Following two days of enriching dialogue and a veritable cross-genre buffet of female-led music on Friday and Saturday, the final day of GIRLSCHOOL 2017 started Sunday morning back at The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.
The panel discussion “Music, Media and Sexual Misconduct” tackled the hot topic of sexual assault and abuse within the music industry. The participants were courageous in sharing their personal stories in an effort to prevent such incidents from being swept under the rug in the future by a male-dominated industry. When asked by moderator Andrea Domanick why this “culture of misogyny” has historically been the climate in the industry, there was agreement in the room that when a significant portion of any particular industry operates as freelancers, oftentimes there isn’t the structure or accountability necessary to foster safer work environments. Of many interesting GIRLSCHOOL discussions, it was a sobering, but necessary examination of an issue that has finally gained traction in the past couple of years. One panelist notably cited the Joyful Heart Foundation as a resource for victims.
The final night of music began with Oakland’s Soto Voce, the project of Kenny Soto and Miguel De Vivo. Soto, a trans woman, added her haunting falsetto to De Vivo’s dynamic keys and electronic percussion. Soto Voce weave new wave with industrial sounds to create their own futuristic tribal sound. By the end of the set, the room full of fog and thick bass-y reverberations, it felt like a microcosm of Darkside’s legendary FYF set in the LA Sports Arena a few years ago.
Starcrawler immediately validated Ryan Adams’ Tweet earlier this month, kicking the goddamn door in and then setting the place on fire. Front woman Arrow de Wilde had a macabre presence, so tall and emaciated in a hospital gown, and later, “bleeding” from the mouth after a tumble down into the audience. Meanwhile, guitarist Henri Cash ripped punishing and jagged guitar riffs, one after another, especially during “Full Pride.” After one fetal position freak-out whilst laid on the stage, de Wilde rolled on to her back and spread her legs. Cash approached mid-solo, thrusting forward rhythmically, his solos simultaneously cutting down the audience as if they had been shiv’d. Starcrawler’s swamp punk is an intense ride, that will indeed peel the paint off your brain, but it is one that should not be missed.
Kid Wave continued the intensity. “The Let Go” sounded like a festival-ready Arcade Fire number, especially when English frontwoman Lea Emmery repeated the lyrics, “who we are,” armed with a thousand-yard, stone-faced stare. Caroline Smith’s set was effortlessly soulful. “Magazine” blended a bit of Vampire Weekend with a poppier mall-bound sheen, while “Bloodstyle” flirted playfully with everyone in the room.
Ex-Sage’s set of stompy, dirty blues rock felt in some ways like a sequel to Deap Vally’s Saturday night closing appearance. The abstract, thump-heavy sounds of Rituals of Mine seemed somehow cribbed from the future by members Terra Lopez and Dani Fernandez. That is to say, it was such a new kind of sound it was hard to know what to do with it. It was compelling, though. Rituals of Mine’s Facebook page includes a sort of description of their music, courtesy of one M. Pricks: “If Jeff Buckley and Bjork had fucked, Terra Lopez would have been their kid.”
All of the weekend’s events built to this moment. Chelsea Wolfe emerged while backed by a droned-out wall of sound. When she stepped to the microphone and her goth howl met the bone-crushing black fuzz of her band playing “Carrion Flowers,” the room vibrated. The placement felt perfect. GIRLSCHOOL was saying goodbye with an unapologetic, in-your-face assault that would put just the right amount of scare into just about anyone; the band’s effects sounded like a black-throated wind. This was the amplification of something deeply morose. Before her final song, “Pale on Pale,” Wolfe finally spoke at any sort of length, saying “Thanks to GIRLSCHOOL for putting on a festival in such a weird and dark time.”
GIRLSCHOOL is poised to be an effective agent of change, should it continue in the years to come. In many ways, it already is. The festival was sold out all three days. The panels were well attended by a diverse group of people who represented all kinds of genders, races, religions and orientations. Their energy filled the rooms.
Billboard streamed the keynote discussion with Shirley Manson. At press time, more than 20,000 people have viewed the video. There were parents who brought along their barely-high school aged daughters to experience the discussions and music of GIRLSCHOOL.
Recently, the Women’s March served as a palette cleanser for a nation set into a collective tailspin just 24 hours prior. An important happening like GIRLSCHOOL continues to generate that true and vital sense of empowerment, activism and social responsibility that was needed even before what feels like an inevitable cultural regression under this new administration. Consider GIRLSCHOOL a pièce de (la) résistance. Here’s to their continued success making America great again.