After decades of watching street art flourish in Los Angeles while cities throughout Orange County cracked down on what they labeled as vandalism, local graffiti artist Xplode decided he needed to create a space for his community. So in 2015, he premiered the Orange Crush’d exhibition. “It started out as a show to celebrate graffiti art in Orange County,” he explains. “We had 60 artists from three different decades, spanning from the late ’80s all the way to the present.”
Hosted at GCS, a clothing store and art gallery in downtown Santa Ana, the first showing garnered the attention of not only fellow artists and fans, but also sponsors such as Burger Records and Learn to Forget. The latter, a clothing company owned by Adolescents/Death By Stereo drummer Mike Cambra and Night Verses bassist/DIY designer Reilly Herrera, proved to be pivotal.
“For the second and third shows, they supplied canvases for our featured artists,” recalls Xplode. “They saw the vision and partnered up with me.” With such support, the show was able to grow steadily each year.
This year’s show marks the biggest change for Orange Crush’d, as it’s not only moving to a new venue, but it’s also incorporating some of OC’s biggest punk bands. “Graffiti is always tied to hip-hop, but a lot of it is rooted in punk,” Xplode explains. “Even in the early punk photos of bands at different clubs, there was always graffiti in the background.” The connection became more apparent in the ’80s, when hardcore bands such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys started utilizing logos that were instantly recognizable and easy to reproduce. In fact, one of Xplode’s earliest memories of graffiti was seeing the Adolescents’ name spray-painted on a wall. And now, things are finally coming full-circle, as the band will play Orange Crush’d 4 this weekend.
Also among Xplode’s influences in the ’80s was Placentia punk band Doggy Style. The cover art for their album Side By Side, which featured the band’s name scrawled in graffiti letters, was the inspiration for a stage banner that Xplode painted for the upcoming show.
Punk bands throughout the ’90s continued to borrow heavily from graffiti culture for their own logos. Two of the most obvious Californian examples, Capitalist Casualties and Dystopia, used similarly styled letters to spell their names. However, Xplode argues, the commonalities between graffiti and punk rock run deeper than aesthetics. “They’re both about rebellion,” he says. “With graffiti, it’s unintentionally political, but at the same time, you’re creating a voice based on individuality.”
He adds that Orange County has been a hotbed for both countercultures for more than three decades. “The landscape and architecture hasn’t changed that much. I think the neighborhoods still breed that kind of angst.”
Unlike local punk rock, Xplode says, OC graffiti doesn’t seem to have a very clear sense of lineage, which he attributes to law enforcement being notoriously strict toward illegal graffiti. “No one can deny the impact that graffiti has on our culture,” he says. “But here, there’s no way to express that without doing it illegally. What’s crazy is that a lot of OC writers don’t know the history of OC graffiti. They don’t really know who came before them or what got painted because everything gets painted over so rapidly. So there’s really no sense of history. Whereas in LA, people have an understanding; because they’re able to see some murals, they’re familiar with the artists.”
Xplode’s goal is to create safe spaces for his fellow graffiti artists to hone their craft. By featuring a diverse, multigenerational roster of artists—including Keb5, Xces, Guilt, JoshR and Hiroe—he hopes Orange Crush’d will foster a sense of community.
And for this year’s show Garden Grove’s Garden Amp has offered up some of its wallspace for the artists to paint murals that will be displayed for an extended time. “Maybe it will also start the discussion of trying to create some legal walls in Orange County,” Xplode says.
Thanks to Cambra and Herrera, Orange Crush’d will feature on two stages a diverse, kickass lineup of OC punk bands, including the Adolescents, Apocalypse, Final Conflict, the Side Eyes, Melted, the Stitches and ACxDC.
For Xplode, this eclectic mix of punk rock and graffiti is central to the event’s success on a cultural level. “That’s why I’m trying to do this; [it] is to mix the two crowds together and actually get people exposed to that artwork.” He then adds with a laugh, “I’m assuming that more than half the crowd won’t even know anything about graffiti.”
Orange Crush’d 4 at Garden Amp, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove, (949) 415-8544; gardenamp.com. Sat., Noon. $20. All ages.