The second installment of GIRLSCHOOL – a three-day celebration cum dialogue of empowerment and change, and a spirited assault of a shitload of great music – inhabited the Bootleg Theater this weekend.
Coming one week after an inspiring wave of global activism, the festival’s timing was impeccable, its message imperative. Since January 20th, there is an undeniable sense of urgency to resist the entrenched and rising powers that be. Rock ’n’ roll remains a hell of a vehicle to activate change. (GIRLSCHOOL’s bill, however, was not confined to rock.)
GIRLSCHOOL is self-defined as a “Los Angeles-based women-led music festival, online platform, and collective that celebrates and connects women-identified artists, leaders, and voices,” that was founded by Anna Bulbrook (The Bulls, The Airborne Toxic Event, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes) and Jasmine Lywen-Dill (publicist at Warner Bros.). Proceeds from the event will be directed towards Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls LA, a “social justice organization that uses loud music to nurture self-esteem and self-expression in young girls.”
Friday night kicked off with a keynote discussion between Shirley Manson and journalist Eve Barlow. Manson was affable but honest, her Scottish wit fueling candid observations on the state of our world union and her experience in the music industry.
“These are really brutal times. We have to galvanize and push back.” Now 50, Manson alerted those in attendance, “women’s sexuality is the most valuable currency in the world,” and went on to urge women to “use your sexuality wisely in this business.”
And with a distinct tone set, the music began with the easygoing and earnest flow from LA-based newcomer Kona, and a lively thump/dreamy vocal hybrid from Luna Shadows, whose set reached Grimesian levels of electrocacophony.
Vox appeared alone on stage in a wedding dress, trailed by about 40 feet of veil that draped the entire surface of the stage. Songs performed over backing tracks translated well, but when she dropped the veil and the pre-recorded tracks to play keys, her performance registered as more compelling in its organic intimacy. Her lyrical confession of, “there are wild things in me,” felt like a battle cry for the event at-large.
Burger Records’ and Riverside, California’s own Summer Twins, true to their name, brightened the mood via ringing, melodic guitar work, and harmonies led by sisters Chelsea and Justine Brown. At one point, Chelsea took a moment to reflect on her time volunteering at Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls LA.
Penultimate act The Regrettes simply stole the show. Recently signed to a major label, these four 16 year olds play with a fluidity and confident energy that belie their age. Despite a few elements that might fool those not paying attention (e.g. big red hearts drawn on the cheeks of lead singer Lydia Night), this wasn’t exactly a candy pop affair.
On the heels of the release of Feel Your Feelings Fool!, their frenetically energetic performance inspired the entire room’s buy-in. In between strums of her guitar, Night playfully punched Morando’s cymbal, leapt down in to the crowd, or laid on her back to jam along with guitarist Genessa Gariano. The Regrettes’ secret weapon is Maxx Morando’s soul-blistering drumming that never let up during their entire set. The Regrettes are a juggernaut, and their punky set was the night’s best evidence that the future is, in fact, female. Go see them.
GIRLSCHOOL’s sets ran like clockwork, with 30 minutes allotted to each act on alternating stages. Headliners played a bit longer and, on Friday, this slot belonged to The Bird and the Bee.
The Bird and the Bee, the project of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, served as a dancey cap on the opening night of the festival. Though Kurstin was not present, nimble vocal work from George recalled Caroline Polachek’s percolating vocal contributions to Chairlift. “What do you do when the music has its way with you?” she asked in “Will You Dance?”
The intricate and thoughtful details woven in to TBATB’s electro pop, a genre that can at times rely too heavily on button-pushing trickery, helped humanize their art.
“Again & Again” alternated between the bing bong electro drone sounds of “Kid A” and a sunnier bounce. There was a “Papa Don’t Preach”-like refrain in “Young and Dumb,” which included George sending up a digital siren noise via manipulation of what appeared to be an iPad. There was even a show stopping cover of Hall & Oates (“I Can’t Go For That”).
And as this all went down, who was that up close to the stage enthusiastically taking video with her phone? Shirley Manson.