It’s been more than a decade since the very first MusINK Festival was held at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. That first three-day show featured an early version of Steel Panther (then called Metal Skool), Tiger Army and The Used, plus a handful more metal and punk bands, and about 200 of the best tattoo artists from around the world.
In the 11 years that have passed, the festival has grown modestly but noticeably. The venue hasn’t changed, but the esteem in which the event is held has shot up. The stature of the bands below the headliners also has grown, and hip-hop artists were included. Perhaps the most significant change came in 2014, though, when Blink-182/Transplants drummer Travis Barker became involved behind the scenes. The “Travis Barker Presents…” imprimatur undeniably boosted the profile of the festival, and MusINK is now a mainstay on the local festival calendar.
“I came in about four or five years ago, and it was so exciting to be a part of something that embodied everything I love, which is music, cars and tattoos,” Barker says. “Every year, I love curating it — figuring out what day what bands are going to play, who we’re gonna get and how we keep it fresh.”
Barker is in fact responsible for putting the bill together, from booking the musical acts to taking care of the tattoo artists. He’s very hands-on — his name isn’t just there for show — and he has a hell of a time doing it.
“I’m also curating the Low + Slow Car Show with my friend Bobby Ruiz from Tribal Gear, and making sure we have a great selection of cars,” Barker says. “It changes every year but at the same time it gets better every year, which is really hard to do. The goal is making it a better experience as time goes on. I don’t think we can ever repeat what we did the year before — I don’t think you can keep having the same bands play.”
With that in mind, Descendents last performed at the event in 2014, so there’s a healthy gap between appearances. Singer Milo Aukerman recalls having a great time last time out.
“I came out with my kids for that one,” he says. “I live out in Delaware but my family still lives in L.A., so I came out with my kids and we had a few days of R&R before we played the show, and my kids came to the show, which is always fun. That was a fun gig. I did not get a tattoo, but maybe this time. Who knows?”
For Aukerman, festivals are one big party. He still enjoys the freedom and intensity of getting in people’s faces at club gigs, but festivals offer him the opportunity to live out those rock & roll fantasies.
There was a huge 12-year gap for Descendents between 2004’s Cool to Be You and 2014’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate, something Aukerman puts down to the difficulty of aligning all of their schedules at this point in their lives. They’re all family guys with different priorities from those they held dear at 21. That said, Aukerman doesn’t think the gap will be so wide this time, and writing has begun on the next opus.
“I think we’ve got songs already, maybe half an album’s worth written,” he says. “Stephen [Egerton, guitar], for whatever reason in the last year, has just been a song machine, cranking them out, and it’s making Bill [Stevenson, drums] and I look like we’re slagging behind. I’ve written three or four myself, and Bill, as far as I know, always has songs brewing. I think it’s just a matter of time before we get together and track. I can guarantee it will not be another 12 years after the last one. But hopefully we can get it done in the next couple of years and then at least we’re not as bad as we were before.”
At MusINK, Descendents will be pulling tunes from the enviable arsenal that is their back catalog, stretching all the way back to 1981’s Fat EP, of course taking in the bona fide classic that is ’82’s Milo Goes to College, as well as a bunch of new tunes.
“We probably end up playing about half the new record,” Aukerman says. “We tend to play the songs that still get us going, that we still enjoy ourselves. That tends to be a mixture of all of them. We even play a relatively new song that we recorded last year, 'Who We Are,' which we recorded after Hypercaffium. ... We don’t tend to play songs that aren’t recorded.”
For hardcore punk vets Fear, led by the inimitable Lee Ving, 2018 will mark their debut MusINK appearance, and Ving says that he feels honored to have been asked, although he doesn’t consider festivals the mainstay of Fear’s activity.
“We didn’t start off playing festivals, and haven’t arrived at only doing that either,” Ving says. “Nor, I don’t imagine, would we. But they’re a great way to play for large numbers of people. So it’s very advantageous, and we’re always open to the idea. We’re looking forward to this.”
Ving, an astute and charming gent, always has his ear to the ground when it comes to the local punk rock scene, simultaneously tipping his hat to the past. In December, the band had the opportunity to open for the reformed Misfits in Vegas, though Ving is equally comfortable playing with young bands.
“I always have an eye and ear to the ground for the music here in our hometown, and I think that it’s made measurable progress since the old days when it was not welcome everywhere, and shows of that nature were harder to place,” Ving says. “But it’s come full circle, and that music in general is part of the way that punk rock is much more accepted than it used to be. It was an item of its own, and I think it’s absolutely more mainstream now, and popular among lots and lots of people. It’s good for everybody.”
Ving says that we can expect some of the greatest hits, and some repartee between him and the audience, some pearls of wisdom and some great music, from the Fear set. Meanwhile, Barker is looking forward to getting behind the kit at his own festival with his most successful band.
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“Obviously [Blink is] gonna do something different for this show than we’ve done,” he says. “Maybe bust out some songs we haven’t played in quite a bit. I think the goal is to have a different setlist than the one we played all last year touring.”
With cars, punk, hip-hop and tattoos on offer, MusINK is going to offer a much-needed shot of anti-elitist fun to fans of all of those things from L.A. and the O.C.
“Politically, I’ve never really seen eye to eye with the Orange County politics, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that a lot of great bands came out of Orange County,” Aukerman says. “Some of my favorite bands were O.C. bands. The Adolescents, Social Distortion, The Middle Class — these were all bands that I cut my teeth on. I definitely have some affinity for the O.C. music scene at least, and probably would never live there, but for punk rock it has a great history.”