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Garrett Wheeler reflects on the new sound of California.

By Garrett Wheeler

Historical Records
Gather Round, Kids Back in the glorious 1960s, California was known for two things: psychoactive drugs and rock & roll. And while the LSD craze seemed to head nowhere, at least nowhere on this planet, the legacy of West Coast rock music continued to blossom and transform throughout generations. The San Francisco Sound, led by bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, became the international soundtrack of hippiedom. Down in L.A., Jim Morrison and the Doors stirred up enough controversy to sell over 45 million records worldwide. They still sell about a million albums a year. But soon the 1970s came, and then the 1980s, and the musical collective that was once California Rock Music receded into little more than a few old issues of Rolling Stone magazine.

Of course, it didn't take long for the Golden State to re-emerge as a musical focal point for the music industry. By the time the 1990s hit, the backlash to the plastic-pop of the '80s was in full force, and no state was more keen on leading the revolution than California. A host of underground scenes steadily rose toward the mainstream: hardcore punk, ska, metal and a relatively new genre called hip-hop all thrived on the heels of bands like Rancid, Sublime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and yes, Dr. Dre. By 2000, a clear California sound had made its way back on the FM dial, characterized by laid-back rhythms, sun-bleached lyrics and an undying love for marijuana. Today we've got Slightly Stoopid, E-40 and Santa Cruz's own Expendables basking in an international spotlight that seems to love nothing more than pointing its beam out West.

So naturally, Santa Cruz is itself a hotbed for the New California Sound. We've got all the features of quintessential Cali-culture: sun, surf, cannabis clubs--hell, even our Wikipedia entry calls Santa Cruz "a bastion for many sub-cultures and counter-cultures." It's also no secret that there are more than a few talented musicians residing in the city of Santa Cruz, and many of them have at one time or another taken the stage of the infamous Catalyst Atrium.

The Santa Cruz Spin
Last week saw a few local bands at the Thursday night showcase in the Atrium, a venue that, despite having worse acoustics than a laundromat, has certainly seen its share of glorious rock mayhem. After opening band General T kicked things off, hip-hop group the Elements played through a solid batch of rap originals. The five members rapped and wove lyrical verses with catchy hooks, alternating between the two as the growing Atrium crowd began moving from the bar to the dance floor. Next up was headliner 40831, a group that melds hip-hop and reggae as seamlessly as it melds area codes. The multigenre attack was about as Cali as a '64 Impala, and packed the style to match. MCs Chiefa and e-Sik handled the microphone like seasoned vets, unleashing waves of rap verses that contained real substance (social, political) as well as illegal substance (weed)--but hey, welcome to California.

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