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Girlschool Festival Spotlights L.A. Indie Acts And A New Age Of Inclusivity

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Gender inequality is at the height of visibility. The Los Angeles chapter of the Women's March on January 21 was flooded with signs protesting government regulation of women’s bodies, and calling attention to the wage gap and abortion rights. But the issue goes beyond our government—even the music festival scene is trying to catch up with the times. It's become a running joke that when festivals announce their annual lineup, one can black out the all-male acts to leave a dismally small list of acts fronted by women. According to the Huffington Post, the majority of major festivals in 2016—we’re talking the Coachellas, Bonnaroos, and Lollapaloozas—were comprised of 12% women acts and 10% mixed-gender acts, compared to the staggering 78% of acts with only men. Anna Bulbrook, multi-instrumentalist for the Airborne Toxic Event and frontwoman of the Bulls, knew this wasn’t enough. And if festival bookers weren’t going to take the lead, she’d do the work in making a space that was more inclusive. This led to Girlschool, which was born a year and a half ago. The Los Angeles-based music collective has since aimed to celebrate women-identifying artists while creating a community space that encourages the sharing of experiences, ideas, and conversation.

Girlschool’s biggest event of the year is its festival, which is currently in its sophomore year. The event boasts a stacked lineup that includes three days of indie music. “The only requirement that Girlschool has is that the artists just be really good,” Bulbrook told LAist. “What excites me about it is that it is just good. We’re not cutting any corners in quality to make it a festival that features all women-led projects.” She’s not exaggerating. This year’s festival, which goes from Friday through Sunday at the Bootleg Theater in Westlake, will feature celebrated indie acts like Chelsea Wolfe, Deap Vally, and Summer Twins along with rising artists and L.A. staples. Also of note is the haunting soundscape of percussionist Liv Marsico’s Liphemra and bilingual dream pop project, Winter. But the stigma of the feminine in music runs deep. Samira Winter, who hails from Curitiba and brought Winter from Boston to L.A. in 2013, is known for performing in vibrant colors and utilizing adornments in her act that come off as "girly," which often leads to dismissive attitudes. “People look at me and probably have a different impression of me and once they see me play they’re like, ‘Wow, she’s super serious about music, her sound is evolved and has a lot of dynamics and dimensions.’ You kind of have to prove yourself. There’s this thing about people being surprised that I’m good at guitar. Why is that a surprise? It is because I’m pretty?”

With community and engagement at the top of Girlschool’s goals, the festival goes beyond performances. The event also features speakers—Shirley Manson of seminal '90s rock group Garbage opens the event with a talk—as well as workshops focusing on technical skills that are needed to break into music. But what really sets Girlschool apart from other festivals are its panels, which focus on music’s most glaring issues, as well as enabling conversation about the current political climate. Panels such as “Queer & Trans Women Discussion on Sexualization and Media” and “Heroína Latina” bring an intellectual aspect to the festival—something that future organizers and bookers should realize is gravely lacking.

Mukta Mohan, moderator of the “Intersectional Feminism In Music” panel, will be bringing together leaders (like Drew Arriola-Sands, the founder of Transgress Fest, the first punk and hardcore festival for trans artists) who are dedicated to elevating marginalized voices in music. “Everyday our rights are being diminished and now more than ever it feels important to be vocal and make our presence known and to be loud,” explains Mohan. “I don’t think we can quietly expect the music industry to represent women because our government isn’t even doing that.”

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All proceeds from the festival will benefit a cause close to Bulbrook’s heart: Rock n’ Roll Camp For Girls. The organization, founded in 2010, empowers girls through music education; it struck a chord with Bulbrook when she volunteered at the camp. “You know you when you’re really hungry and you don’t realize it until someone offers you something to eat and it just hits you and you can’t get that food into you fast enough? That is how I feel about Girls Rock Camp. I didn’t fully understand what I was missing until I tasted it,” she explains. “[After the camp] I thought, ‘Oh, my god. I want this, I want this around all the time.’”

Girlschool represents a shift, a new push for inclusivity that will and must go beyond the confines of a weekend. “I don’t think that we should have to settle for representation only in our spaces,” says Mohan. “I think it’s incredibly important to have representation spaces we create, but at the same time the broader music industry, music venues, and festivals need to make space for women, POC, trans artists, and queer artists. We can’t limit that representation only to the spaces we create. We have to keep the industry accountable for representing everyone.”

Girlschool kicks off on Friday at 7 p.m. and will run through Sunday. It takes place at the Bootleg Theatre at 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 389-3856. Tickets are available here.