It all started with a drizzle. Like some cruelly designed Rube Goldberg device, Beach Goth 2016 on day two began with a promising overcast skyline that eventually deteriorated into a full-blown catastrophe that led to an entire stage being shut-down, the cancellation of headline acts, and utter confusion due to virtually no communication from the festival’s organizers. The only redeeming factor of Beach Goth’s flat finale was its still stellar lineup, and day two was as packed as can be with a wide array of standout performances.
Over on the Outdoor RX stage, French natives and best-costumed band of the weekend La Femme were busy dazzling with their psych-punk concoctions, as well as their onstage antics. Between their Harry Potter-dressed guitarist and lead singer Marlon Megnée minimal crotch-wear, La Femme’s eccentric rambunctiousness bled into the crowd which, without any ninety-degree sun draining them, took the many wardrobe malfunctions in stride. Sending hit after funky hit into the crowd, La Femme refused to let up and Megnée’s silvery croons he threw like daggers at them, barking in his native-tongue with cacophonous beauty to the dizzying synth soundscapes his two keyboardists conjured up. Dressed in his pirate-esque outfit,Megnée’s was the heart and soul of the act, eliciting screams from the crowd with ease and strutting in his provocative clothing (or lack thereof) up and down the stage with fervent purpose. The risque nature of their act was more a funny condiment than the main course, but La Femme fit perfectly into the outlandish niche of expression that Beach Goth has come to embody for both artists and fans.
Back at the BGV Dome stage Columbian-American sensation Kali Uchis gave her massive crowd a taste of her hard-to-pin, genre-hopping flavors, which touch on everything from doo-wop and R&B to indie-rock. In her high waisted-jeans, bikini-top, and 80’s flare sunglasses, Uchis, like La Femme, embodied that Beach Goth aesthetic like no other–but it was the tropical, exotic sentiments of her songs that really took listeners by the ear. Upheld by the hustled buoyancy of her backing band, Uchis is a breakout artist that is both innately at home onstage and knows how to transfer the sensationalism of her fan’s love for her into visible excitements. For most of her set, fans clamored over the railing, throwing their arms in futile attempts to just be closer to her, some even going so far as to crowd-surf their way desperately to her–and with every baby-voiced lull, Uchis cast them deeper under her spell. As her soulful, hip-hop stylized lyricisms floated lazily from her to the riotous crowd, Uchis further proved herself less a run-of-the-mill pop act, and more a demanding artist with a dominating stage presence that left no room for down time. Commanding every inch of her stage, Uchis twirled herself in the gently wound coils of funk and soul of her songs, like early Gwen Stefani and MIA, she dually channels sensual intimacy with an arena-level presence–and every song sounds like it’s being sung just to you.
Even as a light rain began to fall, and the forecast making no prediction of any escalation with it, the thousands of people packed into the small Beach Goth grounds saw no reason to fret–especially with both XXYYXX and Gucci Mane performing within thirty-minutes of each other. Of the two, Gucci Mane stole much of the show, stepping out into the open in his signature sunglasses, taking no time at all before diving into the red-hot dramatics of his cutting rhymes. Once again, the main stage lost itself in the iconic narratives of Mane’s icy deliveries, as well as the real-life experiences the rapper faced that inspired them. Cloaked with the mythos of his time in jail and other skirmishes with the law, Mane’s hold over the crowd didn’t break for a second and his overbearing presence as a performer left fans slaves to their repetition of every one of his razor-edged lines.
At the Outdoor RX stage, XXYYXX attempted to pull the gloom out of the sky and set it afire with one scorching electronic soundscape after another. Hindered solely by his early time slot, the underground producer of mind-boggling, brain-scrambling bass hurricanes still managed to rupture the ear drums of his crowd. The railing on the barricades, the ground, the stage, hell even our faces oscillated violently as XXYYXX let loose an ungodly amount of bass, in between which trickled the minimalist introductions of sampled vocals and mechanical synths that dotted and circled his tracks. While some wait for the bass to drop, at an XXYYXX show, you await those rare spurts of sound that cut through the deafening hum of reverb like a comet through the black sky.
By the time UK punk peddlers The Adicts began to tear apart the Outdoor RX stage piece by piece, the rain started to come down heavier, and by then the weather forecast had been updated to indicate that it wouldn’t be going away at all. So against the now worsening weather, The Adicts and Keith “Monkey” Warren (who was dressed in a brilliant ode to Jack Nicholson’s Joker) raged onward in flurries of explosions of confetti and blitzing hammer-ons. All too gleeful and thankful to the rain for adding another layer of experience to the day, the memory of it all might’ve made a great story–what with Warren crouched at the edge of the stage wielding his microphone stand upside down as it started to pour–had it not immediately worsened. The Adicts were somewhat spared, and the early light downpour only gave their inane antics another level bizarreness, but everyone after them wasn’t so lucky. As the rain came down the Outdoor RX stage, not fitted with a canopy, was eventually put out of commission–one of the casualties of this disaster would later be revealed to be Grimes’ equipment, which rendered her completely unable to play. The simple outrage of this has come from the fact that Beach Goth was advertised as a “rain or shine” event, so the lack of preparation for some rain (and small amount at that) and the severe consequence of such was understandably infuriating to fans. There was also the matter of the placement of the Outdoor Rx stage in the middle of a street that was very clearly not level, which created a massive puddle when the rain started to fall that submerged electrical wiring near where fans were standing mostly unaware–a dangerous situation to say the least. In a flurry of quick changes, The Drums were moved inside to the Observatory stage during the same time slot as Trippy Turtle, who was obviously cancelled or moved, and the only form of communication that was used to send this information was a last minute post on the Observatory’s Instagram.
Meanwhile, Unknown Mortal Orchestra on the more prepared BGV Dome stage braved through the rain, easing fan’s anxieties over the impromptu raining with their slow-burning, lo-fi tunes. As Ruban Nielson swayed in the rain, the soft reverb of his guitar warbling forward through every cold droplet falling from the sky, a deep serenity fell over the crowd. Even as fans rushed to gain entrance to the main Observatory building and tensions steadily began to rise, UMO cooed their way into the fidgeting souls of their fans and gave them a hypnotizing escape from the disasters still to come. With the Outdoor RX stage still out of commission and security telling fans it was gone for good, Nicolas Jarr’s set came and went without announcement from the festival if he was being moved indoors, which he was, but I only knew this because a few fans mentioned he’d tweeted it. Had the Observatory done the same? Nope.
The tension eventually boiled over, and it was fixated mainly between fans and the only tangible, visible representation of authority that was actually present at the festival: security. Fights between members of security and riled up fans broke out at the entrances to the Observatory building, as the latter congregated by the hundreds to get inside to see both the acts scheduled within and those that had been moved inside. As the Drums raged inside, fans raged outside, storming entrances and exits as they sat gridlocked out in the rain, waiting for people to trickle out so they could get in. Inside, the Observatory was packed as it usually was to the point that there was literally no space that wasn’t occupied by a body–when fans attempted to sneak their way in, a few were grabbed and thrown to the ground, while during another altercation a girl was thrown down the steps and punches were exchanged.
All of this culminated in the hour before Future Islands was staged to perform, and had Samuel T. Herring and his band of misfits not taken the stage, all hell no doubt would’ve broken loose and swallowed the entire event whole. Luckily for us, bathed in bright neon blues and yellows, Herring brought his infectious charisma and erased the blinding anger that was seething from hundreds left stranded outside–if only for an hour. Dancing wildly in his signature erratic fashion, Herring ducked, spun, kicked, and gesticulated madly to the bubbling elation of their synth-saturated anthems. To see Future Islands live is to not only see a man engulfed, consumed, by the passion of his music as Herring is, but to also receive life advice from a man who, for all intents and purposes is a stranger, but feels like one of your oldest friends. Before every song, Herring explains the philosophy behind it, urging fans to love themselves and one another, to pursue dreams, to speak up when it could help another, and of course, to let your soul give your body movement when listening to music. A guru of such things, Herring’s stage presence is matched only by his uplifting vocals, which he contorts into animalistic growls and howls, letting out both these harsh guttural sounds and miraculously rousing croons that shimmering alongside their synths.
The sweetness of the moment was not meant to last, however, and tragedy finally struck the BGV Dome stage when a soundboard was damaged, leading to an over forty-minute delay in The Growlers set. A representative (Eric Andre, the event’s MC, who was extremely visible day one, was nowhere to be found) was sent out to deliver the news to a now severely pissed crowd, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Not five minutes after the rep had left the stage, the Observatory posted on its Instagram that the Outdoor RX stage was back up and RL Grime would be performing immediately–why they chose not to announce that to the waiting crowd is beyond me. So the Outdoor RX stage was fixed, but it was a bittersweet moment as by this time many had left the festival after being told by security the stage was down for good–just another example of senseless miscommunication. But, the promise of RL Grime revived some fans as they rushed to the stage, and the 25-year-old, despite carrying the weight and fate of Beach Goth’s finale on his shoulders, did not disappoint. With virtually little to no theatrics, Grime’s success came down to his bare boned skill, thrusting the crowd head first into a sensory-overload exchange of bass and zooming synths that left your heart-rate accelerating. Hidden in a cloud of smoke most of his set, Grime made his presence known to the rest of the festival, and as soon as it was, crowd’s at the BGV Dome stage began to bleed over to his.
Due to the delay, The Growlers ended up performing at the exact same time as RL Grime, and while their set was as spectacular as the previous day’s, many had become disillusioned with the band because of the hell that had unfolded in the last few hours. Beach Goth is, after all, their festival and brainchild–and many expected them to take responsibility for it. Yet, despite the finger of blame being pointed every which way, Brooks Nielsen, adorned in again in his red velvet suit and cowboy hat, charmed his way back into the hearts of the crowd with those swooning croons of his.
Justice and Grimes had yet to perform, with mass confusion from zero communication by festival organizers contributing to simultaneous rumors that they’d been cancelled and moved inside respectively. So as of the The Growlers coming onstage, to some it was the final act of the night, as many left afterwards–and so the pressure was on Nielsen and company to sing the pants off everyone present. Dancing slowly towards the crowd between thickly burning beams of light, Nielsen romped his way through the 70-80’s stylized tunes of their catalog, caressing the restless resentment of fans with his high-pitched wails. Always poised, carrying this almost enviable level of passionate cool, Nielsen saunters onstage like he might his home, taking every step like he spent hours deciding on exactly where to place his foot or hand. Every action is not only deliberate, it’s so magnetically confident that even when he removes his hat or jacket, the crowd his mesmerized by every move–as visible an enigma as any, Nielsen has a hold over the Beach Goth scene that elevates him far above traditional notions of popularity or attraction.
And thank god he does, because without him, Beach Goth’s fifth installment might’ve fallen completely to ruin. After hours of waiting, Grimes bravely emerged to reveal she was still at the festival, and apologized heavily to the crowd that her equipment was destroyed and she wouldn’t be able to play. Visibly saddened by the news she was delivering, it was beyond commendable and a brazen assertion of love for her fans that she not only remained at the festival for so long, but also came out herself to give the news (festival organizers should take a page from her sincerity).
Justice eventually closed out the festival, but by then the only people who remained were those so intoxicated by drugs and alcohol that they had nothing to lose, while others were fueled solely by anger and resolved to stay to prevent the event’s evident failure from ruining their night.
As of now, a petition has started demanding a refund for this year’s Beach Goth, while on Instagram fan’s have been brutally vocal of their criticisms, and the Observatory has responded to those critiques by creating a dialogue with fans and addressing their concerns.
Just kidding. They actually just started deleting posts that were being bombarded with negative comments and have even been accused of deleting comments, as well as blocking fan accounts. They have yet to address the massive failures that happened Sunday, with all their social media chugging along as if nothing happened–and what was once the local, gritty, venue for a buzzing music scene has now seemed to have completed its transformation into all the things that make big promoters and festivals terrible. Some have claimed that the Observatory oversold tickets to the event, as they seem to typically do at most of their concerts, so maybe it is now just all about the money and not the community that supports them. Wherever the blame is to be placed, a clear line of communication needs to be created between fans and management if this venue is to remain the heart and soul of the Orange County music scene.
UPDATE (OCTOBER 26 — 9:30PM): The Observatory has since posted a response to attendees to criticisms of this year’s Beach Goth on their Instagram which you can read here.
UPDATE (OCTOBER 27 — 9 AM): The Observatory has since removed their Instagram statement.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward