If I’m honest, my afternoon before BROKE LA started off pretty rough. I was skipping down the stairs of my apartment complex to let my friend Mariyam in when, out of the complex window I saw a familiar car being pulled onto the bed of a tow truck. Suddenly, my skips turned into a frantic sprint and, Mariyam temporarily forgotten, I ran to the apathetic meter maid to beg him to release my car. Of course he didn’t, instead smugly informing me that I wouldn’t be able to pick it up until the parking violations bureau opened back up on Monday morning.
So that happened. Somewhere in the midst of it all Mariyam managed to find my apartment, and was awkwardly twiddling her thumbs on my couch as I attempted to remedy the situation. When I finally returned upstairs, defeated and in light shock, she demurely asked, “Do you still want to go?”
My chest still rushing with adrenaline, I took a deep sigh and quickly weighed the options. I could let this ruin my afternoon, or I could use BROKE LA as a distraction, and deal with my car with the rest of my Monday morning responsibilities.
“Yea, fuck it,” I told her, shrugging. “I can’t do anything about it right now anyway. Let’s start drinking!”
I cracked open a mini-bottle of Grey Goose that I’d had sitting in the freezer for Goddess knows how long and we quickly guzzled it down before our Lyft driver arrived.
Now in its sixth year, the people behind what was previously known as Brokechella have created a brand that demands its own identity. Brokechella began out of necessity, when those of us who were either too broke for or bored of Coachella found ourselves with an empty city and limited entertainment options during the festival’s weekends. It was an affordable alternative that stroked our Angeleno egos with its uniquely L.A. location, trading dust and tents for pavement and sweaty warehouses. Over time, it became the assumed activity if you found yourself in the city during Coachella weekend, with headliners that held their own. No longer a spoof, it’s steadily garnered its own acclaim, and so it makes sense that this year Brokechella became BROKE LA.
Still in a somewhat tricky spot for those of us traveling by public transport, BROKE LA moved a few blocks over this year, to a larger location at Imperial Art Studios.
It’s not really a festival if your feet don’t hurt from walking at the end of the day, and BROKE LA held up in that regard, housed in a cluster of winding warehouses that would take us several laps before successfully mapping out.
This was my third year covering the event, and I have to admit that along with the name, a lot changed for the better this time around. I found there was more emphasis on the art, and a lot more experimentation as far as how people interacted with it. The “walk on the art” exhibit, which featured cardboard paintings and boxes littered all over the ground, was back, as was their art gallery row, with different artists hanging their art on the brick walls between the indoor stages. There was also a pair of men crafting balloons into not-your-typical-balloon-animal shapes. I helped them gently nudge one long balloon through a chain link fence, giggling the entire time about how perverted it felt. I had perhaps indulged in a few complimentary beers in the green room.
We toured about six different photobooths, all of which had an assortment of silly props that ranged from comically large sunglasses to feather boas to fake dollar bills. The Adult Swim cartoon Mr. Pickles had set up a human-sized dog house with a throne that guests were encouraged to sit upon for a picture that would animate the scene around them.
I have to admit that I probably paid less attention to the musical lineup than I have in my previous years attending Brokechella. I wasn’t especially familiar with most of the artists, and while that normally wouldn’t be a factor, I found myself too distracted by the different art installations and activities to linger at a stage for more than five minutes.
And did I mention puppies? What was formerly Puppychella became Bark LA this year, and in partnership with No Kill Los Angeles, puppy adoptions were available all day, and they actually let you cuddle and play with pups of all ages while you mulled over which one might be a good fit. I haven’t decided if it’s genius or terribly irresponsible to give drunk millennials the opportunity to adopt animals in need, but I do know that I came very close to bringing one home and risking eviction. Luckily, I put the hypnotizing fluffy white monster down before its spell could completely take hold.
Of the musical acts we caught, one standout was the DJ trio Club Aerobics, which, from what I could tell, consists of late-90’s babies channeling the 80’s era with neon clothes, high ponytails, glitter, and thumping beats. Their knowledge of the decade may be secondhand, but the homage seemed sincere; the dingy warehouse room that housed the Shifty Rhythms stage the perfect backdrop for their sweat-inducing, genre-bending sound.
What I think I love most about BROKE LA is that it feels like home. I know I’m guaranteed to run into at least a few familiar faces, despite not coordinating with anyone other than my photographer. I know that it’s one of the only places where Angelenos forget to run on an autopilot of bored and disaffected, and friends are easily made.
BROKE LA encourages the absurd, and demands we leave our airs at home. Where else would I eagerly blow up balloons emblazoned with phrases like “Bad Bitch” and “Skankity Skank” to proudly parade around for the day? I also doubt I’d be comfortable perching on a bench and inhaling bacon chili cheese fries in the manner I did before Mariyam and I caught our Lyft ride home, a fruitless effort to sober up. There’s something about the environment at BROKE LA that allows us to shamelessly embrace our inner broke bitch, the one we’ve distanced ourselves from since college, but who still occasionally rears her head in amazement at the inflated cost of Koolaid packets (seriously, they were like 5 cents each when I was a kid).
To borrow an overused term from the internet, BROKE LA is a safe space. For eight hours, it was a place where I could escape reality and forget my recent squabbles with LA parking enforcement. It’s comforting to know that having fun doesn’t always have to break the bank, especially in a city like Los Angeles, where the cost of living seems to rise by the minute.
Six years ago it began as a humble event called Community Pool, and since then its outgrown several venues, added more stages, and matured into a festival that stands on its own. Here’s hoping that BROKE LA will continue to evolve and push the boundaries, while staying affordably true to its new name.
Photographs courtesy of Mariyam Esha Mahbub.