By Itzel Quintana
Around the dimly lit interior of the DIY venue Top Acid, two punk kids gazed at the art on the wall from the Fight Like a Girl! exhibit the day before.
Jesse came dressed in his best punk attire with a perfectly spiked Mohawk and a denim jacket adorned with band patches. His friend Kevin wore an Iron Maiden long sleeve with ear buds dangling out of the collar.
Jesse and Kevin are two high schoolers who broke into the Top Acid scene Sept. 6 with Chup Fest, the all-ages event featuring about 18 bands and artists from the southwest.
“My friends keep telling me to dance but I don’t really know what to do in [the pit],” said Kevin, the younger of the two.
Cheezedow, a three-man band from Santa Ana was on. They played on an outdoor stage, facing the back alley, which served as the second stage.
I arrived three acts late because I couldn’t find the venue. Top Acid moved around a bit, spanning three different locations since its inception, making the trek to find the space a quirky tradition unique to Top Acid.
Cheezedow members distinguished themselves by wearing white masks stained with faux blood.
Whimsical and interactive, the band’s songs were written almost entirely in Spanish. At one point some kids jumped on top of their friends’ backs and started to push people around in a sea of bodies, reminiscent of a game of chicken fight. Balloons and confetti were thrown around during the performance.
After Cheezedow’s set, the crowd migrated to the first stage.
About half a dozen pieces of equipment malfunctioned during the bands’ sets. Microphone stands kept falling and guitar strings would break, but the crowd stepped in to help the band by picking up mic stands, adding to the feeling of interconnectedness at the festival.
It was exactly the atmosphere Chris Gonzalez, the owner and man in charge at Top Acid, wanted since day one.
“I like it when the band is right in front of everyone because it’s more personal,” Gonzalez said.
Top Acid originated as a vintage clothing store that would throw parties for the monthly artwalk in Downtown Santa Ana. Eventually, it evolved into the music venue it is today.
The development of the venue has been a maturing process for Gonzalez.
As bands like Stumped and Wonton Soup played with skate-rock sets at the outdoor stage, Gonzalez would look in at the madness from the alley while not busy on door duty.
“Top Acid used to be this place where anything went, there were no rules and it was complete anarchy,” Gonzalez said.
Although they do receive occasional complaints from bystanders, they also receive a lot of support from neighboring businesses. Wursthaus, a gourmet sausage restaurant on the corner of Fourth and French streets, offered 15 percent off food and 20 percent off drinks to anyone showing proof of a purchased Chup Fest ticket.
It was nice to have the option of getting discounted food and drinks after an action-packed set by Mechachief, an experimental punk-rock band from Los Angeles.
Pocket Rocket guitarist Lyndon Miller mentioned his involvement in the Southern California music scene in between drags of his cigarette.
“It’s nice to play in Santa Ana because people actually enjoy the music. Everyone in L.A. has a stick up their ass,” Miller said.
Jesse and Kevin moshed in front of Melted, a surf-punk band from Anaheim, as they closed out the festival. Members from different bands stuck around and joined the audience.
Gonzalez said he plans to grow Top Acid into a record label and would like to throw festivals as big as Burger Record’s Burgerama. Events like Chup Fest bring this feeling of togetherness between the audience, the bands, the owner and the community.
“We’re kind of like the crazy, loud kids on the block. But now I’m at the point where I’m like ‘OK, if I want this to get bigger I need to regulate,’” Gonzalez said.