If you could get past the logistical pains that come with having a fest at the Santa Ana Observatory, this weekend’s Beach Goth 4 featured a tremendous lineup of local faves and universally praised indie acts, all with the absence of a massive headliner, which allowed festival tickets to retain their wonderfully affordable price-tags.

The fest included everything concert-goers have come to expect from the venue: densely populated, cramped festival grounds (especially indoors); uber-trendy Orange County locals; succinct set times; an incredible selection of talented emerging and established artists; and stark, uninhibited enthusiasm for the music.

There was an energy circulating at Beach Goth 4 that could only be attributed to the shared appreciation of artists that are largely overlooked by the mainstream public, acts that probably only appeal to a narrow demographic of music snobs but that deserve all the praise that their fans are willing to dole out nonetheless.

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Photos by Jeff Cordes unless otherwise credited

Of course there were some more widely recognized favorites, including Grimes, Tory y Moi, Mac Demarco, Die Antwoord, Julian Casablancas, etc., but it was psych-pop act The Growlers that was billed as the headliners and played both days of the fest.

The inception of Beach Goth was due largely in part to The Growlers’ coordination efforts, in conjunction with The Observatory’s participation, and so it’s not really a surprise that they were the “headlining” act, but the tone of the festival remained consistent with that psychedelic, ’60s-derived, surf/beach/goth/punk/garage-rock style that is manifested in a majority of the bands’ sounds.

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Die Antwoord

The first night of the festival is always an experiment of sorts, and the overwhelming attendance probably wasn’t anticipated. As a result, the photo pit closed early, right after Mac Demarco’s set, and grabbing a sustainable vantage point to photograph the following acts proved fairly difficult, especially for someone barely 5’2″.

Still, it was a treat seeing Grimes premiere four new tracks, especially after scrapping her last album, a decision motivated by her own self-criticism. The Growlers had everyone in the palms of their hands, and Toro Y Moi closed out the night with an after-hours set that evoked a larger festival feel.

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Toro Y Moi

Day 2 at Beach Goth 4 was a bit more sussed out. The photo pit remained open for the first 3 or 4 songs of each set, and it was easier to navigate which areas would be better for roaming. Check out my comprehensive list of festival favorites, biggest surprises, most epic disappointments, fashion vibes, and more below!

Fashion: Halloween came early for fest-goers, and the more outrageous the attire, the more it coincided with the norm. In blue jeans and a t-shirt, I felt markedly out of place, whereas the man in the mummy suit probably felt right at home. Ram horns (for The Growlers), skeleton suits, bloody face paint, and cross-dressing were trending every which way, and it’s likely that no one will ever say that statement again.

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Most polished performance: Grimes and DIIV.

Grimes is ever the perfectionist, so it was no surprise that the girl who does it all put on a well-produced, crisp set that had her front and center with her synthesizer, completely commanding the crowd. Some new, R&B-inspired, disjointed beats were worth the wait, and the light show that accompanied her set made it all the more grandiose.

DIIV, on the other hand, opted for a straight-forwarded, jam-fueled set during which they ironically (I’m pretty sure) began each song with “this is a new track” even if it definitely was not. They demonstrated a cohesive, psychedelic sound at Beach Goth that served their highly praised albums well, and that’s difficult to achieve with the shoe-gazey, melancholic instrumentals that can often bleed together during live sets.

Honorable mention: Allah-Las

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Diiv; Photo by Jillian Goldfluss

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Allah Las; Photo by Jillian Goldfluss

Most energetic set: The crown goes to FIDLAR, hands down, for the most energetic, immersive set at Beach Goth 4 thanks to their heavy, vocally AND instrumentally charged melodies…and the crowd’s penchant for jumping up and down and bobbing their heads recklessly.

The bro-ey band, clad in smart, colorful business attire, obviously opted for an appearance that would serve as a stark contrast to their loud, angsty sound. In a harmonious, epic festival moment, FIDLAR frontman Zac Carper asked everyone to sit down at the exact same time, instructing them to stand up as soon as the song crescendoed, and of course the crowd happily obliged.

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FIDLAR

Most disappointing moment: The biggest letdown of Beach Goth 4 was a moment that never actually occurred. Cherry Glazerr, the local noise-rock band led by teenage sensation Clementine Creevy, was billed on the original lineup but missing from the schedule, indicating that they probably opted out at the last second for whatever reason.

I would attest that the most disappointing moment at the actual festival was Julian Casablancas’ performance, but I’ve come to accept that he’s going to coast on 50% energy, exerting less than half his potential, drunk and meandering around the stage, because people are going to dig it no matter what. Although his band with the Voidz sounds consistently sloppy, obscured, and lacking any focus or cohesive sound, I guess it has been consistent in that matter, and at this point it would be imprudent to expect anything else.

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Julian Casablancas

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Most surprising standout: The little band that did. Four-piece greaser-garage rock act Shelters was an unexpected highlight, especially because it is almost virtually impossible to find anything about them with a Google search. One of the pros to organizing a small, intimate festival is that there are only about three stages, so the probability of concertgoers seeing smaller, unheard of acts is much greater, creating a very viable opportunity for bands to gain traction.

Judging by the crowd’s enthusiasm, Shelters delivered a remarkable, straight-forward rock n’ roll set, fronted by a few attractive dudes who looked like they just finished auditioning for Grease on Broadway. Their unique sound, marked by harmonies and guitar solos, had just the right amount of nuance to distinguish them from other thrashy rock outfits at Beach Goth.

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Shelters

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Photo by Jillian Goldfluss

Most memorable moment: The Growlers essentially organized the entire fest, so the pressure was on to deliver. I got the vibe that they could no wrong regardless of how they performed, but they managed to establish a discernible stage presence with matching skeleton suits and a fairly mellowed out, subdued sound no different than how they come across on their albums. It’s unclear if their skeleton suits set the precedent for the skeleton suits exhibited by about every third audience member, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if these devout fans anticipated the band’s attire and planned accordingly.

When the Growlers closed out their set with not one but two Velvet Underground tracks, “Venus in Furs” and “White Light/White Heat,” it was obvious that they were heralding an homage to the iconic ’70s act, and it quickly set in that the majority of the bands at Beach Goth were inspired in one way or another by the sweet sounds of the avante-garde, highly influential act.

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The Growlers

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