Attending festivals is an activity I have never previously been a part of—not for lack of trying. I work for a living, in an industry that requires all hands on deck for a majority of the federal holidays on which, as the SNL Coneheads would say, Americans “consume mass quantities” of food. This means the holidays when most folks ultimately receive a third or even fourth day of rest are blacked out on the corporate schedule for me. It also means I’ve missed out on all eight Awesome Fests (San Diego) and every year of Chaos In Tejas (Austin). Lucky for me, the Berserktown 2 festivities happened to land on a weekend where it was totally possible for me to take a week off from work. My fest cherry was finally to be popped.
For months the event previews posted on Facebook promised a Los Angeles location (to be named later), but finally settling on Santa Ana’s Observatory in Orange County. A bit of a drive from my digs I thought, but worth it to see a slew of great bands; some for the first time and some which hadn’t set foot on American soil for over ten years.
Cadaver Dog from Denver quickly opened the festivities with their stomping, hardcore brutality. Culture Shock, with whom they share members, were originally scheduled to perform but Cadaver Dog’s impromptu ass whooping was just what the doctor ordered.
I made my way back to the main stage to catch some songs from Wax Idols who commanded attention with their intimately personal brand of post-punk but I also had to be mindful of the minutes until the mighty Tenement took stage. The overlap was undoubtedly a common complaint among festival attendees and it proved to be inevitable due to the amount of bands invited to play. Nevertheless our Appleton, WI heroes performed a string of hits from their newly released Predatory Headlights album before regaling many a loyal fan with fan favorites such as “Dreaming Out Loud.”
The dreaded overlap again caused me to join Berlin’s Diät mid-set. The few songs I did manage to catch only reaffirmed what I was already privy to: Diät is here to set a new standard for the throngs of post-punk Joy Division wannabes.
DC’s the Young Trynas questioned their sparse crowd’s attendance whilst fan favorites Destruction Unit were on the main stage. I don’t recall anyone complaining during their set of chaotic, grungey punk. We were all right where we wanted to be.
Total Control spared no moment in mesmerizing the crowd during their hour-long set of post-punk perfection, which included numbers from their albums Henge Beat and Typical System. I was fortunate enough to meet guitarist Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Boogas, etc.) and bore him with drivel and nonsense before he politely excused himself outside for a breath a fresh air: a true gentleman and scholar.
Day one came to a close, but not before my partner Claudia, my homeboy George, and I headed to the local In-N-Out to nourish ourselves with something other than overpriced beer. Burgers were raised in triumph before our forty-five minute trek back home.
Day two was the true test of fest tolerance in more ways than one. Not only did we further endure the excruciating triple-digit heat but we had to do it in the unexpected and unwelcome company of skinheads who weren’t shy about showing their nationalistic pride in the form of traditional oi-style dress complete with American flag images. Shit man, I fucking forgot which country I was in. Thanks for reminding me! Sketchiness notwithstanding, a majority of the afternoon and evening was unexpectedly spent on the second stage away from the steel-toed baldies.
Nudity from Olympia, a current favorite of mine, unloaded heavy waves of good time-evoking hard rock/metal licks before succumbing to the challenge of covering Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild,” proving that even the mighty aren’t perfect.
Everyone’s favorite Canadian export Fucked Up tuned up and plugged in. It had been a good six or so years since last I’ve witnessed the Cannucks on stage and goddamn it if they don’t still know how to work a fucking crowd. Between the stagediving fans, singalongs to favorites—“Baiting the Public,” “Police,” and “Generation”—recently slimmed-down front man Pink Eyes found time to make his way to the bar and stand on top of it to chug down a frosty PBR. Fucked Up quickly silenced the skeptic in me.
Sydney’s Royal Headache, as frustrated as the lead singer appeared to be, were absolutely brilliant and brought the audience to a roar with their flawless set of what Claudia accurately describes as “sad-boy indie punk.”
Soon thereafter L.A. locals Fumigados represented hard with an unhinged take on the current wave of East 7th style punk bands which has been raising eyebrows everywhere these days.
Madrid’s Juanita Y Los Feos (or Juanita And The Ugly Ones si no habla Español) packed the room and had everyone bouncing around to their new wave-influenced punk attack; so much so that people were standing outside the doorway to catch a glimpse of the Spaniards.
Unlike the first night of the festival, Saturday’s doors opened five hours earlier and much like five hours of standing up at work, I needed a break from the action so I headed towards the main stage area and found a seat. For the first time in a long time I sat down and caught a few bands while Claudia took a break from shooting the action. Those bands included the following:
Violent Minds reunited for this show with members of Yacht Club and Marvelous Darlings (among others) and reminded us just how heavy and fast mid-oughts hardcore was and still is. Power Trip sent everyone into a virtual time warp where all of a sudden it was 1986. They hijacked every single best riff off Master of Puppets, turned the amps up to twelve, and even incorporated a smoke and lights show into their set, which had me looking down at my feet to make sure I wasn’t wearing puffy white Reeboks; easily the crowd favorite of the night. The Rival Mob is the best fucking current hardcore band. There, I said it. Sets like the Rival Mob’s is the surely why venues absolutely must not skimp on the insurance although everyone appeared to safely have the time of their life with stage dives and dog piles galore.
The U.K.’s legendary The Mob was up next and proved to be the sleeper band of the night with only the diehards sticking around to sing along to damn near every song. Sure, their set appeared to be a bit extended but one had to admire the band’s professional attitude by wasting no time, making use of every minute, and only addressing the crowd to say thank you and inform them of their exit.
The much anticipated return of Toronto’s Career Suicide was next. Lead vocalist Martin Farkas worked up the crowd by reminding them of the last and only time CS performed in Los Angeles—back in 2004 at the Smell in downtown L.A. I sure do remember as I was there and vividly recall running to the stage when I heard the notes to “There is Something Wrong with You” ringing in the halls. That particular night the band went on first as they were previously unscheduled to perform and subsequently lost a game of rock, paper, scissors to determine the opener. This night everyone was treated to the band’s perfect take on early ‘80s Boston hardcore with Dangerhouse undertones. Selections from their entire flawless catalog pleased the diehards and enlightened the posers. It was an exciting time to be in the building and even more exciting was that the band promised to return to the states much sooner than ten years.
Day three was the shortest of the three for me due to much-needed rest from the night before and work obligations that resumed for me the following morning at 4:30 AM sharp. Despite my best efforts and an unforeseen traffic accident on the infamous 405 freeway, we arrived shortly before the end of Downtown Boys’ set. We were so late that I let Claudia out of the car closer to the doors while George and I went to pay for parking. We missed their set as a result of the lengthy walk to the venue but Claudia got there in time to shoot the band working the crowd into a frenzy.
Priests belted out their set of dance punk with unmatched exuberance and sass, thanks to possibly the best-dressed front lady of the entire fest. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was pleasantly surprised by a band I was previously unaware of, but I’d like to think that this is what fests of Berserktown’s caliber are meant for.
Vexx’s new record on Katorga Works was an unexpected gift from the record review materials god (we call him Daryl) and it got me all the more excited to see the Olympians. The vocalist was above and beyond the most animated and boldest front woman I’ve ever witnessed in person. The stage belonged to her and she owned it by throwing herself onto the floor without any regard for personal safety, spitting in every direction, and captivating the audience with her unpredictable dancing. If you’re into punk music but don’t like Vexx then you might want to seriously reconsider your participation in DIY.
It was then time for New Jersey axe shredders Screaming Females. I’m almost embarrassed to say that this is my first time beholding the wall of sound that was their set as most of my friends have already familiarized themselves with Marissa Paternoster’s genius guitar wailing and larger-than-life stage presence. The band ripped through a nearly hour-long set of material mostly from their last three albums with practically nothing from their earlier works (Power Move being my personal favorite), but I’m not complaining. Finally getting to see the mighty Screaming Females is something I can now scratch off my bucket list.
Alas, your humble narrator decided that enough was enough and therefore I did not stay to see the remaining headlining acts that included Sheer Mag, Milk Music, and Dead Moon. A new work week was waiting in the wings and so I had to prepare myself both physically and mentally. The fest as a whole was quite the experience and a damned good one at that. The only question left besides “Will there be another Berserktown next year?” is “Will you be attending next year, Juan?” Aside from the fact that this fest was indeed an endurance test for me, anything is possible. After all, I never thought that tucking your shirt into your nipple-high pants would ever be a “thing.” You proved me wrong, kids. You proved me wrong.
1. I did not see any of the acts in what was being called the “dance tent” which were mostly of the experimental/noise/electronic variety. The best quote about the dance tent came from the Rival Mob’s vocalist whom I wholeheartedly agree with when he said, “Not trying to talk shit—it’s not that I don’t want to go to the dance tent—it’s that I’m too fucking ugly.”
2. Several food vendors and merchants were inexplicably absent. On day one there were only two of the five or so food trucks promised on-site. Days two and three saw only one. A minor complaint but considering that the festival was three days long and reentry was not allowed, it was a bit disappointing to only have one or two food options to choose from when you get hungry. La Vida Es Un Mus and Revelation record distros were also not present.
3. Seriously, a lot of shirts were tucked in. Both T-shirts and button downs. Everywhere.
Juan Espinosa “writes” exclusively for Razorcake, lives in Inglewood CA, and thinks that the only people who should tuck their shirts in are dads over fifty and people on their way to a court appearance.