. This year, he perfected the craft with "Real Talk Part 4," a track about his brother's meth addition. The supporting video even featured Gremlin's actual brother and family.
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Best Nightclub: Funk Freaks
Night after night, the Funk Freaks keep that stank going slap after slap to get that volo cracking. The collective is known for throwing it down on Friday nights at Original Mike's in Santa Ana, but you can catch the crew all over OC, LA and the IE. So if you're ready for that boogie-slyde remix, make sure to follow them on Facebook to see where they'll be laying down that street funk next.
Readers’ Choice: Totally 80’s Bar & Grille