Beach Goth 2016: The Death of OC Punk
“What band is that?” a fishnet-clad 16 year-old asks, pointing to my BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD T-shirt. I try to explain the ironic statement in pairing the ʼ90s cartoon outcasts with the Lisa Frank glitter unicorn on my cheek. The girl is obviously lost in my references, shuffling uncomfortably in her Doc Martens (oblivious to the statement made by the Alternative™ footwear). Our four-year age difference isn’t enough to blame for the misunderstanding, the cultural icons being before my time, too. No, this is something much worse: a complete gap in understanding youth culture. This blind following of counterculture in a desperate attempt to flee Orange Country’s suffocating conformity has led to a punk resurrection. Unfortunately, OC kids have little knowledge of what punk actually entails, and that was the crux of the bloody chaos that Beach Goth turned out to be.
My group were foreigners in a crowd of darkly-dressed alternative high schoolers, who were smoking their first cigarettes — “Promise my mom won’t smell the smoke?” There was no beach in this goth festival, worsened by the concrete grounds we stood on. A pathetic attempt at fencing in some sand and a reggae DJ to create the “beach stage” only cemented the transition away from Orange County roots. I cringed with secondhand embarrassment at the sad nod to the origin of the festival, a notion I would repeat throughout the weekend. All traces of anything traditional or OC was as dead as the brown roses in the girl’s hair in front of me. Luckily, I had a seasoned Beach Goth veteran with me to gauge what changed among the festival over the years and what the term “Beach Goth” even meant.
It was clear nobody knew exactly what they were doing, but seemed to put a remarkable amount of time and effort into doing so. Vacant-eyed teenagers dressed to the nines in perfectly applied black lipstick and glitter had no notion of who Patti Smith (read: The Original Goddess of NYC punk) even was. People here aren’t goth, but want to look goth for this festival, much to the chagrin of others. Some lines overheard from a nearby Vice interview speak for themselves.
Vice: How do you stay cool in all black?
Stone-Faced Adults: We don’t.
Vice: What’s a “beach goth?”
Adult Wearing a Dog Collar: I don’t know. I really don’t know what to say.
Girl Wearing Goat Horns: ‘I’m going to wear Hot Topic and I’m going to look amazing!’
The Growlers coined the name Beach Goth, they’re the front-runners, and they’re historically associated with the local Burger Records, especially considering the fact that a few early cassettes appear on the label. However, now that the Growlers are now prominently featured by Cult Records, their relationship with the festival is a representation of a larger stylistic shift away from Beach Goth’s affiliations with the OC scene. There should be a new Beach Goth for what the sound has become, because it’s become a vastly different festival. Gone is the sound that was so much a part of the OC’s surf and skate culture. There’s no Cherry Glazerr or Tijuana Panthers, but more mainstream acts like Gucci Mane and Bon Iver.
This lack of originality is in the huge new breed of people who came just for RL Grime or Corbin, with no understanding of Beach Goth, but a desire to fit in and blindly follow the trend of the festival anyway. What was historically an eclectic gathering of burnouts, artists, and freaks has turned into punk conformity central. The Growlers and the urban grit of their new record, CITY CLUB, led the trend, but New York punk has been wriggling its way into Beach Goth since last year. NYC label Cult Records dominated Beach Goth in 2015 with headliners Julian Casablancas and the Voidz and the Drowners. Reappearing this year with Albert Hammond Jr. and Rey Pila, it is clear that Beach Goth is favoring Cult Records as the new hot label, as opposed to its historical Burger Records loyalties. This could be seen all over the festival; out are the days of kids wearing “I’m a Burger Baby” pins, as there are now Cult Records T-shirts galore. Kids know that the Growlers’ new image is Cult Records, so that’s the label they’ll follow.
Kids with no knowledge of the New York punk trend they enthusiastically jumped on were surprised with the moshing and bloody carnage that followed. Black tears of mascara rolled down the faces of kids fleeing for their lives at King Krule’s set. Children cried. Limp bodies of girls were carried out of crowds by the bucket load. People passed out over each other’s Doc Martens. As a girl vomited onto my Converse, I realized the festival was in no way prepared to handle punk. Beach Goth 2016 quickly turned into Altamont.
The festival itself was a mess: security groping places they shouldn’t, guards beating up kids even after they were unconscious, a guy getting choked for having a GoPro, security locking people inside stages, zero water stations, and a stampede prior to She Wants Revenge. Tickets were completely oversold and the Observatory could not handle the amount of people. The added outdoor stage was far too narrow; moshing on concrete ensures casualties. The festival was unorganized, with even the decorations and sculptures being rushed and sloppy. The rain on Sunday shut down the outdoor stage and fried DJ sets. Confused adults flitted between remaining stages, unsure if the performer was Grimes, RL Grime, or if there was a difference between the two. Security sold trash bag ponchos to soaked kids. We crouched under cardboard cutouts of mermaids, locked out of the indoor Observatory stage. Luckily, despite the fact that it may not align with the sound of traditional OC punk, the music gave the festival much-needed redemption.
Albert Hammond Jr. dominated with a harsh set, foregoing his happy “Born Slippy” tunes for older, heavier ones such as “GFC.” He ended with “In Transit,” an older favorite, which lifted the mood before King Krule bestowed chaos and bloodshed. The Growlers were admittedly incredible live, with the overproduced synth sound of CITY CLUB thankfully absent. Homeshake was a highlight, capturing the entire audience. Unfortunately, headliner Bon Iver came on stage among mountains of instruments, turning in a set that was memorable but not remarkable, with no reprise of older favorites such as “Skinny Love” or “Holocene.” The hidden gem of the festival proved to be Slow Hollows, who at age 18 have incredible promise and insane guitar skill. They’re sure to be the next big thing.
The star of the festival was, of course, the punk poet laureate Patti Smith. “Where the fuck are we?” she asked. “I don’t know where we are, but this is a cool festival.” Moving with the same vitality as somebody half her age, she reminded us of our power. “You’re young! You’re so young! You have the power! Vote!” Ah, a political urge to a group of apathetic millennials. If she was trying to give us the same motivation that the youth saw in the 1960s during Vietnam, she was mistaken. It was, however, a performance of a lifetime. “We don’t need bombs, we have electric guitars!” she shouted, lifting her own to launch into “My Generation.”
The truth was that many acts were missed due to the logistics of the festival. We were too afraid to brave the continuous spine-breaking pit of the outdoor stage, which got shut down all together on the second day. At times we were locked inside the Observatory stage, unable to leave, and other times locked outside, due to crowding. We did, however, get to see all the headliners on the main stage, while watching bodies being lifted from the crowd. Most of the festival we watched from the tents that sold $10 french fries, clear of the blood, rain, and rubber.
It seemed the audience’s main focus wasn’t on the music, either. What started as a chance in the limelight for perfectly made up punk outfits and alternative kids became a fight for survival during the treacherous conditions that ensued. Beach Goth was a mess of leather boots, carnage, and rain. But, one thing is for sure — Orange County music has been plucked from its roots. Say hello to the new sound of Beach Goth: a darker, scarier, urban counterpart to what once was the epitome of Southern California suburban counterculture.
Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, we have removed the following sentences from the originally published article: “Kids seem to instinctively follow [The Growlers], regardless of previous Burger Records loyalties,” “This is bad for the southern California label (Burger Records), who have been struggling since they lost the Garden and the Growlers this year,” “Bye-bye Burger Records, there’s a new OC tradition now,” and “Cult Records has been the hot destination for artists fleeing Burger Records.” In short, we apologize for any intimations that Burger Records artists are abandoning ship for Cult Records. We meant to say that Beach Goth itself is favoring the New York label, and we believe that the current edition of the article justifies this opinion.