Tag Archives: women

A Festival Where the Future Is Fem

Festivals have a bad reputation for not showing a lot of r-e-s-p-e-c-t to women. (See what I did there?) Numerous articles over the last several years have pointed out how few female artists are booked at some of the major music gatherings, and how low they are often kicked down the billing. Drunken bacchanals can be mine fields for audience goers as well, who at best have to push aside guys who insist on dancing close, and at worst, are gang raped; see, Woodstock 1999.

Hopefully the triumph of Beychella proves once and for all that women can very successfully headline music festivals that aren’t named after biblical heroines or take place in the woods of Michigyn. It’s an idea that the Music Tastes Good festival has been testing for a few years, and last weekend, the two-day gathering in Long Beach demonstrated loudly and joyously, as Ann Magnuson would say, the power of pussy.

Both days of the sun-blessed soiree featured a variety of female-led acts. Saturday’s lineup included the psych-punk ¾-female Silver Lake band Feels, one of my favorite local groups, although I missed their MTG set. I did get there just in time to catch Quintron and Miss Pussycat, the adorably kitschy New Orleans duo who blend punk, polka and puppets. They played the classic alcoholic anthem “In Heaven There Is No Beer” as the lazy-susan stage rotated them out and away from the crowd, the perfect fadeout.

I was there for the ladies so when the four lads from shame (they lowercase their name; bell hooks appropriation?) came on, I went to check out the food-tasting tent. As its name indicates, MTG pairs food from all over the left coast with sounds from, well, all over. So you can enjoy some super-foodie treats instead of the turkey legs or butter-soaked corn cobs of your usual outdoor concert. The tastiest tasting I tried was the pork-belly rice bowl by Wesley Young of Pidgin restaurant in Vancouver.

I finished noshing just in time for Cherry Glazerr, another fave LA band, led by the young Clementine Creevy. Creevy has a great, brittle throb of a voice and suicide-blonde looks, but what impressed me most was the way she pulled off sneering guitar licks while singing completely contrapuntal melodies – all with the support of just two bandmates. Lead singers who are also the lead, and only, guitarist are few and far between; Creevy’s the shit.

She rotated off, and on came a four-piece guitar band with three dudes and one player whose sex I wasn’t sure of, until Adrianne Lenker opened her mouth and this alto vibrato flew out. I didn’t know anything about Big Thief, but I was converted. Their take on Flying Burrito Bros. country-rock is so studious it’s almost pretentious, but Lenker’s words are poetic and felt.

Princess Nokia’s political rap-rock made for a bit of a jarring transition – it’s great that the rotating stage makes the segue between acts timeless and seamless, but sometimes you need a few minutes to, er, digest. Still, she and her DJ won me over immediately with her rap about brujas, Arawaks, and Black-a-Ricans. She pulled a classic riot grrrl move, asking for not just girls to the front, but people of color, queers, nonbinaries, etc. Then she sang about her little titties and big stomach, a tomboy retort to the typical festie cry of “show us your titties!”(I also saw a girl with a bag that said, “Show us your kitties!”)

Then, it was Santigold. Oh my goddess. Her show was so smart, so creative, so thoughtfully put together and so unlike any other concert I have seen (and you know, I’ve seen thousands, and I’ve seen Santi before), that it is hard to describe. She wore a scarlet cape with plastic water bottles, dollar bills, and green pompoms sewn on it, and was flanked by two dancers: black women clad in white tennis outfits whose bodies moved impeccably throughout the show and who never betrayed any emotion. They pulled off a James Brown routine: pretend fainting, then getting revived. Rock rubs against reggae, funk, new wave and hip-hop in Santibrown’s songs, shooting off sparks, getting hot. As DJ Lynnee Denise writes in Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, “Santigold is one of those artists who is vulnerable to the belief that hers is not black music, but from my gatekeeping position, my work here is to place her where she belongs,  squarely  between the tradition and the future of black music.”

Some bands named “Broken Social Scene” and “New Order” played afterwards. I saw the latter about 35 years ago, when they actually sort of mattered (and I personally played “Temptation” live every day), and they were the worst live band ever – they were so bad, they made fans in Boston riot. Why would I go see them now, with Santigold’s “Disparate Youth” ringing in my ears?

Hollie Cook started my Sunday off on a beatific reggae groove. She’s punk-rock legacy, daughter of a Sex Pistol, member of the Slits version 2, friend/collaborator of my friend/collaborator Vivien Goldman. In her vivid pant suit basking in the Southland sun, she was a bit of a flower child, bless her.

Next, I made my way over to the Gold Stage for Lizzo, a dance diva with a big, beautiful voice and body, both of which she flaunts unashamedly. She and her dancers, the Big Grrrls, and DJ dressed in black pleather dominatrix corsets and sang about body positivity. Lizzo was the poster child for Music Tastes good: After asking the audience if they had eaten as well as she had, she stated, “I’m sexy when I’m bloaty.” She urged people to dance to burn off all the calories they had just consumed. She had a practical message for this week’s stupidity/evil in Washington: “I deleted every fuck boy in my social media.”

It was time for the main event. Janelle Monae has for years been weaving a sci-fi song cycle as intricate as the Earthsea trilogy or the Matrix movies, as funky as a Prince groove, and as crazy sexy cool as a TLC hit. She stepped outside the narrative on Dirty Computer to get personal. Rewind: She stepped outside the narrative on Dirty Computer to get political. Because these days, as ever, the personal is political.

“Woman must write her self,” Helene Cixous wrote more than 40 years ago in Laugh of the Medusa. I think of Dirty Computer, particularly the track “Pynk,” with its accompanying bootylicious video, as embodying Cixous’s call for ecriture feminine, women’s writing. It’s a glorious celebration of pussy power, with a spelling that harks directly to 1970s womyn’s culture. Monae kicked off the album’s release by coming out as “pansexual,” which may seem a bit ambiguous, but “Pynk” leaves little to the imagination. With her Fem the Future organization and her speeches at the Women’s March and the Grammys, Monae has been at the forefront of the current liberation movement, black and pynk and proud. Plus, she kicks out the jams. Dirty Computer is my album of the year.

As the crowd made its way back to the Franklin stage, Lizzo’s admonishments to be their own inspirations echoing in their heads, I had that special feeling that I was part of a movement, that in the female, nonbinary, multihued bodies around me, I had found my tribe. We waited with bated breath for our screen siren to appear in flesh before us. And then, there she was, dressed like an Afrofuturistic queen with an elaborate stage setup.

Monae certainly tapped into the mood of this moment; on the double-entendre track “Screwed,” she put special emphasis on the lyric “wanna get screwed at a festival.” And yet, the show was tightly scripted, the moves highly choreographed, her body, from head to toe, firmly encased in costumes. On album and in interviews, she may be revealing her self, but on stage, she doesn’t seem to have fully made the transition from android to human. Tellingly, the song that seemed most real was the sweet confessional “I Like That,” from Computer, in which she celebrates her idiosyncrasy, claiming not badassness but being “the minor note you hear in major songs.” Monae is my major note, but that’s a lot to ask anyone to live up to, android or not.

Some Blake bloke followed Monae, but again, he was an afterthought that I didn’t think. I wish Music Tastes Good had put a woman in one of the weekend’s two top slots, but Janelle was billed as a headliner. Overall, the festival almost alternated male and female-led acts of an impressive range, from punk to funk to reggae to rap to rock. Plus, they worked with the #HereForTheMusic anti-harassment campaign of Calling All Crows, who trained staff and security in how to make Marina Green Park a safe space for everyone. An anti-assault statement was printed prominently on the back cover of the program. Last time I felt like I had a tribe like this at shows, in the mid-‘90s, we had to carve out our own territory in mosh pits. Here’s to a future of getting screwed at festivals, in a good way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Events, social change, Uncategorized, Women Who Rock

Vivien Goldman, Punk Renaissance Woman

Vivien Goldman has inspired me for decades. She is a true artist and friend. I got to write about her for NPR.

1 Comment

Filed under Evelyn's articles, Queens of Noise

We Will Bury You: Alice, Allison, Punk, and LA: #GrrrlsonFiLMU

Alice Bag and Allison Wolfe are two of my personal heroes. As part of her coursework at USC, where she is an Annenberg Fellow (following in my footsteps!), Allison interviewed Alice. It‘s a great little podcast and article. Alice talks about the omnipresence of violence, which I’ve been thinking a lot about today, occasioned by this powerful article also by a Chicana punk. I’m glad today’s young punks are speaking out about the affronts that seemed casual and inevitable when Alice and I were growing up. It’s called progress, people. Believe.

Shameless plug: Alice will be on the We Will Bury You panel about LA punk at Grrrls on Film on March 19 (with Phranc, Nicole Panter, Raquel Guttierez, and Ruben Martinez), and Allison will be at the concert March 20. We’ll be screening The Decline of Western Civilization that Saturday as well, with director Penelope Spheeris and her daughter Anna Fox in the house. Details and reservation link coming soon; stay tuned to this blog and, always, to KXLU.

1 Comment

Filed under Queens of Noise

#RockandRollHallofShame

No women. Not one. There is not a single female in any of the five acts to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. The Cock Hall has a long history of exclusion, as I’ve written about before. But this year is the worst. MOR white-guy classic rockers Steve Miller, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick (okay, I confess, I voted for them), and Chicago over nominees Chic, Chaka Khan, and Janet Jackson. Not to mention all the deserving women who were once again passed over for nominations. When you break it down intersectionally, as this blogger did yesterday, the omission of women of color is even more egregious and depressing. Rock and Roll Hall of Shame.

The most disappointing aspect to this year’s winners is that the HoF tried. They recruited women and people of color, adding many new voters to the induction process. I know, because not only was I finally sent a ballot — 30 years after I became a professional music critic, need I point out — I was sent two! And I was asked by a board member to suggest other voters, at least one of whom received his first ballot after a similar amount of time as an extremely well-regarded Latino cultural journalist. (I should point out at this juncture that nominee Los Lobos were not inducted. Someone please crunch the numbers of Hispanic acts in the Hall of Shame. Only one act with predominantly people of color — famed misogynists N.W.A — made the cut this time.)

Someone with more time than I have needs to investigate this further. My sense is that having been launched by old white guys, the Hall is too big of a ship at this point to change direction. No amount of course correction can keep it from plunging off the edge into irrelevancy. It’s a true shame, because I was there the day the Hall opened, and I believe in honoring the important but complicated history of American popular music. But building a voting body around a sexist, racist industry is the wrong way to go about it.

I appreciate having been finally invited into the boys club. I’ll vote again, because enfranchisement is precious. But dammit, I’m ready to build my own club.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Jessica Hopper on “Golden” Girl Critics

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the title—in part because I wanted it to be provocative, I wanted there to be a conversation because there are dozens of women who should have collections by now and the roadblocks and arguments about why those books seemingly cannot exist are ridiculous. We are in a golden age for women in cultural criticism right now, but we are told again and again that somehow, we don’t meet the criteria of publishable. That only Chuck Klosterman gets to be in the clubhouse. And that was and is frustrating”

I love this quote from Jessica Hopper in the current issue of Pop Matters, in an interview by the wonderful David Chiu. She’s talking about her book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, of course. I also noticed for the first time today that six years ago, Jesssica wrote a great comment about Rock She Wrote (which David also nicely shouts out in this story) for Amazon. It’s still up. (Though please don’t purchase that Plexus edition of the book; it’s an illegal import. Buy a used one from a mom and pop bookstore instead, please. And yes, we are trying to get it back into print.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Press

The Feminine Critique Redux

IMG_6304Twenty-three years ago The Village Voice published an article called “The Feminine Critique: The Secret History of Women and Rock Journalism.” It was the detailed result of more than a year’s worth of research I conducted, looking for my predecessors and my peers, interviewing such incredible critics as Ellen Willis, Danyel Smith, Ann Powers, Carola Dibbell, Karen Schoemer, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, etc. The article became the basis for my first book, Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, coedited by the inestimable Powers. That book is suddenly in the spotlight, thanks to Pitchfork editor Jessica Hopper’s generous namecheck of it in the dedication to her pointedly titled anthology The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Anwen Crawford also mentions our book in her New Yorker piece today, and even manages to include my name, unlike another recent lame article I won’t deign to mention. (You don’t say my name, I won’t say yours.) Crawford’s article goes over so much of the same terrain as “The Feminine Critique,” I wanted to laugh and cry. Finally, this issue is getting the mainstream spotlight it deserves. Sadly, it remains an issue.

I took a lot of shit when my article came out. The (male) rock crit establishment didn’t appreciate it. I was blacklisted by at least one major music magazine. Critics whose work I deeply admired made belittling comments. I felt like a whistleblower. On the one hand, “The Feminist Critique” led to my book-publishing career. On the other, to this day, I think I was forever cast as the Feminist Troublemaker, my career tainted as I was just getting out of the gate. Something writer Leslie Berman told me back then still haunts me: “The only reason that those of us who stopped doing criticism may feel bitter or uncomfortable about it has something to do with the fact that men had a different way of stopping. They were able to stop and recognize it as a choice, as a career move.”

I hope and pray that Crawford and Hopper don’t have to go through what Berman and I did. I’m glad they’re acknowledging the women who came before them. I write a lot about women pioneers, because I feel they are too often under-appreciated. I must be getting old, because I feel like one of them now. I’m glad to see the incredible settlements our progeny are building. And yet, I feel a little sad, looking out from my dusty door frame, just grateful when they remember to say my name.

Oh, and about that title: Willis and Ellen Sander both had collections of their writing published during their lifetimes, though Willis’s included the important political journalism she did after she grew out of rock criticism. Patricia has self-published her work; I highly recommend you check it out.

3 Comments

Filed under Press, Queens of Noise

From Ass to Assinine

Having offered my two cents about the recent booty obsession before some tired reality TV star decided to Columbustle her way into everyone’s social media, I’ve been holding my remarks for Saturday’s JAWS panel. This article by Blue Telusma says a lot of what I’ve been thinking.

Kim Kardashian: The Butt of an Old Racial Joke.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized