The Sounds of Isla Vista

By: Lia Bilodeau

Pictured: The Framers, an indie-rock band in Isla Vista, CA. Picture from Julia Trites.


Isla Vista has a rich musical history and many famous artists started their careers while living in IV during their college years. Jack Johnson and Steve Aoki are two of the most notable artists who are products of Isla Vista, and excellent examples of the diversity in musical styles that are fostered here. On a Friday or Saturday night, live music can be heard from the streets as bands perform shows at local residences, and on sunny days artists will play their music from the decks of Del Playa for crowds on the beach below. During weeknights, the top level of Lot 22 on the UC Santa Barbara campus is a prime practice spot, and the students and staff get to listen to the bands while leaving campus. Whether you’re looking to start learning an instrument and expand your musical skills, or join a band to start playing shows around Isla Vista, there’s a place for you in Isla Vista’s music community!


For anyone looking to get involved in the Isla Vista music scene but unsure of where to start, keeping an eye for band show flyers is a great first step towards making friends with local artists. Many shows, also referred to as band parties, will have multiple bands playing and members of other bands watching. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and both the band members and crowd will have more information about potential instrument lessons or bands looking to fill a spot. Band parties foster relationships within the Isla Vista music community and are a great way to meet people with shared interests. Because the community is so tightly knit, everyone stays up to date on each other’s projects and show their support when new music is released or anything else exciting happens.


Another great way to meet people and bands is to pay attention for music while walking through Isla Vista. Many bands practice inside of garages and backyards, and it’s common to go inside, say hello, and find out more about their work. Social media is a main form of advertising and communication between bands, so following Instagram pages is highly encouraged! Once you follow a few initial bands, finding other connections will become much easier and a whole world will open up to you. Live music is just one small part of the art scene in Isla Vista, and sometimes artists will come together to host larger events with multiple art mediums, like screen printing and painting.


For already established bands looking to break into the larger community, hosting shows with other groups is a great way to build your network and audience. It’s fairly common for bands to share equipment when all playing together and if you need a piece of equipment you don’t have, other musicians are happy to lend their own out. Another benefit of expanding your presence within the community is the potential of playing outside of Isla Vista in a more formal setting. Venues on State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara host bands to perform for their guests during evenings, and sometimes will have concerts with multiple acts. Building your reputation within Isla Vista and with other bands is a great way to get recommended for another gig and more consistent shows. Going to support other acts at live events downtown provides an opportunity to meet venue owners and pitch why your band should be featured there as well! For solo acts, open mic nights are returning as COVID restrictions are beginning to loosen up, creating a welcoming environment to show off your skills!


Regardless of your musical experience, there is a place in music community of Isla Vista for anyone who wants to be there! After taking the first step of reaching out to bands and making some new contacts, the community will open itself up to you, providing a diverse musical landscape to explore during your years at UCSB!