The venue was pitch black with lasers darting back and forth across the dance floor. Women wore vibrant outfits with costume makeup, tutus, flashy tops and eerie contacts. Men wore dresses, high-heels or their finest drag attire.
Handmade spaceship and alien decorations hung from the ceiling and people danced with bubble wands, spraying soapy orbs across the tiny Mexican restaurant and to the bar.
This is not your average rave, characterized by rainbow kandi beads and a blank-faced DJ spinning untz, untz, untz for hours. This is Subculture Party, a monthly event in Downtown Santa Ana that is redefining what a rave can be.
Operating on a dedicated monthly theme — from “alien abduction” to “toxic future” to “fantasyland” — the dance-music event inspires party goers to be creative and show off their style.
“Subculture is like its own little universe and it’s the crowds and type of people that go there that make that universe,” says Dalton Scherer, who goes by his drag name Clover. At last month’s party, he wore a teased blonde wig, black fish netting and a cropped T-shirt featuring Pinhead from the horror movie Hellraiser. “It’s a very unique event with very unique people. And that’s why I go because I feel like I fit right in.”
Clover lives in Los Angeles, but like other attendees, makes the drive to Fourth Street for the chance to hang out and dance with like-minded people at the 18-and-over club.
Subculture Party founders Tyler Shepherd and Gannon Baxter (who are also boyfriends) started the night last October because they wanted to bring the rave culture they experienced in L.A. closer to home in Orange County. They rent out El Rincon Mexicano and transform the Mexican restaurant into a black light party.
“I have lived here my whole life and I was born and raised in OC and I have been going to L.A. so much since I turned 18 just to find something fun and exciting,” Shepherd says. “To see people coming from L.A. to Orange County to experience this kind of thing — it’s kind of like we flipped the tables.”
At the core of these small underground raves are the themes. People express themselves in the way they dress and the makeup they choose to wear, sometimes taking the entire month to prepare. Party-goers spend hours creating the perfect look for what will end up being the highlight of their weekend.
Last month, attendees wore home-made accessories, bold face paint and bright green outfits in hopes of resembling an alien for the “abduction” theme. Strangers complimented each other’s style choices, opening the door for conversation.
“Their curation has really been what makes each party so epic,” attendee Four Ricin says. “This party really gets people from so many different ends of the spectrum to meet and bond.”
With a strong support of LGBTQ rights and a strict no-hate policy, Subculture’s events attract everyone from drag queens to goth kids to plain-clothed passerby’s.
In contrast to other local clubs like the Yost Theatre, which once was a thriving EDM venue focused on alcohol and bottle-service sales, Subculture’s parties offer a more intimate, low-profile experience. The events also stand out from OC gay bars such as VLVT Lounge, which schedules weekly drag and burlesque shows and advertises nightly drink specials. Gay bars might be a place for acquaintances, but Subculture is a place for lasting friendships.
“The thing about this event is it’s not your run-of-the-mill gay club. There’s a level of whimsy with the themes, the decor, and the DJ’s who are picked to perform,” party-goer Emily Cox said.
“You never know who’s going to show up, what they’ll be wearing or how they’ll juxtapose the theme with their own spin and available materials.”
While there is a strong focus on how you dress, music is also a key factor to what makes Subculture stand out.
The founders hire live DJs, including Baxter, who play everything from traditional EDM to ‘80s and ‘90s hits to remixes of popular female vocal songs such as The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
Organizers say this music can be an escape from Top 40 tracks that are usually played in bars and clubs.
“My biggest problem with Orange County that there is no good music here people are not willing to put on anything besides Top 40 because they’re scared, they think if we don’t play Top 40 the people won’t come,” Shepherd says. “But no one likes Top 40 only and the people worth hanging out with are down to dance to whatever — as long as it’s fun.”
The next party is scheduled on May 24 at 104 East 4th St. For more information and to RSVP for discount tickets can be found on the Subculture Party’s website and on Instagram @SubcultureParty