The third annual Girlschool Festival is taking place this weekend, February 2-4 at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. The festival combines art, guest speakers and music that celebrates women in the arts industry, and this year the festival is off to an amazing start.
At 8:00 p.m., the festival kicked off with a well-attended keynote discussion conversation between American poet and editor Morgan Parker and Sleater-Kinney band member and Portlandia star, Carrie Brownstein. At exactly 8:00 p.m., there was already a line formed outside the Bootleg Theater in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, and a crowd had already formed in the main entrance area of the theater. Girlschool founder Anna Bulbrook introduced Parker and Brownstein to kick off the festival.
The crowd, mostly comprised of women, received Parker and Brownstein with cheers and applause. Parker drove the questions of the conversation, starting with asking Brownstein about the effects her environment has had on her work. Brownstein joked, “my sadness is an affront to L.A…I’m a little more motivated here,” referring to her Northwest roots. “If you don’t have an open-toed shoe personality, it’s hard to grow up here…I’m a close-toed shoe personality,” she continued, which ensued laughter from the crowd. Brownstein also opened up about turning 40 recently: “I could look at something I wore [and later, created] in my 20s and be super critical,” and she shared an, in her opinion, overdone letter she had written as a 22-year-old, only to realize that she’s still very much that 22-year-old today. They discussed topics of great importance to women like being true to yourself no matter what, politics and feminism and even feelings… “How are your feelings?” Parker asked, to which Brownstein initially and pointedly avoided responding. “Disruption is so important…the first thing we should ask is ‘how are we feeling,'” she later concluded. They discussed the importance of being uncomfortable, agreeing that “real participation is uncomfortable,” but it’s where women, and people, can achieve the highest level of growth. Brownstein took a page out of Virginia Wolfe’s work when she shared, “it’s okay for an idea to be for yourself,” when asked about her creative process, and who her initial audience is. They even touched on astrology, in which we learned that Brownstein is a Libra, Virgo rising (such a Virgo move to wear a power suit to the event, she joked) and Parker is a Sagittarius. They talked about the importance of collaboration as well, in which Brownstein, a major collaborative personality, shared about the challenges in creating a solo project like her autobiography, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir. They took a few questions and then the speaking portion of the evening wrapped up.
At the bar stage, Long Beach native Desi Mo got the crowd immediately energized with a hip-hop act. The trio of women moved constantly, often dancing onstage while rapping about female empowerment with songs like “Ladies Is Pimps Too” and their closing act, “Bitch Boy,” which had the crowd dancing along and cheering. Desi Mo stopped for a Snapchat with the crowd before exiting the stage.
The main stage offered theater chairs to sit down in on risers, which many of the festival-goers took advantage of, making it fairly easy for the room to feel breathable, unlike at the bar stage. Electro-pop artist Drum and Lace was setting up and getting her visuals ready for an intriguing show. Sofia Hultquist aka Drum and Lace is an Italian composer who writes for film and fashion. Her show had a heavy visual element to it, complete with light panels that displayed colorful, but not psychedelic patterns, and two vacant-looking avant-garde dancers. Each performer was donned in all red, and the audience watched intently as the dark, ambient sounds emanated from the stage, drawing attention from the dancers to the singer. One song, “The Taking” was absolutely shimmering, and the dancers moved beautifully together to the softly composed track. Hultquist performed their latest song “Snakeskin” for the crowd as well to close their set.
At the bar stage, Cuesta Loeb appeared in the 10:00 p.m. “special guest” slot. The dreamy, garage rock sounds drew the crowd in initially, but the sound felt a little off during their set, first with the vocals and later in the instrumentals. As the band gave each other questionable looks, it became clear that they were feeling off too. Plus, there was an air of excitement in the crowd as they eagerly awaited Kristin Kontrol and the Kids set, which promised to feature some special guest appearances.
When the kids came onstage for Kristin Kontrol’s set, they were received with loud cheers from the audience. The kids took center stage during the set as they performed Dum Dum Girl’s “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout.” The kids’ talents were on display as they played each of the instruments and member Kristin Kontrol (also known as Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls) really let them take the lead. One tender moment was when one of the young girls (who already looked like a rock star) sang Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” really beautifully. But the highlights were still yet to come! Kristin Kontrol invited the first special guests of the night, Best Coast to join them on stage and sing “When I’m With You.” The kids again took the lead on the song as singer Bethany Consentino sang and danced with them, her heart clearly full. While Best Coast’s appearance had been previously announced, the crowd was not prepared for the next special guest, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O! The crowd went absolutely nuts with excitement as Karen O took the stage to perform “Date With The Night” with the kids. It was equal parts precious and exhilarating.
Back at the bar stage, Alabama native Mereba performed soulful songs of folk, pop, r&b funk and reggae influences, her powerful voice entrancing the audience. “What a great time to be a woman!” she addressed the audience between songs, to which they cheered. She performed a new song for the audience before closing their set.
Another highly engaging performance was the closing act of Boyfriend. Self-described as “rap cabaret,” the show was equal parts music and performance. Boyfriend is not only a talented female rapper and songwriter, but a true performer who incorporates costume changes specific to each song. She raps about female empowerment with songs like “Beauty is Pain,” “Like My Hand Did” and “Marie Antoinette.” She entered the stage dressed in her signature hair curlers and glasses and also a wedding dress as she opened the set with “Say You Will.” The show also featured two dancers, wearing bondage-style lingerie and dancing seductively on stage. For a few songs, former M.I.A. drummer Madame Gandhi joined Boyfriend on stage to drum. Perhaps the funniest moment was the oversize hand props the dancers used during “Like My Hand Did,” as they motioned over their vaginas while she rapped, “All because you couldn’t make me come like my hand did.” For the final act, Boyfriend got into the audience for some crowd participation as the dancers threw penis straws, confetti and CDs into the crowd. It was a 100% captivating performance that the crowd watched in awe, ending day one of Girlschool on a true high.
With a stellar, but not overwhelming day one of Girlschool, one can only help be excited about what’s to come for the rest of the weekend. This year, women of color are being showcased more than ever, and while each act is so different with genres ranging from hip-hop to folk, it’s easy to appreciate each performance whether you’re a fan of the genre or not.
Photo Credit: Ilana Tel-Oren