A menacing October sun beats down on Beach Goth, the fourth annual festival put on by The Growlers. The little slice of industrial-suburbia surrounding The Observatory is overflowing with strange sights, and the grounds are packed from the start. It is a hometown festival so The Growlers are in their element. Every sidewalk and chunk of asphalt is commanded by flamboyant costumes and folks in their grooviest garb. In fact, there is no hesitation to let the freak flags fly. It seems every retro scene is somehow represented, both in the fans and music. There are art-mods, rockers, hippies, punks, and grunge to name a few. The name of the festival, Beach Goth, seems fitting to the scene which is unfolding. A weird night of music is brewing, and that feeling is palpable in the air.
As the day gets rolling, The Adicts are gearing up on the main stage. They are all outfitted like ‘droogs’ in white jumpsuits from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Around since the mid-seventies, they offer up a cool blend of English Punk and upbeat rock ‘n’ roll. The amount of energy in their performance captures the crowd. Front man Keith “Monkey” Warren graces the stage with majestic, translucent silver wings. His face is painted white, and everything from his top-hat to his silver bell-bottoms is sparkling. A hellish amount of confetti and rainbow beach balls unleash onto the crowd in a flurry of punk-glam-rock. Both The Adicts and the audience join in for an incinerating chant, “Viva La Revolution!” That original punk spirit is in the air, and it feels good.
Inside at the Outer Space stage, bright neon pyramids illuminate the walls. Although Parliament Funkadelic has not touched down, it looks like a party on the mothership. Up next is Cat Signs, which is a side project of The Growler’s bassist, Anthony ‘Stonio’ Perry. He walks on stage and reemerges dressed as a scarecrow. The band as a whole offers up some super long, jammy songs. Cat Signs is not afraid to delve deep into the instrumentals. Anthony says the long songs are his way of re-embodying methods like that of the Grateful Dead. He says, “the songs tell a story.” The band is unwaveringly catchy and light-hearted, yet hypnotic and psychedelic.
Back outside on the main stage, the sun finally disappears, and it is time for crowd favorite Mac Demarco. His ‘jizz-jazz’ pop songs are endlessly groovy. The guitar exudes wacky, down-tuned waves into the crowd. Mac and the rest of the band have an endearing, goofy stage presence that keeps everyone smiling. In fact, people’s hips can not help but shakin’ and swaying to the happy melodies. Guitarist Andy White says, “We just want to play with each other well, and have a good time so people can feel the good energy.” The crowd is definitely feeling good. The band goes for a cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” Then, Mac offers up a super spacey “Chamber of Reflection.” The song puts the audience in a silent trance of synthesizers, like an ethereal dream. A catchy love song, ‘Still Together,’ reawakens the crowd, and sends everyone into the night.
At the same time as Mac, Australian folk-rockers, The Babe Rainbow, play in the Outer Space room. The three man band look and sound as if they just emerged out of a time machine from the 1960s. Before The Growlers hit the main stage, Canadian artist Grimes offers a high-energy set for those that dig electronica. She gets the crowd dancing wildly, and makes unique use of a synthesizer, some loops, and beats.
At last it is time for the main Beach Goth event, The Growlers! The band emerges in full skeleton makeup and wears bone suits. They juxtapose between structured songs and dark, surfy jams. As if some sort of musical yin-yang, The Growlers are able to offer light melodies everyone can sing along to, and just as quickly enter the dark space that incinerates raw emotion and weird realness. The lyrics are liberating, angsty, and refreshingly honest. They speak from the heart, engaging a sense of camaraderie in many real aspects of life, while also unleashing righteously psychedelic and wild musical flares.
Red light illuminates the stage. The rhythm section holds the groove as lead guitarist Matt unleashes an epic surf wave riff onto the crowd, painting a story in the air. The band has started to improvise and jam more on stage.
Up on stage frontman Brooks Nielsen is incredibly engaging. He sways and dances as he shares his poetic deliveries. As the song ‘Row’ appears, a super dark tunnel of a jam gives way. Brooks moves around wildly and continually chants the lyrics, “We gonna find us a new timeline, we gonna leave everything behind”. The Growlers and their audience are caught in some sort of soul-enrapturing trance and it is so real no one can take their eyes off the stage.
Somehow the structured song is re-delivered and the glam-boogie continues. As the light falls into purple and blue, The Growlers ring out the opening notes to “Venus in Furs” by the Velvet Underground. The excitement of the crowd can be felt. It is a beautiful rendition, and The Growlers seem to have just the right vibe to capture the dissociative, dark glamour of the original song. The song winds down and suddenly white lights start flashing! It is “White Light White Heat” by The Velvets! Everyone jumps and screams…’White light!’ The Growlers have done it again, with a yin-yang finale of epic proportions.
The show ends, and Brooks lingers to speak to the fans. An unspoken understanding hangs in the air. He does not seem to want to say goodbye. He stands at the edge of the stage and falls into the crowd to surf. As a final offering he tosses his skeleton jacket into the hands of the crowd before heading backstage. Day one. Beach Goth.
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