Beach Goth At Los Angeles State Historic Park, Sunday August 5th 2018
Beach Goth was dusty, sweaty, wacky, sexy, crazy, trashy, freaky,… the festival wanted to be a lot of things, and ended up being a mixed bag of drag queens and hardcore, and many other things. If last year’s date (around Halloween) was making much more sense for this carnival of costumes and celebration of the dead, the August crowd took it seriously and many people were wearing funny outfits.
This year, the festival, which has been in search of a venue, and a real identity for a few years, was happening at Los Angeles State Historic Park, plus, the event, which only lasted one day, was a bit more modest than last year’s 2-day extravaganza in San Pedro, headlined by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Voidz, Modest Mouse and of course the Growlers.
Beach Goth, which debuted at the Observatory in 2012, even lost its name last year, and was re-baptized Growlers 6 as the Observatory’s parent company, Noise Group, filed a lawsuit in 2016, alleging that the venue created the Beach Goth festival and owned the rights to its name and merchandising. However, the Growlers were back in business this year with the Beach Goth appellation and a new location: ‘Somebody tried to steal this (stuff) from us but it’s ours, it’s ours, it’s ours,’ the Growlers singer said during their set.
As it is the case for many festivals, there were good and bad things… First of all, it was happening at the FYF fest’s old location and despite the dust, the grassy park is still a favorite of mine,… when the FYF fest organizers moved it to this concrete area next to the coliseum, they lost me. On Sunday, it was good to see kids moshing with bandanas covering half of their faces and it was sort of fun to see dust raising in the air like in the good old days. Plus the view over the downtown is a splendid one and gave a true LA identity to the fest.
On the other hand, the park, which went under serious renovation since its FYF days, is still very dusty and a burning hot plate at the beginning of the afternoon, with no marine breeze coming as it was the case in San Pedro. I don’t know how much dust my lungs can still endure, as I was blowing black dirt from my nose at the end of the day. Plus a Beach Goth with no beach doesn’t make complete sense.
On the plus side, two stages were close to each other and it was easy to go from the main stage to the ‘Death of a Rat Cabaret’ stage, which was even a tent… very hot and sweaty, but providing a relief from the burning sun.
On the less positive side, the festival had a somewhat disorganized vibe, as the schedules were not very accurate, which made me miss the beginning of the performance of some acts, and the pit of the main stage was very difficult to access as you needed to be escorted to get in! There was actually a third stage (Beach Goth Island), which hosted the performances of acts like rapper Bushwick Bill or Jamaican King Yellowman, that I didn’t have any time to visit.
Just like last year, the festival was super eclectic, there was truly something for everyone from hardcore (Youth of Today) to rap (Doug E Fresh), from metal (Gwar) to country (Deke Dickerson) or indie rock (Hatchie) and everything in between (Puzzle). But the lineup was so eclectic that it made me wonder about the identity of such a festival… what is it about at the end? The Growlers dress up in white makeups, they have that death/horror theme going on, mixing a sunny beach with a goth imagery, but I got the impression that the festival was sometimes cultivating a weird vibe for the sake of weirdness… although you could argue there is nothing wrong to that!
If you wanted weird, you should have seen Kirin J Callinan paying a flamboyant set that surely left people perplex. Wearing a chainmail coif and strumming his guitar like a rockstar, he was constantly stretching his arms, looking for a complete validation from the crowd, screaming over a disorienting and loud sound completed by synths. He was an eccentric rock knight in search of his bravado, and I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or applaud.
But how do you feel about the hardcore aggression of Youth of Today following the sweet surf pop of La Luz? Or about beast-metal Gwar following rockabilly-hillbilly Deke Dickerson? Nothing sounded more bizarre, and the most ridiculous costume probably went to Gwar, which have always looked like the grossest band that exists, looking like absurd monsters, half warrior Ninja Turtles, half nightmare beasts, playing metal and spraying fake blood from a chainsaw arm. But these gargoyles with a moshpit, sure had their legit place in this festival.
Youth of Today delivered the hardcore side of Beach Goth, and as the ‘90s straight edge band reunited in 2010 and haven’t played too many shows since, some die-hard fans were attending the festival just to see them.
Starcrawler had also their 30 minutes of glory at Beach Goth, with Arrow de Wilde playing her usual psych-ward escapee in hospital gown having a mental breakdown at the wild sound of Henri Cash’s guitar… I have seen them perform so many times, that nothing they do seem a real surprise (not their fault) but these kids’ popularity seem to grows exponentially these days… Arrow jumped in the crowd, stomped on someone, pulled someone else’s hair, threw away the sunglasses of another person, and I don’t know how long she will be able to sustain such energy and aggressiveness without killing herself or someone.
If La Luz were in full black eyed-make up, Bleached completely forget about their own music and fully resurrected the Ramones… Jessica and Jennifer Clavin had the right idea, since waking up the dead — and especially one of the greatest rock and roll bands that has ever existed — was making a lot of sense at Beach Goth. But they were the only ones who dared to do that.
On the main stage, the Drums followed by the Voidz (returning from last year) gave a classic performance, but I know that a festival is never the best place to see these bands, Julian Casablancas seemed to rush a bit through the set, singing and sweating in plain daylight this time, whereas I have always seen the Voidz buried behind a wall of fog and tricky lighting. May be because of the curfew of the park, Jonathan Richman ended up playing barely 20 minutes (a waste), while the Growlers closed the festival with a full set and a large crowd…people love the Growlers, Beach Goth is their thing and since the band has just released an album ‘Casual Acquaintances’ a few days ago on Burger Records, it was the occasion for fans to check out the new ones live.
As for me, I wanted to check one more time the ‘Death of a Rat Cabaret’ stage, where, at several occasions during the day, between the musical acts, Lions, Tigers and Queens were having a party, a freaky queer party, where the most outrageous drag queens were parading, dancing, and taking the most provocative positions like a new edition of Sex Cells… it was fun and crazy, a celebration of queens and freaks with big hair, high heels, full makeup and of course, a lot of latex. I am not sure this had anything to do with the beach or with being a goth (these people are beyond a simple definition), but it was worth missing a bit of the main acts to capture this X-rated burlesque cabaret.