Danielle Dorky reviews cARTel’s Brokechella and gives her thoughts on whether the festival on a budget lives up to its high desert competitor.
I’ve been to quite a few music festivals in my time, larger ones like Coachella and Lollapalooza, but also the more “quaint” versions, like FYF Fest and Eagle Rock Music Festival. Brokechella is bold because the name immediately invites you to make comparisons, but for the most part it lives up to the hype.
Brokechella took place in a pocket full of warehouses in the far corner of LA’s Downtown Arts District. With Los Angeles parking and gas prices what they are, I seize every opportunity possible to take public transportation. I had a vague idea of where the venue was located and catching the bus stresses me out so I decided I’d brave the mile walk to my closest metro station and another mile from Union Station to Brokechella.
What I didn’t realize is that that portion of Downtown LA is strangely industrial and devoid of people. The streets aren’t made to accommodate pedestrians, which at least meant I was able to avoid any uncomfortable situations with street gawkers or aggressive bums, but it also had me questioning whether I was going the right way for the majority of my twenty-minute walk.
Eventually I spotted a flock of lanky hipsters and ombre-highlighted waifs bicycling ahead of me and was able to follow them to the DIY fairgrounds.
I arrived just in time to catch Kitchen Hips, an affably folksy duo that proved the perfect introduction to my day with their kitschy, hippy sound. They were fun and lively, coming across as a reduced-member, more interactive version of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. At one point, lead singer Aerienne even took her guitar and zigzagged into the crowd, dismissing the fact that her chords were indecipherable without the aid of a microphone, and judging from the amused audience members singing along, they didn’t mind either.
I managed to hydrate during Kitchen Hips’ performance, and afterwards I hit the bar for some beer, a deliciously fruity ale from Lagunitas. It was during my attempt to leave with my beer that I was informed that that room was also serving as a beer garden, and guests weren’t allowed to drink throughout the venue. That was a little annoying since I was keen on wandering around between sets and The Lounge Stage was still fairly dead at that point. In the name of exploration, I quickly downed my beer and ambled toward the exit.
I met up with my photographer Kwithy shortly afterwards and it was around that time, 4:30, that the crowd began to grow, looking like the definition of Los Angeles in sheer, floral garments and thigh-high tights paired with shredded, high-waisted booty shorts.
The sponsors had a plethora of booths set up, and I collected quite a bit of swag throughout the day. I also supported a few local business owners and picked up an awesome hair bow and a flowered headband that I lost somewhere between the festival and my Lyft ride home. At one point overwhelmed by the crowd, I took a break from the music and stopped at a booth to dabble in watercolors and art.
Prior to the festival, I had several acts in mind that I wanted to see, but the last minute set schedule that was only available to view on Brokechella’s website or through a tedious 4D mobile app (although I admit when testing out the DAQRI app in the comfort of my living room, I did find it entertaining and novel), made it difficult to follow my original plan. I ended up meandering around and popping into different stages at random.
I gave my photographer a brief tour, during which we became sidetracked at the Shifty Rhythms stage, which also housed a Monster-sponsored lounge area and miniature skate park. We caught some of January Black’s set, but with it still being daylight and only just after 5pm, most of the attendees were not yet adequately lubricated enough to dance with us. The festival was very LA in that way. Although people let loose more as the day progressed, I kept finding myself surprised at the amount of stagnant audience members. Am I the only one who considers it disrespectful to be in the performer’s line of sight and not be visibly enjoying their show?
I headed to the outdoor cARTel stage midway through January Black’s performance to check out Swiss band Zibbz. I spoke with Zibbz founders and siblings Coco and Stee on Brokechella’s press day, but I still hadn’t grasped what “trash pop” entailed. I quickly learned what a fitting name it was, their sound encompassing everything from jazz to electro to grunge, infused with the tinkering of children’s toys to add the trashy element.
If at first Brokechella felt slightly too industrial to truly capture that indescribable yet quintessential festival “vibe”, it won me over as the evening wore on. A spirit of camaraderie and giddiness seemed to wash over the crowd (and also, LOTS of Lagunitas beer), and soon enough strangers were bumping and grinding beneath the Brownies & Lemonade stage. I was introduced to people and instead of shaking my hand, they exuberantly wrapped their arms around me and lifted me into the air. It was like that.
The turning point might have been KITTENS, who, coquettish and demure behind her Macbook screen, wore her name well. Her music however, which blends funk and soul with edgy electronic and house beats, couldn’t be more bold and abrasive. Abrasive in that you can feel it running through your veins and your eyes close in near-reverence as the beat turns you into some mindless “Thriller”-zombie, an undead slave to the beat.
Another thing I really loved about Brokechella was how it stripped the celebrity from art. There were no VIP tents or backstage areas or any place where people weren’t afforded the same experience. It was very likely you’d run into a musician at some point and if you approached them as a fan, you were greeted with gratitude rather than dismissal.
By this point the sun was beginning to set and it suddenly dawned on me that I’d been guzzling free beer all day and perhaps I should eat something if I intended to cover the remaining five hours of the event.
Another festival reality I was unceremoniously met with: the inevitability of losing your friends and ending up wandering on your own, despite your best intentions to stay together. It may be on the way to the port-o-potties, or like me, on your way to get Good Greek Grub, but at some point, you will become separated from the herd. Do not panic.
I waited probably forty minutes for my Good Greek Grub, but during my wait I overheard conversations that will probably make it into an eventual novel so I consider it a fair trade. I got a half serving of the Zeus fries (I didn’t want to risk losing my buzz by devouring the entire pound) and it was the perfect food to recharge my night. The lamb was perfectly tender, the feta creamy and rich, all sitting atop crispy, oily french fries. Before I knew it I’d snuck past the line into the at-capacity Lounge stage/Beer Garden and wormed my way to the front of the bar for another beer.
It was around then that I rallied my friends together to head to the Brownies & Lemonade stage to see The Doublemints performance. I interviewed the “sophistiratchet” rap group not too long ago, and I was excited to see how they’d grown since their first live show. A few sound glitches aside, they didn’t disappoint, each of the four members bringing a distinct flavor and style to the stage. They wore matching jerseys that proclaimed them members of “Mermaid Gang” (How do I join??) and got the crowd involved with their satirical, over-the-top lyrics. “I’m Pregnant” went over especially well when a fellow concert-goer announced herself with child. I realized during their set that I need to find more opportunities to shake my booty with hysterical laughter.
We stayed for rising Houston hotshot Raven Sorvino‘s set, who managed to harness the energy leftover from The Doublemints performance and get the entire room slow grinding. She won me over with her song “Bucket Hat’z Lo“, an ode to the 90’s headgear staple that included drawing the lone audience member in a bucket hat onstage and giving him a tease of a lap dance.
I had been on my feet for going on nine hours, and my inner Debbie Downer was beginning to glance obviously at her watch. My friend, who’d arrived three hours after me, was having none of my sulking and dragged me to the Shifty Rhythms room, where a DJ by the name of Yung Satan was taking the stage. Somehow my knees tapped into a hidden reservoir of strength and I soon found myself wiggling my hips to remixed hip-hop and trap music.
I popped into the charismatic J Litt’s set at the Lounge, but since that area was also doubling as the Beer Garden, it had grown slightly rancid with body odor over the course of the day. I watched from the doorway, still mesmerized by his inventive, genre-bending sound.
I’d accepted as soon as I arrived at Brokechella that afternoon that I’d be spending about $50 on a Lyft or Uber ride home because there was no way I was walking another three miles and sitting on an hour train ride home. I wanted plush seats and an assortment of candy available to me in a center console. Thoroughly exhausted, my friends and I arranged our transportation and said goodbye around midnight, leaving the Jr. Millennials to close out the festival.
Honestly, if the choice came down to Brokechella versus Coachella in the future, I can’t really imagine choosing the latter. This is not me being ironic or a snob (okay, maybe slightly), but I really feel like Brokechella captured the original intent of music and art festivals, before they were all sponsored by Budweiser and required an eight-month payment plan. It was about building and celebrating community, learning to appreciate the art around us and looking beyond the superficiality of Los Angeles. The drawbacks– musty stage areas, an inaccessible line up schedule, dodgy sound– turned out to be inconsequential, giving the event an overall dilapidated charm.
There may not be any Fashion Police recaps on what was worn last Saturday, and no performer boasted platinum-selling featured guests, but at the very least, we were able to have a hell of a lot of fun for $10. Long Live Broke Kingdom.
Photographer credit to Kwithy Kat