By Ally Gonzalez and Amanda Katz
Edited by Joaquin Peres (local English major)
We arrived at Day One of the Berserktown II festival in Santa Ana, California with muddled expectations, hoping only that the atmosphere of the venue would be less oppressive than the back-soaking climate. Nestled snugly within the deep, indistinct labyrinth of the Santa Ana business park strip lies the Observatory, a venue that on this ripe August night was filled to the brim with fans of every variation and near-distant cousin of the hardcore scene .
Upon entering the space, we went into what was generously referred to as the “dance tent,” where we were greeted with very little dance. We joined a sparse crowd of 20 something shirt-tuckers in a glorified smoking area all facing the stage, as is common practice at most festivals. A man screamed into the mic about something dark and presumably scary, while blinding lights matched the drummer in epileptic fury. They were called Sissy Spacek, presumably in honor of the classic blood-soaked madness of Carrie; not for sissies, that’s for sure, This was our first dip into the Berserk pool, and at this point we weren’t overly impressed.
Our next plunge was into the smaller, indoor “second stage” (regularly known as the Constellation Room) where Houston hardcore punk outfit Dress Code laid down a heavy foundation for frontman Brandon’s grunts and dropkicks. Not too much stuck with us about this set, except for the fact that the musicians looked very young, with probably little more than a year since their high school graduations. So far so good.
The next set, however, really hit home, although where that home might be was anyone’s guess. This is where we encountered Nate Young’s Regression Nightmare–a lone, blazer-wearing man performing an extended sound check of sorts. Five minutes later, we were pleasantly surprised to realize that the set had in fact been in full progress for five minutes. On the whole, Nate Young’s set was intriguing, as though he were scoring a suspense movie, if the steady migration of gazelle across the dark side of the moon could be considered suspenseful. Minimal button pressing, drone sounds, low tones , twisted vocal loops and layers–oh my. It was mesmerizing, and we stayed for the majority of the set, until what was originally captivating began to feel like a new form of sonic torture. We had to leave. At an appropriate break in the drone zone, we made our exit.
Our final trip to the dance tent. Boy were we not dancing. This is where we were verbally assaulted by York Factory Complaint. With only a light bed of synth music and another single male vocalist, we were overwhelmed by his platitudes, ranging from “you can all die” to “I want to die”, and even gems like “I don’t understand why i was born”. These were really the daily musings of an “every man” character. The crowd really seemed to respond positively. Although the overall stillness of the crowd was initially misleading, we realized they were enthralled. Though this was an uncharted music scene for most of us, these seemed to be words that spoke honestly to the mangled souls of Berserktown, II. Sobriety definitely enhanced the little things in the YFC experience, like the curiously lizard-like aesthetic of vocalist Michael Berdan’s quaff-nose-ring combination, or the sheer marvel of his lung capacity. In the moments where our single man would catch his breath, he took the time to intensely gaze into each and every face with his own considerably prominent red-eye. The crowd went wild.
To recover from this trauma, we moved back inside to the small indoor stage and were greeted with one of the more digestible acts of the evening, Tony Molina. These guys seemed to fall closer to a traditional rock structure then what we had been tasting earlier that night. They also looked less terrifying than some of the other artists, cough York cough. Impressive mastery of the fretboard, if I do say so myself. The lead guitarist’s fingers flew like the wings of angels. We were thoroughly impressed. I wouldn’t mind seeing his solos on some bigger stages, if I do say so myself. Thanks Tony. As all good things come to an end, we eventually realized the set had ended and we should find somewhere else to go. The main stage seemed like a natural choice.
We hustled over to the main stage. Destruction Unit & Friends was in full swing. The genre was capital L for Loud. There were so many instruments being played on stage, and we had a sneaking suspicion that some of their efforts were for naught. Exhibit A: I saw a sax but I sure as shit didn’t hear one. But hey, everyone dreams of standing on stage but not contributing, and who are we to get in the way of small town dreams. For the whole if it, there was a lot of standing and performing, but near the close of the set, the band turned a corner into a weird and dissonant alley. One of the guitar men started shoving his guitar into the amp, eating the mic, and crawling onto the aforementioned amp. Watching a grown man, with a man bun (dare I mention), crawl on the floor was not as disturbing as you might think. We took it in stride. Another guitar man was trying to light his strap on fire, to no avail.
We took a video:
We aren’t quite sure how it ended, but it definitely did. Up next was Total Control, hailing from down under (Australia). And may I say, they were a TOTAL surprise.
The lead singer inspired us in both fashion and form. His Adidas™ jacket was a beacon of hope that streetwear could make it in a Berserk world. His surprisingly unpretentious dance moves were heavily coordinated and centered at the neck. Like a snake, he would slither to the mic with his unique vocals passing through the intersection of New Wave St and Punk Blvd, respectively. The drummer was talented, and wore a long sleeve shirt, both of which impressed us. The entire set, he tired not. Each of the musicians on stage took a unique approach to the punk genre to a cohesive effect, delivering a performance that made it feel like Berserktown was the place to be. If I may be bold, this was the first time that our group, and the entirety of the crowd, was sufficiently captivated. Total Control had total control, of our necks, minds, and hearts. Save for the fact that we were primarily there to see Thee Oh Sees and had little prior knowledge of the other artists, Total Control was definitely one of our favorites. The appeal of their set felt more substantial. They were a real crowd pleaser and we wouldn’t mind seeing them in other towns, if you know what I mean. Yeah.
Thee last set of the evening that we witnessed was the much anticipated Thee Oh Sees. John Dwyer, the frontman, helped set up the stage as usual, like a regular Joe. Watching him slave away like the other gear-boys was a very human experience. I definitely felt human, if only for a moment. The ever-changing lineup of Thee Oh Sees now included what appeared to be twin drummers. Not to say that these two drummers shared a common womb, but their drum kits were set up alongside each other, like two twins in a womb would. Do you get it now? They also played with remarkable synchronicity. We aren’t quite sure why two drummers were needed. As we all know, usually one will do, but it was preeeetty cool nonetheless. There was a bass player too. Dwyer did the usual fanfare and revelry package, which included cuddling the fretboard like a feral kitty. He played some favorites off of Floating Coffin, including “I Come From the Mountain” and “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster”. They definitely played other songs, from other albums. You already know. Although the performance was up to the high snuffs one can expect from Thee Oh Sees, the crowd was only half the size it had been during Total Control. The band persevered, although they chose not to grace us with an encore. Though it was a bummer that the crowd was by no means jam-packed, it was still nice to be able to see Thee Oh Sees in a more intimate setting, and in a foreign festival no less.
All in all, as I am a fan of conclusive big picture statements, I will make one right now. All in all, Berserktown II was more than anything an experience. I’ve never been to war, but I now feel as though I have been thrown in the trenches, and have made it out reasonably unscathed. I’d like to call myself a music enthusiast, or one who likes music, so this was an interesting exposure into a music scene that I may never have encountered before attending Berserktown the second. We relish the chance to revisit the Observatory for an assuredly rousing Berserktown the third. If you’re going to take anything from this article, or your four years of higher education, just know that trying new things is a gateway to a magical town of abusive lyrics, buried saxophone instrumentals, and intricate screechy synths that seem to come from your very soul. Good luck and Congratulations graduates of 2015. Also parking cost $10. Might hike up the price next year.