Sometimes the wild world of OC’s music scene can be a confusing place. From the outside, few places can feel so culturally barren yet those of us who actually know our shit, obviously know better. For the last 365 days, we’ve made it our business to forage through the clubs, basements, and backyards from San Clemente to SanTana and beyond to seek out those with the artistic ability to rattle our bones and our eardrums as we continue on the endless quest for the next big thing. In honor of our annual Best Of OC issue, here’s a list of the musicians who caught our ear this year broken down into categories that few of them would ever feel comfortable being completely defined by. But for the sake of making this giant melting pot of awesomeness more easily consumable for the newbies among us, here’s our list of the Best OC Music of 2017.
Have you even heard Jonwayne’s Rap Album Two? Go listen to it front to back before you start crying about our choice because no OC rapper comes even close to delivering the piece of art carefully painted by the La Habra MC. Using the delivery of a battle rapper, the swagger of a homie and the vocabulary of a poet, he carefully crafts flows syllable by syllable, showing you he means it when he says “these words are everything.” Jonwayne possesses an old-school MC style that allows him to mesmerize the crowd as he rocks the mic with confidence and endlessly finesses anyone who doubts him.
East End Block Party
Nowhere in OC does record-swapping, hip-hop, lowriding, graffiti, funk, punk and indie come together so beautifully in a straight wonderland of modern culture. It’s an all-ages, free event that finds subcultures too often separated in the county coming together through the leadership of East End business owners, local hip-hop label/collective Konsept, Orange County Music League, Beat Swapmeet, local promoters and venues who make this beautiful event happen. One second, you’re moshing to punk in the Top Acid “Way Too Fun Fest” section; the next, you’re pop-locking to funk music on the Curious Entertainment side or looking through stacks of records in the Beat Swap Meet. On top of the multiple sections in the festival, the surrounding restaurants, taco trucks and bars make sure you’ll get some bomb food to eat and a decent buzz without spending all of your money. Hopefully, the twice-a-year block parties continue long after gentrification turns SanTana into another Silver Lake.
Best Beat Producer
Dez Yusef of Crimewave 5150
It’s long been confirmed that the future torchbearers of gangsta rap won’t be concerned with the same sounds as their forefathers. Just check out the music of Long Beach rap duo Crimewave 5150. Though the combination of gory street tales and caustic bars presented by JSNMSK and Yusuf are central to their skills as MCs, we have to give Yusuf his due for mashing up elements of the metal and hardcore he grew up listening to while skateboarding through the city streets. Yusuf’s beats are the perfect soundtrack to a knock-down, drag-out, hip-hop mosh pit, which the group is famous for stirring up among Long Beach’s lit AF millennial hip-hop-heads. If there’s one producer whose skills can cross over to audiences on both sides of the Orange County line, it’s the guy who knows how to craft a beat that can turn any rap concert into a headbanger’s ball.
Best Live Band
There’s something to be said for a band that stay true to their name. In that sense, the thick-eyeliner-and-black-leather allure of OC punk band the Flytraps is what draws unsuspecting fans closer to the stage so they can bite their heads off. Sporting a mix of snotty hooks and slick licks, the band (which started around 2012) provide a sound that offers the catchiness of the Runaways with the raw, animalistic swagger of the Stooges. Members have come and gone since their debut, She-Freak, but the core duo of bassist/vocalist Kristin Cooper and guitarist Beth Boyd keep the band fierce onstage, whipping their shoulder-length hair and rattling their bones to the beat of songs such as “Cat Tongue” and “Sunset Strip RIP.” Watch out for these ladies to do big things in 2018.
Readers’ Choice: The Arnie Newman Band Featuring Francelle
Best Experimental Band
Evan Stone and the Translucent Ham Sandwich Band
It might be easy to guess judging by their name alone, but Evan Stone & the Translucent Ham Sandwich Band aren’t just a bunch of local musicians getting together for a show—well, actually, they are. Every gig qualifies as an event, cramming at least a half-dozen members onstage, not counting whatever acrobats, belly dancers or sideshow freaks are joining them that night. For years, they’ve been known as one of the most visually interesting and musically adept acts in OC. But as with any great experimental band, they’re trying to show the inspiration for their music is more than just surface-level. And that’s something artists are often afraid to do . . . which is why we love this kooky conglomerate.
Best Jazz Band
BD Jazz Duo
When it comes to musical gamer tributes, BD Jazz Duo are some next-level shit. Combining the forces of guitarist Adam Bellotto and bassist Robby Delosier, the duo puts a jazz twist on theme songs gamers are guaranteed to recognize. A few of Bellotto and Delosier’s all-time favorite video games include Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Kirby, Dragon Quest, Duck Hunt and that Cab Calloway swirl called The Legend of Zelda. If you’re in the mood for some 8-bit be-bop, you can’t go wrong with these guys.
Best Tribute Band
If wild parties with nostalgic music and raunchy jokes sound like fun, then SEGA Genecide’s brand of cheekiness is what you’ve been waiting for. Their name, an obvious play on the ’90s gaming system, is an ode to the music they grew up on and a way to corner the market in the local tribute band scene. Now, they can jam out to Ginuwine’s “Pony” or Smash Mouth’s “All Star” without a hint of irony and get the dance floor lit off their rediscovered love for pop that defined their middle-school dances.
Best Music Video
“Underdogs” by Yung Pinch
It’s been a big year for HB rapper Yung Pinch. Aside from performing at sold-out shows around the country and landing on OC’s marquee hip-hop festival Day N Night, his music-video game is stepping up as well. For proof, look no further than “Underdogs,” directed by Cole Bennett. Highlighting the lilting trap beats of the Bluntington Beach bad boy’s millennial rap repertoire, it’s also a love letter to his local roots, with a side of cartoon surrealism that accents the video of a bleary-eye day and night in the life of the up-and-coming rapper (with a few extra-fine girls thrown in for good measure). While it’s not the most ground-breaking concept in the world, the important thing is the vibe and realness with which it illustrates everything we love about this long-haired surfer-looking MC from the 714.
Best Local Music Festival
When We Were Young
If someone had said at the beginning of the year that the Observatory would throw the best festival of the year in its own parking lot, we would’ve known that 2017 was going to be a strange year. When We Were Young was a surprisingly flawless weekend full of generations of emo music. Even aside from the expectedly great show from Morrissey, the stacked lineup of everyone from Joyce Manor to AFI to the Get Up Kids delivered with performances both current and nostalgic. Perhaps it was because tickets didn’t sell out—or maybe organizers simply learned a lesson from previous festivals—but When We Were Young was easily the best, most comfortable Observatory festival of any genre. Same time next year?
Readers’ Choice: Like Totally 80s Festival
Best Indie Band
Their blend of Americana and indie rock is as classic and timeless as it is current, and with the completion of their trilogy of EPs released earlier this year, expect front man Aric Damm and his band to take on the entire indie world.
Readers’ Choice: Mike Eldred Trio
Best Punk Band
While too many of Orange County’s amazing punk bands still rest on the records they put out decades ago, T.S.O.L. brought their legacy into 2017 with The Trigger Complex. More than 35 years after Dance With Me put them on the punk map and decades of iconic records and magnificent tours, Jack Grisham and the rest of the guys are still dissenting just as creatively and intelligently as ever. Add in an electrifying Coachella performance as one of the festival’s only punk-rock groups, and there hasn’t been a better year for True Sounds of Liberty in quite some time.
Readers’ Choice: Adolescents
Best Rock Band
Although they haven’t been the most active band in the past half-decade, the Aquabats did more in 2017 than they have since the launch of their TV show back in 2012 and have even teased the prospect of new music in the near future. With the state of the world both in and out of the music industry these days, it seems as if we all need a whole lot more of the Aquabats and less of just about everything else. More than 23 years after their crime-fighting debut, the Aquabats are not only the heroes Orange County deserves, but also the ones it needs right now.
Readers’ Choice: Flashback Heart Attack
Best Hip-Hop Act
Weapons of Mass Creation
Anaheim’s Weapons of Mass Creation stand out as a rarity in Juice County. The six-piece band bring live instruments to the local rap scene, creating a sound reminiscent of the Roots. And they keep it all in the familia: Five members are siblings, with the lone holdout, Afro-Latino rapper Solitude, practically being kinfolk. Together, the group weave woke rhymes with relaxed grooves in creating musical conversations about police brutality, identity and feminism. Rapper Joules is another rare jewel—not just as a Chicana in a male-dominated scene, but also as someone with a dual deftness as a rhymer and crooner. More soulful than preachy, Weapons of Mass Creation craft songs of freedom adept to move OC’s musical masses in more ways than one.
Best Club DJ
It wasn’t until Richard Rodriguez turned 18 that his parents got him a pair of Technics 1200 turntables, but he has definitely made up for lost time since then. Transformed into DJ InDJnous, a homage to his indigenous Mexican and Guatemalan roots, he’s now OC’s foremost turntablist. Hip-hop-heads catch him spinning on the regular at the Observatory. The Anaheim resident is the official DJ for Cookbook, Concrete Saints and Ras Kass, all while still holding it down for local OC artists. And DJ InDJnous’ scratches on rapper Endz’s “714” opens up every episode of our OC Speakly podcast, making him a hometown hero for life.
Readers’ Choice: DJ Beneficial
Best New Band
Taking cues from bands such as Built to Spill and Pinback, Bundy temper their dark lyrical content with melodic breaks and pop-forward arrangements, letting audiences come up for air once in a while as they bob their heads to a dancey four-on-the-floor beat. On songs such as this year’s “Holy Vultures,” singer/guitarist Nani Serna’s floating guitar and David Byrne-reminiscent vocals nestle well with the rhythms of bassist Kelsey Hoover, drummer Derek Cookmeyer’s sturdy pulse and guitarist Johnny Lim’s vibrant energy. With an impressive showing at this year’s Buskerfest, we see big things for this killer band (just don’t hold their name against them).
Readers’ Choice: Blue Deux