Every Indie Listener’s Spotify Playlist Come to Life in the Form of California’s Tropicalia Music Festival
by Mica Kendall
I have attended numerous mainstream music festivals throughout my life including Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Free Press, Camp Flog Gnaw, and the yearly SXSW music conference. But none of these musical experiences compared to the atmosphere Tropicalia Fest in Long Beach, California provided. Tropicalia was the first festival lineup of 2018 that seemed to be completely curated to my music taste ranging from up and coming indie, synth pop, and punk bands.
Unlike other festivals where the line up is curated around bringing in as many mainstream artists as possible, Tropicalia focused on specifically promoting artists of Latino descent. Some Spanish oriented artists and bands at the festival included Kali Uchis, Chicano Batman, The Marías, Los Angeles Azules, Mon Laferte, Natalia Lafourcade, Devendra Banhart, and more. The cultural aspect that Tropicalia implemented into the atmosphere of the fest is an element that more music festivals should strive towards in various nationality representation in music.
A few of my personal favorites from the lineup included bands like The Garden, Surf Curse, HOMESHAKE, Inner Wave, Triathalon, and essentially 90% of the artists that make up my Spotify playlists that I listen to on a daily basis. Not only did Tropicalia provide a festival platform for many underrated indie bands to perform and showcase their music, but it also attracted a large demographic of young people that attended the festival for a genuine interest in the live music, as opposed to the artificiality of social media clout (seen at festivals like Coachella, ACl, Lollapooloza).
The 2-day festival was packed with a mass of genres ranging from smaller acts to big headlining artists including Morrissey, Sza, Kali Uchis, Mazzy Star, and more. The packed lineup ensured that there was never an hour wasted at the festival. The first day of the festival on Saturday was filled with a lot of my personal favorites that I had seen before. However, more importantly, this was the day that I discovered a ton of new musicians that I had never heard before. Saturday started out with me watching Inner Wave perform on the Chalino stage (aka the main stage) which was a huge milestone for their career as a Los Angeles-based band. I have been attending Inner Wave shows since I saw them debut at SXSW in Austin for the first time in 2017. Their performance at Tropicalia proved how much their popularity has escalated within just a year time frame. From the crowd shouting all their lyrics back to fan girls showcasing their Inner Wave tee’s, it was truly a reflective experience for me as a fan to see Inner Wave grow from a crowd of hundred in Texas to a full audience at Tropicalia.
Speaking of drawing in huge crowds, The Garden’s set at one of the smaller stages being the Chavela stage was practically overflooded during the set, causing the crowd to filter in and out with crowd surfing. One distinctive trait that can be clearly drawn with West Coast crowd attendees is the love to mosh. The Garden’s set felt like one giant hurricane, whirlwind, typhoon-like mosh pit that was equally as energetic as the Shear twins screaming and prancing around the stage. From people slamming against each other to bodies being sandwiched between the barricade, The Garden delivered one of the craziest sets of Tropicalia.
In terms of music discovery, some spotlight artists I had the opportunity to hear live for the first time included Jaspar Bones and Jurassic Shark. Based in California and playing on the Chavela stage prior to The Garden’s set, I genuinely left Queen Mary Park as a fan of both bands. Though Jaspar Bones only has 3 publicly released singles on his Spotify, he showcased new music during his 30-minute set from his soon to be released EP. Reminiscent of artists like Cuco, Banes World, and Inner Wave, Jaspar Bones’ mellow and lo-fi sound blends the usage of Spanish with the instrumental feel of the bedroom pop genre. In contrast to Jaspar Bone’s chill and dreamy set, Jurassic Shark ignited a sense of chaotic and energetic crowd energy and warmed up the moshers prior to for The Garden’s set. Combining the sound of surf rock and punk, Jurassic Shark, similar to acts like Surf Curse and Tijuana Panthers, electrified a crowd full of aggressive headbanging through the lead singer’s screaming and fast-paced guitar and bass solos.
The last day of the festival on Sunday could be characterized as my musical overload day with my favorite acts playing every single hour. My anticipation and excitement were geared towards hearing one particular artist live for the first time: HOMESHAKE, who kicked off the day by playing the Chalino stage at noon. It was no surprise that Peter Sagar was able to attract a full crowd, but it was personally mind-blowing to me how his vocals live are even more elevated than his recorded vocals. HOMESHAKE’s set was not only an instrumentally religious experience but also vocally incredible. Sagar’s soft vocals reached high crisp falsettos. Though the majority of crowd attendees during HOMESHAKE’s set were high or on some form of a hallucinogenic drug, it was safe to say everyone’s inner musical third eye opened during his performance.
After HOMESHAKE’s set, I spent a large majority of the day at the smaller stage area seeing acts that included Current Joys and Triathalon. Ironically, though Current Joys is the kind of music you would associate with your sad boy hour or emo playlist, due to Nick Rattigan’s lyrics containing heavy emotional potency, hardcore moshing was highly evident during his set. During some of Current Joy’s most popular hits like “New Flesh” and “Kids,” the crowd was practically screeching “listen to the cure listen to the cure and then I cry” back at Rattigan. All the while everyone constantly assisted in lifting people in the air to crowd surf throughout the entire set. In essence, Current Joy’s set felt like pure musical bliss with both the crowd’s vibrant energy and the evident passion Rattigan exudes in his live performance, seen in his adrenalized guitar solos and his intense, quivering vocals that would cause his face to turn red while singing. In contrast, Triathalon delivered a very chill set showcasing their newest singles “Courtside” and “Distant.” Tropicalia was one of the first major music festivals that Triathalon has ever played. Triathalon garnered a packed crowd at the Chavela stage and a large majority of the crowd sung back the lyrics from their latest 2018 album Online. It is safe to infer that Tropicalia is only the beginning of music festivals to come for Triathalon.
Finishing off my Tropicalia experience I got to see one of my favorite artists ever for the fifth time at the main stage being Mac Demarco. However, unlike a typical Mac Demarco set with his full band, Mac’s Tropicalia set consisted of just him, his MacBook laptop, and an inflatable turkey costume. Mac’s set genuinely felt like a karaoke session, with Mac playing some of his older songs including “Blue Boy”, “Rock and Roll Nightclub”, and “Passing out Pieces” along with some songs off his latest 2017 album This Old Dog. Yet, I found the karaoke-like aspect of Mac’s set to be a really intimate listening experience between Mac and fans. From dancing around the stage with a 3 layered turkey inflatable costume, while trying his best to do cartwheels and handstands, Mac’s set showcased the reason why all hardcore Demarco fan’s love his weirdly funny, charismatic personality.
Drawing the day to a close, the last act of the night I saw was Surf Curse at the Juanga stage. To say the crowd was crazy would be a major understatement. Though I knew Surf Curse has a strong Californian reputation since 2013, when both Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck took the California DIY music scene by storm, their impact was more than evident during their set. If you took The Garden’s set consisting of bodies constantly smashing, people crowd surfing on top of one another, and various limbs being thrown around, and amped the intensity up by a thousand notches, that is what Surf Curse’s set felt like. It was safe to say everyone was familiar with all of Surf Curse’s songs. The energy emitted from the crowd held a stronger sense of energy than both Rattigan and Rubeck’s energy combined while pounding and strumming away on their drums and guitar. Overall, Surf Curse’s placement as a closing act on Sunday night was the perfect way to end Tropicalia by screaming along to their hit songs like “Freaks” and “Heathers” with a collective group of sweaty, passionate, music lovers.
If I could summarize Tropicalia festival in a one-word description I would characterize it as genuine. Not only did the festival cater towards people genuinely into music and people who enjoy living life in the moment, but its purpose in placing emphasis on a large representation of Latino bands and musicians gave the festival a sense of pure musical intentions. Tropicalia both allowed listeners to discover new up and coming musicians and provided bands otherwise considered underrated the platform to acquire new fans of their music. Overall, Tropicalia trumped all the prior music festivals I have attended and I would attend again next year. Though at Tropicalia 2019 I will be sure to wear steel armor for both days to shield me from the crazy, fun, intense, euphoric Californian mosh pits.