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How Beach Goth became SoCal’s most surprising music festival

Michael Juliano

Brooks Nielsen doesn’t want Beach Goth to feel like any other music festival. In between wrapping up a Julian Casablancas–produced record and figuring out how to float a stage on water, the Growlers frontman and festival cofounder has been snatching up bands overlooked by increasingly indistinguishable big-name fests.

“We don’t have to deal with, ‘Oh, we want this band,’ but ‘Oh, he’s washed up, he doesn’t sell tickets,’” says Nielsen. “Well, fuck, we still want him.”

That attitude has turned the moody surf rock band’s Orange County bash into one of the most unexpected, singular music festivals in California. This year’s late-October edition includes a mix of indie darlings (Bon Iver, James Blake), trap (Gucci Mane, RL Grime) and an old-school MTV vibe (Violent Femmes, TLC).

“People get confused all the time and think that a band only listens to music like they create,” says Nielsen. “But I wasn’t raised on anything that I sound like right now. I was raised on L.A. radio—KIIS-FM and [the now-shuttered] 92.3 The Beat and R&B and funk.”

The Growlers’ personal tastes aren’t solely responsible for the killer lineups; Nielsen credits the heavy lifting to Jeff Shuman, who books the festival as well as the Observatory, the Santa Ana club where Beach Goth was born in 2012, when the Growlers took their illicit warehouse-show following and tapped Shuman for a record-release costume party.

“I think that’s the reason I got into all this,” says Nielsen. “I enjoy throwing parties.”

Though he’s tight-lipped about the specifics, Nielsen promises the band won’t come empty-handed for its set this year; past stage antics have included everything from Chinese lion dancers to a drag show. Speaking of, this year’s MC duties have been handed over to bizarro talk show host and comedian Eric André, as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants.

“I want his best ladies, and I want them costume-changing, and I want their raunchy jokes and their sexy looks on every stage in between every artist,” says Nielsen.

It all comes together in an appealing way without sacrificing DIY weirdness. “There’s no mafia vibe to this thing,” says Nielsen. “This is us dreaming up ideas and making them happen. And that feels pretty good.”

Beach Goth takes places October 22 and 23 on the grounds of the Observatory. Tickets cost $99 for a single day, $175 for a two-day pass.

To book tickets right now, click here

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