Photo by Quinn Tucker (left), Rachael Polack (center), Nicole Busch (right)
Co-Written by Kristin Haegelin (She/Her) and Jennifer Collier (She/They)
Sandwiched between the Rose Bowl Stadium and the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, a music festival sprung from suburbia. As power chords rang out from the main stage, indie enthusiasts sprawled themselves out in rare patches of shade or knelt down alongside the golf course fence. Meanwhile, masses of latecomers traipsed across the sun-fried grass in cowboy boots and fanny packs, eagerly discussing the evening’s headliners or the concert lineup for the day. Sunburns grew brighter; sweat stains stretched longer. Overhead, a plane with a Stella Rosa banner circled around the venue each hour, perhaps the only way to measure time after the phone battery dipped down too low to check.
This was the setting of Goldenvoice’s two-day music festival This Ain’t No Picnic. With more than seventy music artists and bands, multiple stages, and genres running the gamut from pop to funk to metal, Jennifer and I (long-time OutWrite members and playlist-making fanatics) arrived to the venue with one main question on our minds: who was here and queer? We set our sights on finding the best up-and-coming queer artists, as well as musicians whose sounds and themes were inextricably linked with the queer community. Whether you are looking for new tunes to add to your ‘yearning’ playlist or have listened to Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” one too many times, you have come to the right place.
We opened Day 1 at noon with a set from Isabella Lovestory. Decked out in a metallic rhinestone bikini, black cowboy hat, and hiking boots, Lovestory immediately commanded the venue from the moment she strutted to the front of the stage. While a hypnotizing loop of cat GIFs and music video clips played on the backdrop, Lovestory pulled out hits such as “Sexo Amor Dinero,” “Cherry Bomb,” “Kitten Heels,” “Mariposa,” and “Golosa.” The addictive dance beats drew her audience in closer as many longtime fans mouthed her words and stretched out their hands towards her undeniable pop star presence. At one point in the set, she drew back to the DJ stand and casually slid on a pair of chunky sunglasses as the crowd went wild.
Despite occupying one of the most challenging set times of the day, Isabella Lovestory sparked an electric energy in her audience from the start with her sultry and powerful stage persona. But where did she learn how to command the stage and embody her music’s attitude in the first place? These qualities can be traced back all the way to her childhood growing up with a radio host father in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Immersed in grunge, alternative, and rap from an early age, she cultivated her sound from a variety of sources and dreamed up different pop personas in elementary school. Now based in Montreal, Lovestory started her music career on Soundcloud before partnering with DJ and producer Chicken on several singles. She released her first EP “Humo” in 2019 and quickly followed with the 6 track EP “Mariposa” in 2020. Since then, she has released a remix album and amassed nearly 260,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Latin music, rap, and techno collide in her music to garner millions of streams.
Lovestory also utilizes her visual artist background in her stunning music videos, which feature and almost parody male fantasies by taking them to the extreme. When speaking on her sexualized stage personality, Lovestory remarks that “mocking what society views as degrading to women is fun, because nobody gets to decide what a woman’s true desires are.”
Fresh-faced and brimming over with excitement, we set off from Isabella Lovestory to the next act on our must-see list. Hana Vu’s set, despite occurring during a bustling Southern California music festival, offered an oddly calming sense of intimacy. She was one of the first acts listed during the first day of the festival, and while there was a notable amount of punctual festival-goers, the festival grounds were still relatively empty. Vu’s stage was relatively bare of decoration, save for three other band members and some artistic photos projected behind them.
Despite the dark, gritty mood of her music and her vulnerable lyrics, watching Vu perform felt akin to watching your friend show you some original songs she wrote. Before playing her last song, she shyly addressed the crowd, saying “I’m bad with words but thanks for coming out and watching the set,” and received a notable amount of applause.
Hana Vu is a singer-songwriter DIY musician whose music constitutes a marriage between more gritty and vulnerable indie alternative rock and dream pop. She’s been playing gigs around Los Angeles since she was 14 years old, even opening for bands like Soccer Mommy and Wet at certain points. “When I was a teen, that’s where all the cool kids were! They were always at the warehouse shows over the weekends. I wanted to be a part of that” says Vu when asked about her initial involvement in the LA punk garage music scene in an interview with Paste.
She has released five different albums (“Nightlife” in 2015, “Sensitive” in 2016, “How Many Times Have You Driven By” in 2018, “Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway” in 2019, and “Public Storage” in 2021), along with roughly seven EPs and singles through Not On Label Records, Luminelle Recordings, Ghostly International, and Audiotree Music. Earlier in August she also played for the Here and Then Festival in Syracuse, New York, which also featured Snail Mail, Faye Webster, and Courtney Barnett.
Indigo de Souza
Around mid afternoon, we ran over to the main stage to catch the dynamic Indigo de Souza. As the earlier group began to pack up their equipment, the stage suddenly rotated to reveal a completely different band fronted by De Souza. As she stood with her microphone clutched with two hands, her haunting voice yelled out the first painfully nostalgic lines of “Sick in the Head” and froze the crowd where they stood. Dressed in a simple printed halter and ripped, black shorts, her half-ponytail shook with raw emotion and her expressive hands flicked out with each vocal run. She followed this first number with highlights such as “Home Team,” “How I Get Myself Killed,” and “Die/Cry.” Pausing before the end of the set, she introduced “Real Pain,” saying “this last song is like a release for me.”
Breathy and longing at times while forceful and accusatory at others, De Souza illustrated true mastery over her instrument both physically and emotionally. With stylized cracks and effortless riffs, each lyric took on an additional meaning. I felt goosebumps race up my arms watching as her body processed each word and seemed to feel its meaning for the very first time.
Growing up in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, this talented singer-songwriter used music lessons and her four-track cassette recorder as a way to cope with the isolation of living in a small conservative town. In an interview with Pitchfork Magazine, De Souza remarked that she “knew spiritually that music was what I was going to do with my life” by the age of 11. This passion for songwriting blossomed further after a move to Asheville around high school where she was exposed to many new musical subgenres and began experimenting more with her sound.
De Souza recorded her first EP “Boys” in 2016 and released her debut album “I Love My Mom” at her friend’s home in 2018. Following the critical acclaim of this first album, she recorded her sophomore album “Any Shape You Take,” steadily carving out a unique niche for herself in the indie rock scene. In addition to her work in the alternative genre, De Souza is also part of a neo-soul group called Icky Bricketts with Ethan Baechtold. If you find yourself gravitating towards deeply intimate lyrics, crowdsourced screams, and anxious authenticity, pay attention to this growing star.
Wandering over to the Godford set, I split off from Jennifer and made my way to the front of the crowd. Unlike the other indie rock and pop artists we had heard throughout the day, Godford specialized in electronic music, combining rave beats with dreamy, wistful melodies. Even the crowd of fans echoed this peaceful shift in energy, mainly gathering at the venue to dance with each other and drink.
However, the biggest difference of all between Godford and past acts was the artist’s identity itself — or lack thereof. While past musicians we’d seen centered their unique stage personas as part of the musical experience, Godford appeared behind the turntables with a leopard print shirt, sunglasses and a handkerchief wrapped around their face. Much like the pattern on their shirt, Godford’s online presence seems to be one of hiding in plain sight with their name, gender identity, and background unknown.
When asked about the reason behind their anonymity, the artist’s website states that they feel their “body isn’t reflecting who I really am” and that “a screen or any media” tends to obstruct their free expression. They find that music allows them a fluidity which is hard to imitate anywhere else, even describing it as a “non-binary place where everyone can express their deepest feelings.”
“Non Binary Place” is actually the name of Godford’s first album from 2020, which immediately caught the attention of Forbes with its unexpectedly advanced production quality and polished singles. They quickly followed “Non Binary Place” with their second album “I YOU SHE,” religiously workshopping the 13-track album as an escape from the everyday realities of pandemic life.
Godford is currently touring a limited number of venues throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico from now until the fall, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend keeping track of future tour dates as they release. Though I had not listened to a lot of electronic music before, I found myself falling in love with both of Godford’s transcendental albums in days following the festival. Their songs conjure up images of flashing lights in dark clubs, beautiful strangers in rave alleys, and the tranquil spontaneity of stumbling through youth. In my mind, Godford’s music feels like a love letter to the night and all that belongs to it.
Yves Tumor is a rock star reinvented for the modern age. Stepping on stage in a striped mesh one-piece, assless chaps, and a melange of BDSM hardware, the audience erupted into cheers at the sight of them. The rest of the band matched this mishmash of 80s and 90s subcultures to a tee with plaid bikinis, muscle tanks, and tousled mullets all around. Standouts such as “Jackie” and “Crushed Velvet” enticed the crowd to throw their heads back to embrace the songs’ natural grime and glamor.
If I were to unpack the exact seduction inherent in Tumor’s music, I would point to their ability to blow past all gender norms to create a novel, queer sex icon. Using both he/him and they/them pronouns, Tumor sauntered across the stage, embodying both a sultry club singer and a young Elvis as they draped themselves over the mic stand. Their music is just as transitory as their image, moving from R&B to Hip-Hop to their older, experimental sound.
Moving from Tennessee to California as a young adult, Tumor began as a chillwave artist before moving into deconstructed club music with a variety of artist aliases. They adopted the identity of Yves Tumor (their legal name is Sean Bowie) in 2015, releasing the studio album “When Man Fails You.” This was followed in quick succession by “Serpent Music” in 2016, “Safe in the Hands of Love” in 2018, and their most mainstream success “Heaven to a Tortured Mind” in 2020. In addition to these four albums, their most recent release is the 2021 EP “The Asymptotical World.” Breaking the one million mark in monthly listeners on Spotify, their singles continue to explode in popularity with many accumulating tens of millions of streams. Keep an eye on this undefinable superstar!
Around early afternoon on the first day of the festival, we caught Ethel Cain’s set. The exhausted and overheated crowd let out a cheer of excitement as a slim, shy-looking girl in a cream colored sweatshirt walked out and warmly greeted the crowd before opening her mouth to sing the clearest, most chilling opening notes.
Ethel Cain’s music is what I imagine would happen if someone combined the dark, sultry Americana pop of Lana Del Rey and the gritty vulnerable punch of emo rock. Born in a conservative Southern Baptist community in rural Florida, Ethel left the Church after facing intense ostracization because of her sexuality and eventual coming out as a trans woman. She is currently on a tour dubbed the Freezer Bride Tour to promote her new album “Preacher’s Daughter,” and her appearance in Los Angeles was one of the spots towards the end of her tour.
Despite performing with very few visuals, save for her name projected behind her, a guitarist, and a drummer, the power and clarity of her voice carried far greater power than any visual could have. During the sadder and more powerful songs, the crowd gathered fell into an introspective and awe-inspired quiet. Her vocals were clear and smooth throughout the whole set, cutting through the static and background noise and almost seeming to travel right through the crowd to you. Interestingly, Ethel stresses that this was the aim of the music she wrote. “I just wanted [my] music… to capture that feeling of things getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and eventually it becomes so epic and big that it’s beyond you and out of your grasp,” says Ethel in an interview with Vogue Magazine.
Truthfully, we caught Le Tigre’s set entirely by accident; while we were waiting to see another artist perform and killing time between sets on the evening of the first night, we found a cool place to sit and it happened to be in front of Le Tigre’s stage. By the end of the set, we had both maneuvered into the middle of a lively and celebratory audience and were dancing with all of the energy we had. While many members of our generation know Le Tigre from their music on TikTok (their song “Deceptacon,” with the lyrics “Who took the Bomp from the Bompalompalomp? Who took the Ram from the Ramalamadingdong?” has been popping off lately), they are considered an essential part of the 90s Riot Grrrl punk music movement. The band originally formed in 1999 in response to the political depression of the late 90s and early 2000s, and used music as an outlet for the frustration and fear felt by the band members at this time. They wrote songs about political corruption, the necessity of the feminist movement blossoming decades before and then, and genderqueer/queer visibility, becoming one of the many faces of civil unrest in the late 90s. When asked why it was now that Le Tigre was making a comeback, lead singer Kathleen Hanna told the LA Times that she decided to reunite Le Tigre “basically because I started playing with Bikini Kill [another music project group Hanna joined] again and was finally having fun singing. My health is so much better and my technical skills are way better,” said Hanna.
Their unique blend of punk pop with occasional unorthodox instrumental choices, coupled with bright primary color pattern background images, seemed to supercharge the audience with a peculiar mix of high-energy happiness and power. The band was super interactive with their audience, with band members switching off on who introduced each song, from denouncing corrupt politicians from the 90s to joking anecdotes about how the lead singer accidentally insulted Gwen Stefani’s ex-husband at an awards show. The screen behind even showed the lyrics accompanying each song, encouraging audience members to sing along even if they had never heard the songs before. None of the band members had lost the spark and the energy they had in their earlier years in both their musical performance and in their stage presence. In response to the unsettling political climate of our decade and criticism of their music, Hanna passionately told the audience, “My job is not to grow a thicker skin… my job isn’t forgiveness… and it shouldn’t be a part of our job to ‘deal with it.’” In short, we walked into the set not knowing who Le Tigre was or why they were so current, and we left as two hardcore, converted fans, ready to follow the band’s charge towards a better future.
We walked into Phoebe Bridgers’ set with relatively high expectations, and those expectations were greatly exceeded. Most if not all of us know Bridgers’ music intimately by now (and if you don’t, go listen to the entirety of “Punisher” and get back to us once you stop sobbing); Phoebe Bridgers has had the alternative indie genre in the palm of her hand since the 2020 release of “Punisher,” an album she received four Grammy nominations for since its release. Even before that release, she had made a notable name for herself in the acoustic indie scene with “Stranger In The Alps” in 2017, featuring the hit song “Motion Sickness.” She has been featured on collaborative hits with fellow indie artist MUNA (the song “Silk Chiffon;” if you were on TikTok a year ago we guarantee that you’ve heard it) and superstar Taylor Swift (“Nothing New,” off of the album “Red (Taylor’s Version)”).
Watching Phoebe perform and hearing her anecdotes between sets, the atmosphere felt less like a packed concert for a superstar artist and more like listening to your cool older cousin show you some songs they wrote in their bedroom. A Pasadena native, Bridgers opened “Kyoto” by telling the crowd that the inspiration for this song had come from her first learning how to drive in a parking lot roughly eight minutes from the Hollywood Bowl. She acknowledged the beauty of her last tour stop being in Pasadena for this festival, mere minutes from her childhood home, and jokingly told the crowd that the last time she played in Pasadena was at Pinocchio’s Pizza. Her voice lost none of its quality in her live performance, and if anything, the raw emotion and vulnerability she displayed during songs such as “I Know The End,” “Waiting Room,” and “Moon Song” placed immense amounts of power behind her voice while maintaining her signature breathy, ethereal tone. Despite being packed together among thousands of people, her songs created an atmosphere of emotional intimacy that felt akin to a warm hug at certain points or a wave of powerful feeling at others.
Authors: Kristin Haegelin (She/Her), Jennifer Collier (She/They)
Copy Editors: Emma Blakely (They/She/He), Bella (She/They)