The Rise of the Independents: Upstart SoCal Music Fests

Brokechella performance, photo courtesy of Brokechella.

While some of the world's most popular musicians will be gracing the stage of the increasingly popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival very soon, the extreme growth of the festival and others like it in recent years has inspired the local music and art scenes in Los Angeles to step up and offer alternative options for underground music and art aficionados. The ever-growing popularity of festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and South By South West has gotten out of hand for a lot of music lovers, who really just want a ton of great music in one location. The crowds, the costs, the mainstream and possibly unimaginative lineups -- it can be too much to bare, even for your favorite mainstream band. Since the resurgence of self-publishing, independent labels and D.I.Y. style music distribution, with the downward spiral of corporate record labels, there are a handful of smaller festivals that have been growing in the wake of the giant corporate festivals, and in turn, beginning to do what fests like Coachella couldn't. These fests connect with the local music community in Southern California, and the larger scene of what is being created and appreciated in new music right now. Festivals like FYF Fest, Burgerama, Desert Daze and Brokechella are offering alternative events for more independent and cutting-edge music lovers and Angelenos can't get enough of them.

Burgerama 2014 | Photo courtesy of Burger Records.

These independent festivals offer creative and talented rosters of independent, alternative and brand new musicians for all types of aficionados. FYF Fest, one of the longest running independent fests in L.A. has been showcasing emerging talent and some of the best alternative acts since 2004. Burgerama is another annual festival that brings alternative acts and up-and-coming indie stars to the limelight. Hosted by the Orange County independent label Burger Records, located in Fullerton, this itty-bitty storefront record label produces some of the most well known and popular independent acts around. Acts like Summer Twins, Cosmonauts, Shannon and the Clams, Thee Oh Sees, Cherry Glazerr, Bombon and many more -- and keeps it classy with its additional throwback cassette and vinyl releases of new music. This year, Burger Records held its third-annual showcase festival at the Observatory OC. More than 50 bands in the extended Burger family performed at this year's jam-packed event. The ever popular psych-happy White Fang and strangely seductive NOBUNNY packed the house alongside special guests like dark and ominous Sleep and indie hip-hop nerd Kool Keith. Burgerama also had the increasingly popular Black Lips, the Growlers, the Coathangers, Bleached and Mac DeMarco. Burgerama may not have made it to the billboard's top festivals to attend list, but any hipster within a 200-mile radius of OC knew what was going down with this quirky and impressive showcase.

Burgerama 2014 | Photo courtesy of Burger Records.

Desert Daze 2013 | Photo courtesy of Moon Block Party.

Desert Daze is another independent festival that has gotten some extreme love in the past few years, bringing new music to the ears of the strange and creative types of Southern California. This year, KCRW has teamed up with Moon Block Party -- the insane and dedicated producers of Desert Daze, who take over Pomona once a year to put on a smaller version in the arts district of Pomona (helping to raise money for the School for the Arts) -- to put together a stellar line up of underground and avant-garde tunes. Taking place every year, out in the kaleidoscopic Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca, Desert Daze has a Burning-Man-esque aura imbedded in its existence, drawing hundreds of hobo-looking scenesters, with artwork and style that rivals the 1960s psychedelic art movement. This festival brings a younger target audience to the desert, more well versed in experimental, alternative and new underground music. A completely artist-designed, artist-driven fest, Desert Daze was created by members of two major independent bands, Phil Pirrone from JJUUJJUU and Julie Edwards of Deap Vally, these dedicated professionals floored major music corporations in 2012 when Desert Daze became one of the world's longest consecutive day music festivals with over 120 acts on two stages at a roadhouse in the desert for eleven straight days and nights. In 2013, the Daze expanded with campgrounds and grew their numbers even more.

Desert Daze 2013 | Photos courtesy of Moon Block Party.

Desert Daze 2013 | Photos courtesy of Moon Block Party.

Phil Pirrone, the founder of the festival, says that it's their attention to detail that really set them apart. "Having traveled a lot and played a lot of festivals, we noticed that fesitvals in Europe pay a lot of attention to detail, in a way that American festivals don't;" Pirrne says, "and we are trying to bring some of that attention to detail to our festivals."
Crystal Antlers, Dengue Fever, Akron Family, Warpaint, Chelsea Wolfe and Fool's Gold have all played Desert Daze in the past. This year, Blonde Redhead and The Raveonettes grace the sun-soaked stages, along with DIIV, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Liars, Vincent Gallo, Autolux and more.

Rachel Fannan at Desert Daze 2012.

A good festical can change a person's like and Pirrone admits that it is important to keep the festival positive and invigorating for attendees. "A festival can be a very important thing on a cellular level and if its done right it can be energizing," Pirrone says. "That's the meaning of a festival, for people to come and be entertained with joy and energy, and for people to leave feeling joyful and full of energy."

2012 Broke Marquee for Brokechella

Brokechella 2013 performance.

Brokechella may be one of the most surprising come ups in SoCal alternative fests, but is clearly giving the urban-dwelling, can't-leave-L.A.-ers another reason never to leave the city limits. In true L.A. fashion, Brokechella is all about the local. With four stages of music set up at downtown L.A.'s Airliner, all local submission-based or recruited, Brokechella gives the up-and-comers a chance to play alongside some bigger names in underground music. Brokechella also values the many different styles of underground music, along with experimental and installation-based art and comedy. Having grown from an accidental scheduling conflict with Coachella, the organizers, including Executive Producer Negin Singh, embraced the anti-Coachella attitude and staycation style and were met with overwhelming response of support and love from local Angelenos. Singh says they are in full support of Coachella, and hope that some of the bands they feature at Brokechella will get more attention from playing at their fest. Though Brokechella is adamant about not having "headliners," they are very loyal and excited to have bands return to the Brokechella stages year after year. Yoya is one of the returning groups that have played Brokechella every year since it's inception in 2011. Executive Producer Negin Singh is looking forward to having Yoya come back again. "They're so awesome, because they have grown with us. In the same way that we've doubled in popularity, so have they. They've even released a new album every year since then . . . we love how much they hustle to get their stuff done. So I'm excited to showcase them again."

Kera and The Lesbians, Brokechella 2013. Photo courtesy of Brokechella.

Negin Singh, Executive Producer of Brokechella.

Alongside 50+ musical performances, Brokechella is dedicate to the other arts, performative, comedy and visual -- they are also a huge proponent of making the festival deaf accessible. CARTEL Collaborative Arts LA host dozens of events throughout the year, with art and music, but Brokechella is really their main platform now. Artist Anna Schumacher is one of many fascinating artist participating in Brokechella this year, helping to create visual artwork to engage the deaf festival-goers in a creative way.

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Keeping the ticket cost low is important to Brokechella, and regardless of how popular the fest seems to get, that's something that they refuse to change. "To get something out there that is a good idea but not a profitable one, is so hard, but I think it's so important, Singh says. "Sometimes you have to do something that doesn't make a lot of money but is awesome and it invigorates the community, and you're going to do it, and it feeds you in a different way. We're not doing it because it's easy."

Brokechella festival goers, 2013.

Brokechella 2013.

Brokechella 2013.

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Top Image: Brokechella performance | Photo courtesy of Brokechella.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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