Inland Empire Sounds

By Charlie Vargas

The Inland Empire is about 4,850 mi² and consists of a handful of large cities such as San Bernardino, Riverside, Rialto, Fontana, Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga. These cities all differ in a variety of ways, including entertainment. For the underground communities, music is their soundtrack—a small portion of surrounding artists thriving in the Inland Empire.

Miss Chief

Courtesy of Miss Chief’s Facebook.

There are some pretty great hole-in-the-wall places for music in Riverside, California and this is especially true if you find yourself wandering downtown. One place in particular which seems to be a haven for the local underground indie music scene is the “Back to the Grind” coffee shop. This spot was where I first found Miss Chief

The band combines different elements of surf and garage rock with trippy melodies. But it’s the combination of their lead singer’s voice that truly makes it stand out. It’s hypnotic. It almost sounds like it’s straight out of the traditional pop sounds of the 1940s, but stretched and paced with a faster rhythm. Her harmonies are matched with the melodies of the guitar and bass riffs, while the drums follow with a simple but complimentary beat.

Beach Bums

Beach Bums play for a crowd in Riverside Calif. Aug. 28. Photo by Charlie Vargas.

Beach Bums, is a band located in Los Angeles but frequently visits the Inland Empire. The band is a fusion of surf and psychedelic rock with a dark and heavy punk feel to it. It increases the depth of the guitar sound, but also adding a sort of spooky vibe. The drums also keep a jazzy beat, overall making an interesting listen. When Beach Bums play their other songs like “Dirty,” you can hear some punk rock influence. However, then you have songs like “Spider Eyes” that mash up the energy of punk with a surf style guitar riff. In the current Burger Records sound, the surf rock influence is overused, making bands sound very similar. The differentiating factor with Beach Bums is their playful sound and although the influences of popular sounds are present, it doesn’t define them.

Kiki Diago

Kiki Diago plays at Back to the Grind Riverside Calif. Oct. 15 for their EP release. Photo by Charlie Vargas.

Kiki Diago, also hailing from the Inland Empire, is one you don’t want to miss. The band’s earlier sound was mainly centered around a garage and surf.

However, their dominating sound is currently a fusion of psychedelic and Latin groove-rock, which is heard in the drums consistently. The vocals switch from English to Spanish throughout and the chord progressions and are typically extended with an added effect of reverb and special distortions. Their sound actually has some resemblance to Chicano Batman but I am willing to say they’re a little groovier. They also incorporate keyboard into their music, adding a synth and ambient vibe to their psychedelic sound, almost like dream-pop but with a trippier feel.

Astronaut Samurais

Astronaut Samurais play in Back to the Grind Coffee shop’s basement in Riverside Calif. Oct. 1st. Photo by Charlie Vargas.

Astronaut Samurais a neighboring band from Moreno Valley. They don’t usually come around this side of the Inland Empire but when they’re around, they’re worth checking out.

Musically, they would fall under the category of garage rock, but some songs are easily influenced by doo-wop style chord progressions, as well as some intricate guitar solos. This is a big part of their sound, but they aren’t shy to tinker with skate punk here and there. The vocalist in the band adds some of that roughness, but he is also able blend his style enough to fit a modernish doo-wop that overlays in some tracks. One might expect the contrast to be off putting, but it works so well.

The Red Pears

The Red Pears Play for a crowded backyard in Rialto Calif. Sept. 16 Photo by Charlie Vargas.

The Red Pears from El Monte spend a good amount of time playing in the Inland Empire. I was a little surprised to hear that a band so different also came from El Monte. After following The Red Pears for about a year or so, I have seen their fan base grow which is evident with the crowd (just look at all that dirt in the air in the picture) and that has been consistent in every show they play. If you’re going to see The Red Pears at any backyard show, be prepared to get dirty.

Their sound is uppity, made up of a combination of alternative guitar riffs with a bouncy bass and drum beat. However, when you listen to their faster-paced songs one can hear the El Monte heaviness, and when their sound mellows out, it also becomes its own emotional catharsis. Their music reminds me of The Strokes early albums like “Is This It” mostly because of their singer’s vocal style, resembling Julian Casablancas but despite the similar sounds their music can stand alone.

23 Skunks

23 Skunks play in a backyard in Riverside, Calif. Aug. 26. Photo by Charlie Vargas.

From EL Monte, California, come the remnants of third generation Latin-wave Ska fused with Hardcore/Metal/Sludge come 23 Skunks. Los Angeles along with Long Beach, continue to have some of the biggest Latin-wave Ska in California. They are mainly bands that fall into the Skacore scene, a mix of Ska and Hardcore Punk which typically attracts a much heavier and louder crowd than traditional Ska. Their approach to a unique skacore sound is different from what the usual sound plays out. It incorporates more of a dominant hardcore sound versus traditional fusions of ska and hardcore. There sound is an extreme twist on the underground, third generation ska, allowing them truly stick out in that particular scene.


D.F.Y.H play for a crowd in Riverside Calif. Aug. 28. Photo by Charlie Vargas.

I wrote an article about D.F.Y.H. previously: the band overall is a genre bender and generally plays what they feel like. They’ll start off with some ska and then move into some slower indie rock and then get into something like power violence. The audience always starts off a little bit confused but typically ends up getting really into the set. What’s also noticeable are the different responses that different areas generate. In Moreno Valley and Fontana, D.F.Y.H.’s crowd reacts stronger to their punk and ska, but other locations like Ontario or Los Angeles, the indie sound draws bigger and diverse crowds. Their fluidity as a band allows them to shift not only between different shows but also between audiences, where there is always something for everyone.