Upon arriving at the large canyon where Pacific Festival: OC was situated, my first thought was “where is everyone?” Even though the festival had already been going on for about an hour before my photographer Tamea and I got there, there was no line getting in and barely anyone wandering around the grounds. We staked out the place, crossing through the main stage area, through the array of still-close food trucks, to a giant dirt lot pulsing with electronic beats.
Gotta Dance Dirty’s AROD was positioned in a colorful Teepee-of-a-stage and grooving to white headphones behind a laptop and a turntable or two. Everything felt like the wrong setting. The crowd was sparse and the sun was bright overhead in what looked plainly like a desert, but the tunes were dark, hot, and wet. AROD is the girl at the club who is drunk and sweaty but too far gone to care. The samples were a whirlwind of textures, never leaning too house or aggressive–just a good time. Or rather, it would have been given the right place and crowd. He was just a victim of festival scheduling, but still made a good impression.
Sneaking into the artist lounge to take a break from the sun and re-collect, we were happy to discover, THERE WAS HUMMUS. Once we had come up with a game plan, we set out for the Pacific stage where Superhumanoids was up next.
LA local band, and one you may recognize from my preview of Pacific Festival, Superhumanoids took to the stage casually. They seemed more fit for the midday summer weather and the small crowd that gathered around. A live (standing) drummer (Evan) along with a drum machine, Sarah on vocals and keys, Max on bass, and Cameron fronting on guitar and vocals, together they made dreamy electro pop. The songs varied, keeping it interesting, but overall they sounded like an impossible fusion of Bloc Party electronics, summery melodies a la The New Pornographers, droney guitars, rounded out with a hazy, ambient key-scape with Cameron bordering on a Morrisey-esque vibrato. It was well done live, even to a small crowd.
We hustled over to the Main Stage, but we couldn’t figure out if the stage was running late or if The Growlers had just gone on early. By process of elimination, we determined that it was The Growlers, with what looked like metallic silver thermal blankets covering everything on stage, from the mic stands to members of the band. The frontman Brooks, careening around the stage in a short blonde woman’s wig and a cowboy vest, was singing to jangly alt country rock. A few songs in he announces, that the next song was called “Old Cold River” [from their LP Are You In or Are You Out] and “this song’s gay and that’s cool.” Like Johnny Cash starring in a Clint Eastwood Western, the song twanged and strummed along, as hazy as the midday sun. Their stage presence was certainly wackier than their music and maybe, just maybe, the two evened each other out for mutual enjoyment.
With no immediate destination, Tamea and I explored more of the available stages. Although they considered it one according to the lineup, the “Shagadelic” stage was in fact a double-decker bus covered in white fur with dancers on top. I suppose you don’t actually need to SEE the DJ, but it seemed a bit strange to see a crowd gathering around a rocking furry bus. Cassette was on the tables and was playing a remix using samples of “Hit the Road Jack,” breakin’ it down old school.”
At this stage, it became apparent what an eclectic mix that this festival had attracted. There were ravers with bright beaded bracelets, Orange County kids with board shorts and neon shirts, hipsters with corduroy shorts and 70s-inspired laced tops, and even emo kids with black shirts and teased hair. It’s hard to see how the diverse lineup could even accommodate all the stereotypes, but somehow it sufficed.
An underdog that I was extremely excited to see, American Royalty, was up next on the Pacific stage. As soon as they started blaring Mariachi music, to which they came on stage, a decent sized crowd of already-intoxicated teens flocked to the stage. They opened with their clearly most innovative and popular track “Levorution.” It’s been stuck in my head for days, with a pulsating electronic Steve-Aoki-style dance intro leading into some dirty psychedelic rock and almost alt country vocals and catapulting between the two. The beats were huge, guitars were shredded, and the crowd loved it. The guy on keys (either Marc or Billy) dawned a poncho and sombrero while the other on drum machine/guitar wore an American flag shirt…the contrast was probably intended to be ironic, but it was as diverse as their musical references, a cross between the Bloody Beatroots, Steve Aoki, and Drake with Black Keys, Vanaprasta, and Chasing Kings. Somewhere along the set they successfully covered LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yourself Clean” and closed with the purely electronic hotness of a track that had “Get the fuck up” on loop.
Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Hanni El Khatib was up next on the same stage and accompanied by just one other musician—a drummer also on vocals. The 60’s garage rock fused with some punk essence caused a good percentage of the audience to put on a mean face and air guitar. The music landed somewhere between a funkier Rolling Stones and an aggressive Johnny Cash. The heavily distorted guitar and filtered vocals on “You Rascal You” warmed the whole set with hot and dirty vibe. He intro’ed one of the songs with “I feel like screaming now so…” and broke out into a full-on scream. A bit surprising, it seemed almost a natural progression of the set—completely volatile and ready to explode at any second.
By this point, there was a line at the gate. Now about 4 p.m. people were arriving to see the headliners. Come 8 o’clock and the beer line would be 100 people deep…
We moseyed on to the main stage to check !!! (chk chk chk). Nic Offer of !!! is a gangly blonde fro-ed dude sporting insanely short shorts and dancing like the whitest guy on the planet to what can best be described as “hipster disco.” Funky guitar riffs, synths galore, a sax interlude, and a drum machine with Nic singing falsetto seemed completely ironic nostalgia and something that I just couldn’t seem to “get.”
Probably my favorite act of the day was up next. Phantogram started each song with a completely unique beat and layered on top in piles of melodies and beats. Sarah’s gorgeous vocals smoothed over the electronic and live drums and the beautifully arranged and at times pulsating synth. Envision Sia and Metric fusing with elements a bit more funky. “Futuristic Casket” was layered over 90-style hip-hop featuring Josh’s filtered vocals with while “Mouthful of Diamonds” features a more electronic-centered beat with Sarah’s sweet melody laid over. “Don’t Worry,” a new song from their upcoming EP had a very “Where Is My Mind”-era Pixies feel leading into a funky groove. To finish off their set, they played their much-buzzed single “When I’m Small” with Sarah screaming her lungs out at the end. This was probably the only band all day that I stayed for the whole hour-long set and enjoyed every minute.
Starting to succumb to the sun exhaustion of the day, Tamea and I camped out on the grass for Toro y Moi. The upbeat funky dance music mixed with dreamy electro rock was perfect to doze off to. The crowd was nothing but hipsters with Calvin Harris shaking up the main stage, but I think we got the good end of that deal.
I caught a bit of Steve Aoki’s set from afar. It was pulsating and funky and the crowd was a dreamy fog-covered rave-like scene. DJ sets are always interesting to “watch” because there’s really not a lot to see, aside from the lights and projections, which itself were pretty much just bright lights anyway. What you have is a mood and a feeling and Steve Aoki has that down. The whole crowd dancing with beats so heavy it was impossible not to move, even if just from the vibrations.
Ghostland Observatory was a bit of the same essence. There was a ton of fog and lasers projecting images of clouds. Everyone was beyond wasted and on the stage was just a figure enveloped in red fog. Less aggressive and funkier than Aoki, Ghostland had everyone in a trance. These guys were the Phish of electronica, provoking drug use and closing with “You are beautiful people. Thank you for opening your hearts and mind to us.”
Getting closer to the end of the night, for what Tamea and I had deemed our “power two hours” we waited for Snoop Dogg to take the stage. I watched groups roll and smoke joints to prepare and I was definitely developing a contact high, which might have gotten to me had I not recently pounded a Red Bull. The clock ticked by 5, 10, 15 minutes past his scheduled stage time, even though the whole festival had been running like clockwork all day. Tamea texts me from the photo pit “Snoop’s refusing to go on.” Apparently he had kicked out all Pacific Festival staff from backstage and no one was sure if he was going to come out at all. After 30 minutes of waiting, we finally gave up, not wanting to miss Black Lips. Of course, just after we had left the area we heard the stage blow up with “Snoop Doggy Doooogggggg” and a classical requiem-inspired opera singing “where’s the weed at?” As much as I wanted to stick around, I refused to miss any part of Black Lips and headed over to what I was surprised to be a pretty barren stage.
Despite some technical difficulties and competing with Snoop Dogg for a crowd, Black Lips didn’t falter a step. Steve Aoki and Cobrasnake were back stage for moral support and Cole set up, picking the guitar with his unusually long nails. Garage rock flooded the stage and the quartet sang their lungs out, especially on the first two songs when their mics seemed to only be running through their monitor. Once they got it all sorted, a crowd had amassed, somehow a completely seperate subculture from the rest of Pacific Festival. The fifties-styled hipster girls and guys appeared, completely wasted and shaking to the beat. The band played “Dirty Hands” dedicating the song to “someone they couldn’t get a fold of because he doesn’t have cell reception” and another they described as a country song, for which the crowd went nuts. They played a new track that was a bit 70s punk, still in their garage doo-wop style and one of the last that I caught they dedicated to Shug Knight. Their energy on stage was infectious and had all the drunk hipsters in the crowd trying to do the twist—which in itself was entertaining.
Last for the night was Cut Copy. Getting back to the main stage already 15 minutes post-set time, Snoop Dogg had just wrapped up. Although we were hoping for a quick change over, 30 minutes later we were still waiting for Cut Copy to take the stage. All those who stuck around were the indie kids or anyone too blazed after Snoop to move, let alone drive, with people strewn all over the lawn in veritable assemblages of drunken messes. After a few false-starts, the Aussie quartet took the stage to fog, and lights galore. Too tired by that point to have a firm grasp on what song was playing, there were synths, and beats. If !!! was 70s nostalgia, on this track Cut Copy had the 80s covered, but felt more original and less ironic. All members of the band had tucked-in collared shirts into black trousers and vocalist Dan was shaking his hips like there was no tomorrow. Completely fun, dance-inducing, and insanely catchy, it was all I could do to drag my body out of the photo pit, completely succumbing to the day’s exhaustion. We skipped before the set was through, feeling guilty but relieved.
Overall, the bands were great, but the festival. Here are a few tips:
Go to Pacific Festival:
- If you love festivals can’t make it to Outside Lands
- If you really need that local band from whom you know one song to play for a whole hour
- You want to show up halfway through the day and not miss any headliners
- You love house music and/or DJs
- You want a good excuse to take drugs.
Toro y Moi