Orange County's long trajectory of punk rock music spaces goes back farther than most people in their twenties will remember, from the legendary Koo's Cafe to Safari Sam's to the Cuckoo's Nest. Added to that list is Top Acid, a spot that has given scruffy youths of all ages access to seeing touring, local, and global bands perform in scattered spaces across Downtown Santa Ana's East End. Held together by Chris Gonzalez, Top Acid has become the leading site for underground music, chaos, bizarre art, and Santa Ana flavor at this moment in time. Why, our own Nate Jackson even gave it a mention as one of the venues keeping punk rock alive in Orange County.
This Saturday, Top Acid celebrates its first year of existence, surviving a myriad of obstacles, address changes, technical snafus and all sorts of spontaneous conflicts, proving the age-old adage "the show must go on" still rings true. Looking ahead, it'll continue to bring solid line ups on a regular basis at venues like Yost Theater, DTSA Underground, and French Plaza. Whether or not it will expand its festival scene to Beach Goth-level proportions, it's already carved its own legacy in OC's musical landscape.
The Weekly had a chance to sit down with Gonzalez and discuss some of Top Acid's memorable moments, shows, highlights, and other favorite experiences that made its first year of operations a standout year, and hopefully one of many.
10. The first show, dating back to February 7, 2015 at the Downtown Santa Ana art walk
On the lineup: LUUM, Ghost Noise, Terminal A, Sashcloth & Axes, Living Room.
9. Overseas guests
Bands like Ter_ri from Japan, Sleepbeggar (UK), Gooch Palms (Australia) Phedre and Hooded Fang (both from Canada) have all played at Top Acid, and have had exceptional experiences getting to know the city. "I feel like an ambassador to Santa Ana," Gonzalez says, "I'm so stoked that these bands get to play here and realize that our city is actually pretty cool."
8. Chup Fest II
Chup Fest II was a mini festival put on by Top Acid, featuring two stages and over twenty bands. What made it so memorable was that Gonzalez began putting it together only two days after his Way Too Fun Fest (more on that later), solidifying the lineup, getting the word out and having everything ready by its show date, four days later.
"I remember there were no issues at that show. It was so amazing," Gonzalez says. While every show has him running around to ensure things run smoothly, Gonzalez was able to de-stress by enlisting some help this time around. "I was able to trust my friend Trevor [Gaston] to hold down the fort for one of the stages. It was like I trusted [him] with my baby in his hands."
7. Meeting new friends
"Ninety percent of my friends, I've met through Top Acid, either at a show or as musicians who played a show," says Gonzalez.
6. East End Block Party
For Gonzalez and Top Acid, this was the first big major festival he had ever put on. Happening alongside Beat Swap Meet, the classic car showcase, the Blading Cup, and the Downtown Art Walk, the turnout for the event was huge, and welcomed guests like Santoros, Audacity, Gap Dream, Rudy De Anda, The Abigails, and more.
"I was scared out of my fucking mind. I had no idea what I was doing, but I somehow managed to pull it off," he says. "It definitely got me to think bigger, though."
5. Anytime (and every time) Sloppy Jane plays a Top Acid show
Sloppy Jane's feral stage presence and caustic, moody punk music have made them darlings of the LA rock scene. Led by Haley Dahl, their live shows are well known for band members rolling around the floor mid-song, vomiting paint and stripping completely naked. It's safe to say that anyone who has seen Sloppy Jane perform leaves changed in some way, which is the kind of experience that is appropriate for a space like Top Acid.
4. The art
Besides a music venue, Top Acid regularly enlists local artists to decorate the space with murals, scrawlings, graffiti, paintings, or even framed art. There have been successful themed art shows channeling Adventure Time or Sailor Moon, where attendees have even shown up dressed in costume. For Gonzalez, it combines the music with the artist community DTSA is known for.
3. Throwing OC Queer Fest in an alley next to the Yost
"It was insane. I don't even know how we got away with it. All I could think of was, 'how the fuck am I getting away with this?'"
Running concurrently with OC Pride, OC Queer Fest assembled itself within the narrow alleyway next to the Yost, hardly interrupted by cars driving through. According to Gonzalez there were no issues, technical or otherwise, except for the police eventually coming to break up the fest— although by then the last band was already mid-way through their set.
2. Hosting the Beach Goth After Party
Top Acid became the site for the official Beach Goth 2015 after party where musicians, patrons, Burger Records affiliates and friends came together to unwind. Among them were members of The Growlers and Bryan Bell from Weezer. "Bell was into [Top Acid]. He's so famous and has played every venue in the world. He thought that what we were doing was cool."
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1. Way Too Fun Fest
By far the biggest Top Acid show to date, artists like The Lovely Bad Things, Death Hymn Number 9, Hollow Ran, GRN + GLD and way, way more played to a massive audience, crowding the French Plaza to the very end of the night. Gonzalez: "I hadn't done anything on that large scale before. It was nice that it also brought me some kind of validation, so many people were like, holy shit, [Top Acid] is doing something cool."
Top Acid's One Year Anniversary happens Saturday, February 6th with LSD and the Search For God, Girl Tears, Mechachief, Vajj, Hollow Ran and Seaweed Party at the French Plaza in Downtown Santa Ana on the corner of 4th Street and French. 6pm, free, all ages. Follow the Facebook event page here and give Top Acid's page a like to keep up to date on the latest shows.