A Technicolor torrential of eye-candy retro fashion and tropical-culture themed amusements, Tiki Oasis at the Crown Plaza Hotel in San Diego remains one of Southern California’s most vibrant and enduring weekend getaways. But even with a car show, a beauty pageant, tons of symposiums and seminars, shopping galore, plenty of pool time complete with an impressive roster of DJs, not to mention drinking, drinking, and more drinking of rum-based tropical concoctions, the thing that stands out every year for a lot of us is the live music bookings, both on stage and inside the event’s infamous late night room parties. This year was no exception.
On top of its mod and tiki-culture base, Oasis takes on an additional kitschy thematic every year, providing attendees new dress up opportunities and the event as a whole a chance to explore other retro cultural elements that may interest them. Last year it was “Monster Island” and the year before that it was “Outer Space.” This year the theme was “International Intrigue” and “Spy” style, which was reflected in the event offerings, décor and colorful dress-up we saw at the event. For music-lovers, it was reflected by the artists and bands who played the event, which came from all around the globe, as well as the US.
International main stage bands included the garagey all-girl goodness of 5,6.7.8’s from Japan (best known for their appearance in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1), rhythm and blues rockers Les Grys Grys from France, garagey grinders The Diaboliks from Australia, and Exotica quintet Ixtahuele from Sweden. Domestic acts included 60s stompers The Outta Sites and singer/songwriter Skip Heller (who was Yma Sumac’s band leader) from LA, and tiki jammers Ape from San Francisco and Tiki Joe’s Ocean from Seattle.
The late night room parties featured even more exciting live surprises, both local and from far away lands, including blistering surf bands the El Caminos (from Japan) and Kilaueas (from Germany) in the room sponsored the Royal Hawaiian and the tiki culture podcast “Inside the Desert Oasis Room. ” Yours truly did a late night DJ set for the splashy shindig, which ended up winning the event’s award for “Best Room Party.”
Another soiree which got a lot of buzz at this year’s event, Tiki Kat (out of Kansas City) and interior designer Bamboo Ben’s bash featuring a special surprise set by legendary punk band Agent Orange, who did a hit and covers packed set including a nod to the theme with Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.”
To say the room party scene at Tiki Oasis is as popular as the main stage events is an understatement at this point. The hottest parties have become sponsorship opportunities for tiki bars and liquor brands, and opportunities for everyone to show their design skills within the confines of each room. The rooms are not so much “hotel rooms” as they are interactive art installations-meets-nightclubs with lights, music, bars serving up tropical libations.
Many of the most elaborate parties saw lines snaking around the perimeters of each floor’s walkways. Some of our favorites included the sweaty, sexy party from Pagan Idol out of San Francisco with great soul deejays and go go dancers going til 7am; The Casbah room party done up like a desert hideaway and featuring an exhilarating performance by The Schizophonics; The Deadhead Rum bash with popular LA DJ Senor Amor; the “Ken-Tiki” room with Deadbolt; and the frozen drink driven “Real” gathering with mixologists from Arizona’s Undertow and London’s Mahiki bar.
Island-life might be all about relaxation and escapism, but Tiki Oasis really doesn’t allow for much rest. It’s a high energy sort of event that continues to attract more and more people each year, selling out sooner and sooner each time. Though the culture has seen a resurging interest in the mainstream via bar and nightlife trends mostly, the hardcore crowd are all about keeping it old school, wearing clothes from only the 50s-70s and favoring décor and imagery with a mid-century modern feel. Recent media coverage of the tiki scene has attempted to tackle some tough questions in regard to cultural appropriation of island culture, but the nostalgic focus at events like Tiki Oasis highlight the long-standing connection and appreciation that followers have had in the United States. Hawaiian, Polynesian and tiki style are part of American culture and they have been for a long time. The international twist this year, sort of illuminated the fact that other nations see it that way too, and provided a fun contrast to the fashion, music and aesthetic so many of us know and love.