.Santa Cruz Scene Celebration Festival Showcases New Bands

It’s no secret that since the pandemic the Santa Cruz music scene has been going  through a major revival. Along with the reopening of the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building—aka Vets Hall, one of the only all-ages venues left in town—the 40831 hardcore scene blew up nationally in 2021 with Santa Cruz and San Jose bands like Drain, Scowl and (now defunct) Gulch leading the charge.

However, there’s another burgeoning scene that’s quickly sprouted to the surface and it’s poised to keep our city on the music map for another sound altogether.

This Friday the inaugural Santa Cruz Scene Celebration Festival (SCSC Fest) is ready to highlight 14 of those bands at the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building. In addition to bands like Sluttony, Trestles, Career Woman and the Anti-Groupies, the all-day event will feature booths by local artists, vendors and others in a salute to everything Santa Cruz.

“We want this to be for the community,” says Santa Cruz Recording Studio’s Josh Dimatulac (A&R/Salsa). “After all, Santa Cruz is in the festival’s name.”

And it’s a price point hard for any live music lover to refuse.

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“We’re only charging $10,” co-organizer Claire Wirt says. “And we’re not taking any money. After we pay security, the bartenders and things like that, all of the bands are splitting the door proceeds evenly.”

The event is sponsored by Santa Cruz Recording Studio, where Claire’s husband, the Grammy-nominated producer Jim Wirt, has recorded singles for all of the bands on the festival bill over the past year.

“A lot of these kids don’t really know what it means to be actually produced,” Claire explains. “They might have a few plug-ins but that’s it. So my pitch was ‘Come do a single with us and it’s yours. We don’t want a part of it.’” 

The final destination for those singles will be a compilation CD released by Santa Cruz Recording Studio later this year.

“We want to keep it all Santa Cruz [bands] geographically,” Jim states.

While he might not be a household name to those outside the industry, his work is internationally known. Incubus, Something Corporate, Alien Ant Farm, Jack’s Mannequin, L.A. Guns, Something Corporate and more have all found themselves on the other side of Jim’s board. Wirt was also the man in the chair behind Hoobastank’s 2001 platinum-selling self-titled debut album.

Last year the Wirts relocated to Santa Cruz and immediately started doing what they do best: connecting with local musicians to record and promote.

But what exactly is this bubbling new scene?

“If I had to define it I’d call it West Coast Surf Punk,” Dimatulac says.

“Santa Cruz Surf Punk!” Jim cuts in with a laugh. “Anything that’s anything we can call ‘Santa Cruz Surf Punk.’”

Despite what the engineers call it, this new scene—like anything new and exciting—is hard to define.

These groups are a cornucopia of genres melding punk, garage, emo, indie, dream pop and more for a mosaic of sound. Each show can have different lineups with different styles of music, yet it all, somehow, seems to blend effortlessly. Maybe that’s because the groups themselves are a hodgepodge of local and student musicians, mostly in their early to late 20s with some as young as teens or as “old” as their early 30s, lending a wide variety of influences.

Take Perch, for example. Formed right before the pandemic, this quartet draws from the well of mid-2000s pop punk and mid-western emo for songs that are as passionate and introspective as they are catchy. They recently recorded a soon-to-be-released single with Wirt.

“Recording with Jim was awesome because he had a real punk approach,” Perch drummer Rowen Graves says.

Guitarist Pablo Robles agrees.

“He gave a lot of very artful criticisms. He wasn’t trying to fuck with our songs but instead was trying to get them to sound as best as they could be.”

Other bands in the scene seem to be on the opposite end of the music spectrum.

Sluttony—a four-piece, all-femme group—rides a previously unknown line between riot grrrl, classic rock and ’90s alternative. Last year they won the Shabang Battle of the Bands—cosponsored by local promoters, Free the Youth—earning them $1,000 and a spot on that year’s Shabang Festival in San Louis Obispo. Since then they’ve relocated to Los Angeles to grow the band’s presence when they’re not on the road or returning to play Santa Cruz shows, which they still do on a frequent basis.

Then there’s groups like Trestles.

This four-piece band rocketed from house shows and venues like Streetlight Records and the now closed Bocci’s Cellar to the Catalyst main stage, Phoenix Theater in Petaluma and Cornerstone in Berkeley. Just as their namesake is an amalgamation of steel beams and supports, Trestles builds a sound welded by art rock, indie dream pop and garage rock a la Strokes, Fontaines D.C. and Beach Fossils. Plus, they do a killer cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” in a display of the band’s musical knowledge. 

But what makes this fledgling group of new musicians the very definition of a scene is their friendship. All of the bands are constantly playing shows together around Santa Cruz and the greater Bay Area. They lift each other up and support one other’s music, building a community instead of competition. On any given weekend one can easily find acts like Trash Day, Vertiginous, N.O.S., Field Hockey, Universe, Bonesio and others playing gigs around town. 

Because of this, it’s only getting bigger. 

Just look online and see the thousands of fans and monthly listeners that have their eyes focused on Santa Cruz. Trestles has 13.6 thousand monthly listeners on Spotify while four-piece punk-influenced garage band Couch Dog has 17.8 thousand. Mom Cars has a staggering 58.6 thousand Instagram followers with Sluttony coming in hot with 49.9 thousand.

It’s this open-minded, inclusive mentality that drew the Wirts to get involved with the Santa Cruz Scene Celebration Festival in the first place.

“This scene isn’t so hardcore and niched,” Jim says. “There’s room for a lot of people to get involved.”

INFO: 2:30pm, Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz, $10 door. 454-0478

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