At Heard Mentality, we've always been in the business of picking out the best/weirdest/wildest distractions that OC's music scene has to offer. It's turned out to be quite a long list, more than one blog post's worth, that's for sure. But in celebration of our Best of OC 2015 Issue, we're keeping the love train going with a few of our favorite places to earn our future hearing problems. Here's a quick list of the Best Places to Check Out Music in OC.
See also: Best Musicians in OC By Genre 2015
Best Live Weekly Reggae: The Sandpiper Lounge
The Dirty Bird has its roots deep in OC's reggae history. Decades of Jamaican grooves run deep on the world-renowned dive bar's dance floor, embedded by all sorts of feet moving to the riddims of the World Anthem Band. Ron I says of his weekly gig there, "I live nearby, skateboard down and just show up to play as-is. You could show up literally wearing adult diapers, and they would let you in. Anything goes. You watch people change from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m." So come as you are, and let dat ting work its magic on you.
Best Karaoke: Elvis?! Karaoke Studios
Asian-style karaoke, in which everyone crowds into a private room and sings their hearts out sans waiting, is better than American bar caterwauling by far, so it's only right that our favorite spot does it the Asian way. There's a ton of places you can go to, from the fancy Plush in Diamond Jamboree to Ziller in Fullerton, but if you don't care about lasers and tambourines or a strong food selection and immaculate furniture, the one with the best selection of English music is Elvis!? Karaoke Studios. Just be courteous to the hard-working staff (who knows the trouble they go through . . .) and have yourself a karaOK time.
Best Nightclub: Focus OC
Maybe you only go to nightclubs to meet potential bedfellows, or to get wild, or the chance to hear some really, really good music. Focus OC is for the latter of y'all, enforcing its party atmosphere with world-famous house-music producers and DJs to expose you to mind- (and spleen-) bending sounds. Taking place at a Spanish tapas restaurant, Focus OC re-energized the county's nightlife scene with passionate DJs (namely resident DJs Josh Billings and Nonfiction) running its inner workings, showing that they care about whose bass drops and electronic beats are driving you to shake your rump on the dance floor. Kinda makes you wish it was Tuesday night every night, don't it?
Best Venue: The Observatory
As an independent, all-ages venue, the Observatory (and its deep-pocketed owners and investors) created a phenomenon in OC, in which the ability to bid aggressively for the biggest acts in the world has made it (and talent buyer Jeff Shuman) a crushing force in Southern California entertainment. In January, a second venue in the North Park area of San Diego was announced; it's already pumping out sold-out shows. The venue's main asset continues to be the ability to tap into the sounds and styles that escape the mainstream radar. Sure, you might be able to go there to see Morrissey on a Tuesday. But it's not just booking the big artists; it's also booking the one you're two months away from obsessing about.
Best Venue for Live Comedy: Surf City Comedy Club
Many things in Orange County are unintentionally funny (as documented by us), but there is intentional humor, too. For hilariously self-deprecating monologues and one-liners, take a seat at Surf City Comedy Club. Here, the setting is intimate and the beer aplenty–prerequisites for watching comedians such as Allan Havey and Eric Schwartz share quirky observations, make animal noises (reasons why may vary), and say/do ridiculous but relatable things. The club changes its lineup every Saturday, so expect new comedic voices and audience interactions every week–in other words, a steady stream of laughter.
Best Alternative Venue: Programme N Sound
This is the spot where most of OC's young musical whippersnappers play for small audiences in an intimate DIY setting. Fullerton's Programme Skate N Sound has hosted underground hardcore and punk shows for some time, and the scene is kept alive by the momentum of a community willing to pay heed to the store's straight-edge policy. Owners Chris Gronowski and Efrem Schulz (Manic Hispanic's cub loco) make the most of the tiny store space by moving furniture and racks around for musicians and listeners to rock in harmony together.
Best Record Label: Wiener Records
Wiener Records lives by a simple code: Anyone can be a Wiener. The business model for this Burger Records offshoot is pretty easy to understand. Bands pay anywhere from $250 to $650 for the manufacturing of 100 tapes, social-media shoutouts and the ability to sell their music on Wiener's website. Wanna fart into a microphone for 20 minutes? Pay Wiener the money, and the company will put it out. It's not about discovering the next Elvis; it's about making things equal. And in today's record industry (or lack thereof), that's really all you need to know.
Best Festival: Woogie Weekend
This year saw the partial return of Lightning In a Bottle to Oak Canyon Ranch in the form of Woogie Weekend. The three-day festival had us sloshing in the rain among the trees and neon, psychedelic backdrop. Thriving on simplicity in the face of the race to double and triple every other festival year after year, this outdoor bacchanal was fueled by the party supplied by diehards looking to get a taste of a familiar scene (back when they called them raves) headlined by the highest levels of O.G., underground talent (yes, we know that's an oxymoron), including Adam Freeland, Gigamesh, Marques Wyatt and many more. It started small (about 4,000 people) and strong, and we're hoping it stays that way–at least until Silicon Valley finds out about it.