This 3-day music festival invaded the Bootleg Theater in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, January 27-29, 2017. This year, Girlschool LA teamed up with Play Like a Girl (PLAG), NastyGal, and Lyft to put together a lineup featuring all female-fronted bands including headliners Chelsea Wolfe, Deap Valley, and the Bird and the Bee along with speakers including Shirley Manson from Garbage. All of the proceeds for this $45 a pop event will go toward the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, encouraging young women to empower themselves through music.
I arrived on Friday night just in time to catch Shirley Manson’s interview with Eve Barlow in which the Garbage singer shared about sexism in the music industry and gold nuggets of wisdom including, “Women’s sexuality is the most powerful currency in the world,” so be careful who and where you show your body to.
“Women have to have each others’ backs.” –Shirley Manson, Garbage
She was also asked about the influence of celebrities in this political climate, to which she responded that change is more likely to happen at the grassroots level, and how the older she got the more she stopped trying to change people, and instead decided to be the change.
The music began promptly at the Bar Stage at 7:30 with opening band, Kona. She got the crowd grooving to some R&B, jazz and funk sounds. With 30 minute set times, performances were over quite promptly whether we liked it or not. Moving from the Bar stage to the main Moon stage made these 30 minute transitions pretty seamless, and bands were given a small window to set up and then start performing as soon as the room starting filling in. Luna Shadows took the Moon Stage first and changed the tone to electronic, industrial pop. Vox continued with the theme back at the Bar Stage, but in a more ‘Purity Ring’ kind of tone. This solo act was both eerie and breathtaking. I had seen her perform on that very stage before, and was blown away yet again at her powerful, trembling voice. The acts switched again, this time to some ’50s inspired surf rock with the Summer Twins and then in a more punk direction with the Regrettes. Friday headliner, The Bird and the Bee really stole the show that night with ’80s-pop inspired beats reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Lead singer, Inara George had a very charming on stage presence. She was accompanied by backup singers instead of her male counterpart—or “the bee” as I’d imagine. Regardless, they performed a magical set, ending the night with a heartwarming acapella version of “How Deep is Your Love,” to which the crowd joined in.
Day 2 began with a series of speakers from 11 a.m.-3:00 p.m. who shared about topics like “Find Your Inner Fierce,” “Soundgirls 101,” “Heroina Latina” and “Music for Pictures.” The music portion began promptly at 7:30 p.m. with electro-pop duo, Trace taking the Bar Stage. Liphemra then played a kick-ass set over at the main Moon Stage that got everyone moving to front woman Liv Marsico and friends’ fierce electronic music in hip hop fashion. They performed some of the most interesting sounds I heard all night, including one of my favorites “Did U Even Cry.” Winter slowed things down with some dreamy indie rock and then the Wild Reeds livened up the crowd again with intelligently crafted folk-Americana music. Although this genre is typically not my favorite, I was blown away by these three front women who managed to make country sound intricate and interesting and who each donned a powerful set of pipes. Pearl Charles continued the Americana theme on the smaller stage, but fell flat compared to what I’d just heard from The Wild Reeds. However, no one could have prepared me for what was to come next. When “Rap-Cabaret” artist, Boyfriend, took the main stage. She transported us into a trailer park living room complete with tiger-striped chairs, live plants, and a martini and shaker. Three women came out dressed in wedding gowns and slips—the first of many costume changes—and rapped about relationships and feminism in a way that was raunchy and in-your-face. Perhaps the boldest thing I saw what the singer/rapper donning underwear and nipple tassels, singing while her assistants shaved her armpits right on stage. It was not to be missed! Things got intimate with Chilean singer Francisca Valenzuela as she belted powerful feminist ballads while hammering on her piano. The night ended with headliner, Deap Valley—a rockin’ female duo who performed furious hard rock late into the night.
By the time Sunday rolled around, I was still powering through the weekend, determined to last to the very end of Chelsea Wolfe. Soto Voce opened the show on the main stage with some electro-pop. But I’ve never been more uncomfortable than I was when watching the next act, Starcrawler. Not knowing what I was in for, I mistakenly parked myself at the front of the stage. In the span of her 30 minute set, I was kicked in the back as she was carried kicking and screaming onto the stage in a hospital gown, pulled by my hair in her attempt to have the audience feel included, and eventually pushed as she took it upon herself to start her own mosh pit in the crowd. In fact, I was so concerned with getting away from crazy that I don’t event remember the music—which begs the question, when does performance art cross the line? If Starcrawler’s goal was to get in your face, their uncomfortable punk rock definitely achieved that. Let’s just say I was relieved when it was over. Kid Wave took it down a notch at the main stage, but perhaps a little too far down with some rather boring alt-rock. Themajority of the remaining acts however were quite stunning with the incredible vocals and soul-pop sounds of Caroline Smith. Ex-Sage was another uninspired hard-rock group, but Rituals of Mine and Chelsea Wolfe drove the festival right home. I rather enjoyed the attitude and powerful vocals from Rituals of Mine, a trio that performed electro and hip-hop styles. The main stage was packed for the final act of the weekend—Chelsea Wolfe, who washed us over with her doom metal and ethereal vocals. It was an incredibly powerful and badass end to the night.
All-in-all, Girlschool Weekend was not to be missed. It was filled with inspiring messages, people, and artists. With an all-new lineup this year, there was not only an opportunity to see incredibly powerful women speak and perform, but to also get familiar with genres you may not have been exposed to. Thank you for all you do for women and the community—see you again next year, Girlschool!
Here are some snaps from the weekend: