Riverside gets a bad rep. “It’s too damn hot,” or “there’s nothing to do here” are the main shortcomings people point to about the city. I’ll co-sign the first one — the hot spell that has plagued Riverside seemingly perennially is futile to deny. But folks should think twice before putting stock in the second claim, says Michael Rey.
Rey, a Fontana native, plays bass and sings in Dreamlover, an eclectic band comprised of fellow SoCal natives Alex Tanner, Venny Vargas and Mark Balagatas whose roots can be traced back to late 2016. Their origins are like that of many homespun groups to come from the suburbs. “We all just sorta met at shows in Riverside,” Rey remembers; from there, he hit them up with a simple idea. “They understood what I was trying to create. It’s a nod at Southern California culture — something that we all know.” And since late last year, the group has progressively built a name for themselves as go-getters, playing shows at Back to the Grind in Downtown Riverside and often performing at friends’ house parties to circulate their sound.
Describing their aesthetic would bring to mind funk sounds of yesteryear: Lowriders, barrios blasting G-Funk oldies. Mixed into that sonic image is a contemporary synth-driven pop flare, at times sounding like a stoned relative to Homeshake. It’s not an easy style of music to label, but their influences are clear and their execution is groovy. Across the band’s Facebook, Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages is the term “Cholo Soul” stamped onto their description boxes, a genre they see as a compilation of everything they grew up with. Rey elaborates on the genre, saying, “It’s a very broad spectrum… we’re trying to create a term associated with a wide array of soundscapes,” encompassing early ‘90s West Coast hip-hop and punk native to the region. And the punk ethos is clear, a very DIY mentality that most strongly resonates in the way they book and play their shows. “It’s just like a super inclusive culture built around SoCal music influences,” according to Tanner, who sings backing vocals and plays percussion.
Each member of the quartet is embedded into the often overlooked network of Inland Empire musicians — a community facing an uphill battle to remove the stigma that situates Riverside and its surrounding cities as cultural deserts. Unlike other cities with popular all-ages venues — cities like Santa Ana (The Observatory), Pomona (The Glass House) and Los Angeles (too many to name) — many cities in the IE simply don’t have the venues to allow local talent to blossom from within their community.
“The issue with the Inland Empire,” Rey laments, “is that there’s no venues for talent to showcase their art.” Aside from playing at bars, it’s hard to flourish here, with most groups sticking to house parties and smaller venues that attract marginal amounts of people. There’s a common misconception about Riverside and the IE as a whole that there’s dearth of culture and artistic talent to the area; that falsehood stems from a structural deficiency where creatives like the folks in Dreamlover can’t access the eyes and ears of would-be fans. The ones who need it the most are the same chunk of the population barred access to venues like Mission Tobacco Lounge and local bars: The youth. “LA has these places and they’re flourishing,” he continues, with places like The Smell (whose existence is a continuing uncertainty) and Junior High serving as popular examples. San Bernardino County currently stands as a goldmine for creatives looking to capitalize on the plethora of vacant lots and properties ripe for turning into an all-ages music venue.
A lot of what constitutes the contemporary music scene in Riverside includes older people long past their high school years, but that could change once this mine of talent explodes. For now though, it’s still in development, with small shows generating connections and spreading the word of the IE’s burgeoning artistry; in those small numbers there’s still a drive among locals to see who’s popping off the scene and creating something new.
Back to the Grind, the quaint coffee shop in Downtown Riverside where local acts often perform, was noted as one of the most important businesses in the IE, a spot that’s hosted them on numerous occasions. “Every IE band played there,” says Alex, “it’s like all of our home base, they’re so welcoming.” But regardless of setting, the band is confident that SoCal people who grew up with the cultures they did will get it — the only obstacle henceforth is eliminating the stigma and cultivating a larger audience. Until the inevitable tapping of the potential within the IE, Dreamlover sits in the indiesphere with contemporaries like Summer Twins, Tactful Cactus and Cutty Flam, soaking up the heat.