OC DIY Is On a Mission to Create a Safe Space For Shows in South County

Perched atop a hill overlooking San Clemente’s lush valleys and beaches, the organizers of OC DIY are  hard at work, carefully planning their next move.  From their bedroom-turned- sound proofed studio and headquarters, longtime friends Will Saba and Nadya Diaz are destroying false perceptions of Orange County as a place lacking a music and arts culture, one all-ages show at a time.

“As a musician [I’ve] always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” says Diaz, a Ladera Ranch native and OC DIY co-founder.

Before OC DIY existed, Diaz didn’t know any local bands or go to underground shows, but all of this changed in 2014 after a Facebook chat with Saba about the lack of accessible music and art spaces in Orange County. “We wanted to fix that by creating a space [for] inclusive all-ages DIY shows.” Since then, the 20-year-old guitarist and vocalist has become an integral part of Orange County’s alternative show booking network, playing shows herself along with Saba in Red Curtain and solo as I Saw the Wolf. OC DIY have thrown over 70 weekly, all ages shows at various locations, events like video game tournaments and art shows, and even started a locally centered podcast called Taste the Sound. Their love and dedication to music made by their community drives their vision of a physical permanent space, a dream they can almost taste but still on their horizon.

Orange County has been a tough nut to crack for DIY organizers dreaming of a hyper visible location for all ages music since the closing of Koos Café in 2001. The combination of rising rents, murky and frequently changing permit rules, and communities inhospitable to noise have made it next to impossible for consistent DIY physical locations to open, and more difficult for them to stay afloat once opening their doors. To keep it going, it seems one must not only be committed, but possessed by the goal of creating an avenue for live music that didn’t exist before.

“I don’t think I got into music by choice,” says Saba, president of OC DIY. The young, floppy haired musician’s energy is a cross between an eccentric visual artist, entrepreneur, and Ian MacKaye. “I have constant, unignorable songs running through my head all the time. I’m not trying to sound like some type of child prodigy that always hears music, but that really is the case, and I honestly don’t enjoy it a lot.” 

Saba believes in the transformative potential of a thriving, consistent, and above ground DIY scene in any community, especially Orange County. “If you build a space that gives people that chance to explore themselves while joining a family, you’re giving birth to another creative; a person who believes in expression, a person who believes in art [along with] locals who want everyone to grow.”

DIY, or Do-It-Yourself, is an ethos that defines everything the duo does. “When we first started organizing, we had trouble coming up with a name,” Diaz remembers, “DIY was included in the name because we were influenced by DIY ethics [and] spaces like The CHE Cafe and The Dial.” In addition to being a way to build community, DIY has become a way for individuals to heal. Saba, who admits to struggling with trust issues and depression in the past, says the culture he’s helping to build gives him strength he never had before. “DIY makes me feel like working on something important enough to force myself over [those issues],” he says.

Their first shows were held in garages and living rooms friends’ houses, from there the group grew, promoting solid small shows and pop up art galleries at places like San Clemente Art Supply, Beatnik Bandito, and Programme all places they continue to work with today. OC DIY has grown rapidly since their inception, even managing an online group set up for Orange County musicians to connect with each other and with people booking shows. Recently they have expanded, booking electronic shows in addition to indie and punk, and throwing larger events that aren’t just limited to music, like a recent Smash Brothers tournament hosted in collaboration with the Child Creativity Lab in Santa Ana.

One of Diaz’s favorite events, the tournament featured games, music, and Nintendo themed fan art created by locals. “We spent the whole day before the show moving all the furniture and equipment around, and setting up the TVs and game consoles for the tournament,” Diaz says. “Even though we were under a lot of stress dealing with the rain and making sure we had enough TVs and Gamecubes, we had a lot of fun meeting all the new people and seeing them have a great time at the show.”

In hopes of highlighting and promoting local favorites across genres, Diaz and Saba created the OC DIY Taste the Sound YouTube and podcast series. Launched in January of this year, Taste the Sound has featured many of OC DIY’s favorite local artists such as Struck Out, Former Friend, The Gromble, and YAAWN.

While doing shows at other locations has been a great start, Saba and Diaz still have their hearts set on getting an OC DIY physical location, and are actively in the process of seeking out the perfect home to become ground zero for Orange County creatives. “I want to make it more than just a place where shows are held,” Diaz says. The goal is to house a safe space for zine fests, open mics, art and music workshops, and independent film screenings where there is no tolerance for sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism. “No one should ever feel discouraged to go to a show for the fear being judged or mistreated,” Diaz says.

Their biggest barrier in building their physical location is difficulty finding the right space in a welcoming location for a price they can afford. Being in South County, organizers have met their share of detractors, whose criticisms just add more fuel to OC DIY’s mission and they’re confident that eventually, their dream for a physical space will materialize. “I’ve talked to business owners, professional bookers, CEO’s and they think it’s crazy,” Saba says. “[They wonder] why put so much stress on something that not a ton of people have seen really work? In fact, it’s arguably insane, but I want it and I want it for everyone. I’m stuck on it. The doubt is something that can’t affect me.”

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