A Primer of Bands and Artists that Make Up Newport Beach’s Vibrant Music Scene
Southern California has always been a hotbed for musical talent and the Newport Coast is no stranger to the many notable waves of music that have passed through the region and evolved into major movements. Part of what continues to make the SoCal music scene so special and unique is that its sound draws directly from its distinct culture. You know, that year-round sunshine, laid back attitude and beachy vibe that everybody dreams about? Together, these things form the lifestyle that shapes the sound of so many great artists and bands right here in Newport Beach and its surrounding areas.
Since groups like The Beach Boys and The Byrds first put the West Coast on the map over 50 years ago, the “California sound” has developed into an instantly recognizable style that embodies the sun seeker lifestyle in more ways than one. Today, that sound takes the shape of numerous different genres, each drawing from the free and easy feel of SoCal in its own way.
Of the many musical movements that have touched Newport turf, the most identifiable styles associated with the coast are the diverse types of rock music that have flooded the area for decades. Known for reverb-drenched electric guitars and light, tumbling rhythms, surf rock is still alive and thriving through local bands like Burnout Reef and The Beachstones. Mainstays on the Newport circuit, Burnout Reef has slowly been amassing an audience en route to releasing their debut EP in early 2019. Fusing the wavy sounds of surf with the tenacity of punk, the OC duo reps the high octane attitude that goes hand in hand with wild summer nights. Much like their OC counterparts, The Beachstones opt for a breezy, lo-fi aesthetic, incorporating Spanish influences to create a fun sound that is beautifully messy. Their thrashy style and blistering guitar solos make them an idyllic SoCal rock band.
Adjacent to the worlds of surf and punk, ska music has always held a sacred spot amid the Orange County scene and is uncoincidentally associated with life by the ocean. Take an afternoon stroll down the boardwalk on any given weekend and you’ll likely run into a groovy live set at your favorite beach-side bar and grill. No matter the time of year, ska-influenced bands from all around the area serve up frequent appearances at classic venues like The Blue Beet and Billy’s at the Beach.
The third wave of ska that overtook OC during the 1990s helped produce two commercial giants from the immediate area, Anaheim’s No Doubt and Newport rock stars Sugar Ray. Though both groups found great success after artistic transformations at different points in their career, their connection to ‘90s ska culture and the coastal lifestyle is unmistakable. One of the best selling acts of the last three decades, No Doubt’s genre-blending dominance of the charts is an ode to the band’s hooky songwriting and the strength of lead vocalist Gwen Stefani’s persona. Their most popular tracks – “Don’t Speak,” “It’s My Life” and “Just A Girl,” to name a few – embraced a pop-friendly style of ska and new wave, introducing the sound of OC to the masses.
While No Doubt struck gold by stepping out of their comfort zone, Sugar Ray’s biggest hits came to be by settling in and embracing the easygoing vibes of their hometown. “Fly” and “Every Morning” are celebrated as some of the most infectious summer singles of the late ‘90s and have since become karaoke classics. The band’s combination of reggae-infused pop and mellow hip-hop grooves made them one of the hottest groups of their era. In fact, Sugar Ray’s roots in Newport run so deep that famed lead singer Mark McGrath still lives in town.
When going down the list of stars connected to the local area, it’s impossible to forget none other than world-renown DJ, Steve Aoki. A Newport Beach native who grew his musical chops as a punk rocker, over the last 20-plus years, Aoki’s fiery personality and wild live performances have made him one of the largest names in the world of dance music and an outright superstar around the globe. An indisputable EDM icon, Aoki’s songs possess an exciting and explosive quality that nods to the vibrant youth who make Newport nightlife a millennial destination.
In the same way Newport’s shorelines are a main attraction for both long time residents and out-of-towners, outgoing genres like surf and punk often garner a lot of the surface level attention when it comes to local music, but nestled in and around the city are a number of artists crafting tunes that fall on the more eclectic side of the spectrum.
A recent Costa Mesa transplant by way of Santa Barbara, indie singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Allie Page is slowly building a diverse catalog of delicate and deeply personal songs. Page’s portfolio, which includes worship outtakes under her own name and beautifully produced material as the indie rock project Haiva Ru, is yet another indicator of the artistic diversity existing in our very own backyard.
Another up and comer making a splash on the internet, beach-based singer and bedroom producer DENM has grown an increasingly invested fan base with his colorful style of pop, dance, rap and R&B. A true musical chameleon, DENM’s artistic endeavors, which include launching his own label All Together Records, champion the attitudes of the West Coast in a radiant light.
It’s worth mentioning that Newport’s neighboring cities have had a lot to say on the musical front too. Take a quick trip on the highway in any which direction and you’ll breeze through the hometowns of some of this decade’s most notable figures in indie rock. Known for their prolific output and garage-infused guitar jams, Laguna Beach’s Ty Segall, Irvine’s Young the Giant and Dana Point natives The Growlers are a few noteworthy modern day rock visionaries to hail from South Orange County. Their raw and energetic style evokes the free spirit found in every corner of OC and reflects the area’s tried values of pushing creativity to its outer limits.
The spirit of Newport Beach lies within numerous musical styles and genres that have invaded Southern California, and if history is any indicator, that trend will continue into the foreseeable future with the rise of the city’s next musical minds. From surf and ska to EDM and indie rock, the OC is ripe with creativity and talent, and it’s only a matter of time before a new wave of sounds hits the sand. Until then, sit back, sip some suds and keep enjoying the good tunes.
Get hip to the sounds of Newport Beach with this playlist inspired by life in the OC.
Looking to get acquainted to the Newport Beach music scene? Lucky for you, we have the perfect opportunity for you to get your feet wet! Check out these upcoming events!
Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival
May 31 – June 2
Sunset Jazz at Newport
Wednesdays, July 10 – September 18
Summer Concert Series at Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
Summer Dates to Be Announced
(Jazz Concert and Summer Concert link)
Written by Roberto Johnson