On a clear, late afternoon in Aliso Viejo, Michael Davis sits in a remote corner of his house, listening to his son's band Sharing Rooms play to a room full of hip high schoolers. The living room has been emptied of furniture to make space for everyone, while a string of tiny lights illuminates the walls and adds a cozy ambience.
Davis sits back, relaxed and taking it all in: the spangling guitars, shrill poetic vocals and moody vibes punctuated by bombastic melodic outbursts. And then his wife, Karen, who has been off tending to their dogs, comes to him with an urgent message: "One of the neighbors says he's going to call the cops on the show," she says.
It's not unusual for a house show to ruffle feathers in any neighborhood, but in an area where it's rare to find creative outlets and musical entertainment for young people, cranky neighbors and strict police are a buzzkill. Ultimately no one calls the cops on this Saturday, and the evening goes on without a hitch. Davis, who says this is his first time allowing a concert in his home, is pleased with how well the whole experience has gone. "Everybody's peaceful and friendly, and they all enjoy the music," he says. "I think it's really a good idea for these little bands that are undiscovered to provide some sort of venue where they can get an audience and capture some people."
House shows in South Orange County have been on the rise lately, partly because of a trend of mobilization among youth to invent creative outlets with the available resources. Young bands get good exposure with little risk, unlike with the pay-to-play option in which mainstream venues and promoters swindle ingenues out of money they don't have.When you factor in the use of Facebook and Instagram, any musician can distribute content and news to a broader network. And let's not forget good, old-fashioned word of mouth.
Out of the garage, these bands make it out to . . . well, other people's garages, living rooms or back yards. And these kids are perfectly content with that. In a region rife with expansive landscapes and repressive conservatism, these intimate domestic spaces have become the de facto settings for start-up bands to play before a live audience. Most of the time, the hosts are kids–from high school to college age–who've gotten their parents' and neighbors' permission, and in many cases, they are in the bands playing that night.
In some quiet, South County beach communities, however, there are artists who feel as if they're stepping on eggshells while they're playing. Cameron Miller, singer for the hardcore band Seizures, explains that even getting permission from elderly neighbors ahead of time won't keep them from calling the cops because loud music disrupts their routine. "They don't know [our music]; they don't want it," Miller says. "They want concerts to be held in [Irvine Meadows] Amphitheatre–kind of like how you're not allowed to skate anywhere but in skate parks."
But the rise of house shows has seemingly raised the bar for performing bands. Jacob Beaver of the band Twin Bruises is barely 18, yet he has hosted numerous shows in his Mission Viejo home and has noticed how a willing audience will entice bands to up their skill level. "It's like watching a kid grow up, in a way. Local bands start to get bigger, and then they get better," Beaver says. "There's an overall improvement in the lyrics and production quality of the songs."
But the real connective tissue that holds the scene together is the ease with which everyone at a house show can connect. Friends, friends of friends, parents and family members, even complete strangers–all of them feed off one another's collective excitement and energy within the confines of a tight space. And since shows are open to the public, bands get the thrill of introducing their music to potential new fans.
Alyx Poska of OC DIY–an independent, underground music collective that puts on shows throughout Orange County–grew up in Mission Viejo and came of age playing in DIY venues such as San Diego's Che Cafe. He marvels at how South County has fostered a harmonious music environment in recent years. "It feels really awesome to see 40 to 50 kids in this garage, and most of them know the most important lines in the songs and sing along," Poska says. "I might be 25 and old and jaded compared to them, but, like, I still feel those teenage feelings they're talking about and enjoy their music."
Aly Gillies, who plays flute and keyboard for the band Evary, is a transplant from San Diego. She admits she had a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings, saying she owes her decreasing shyness and expanding her musical horizons to the scene. "I've met so many incredible people from going to house shows," she says. "I've become more comfortable around new people because of the scene, and it's honestly a huge part of my life."
While the music is predominantly emo and hardcore, genres range from scrappy garage punk to indie pop to shoegaze and math rock. In addition to Evary and Twin Bruises, bands such as the Gloriosas, Verb the Noun, the Gromble, Pedestrian and Getting Married have been featured.
"South County's music genres are more polarized, from the Burger [Records] kids to the emo and hardcore and punk kids," Poska says. "It's a good thing these shows are happening because, without them, people can't get exposed to new music and can't meet new friends."
These new friends even include members of hardcore bands such as Ridgeway and Seizures, who are older and have toured different parts of the country.
OC DIY has been bringing South County bands to play shows in small shops and houses in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Fullerton. Divides are breaking down within the disparate music communities. Through these alternative spaces, Poska sees potential for even more experimentation in musical acts. "There's a lot of opportunities for house shows to include weirder stuff and things that don't normally happen in music venues," he says. "[The bands] would really benefit from it."