Robert Sanlis

For decades, Isla Vista has cultivated an image as an ideal location for budding young musical talent. Touring bands and local acts alike have taken advantage of Isla Vista’s lively social atmosphere and youthful student population, and enjoy playing high-energy house shows in residences throughout the town.

Despite Isla Vista’s reputation as a musical hub, it lacks many of the formal institutions one might expect to find supporting such a well-known music scene. Not only are there no practice spaces for embryonic acts, there are also virtually no formal performance venues.

The deficiency in musical institutions is a more recent phenomenon than many Isla Vista residents may realize. In as late as 2011, Isla Vista artists still had access to a practice area known simply as “The Space.” This area was located on Seville Road, on the land currently occupied by the ICON apartments. “The Space” used to accommodate up to sixty bands and was an invaluable resource for Isla Vista artists.

The closure of “The Space” in the early 2010s has led to a dearth of practice spaces in Isla Vista. Since there are no other designated practices spaces in the town, musicians are now forced to practice in residential areas.

“You have to be very careful not to upset the people around you,” says local musician Jacob Acosta.

Acosta has played in both the successful funk group Four Closure and the lo-fi emo group This is Napoleon?. Acosta is often forced to practice with his bandmates in living rooms or garages throughout Isla Vista.

“Finding a space where you don’t piss-off neighbors can be the biggest barrier to forming a band in I.V.,” Acosta continued.

Since practicing with a band often necessitates hours of loud playing, it is not uncommon for neighbors file noise complaints with IVPD.

“We’ve had the cops show up a couple times,” says John Pagliassotti of the classic-rock-inspired jam band The Real Savage Henry.

Pagliassotti says that his band frequently has to schedule practice during midday hours, while people are at work or in class, so they do not disturb their neighbors.

In addition to the scarcity of practice areas, Isla Vista currently has very few designated music venues. Though finding a house willing to host a band is surely no issue in Isla Vista, there are definite drawbacks to only playing at DIY-style house shows. House shows often lack the acoustic quality of a music venue and rarely, if ever, have someone working to ensure instrument levels are properly mixed. In addition, bad weather has the potential to delay or ruin entire shows.

However, many argue that the biggest issue with the music scene’s dependence on house shows is the ability of the IVPD to shut them down. According to their website, I.V. Foot Patrol reserves the right to end any gathering with “unreasonable noise, music, percussion or other sound which can be heard within 100 ft of [the] property line.”

Though there are a handful of music performance venues that have stood the test of time, and still remain in use (namely the Biko garage and the Anisq’Oyo’ Amphitheater) the quantity of music venues in Isla Vista is currently at an all-time low. Previous generations of Isla Vista residents use to have access to numerous music venues. Spaces such as Memehuenes and the Red Barn offered all-ages shows and attracted large audiences on weekend nights. Some venues, such as Anaconda and the Graduate, attracted larger touring artists and gave Isla Vista musicians a chance to play alongside these larger acts.

In response to the current lack of venues, many I.V. restaurants have risen to the occasion and are beginning to offer live music. Recently, both Woodstock’s and Gio’s have begun offering live music on weekend nights and have had successful turn outs. As the scene continues to develop and grow, these ad hoc venues will become increasingly important.  

Sanlis is also a band member with This Is Napoleon?.