Now in it’s fifth year, cARTel’s Brokechella has established itself as an an affordably authentic alternative to that-festival-that-shall-not-be-named-in-the-desert.
My friend Jessica used to live in this awesome house in Echo Park off the corner of Alvarado and Sunset. It was stumbling distance from some of our favorite concert venues and bars, and one of her roommates was also a DJ who would spin at after parties held at their house almost every week. I spent a lot of weekends there, had my 25th birthday there (complete with pinatas and fire dancers), and ultimately it’s come to serve as the background for some of my most memorable nights as an early 20-something.
Although Jessica has since moved, and word of mouth tells me that the parties aren’t nearly as noteworthy as they once were, I fondly remember the nights when they were my preferred destination. Often, it was like walking into Vanity Fair’s Oscar party after you’ve just received your first award: friends and acquaintances were overjoyed to see you and insisted on buying you drinks (or giving them to you, as was often the case when Jessica was bartending), and strangers were approachable and gushing with praise, as though your mere presence gave you credibility. I guess the fact that these parties occurred after the bars had already closed might have had something to do with why everyone was so perpetually friendly.
As Jon and I made the rounds at Brokechella, I couldn’t help drawing a comparison to that after party vibe. Of course, it was only mid-afternoon, but already we’d bumped into a handful of friends, gotten cozy with the Lagunitas bartenders, and I found myself infected with a sort of beer-induced giddiness.
It wasn’t unlike the spell Brokechella put me under last year, when I first attended cARTel’s frugal alternative to Coachella. Still, I was in awe of my fellow Angeleno’s affable manner, one I almost never witness during soberish, daytime hours.
After exploring the festival grounds, we found ourselves drawn to one of the lifesize murals that was being painted by local artist Felicia, or FeliFresh. When we approached Felicia, her black brushstrokes were just beginning to shape the outline of an old school boombox, but when we checked in with her later that day it had transformed into a city, with the boombox nestled between high rises, making the industrial block vibrate with life. She also had some of her own work for sale, all of it music-themed, and ranging from portraits of the King of Pop to a painting of a partially eaten candy bar that revealed chocolate piano keys beneath its plastic wrapper.
We managed to catch Smoke Season’s set, and I was immediately drawn to the moody, electronic duo, who reminded me of a bluesier The xx. The lead singer Gabrielle Wortman has a voice that could be compared to Beth Gibbons of Portishead, and an onstage charisma that I’m tempted to liken to Bjork. You can understand how I had a hard time looking away during their performance. Even my cameraman wasn’t immune, before I knew it and without saying a word, Jon had disappeared into the crowd to get a closer shot. In addition to praise from local publications like LA Weekly and BuzzBands.LA, Smoke Season has also been named one of Buzzfeed’s top 11 independent band making a name for themselves.
After their set, which included two new songs from a forthcoming album, Smoke Season was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes. We talked about their serendipitous start, as well as their impressive musical backgrounds, which includes the Berklee School of Music for Jason Rosen, and UCLA for Gabrielle. On top of their talent, they were both sweet as pie, as evidenced by Gabrielle’s permanent grin in the video.
I have to admit that outside of Smoke Season’s set and a few others, we spent the majority of our day in the Shifty Rhythms room, which makes sense, as my general rule with concerts is to follow the dancing. Even earlier in the day, before festival-goers had consumed their third, fourth, and fifth Lagunitas, a crowd was building towards the stage and fans were busting out moves ranging from free-flowing hippie to old school b-boy. There we were introduced to Yung Bae, who I had foolishly dismissed based off his stage name, but within minutes of hearing him I’d elbowed my way to the front for a prime dance spot.
We saw part of GrimeCraft’s set, but snuck away from Shifty Rhythms for an interview with international songstress Edith Crash. Fun fact that you may not know about this dork: I’m a total Francophile. Back when I took French in high school it was not uncommon to find me muttering outdated French curse words to myself (“Zut alors!”). I stopped myself from geeking out with her about one of my favorite French singers Juliette Greco, reminding myself that she had her own projects to promote. And what an exciting project it is! In January of this year, Edith finished recording her forthcoming album Partir with Alain Johannes, who’s produced music for Queens of the Stone Age, Eleven, and other notable names. Partir is deeply personal and largely inspired by Edith’s mother, who fell ill shortly before she moved to Los Angeles.
For the record, I’ve been to Coachella a couple of times. I will admit, the sunset across that desert horizon is an image that has yet to free itself from my memory. However, as dusk fell over Brokechella that evening, the atmosphere seemed to turn electric. Art installations glowed, the stages illuminated attendees with sweeping, strobing lights, and off in the distance I could see the sun flanked by clouds, lowering itself into Los Angeles’ jagged skyline.
Nightfall seems a fitting time to mention Brokechella’s improved alcohol guidelines. Last year, alcohol consumption was limited to the cARTel Indoor Stage, and throughout the day the bar line grew exasperatingly long, and the room equally claustrophobic and humid. This year, drinking was allowed throughout the festival, and there were several beer tents (and one sangria tent) available to guests.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been a nonconsensual cat owner for the last year (don’t ask), but I never realized how much Los Angeles loves its dogs! Puppychella was in full effect throughout the day and into the evening hours, the pooches gleefully lapping up the extra attention and industrial maze of a dog park. I was pleasantly surprised to see festival-goers respecting the dogs’ space even after it got crowded, and always asking owners prior to petting. Not to mention the dogs’ zen-like calm, despite the throbbing bass and herds of strangers.
Jon and I thrashed around to some of GrimeCraft’s set, but when I saw Soulection artist AbJo standing stage right, I mustered all of my confidence and forced myself to ask him for a brief interview after his set. I’ve followed the label Soulection since their infancy, and have watched as they’ve accumulated a world-class repertoire of artists and expanded their label into a recognizable brand. Seeing as how AbJo was one of the original artists signed to the label, I had to hear his take on it. He readily agreed to interview after his performance, and so Jon and I spent the next hour bumping and grinding to AbJo’s mindblowing South American-infused house beats. You can see me fangirling throughout our interview in the video above.
By this point poor Jon had been carrying around 15 lbs of equipment on his shoulder all day, so I suggested that he pack his camera up so that he could fully enjoy the last couple hours of Brokechella. We jostled our way into the Brownies & Lemonade stage at the perfect time, and were blown away by a young wordsmith by the name of Marty Grimes. His performance was so compelling that Jon even attempted to retrieve his equipment and get a few more shots, but when a tipsy Brokechellan spilled beer down his back he decided the gear was gone for good. Despite the lack of video evidence, I’ve been recommending Marty Grimes to all of my friends, describing him as the perfect blend of conscious rap and trap beats.
From there we moseyed on over to cARTel’s Outdoor stage, where Figs Vision was playing a numbing rock electronica set. Apparently one of the band’s two members includes Gunner Sixx, son of Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, and although their music differs greatly in style, it’s clear that Figs Vision inherited some of the metal icon’s talents.
If there’s one thing that Brokechella reminded me of throughout the day, it’s that our cynical doubts about current music are dead wrong. Finding good music does require (minimal) effort, but the payoff is more than worth it. It’s so interesting to me to hear musicians who were inspired by artists I grew up with. It gives their music a nostalgic quality without being gimmicky or trite. For so long every musician’s obligatory influences included The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Joni Mitchell, and so on; while I’m certainly not knocking the talent of any of those artists, to hear a band reference Beck, Portishead, Janet Jackson, or even Hole, shows me that we’re still capable of innovating, and that the Grammy’s are a poor indication of what 2015 has to offer musically.
We recharged with some grub from Hang 10 Tacos and then headed back to the Shifty Rhythms stage to see Team Supreme close the night. They were the last performance for that stage, and the room was packed. The crowd pulsed to the beat, entranced by Team Supreme’s heavy bass.
Overall, I have to say that Brokechella improved upon the few complaints I had last year and exceeded my expectations with a festival that overflowed with talent, and by somehow managing to attract the perfect crowd to complement and appreciate their revelry.
If my quest this year has been to find the “dorkiest” events Los Angeles has to offer, I’ve certainly found some competition from Brokechella. It’s a festival that from all practical standpoints should not succeed: It takes place during Coachella weekend; bands are chosen primarily on the basis of their submission entry rather than nepotism or popularity; and they are inclusive and affordable, which in a city that favors VIPs and name-dropping is all but unheard of. Still, for the fifth year in a row, festival-goers have proven their devotion, piling into Lyft cars and trekking to the corner of Downtown LA’s arts district for this rare taste of authenticity.
Dorkproval Rating: [Rating:10/10]
Photos in the article courtesy of Justin Baker.
Video & editing by Jonathan Haloossim.