Over the last decade, raves in L.A. have moved from decrepit warehouses and rural fields into enormous festivals booked by America's largest concert promoters. Big, remote electronic dance music events once tinged with danger and adventure have become as mainstreamed as catching the Stones at Staples Center.
This explains how we now have a dance music festival at an Orange County beach resort. Pacific Festival, an electronic-focused show at the Newport Dunes vacation complex in Newport Beach, held its fifth installment Saturday.
The non-seediness of it all actually felt refreshing.
Pacific Fest was much less bachelor-party-decadent than a Vegas day club, and the event lacked the pseudo-spirituality of the Electric Daisy Carnival or Lightning in a Bottle festivals. The musical lineup, including headliners Holy Ghost!, Poolside and Miami Horror, was populist enough for Newport Beach bros but tasteful enough to lure more discerning fans.
As outdoor music venues go, it’s hard to beat a sliver of sandy beach overlooking an inlet with sherbet-hued sunsets. If raves have already lost their dark allure, why not make them as picturesque as possible?
With a different bill of rowdy EDM fare and a few thousand vodka-Red Bulls, Pacific Fest could have easily gotten out of hand. But organizers knew their hometown audience, embodied by one well-muscled, shirtless fan with a full-back tattoo reading, "#BeachLife." So they cleverly balanced that element with savvier musical selections and open space for soaking up calmer vibes.
Most of the headliners brought extensive live-band productions, with synths and drum sets instead of just DJ gear. The gender-bendy and gay-centric L.A. party A Club Called Rhonda even got its own stage, for throwback house DJs like Bag Raiders and Yolanda Be Cool and an after-party with the titan of early disco, Giorgio Moroder.
If you wanted to take a breather from the music, you could kick off your shoes, show off your new Nasty Gal mesh swimsuit and dive right in the bay.
Plenty of clubs and festivals have done the raving-on-vacation gambit before; this summer has seen two installments of the luxe Palm Springs hotel-pool event Splash House. And Pacific Fest did show some growing pains: The venue’s main parking lot overfilled, and fans were rerouted to a different lot that required a 30-minute walk to the gates.
But once inside the gates, Pacific Fest delivered on the promise of raving in salt-air serenity.
There was never a more apt venue for the L.A. duo Poolside. Its dreamy disco cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was the perfect sundown soundtrack, and cuts from its debut “Pacific Standard Time” sounded even more lively with a full live band.
Miami Horror ran at a higher octane, and the sweaty masses fist-bumped to the band's yelpy, energetic electro-house. Holy Ghost! convincingly translated its late-night, downtown New York slink in this most un-urban setting. All the Rhonda DJs kept a steady stream of future-minded house jams going (with extra points to one guy onstage during Bag Raiders’ set wearing a T-shirt touting 19th century French composer Erik Satie).
The true draw of Pacific Festival, however, was music with a very SoCal seaside ambiance. Sure, the calm was occasionally broken by the whirr of a drone toting a GoPro video camera, or a dude in an Ibiza souvenir tank top stumbling into a trash can before expelling his many Bud Lights.
But on Saturday, Pacific Fest heralded a new mood in L.A.-area raving. Out with the old, soggy credo of “Peace Love Unity Respect,” and in with some actual peacefulness.