OAKLAND -- After a two-year pandemic delay, the highly anticipated return of the Mosswood Meltdown this weekend brings an array of local and national punk acts to Oakland including Bikini Kill, Kim Gordon, the Dirtbombs and more.
The garage-punk festival former known as the Burger Boogaloo has gone through some major changes since its 10th anniversary edition was held in Oakland's Mosswood Park nearly three years ago. Festival organizers split with the fest's namesake Burger Records after a sexual misconduct scandal broke surrounding the imprint and many bands associated last year (the SoCal label had had little to do with the festival's planning for ages, according to Bay Area promoters Total Trash Productions). To their credit, Total Trash and the Mosswood Meltdown have taken clear steps to distance themselves from the scandal and to firmly establish the festival as a safe space where no harassment of any kind will be tolerated.
Meanwhile, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has kept the rechristened Mosswood Meltdown from happening since since the beginning of the lockdown in 2020, initially getting pushed back to Halloween weekend in 2020 and then summer of 2021 before being rescheduled for July of 2022. However, Total Trash held a successful Halloween-themed festival last fall that was hosted by iconic film director John Waters, and featured such returning favorites as Osees, the Mummies, Detroit garage heroes the Gories, and Sacramento juggernaut th' Losin Streaks among others.
The planned Mosswood Meltdown line-up has gone through some changes as well with some bands (Saturday's scheduled headliner Circle Jerks, Alice Bag and Plastic Bertrands) dropping out, but the weekend celebration will still be presenting the first Bay Area show by iconic Olympia, WA-based riot grrl pioneers Bikini Kill in over 20 years along with anticipated bands including Detroit garage greats the Dirtbombs, youthful SoCal upstarts the Linda Lindas, Berkeley power-pop legends Rubinoos, SF sludge-punk heroes Flipper, and returning local favorites Shannon Shaw, Hunx and his Punx, and Pansy Division.
Spearheaded by main organizer and Total Trash honcho Marc Ribak, the Meltdown continues the Boogaloo's reputation as one of the premiere underground rock festivals in the country on par with Goner Records' yearly Gonerfest and the Punk Rock Bowling Festival in Las Vegas. The event will once again feature vendors selling records, clothes and guitar gear in addition to an array of food options as well as a number of noted DJs -- DJ Jonathan Toubin of NY Night Train fame, local favorites DJ Omar Perez (Popscene, Leisure) and DJ Big Nate, and Bratmobile singer Allison Wolfe -- playing music between bands.
The Mosswood Meltdown once again brings back pencil-mustached director and revered trash-culture expert Waters as MC. Expelled from NYU where he was studying film in the 1960s, Waters rose to notoriety thanks to his string of '70s campy midnight movies including Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living. Making up what the director termed his "Trash Trilogy," the films shredded the boundaries of conventional propriety and movie censorship with outrageous dialog and action as well as establishing drag queen Divine (Waters' friend from his Baltimore, Maryland childhood and muse, Harris Glenn Milstead) as an actor and cult figure.
Waters would eventually go on to more mainstream success with his later films like Hairspray (which inspired the Broadway musical and movie adaptation), the Johnny Depp film Cry-Baby and the scathing satire Serial Mom, but he has remained an icon of trash culture between his b-movie appearances, books and This Filthy World is a one-man stage show exploring his artistic origins. More recently, Waters has explored visual arts with mixed media and manipulated photo exhibits that by his own admission aim to inspire disgust with the viewer. Waters never fails to deliver off-color commentary during hilarious band introductions from the stage. His return as host should be no less entertaining.
One major new development that surfaced earlier this year was Ribak and his wife Amy Carver partnering with Eli's Mile High Club owners Billy Agan and Matt Patane and former Hemlock Tavern booker and Talent Moat show promoter Tony Bedard to take over the shuttered Stork Club in Oakland, which closed permanently during the early months of the pandemic. Now called Thee Stork Club, the venerable dive that has been tricked out with vintage interior design, a fresh cocktail menu and new sound system. The club planned to hold an already sold-out grand reopening celebration on Friday, July 1, the day before the Meltdown begins with appearances by Waters, Shannon Shaw and DJ Chris Owen, but unfortunately had to move the proceedings to Eli's Mile High Club. Thee Stork is still scheduled to have its official reopening in mid-July that will kick off a full schedule of live shows. Eli's Mile High Club will also be hosting after-show parties on Saturday and Sunday featuring some of the acts appearing at the fest.
For Saturday's line-up, the Mosswood Meltdown bill gets topped by NYC experimental punk heroine Kim Gordon. After graduating from art school and moving to New York to pursue a career, Gordon would become a figure in the downtown no-wave movement, founding avant-garde group Sonic Youth in 1981 with boyfriend and future husband Thurston Moore. Though she had no musical background, Gordon quickly picked up bass and proved an eminently capable singer.
Mixing elements drawn from the dissonant downtown improv/free jazz scene and composer Glen Branca's microtonal guitar ensembles (both Moore and second guitarist Lee Ranaldo would play under his direction) with droning, propulsive post-punk, Sonic Youth developed a unique sound built around unorthodox tunings and treated guitars with drum sticks and screwdrivers in the strings. After releasing its first self-titled EP on Branca's Neutral label, the band became a cornerstone to the NYC noise-rock movement alongside Swans, who the group shared rehearsal space with and supported on several early tours, and James Chance and the Contortions.
Sonic Youth would move on to recording for Moore's own Ecstatic Peace imprint (the live compilation Sonic Death: Early Sonic 1981-1983) and Homestead Records (1985's Bad Moon Rising) before finally landing on SST Records for the critically acclaimed EVOL the following year, its first effort with new drummer Steve Shelley. That effort found the band tempering the noise of past releases with more pop sensibility while still maintaining its experimental approach, a shift that would continue on subsequent releases Sister and Sonic Youth's landmark 1988 double album Daydream Nation.
Earning the group's the best reviews of its career, Daydream Nation significantly raised Sonic Youth's profile and led to a major label deal with Geffen Records. The follow-up debut for the label Goo in 1990 scored the band MTV airplay with the hit "Kool Thing" (featuring Chuck D of Public Enemy) and broke Sonic Youth to a much wider audience. The quartet spent the decade as one of the most influential alternative rock outfits on the planet, starring in the documentary The Year Punk Broke and serving as headliners for the 1996 Lollapalooza Tour. In 1993, Gordon formed the band Free Kitten with fellow NYC noise-punk figure and Pussy Galore member Julia Cafritz, the first of what would be a string of collaborative side projects.
Sonic Youth maintained its stature as leading lights alternative music into the 2000s until the dissolution of Gordon's marriage to Moore over his infidelity led to the band splitting up in 2011. While the musician was already in the midst of a creative tear prior to the divorce with her exploration of acting and a return to visual arts, she ramped up her musical endeavors with experimental duos featuring former DNA drummer Ikue Mori and guitarist Bill Nace (in the group Body/Head) as well as the release of her acclaimed autobiography Girl in a Band in 2015. More recently, she put out her industrial-tinged solo debut for Matador Records entitled No Home Record and a live recording of a duo performance with minimalist blues guitarist Loren Connors.
The balance of Saturday's action in Mosswood Park will feature a parade of national local talents, including a return Detroit garage-rock juggernaut the Dirtbombs. Led by guitarist/singer Mick Collins -- who previously made a name for himself with raw '80s garage-punk outfit the Gories, who laid the foundation for a burgeoning garage-rock scene in Detroit -- the group featured the unusual instrumental line-up that used a fuzzed-out baritone guitar in addition to bass and two drummers. While the band's 1998 debut effort Horndog Fest was mostly original material, the Dirtbombs gained wider acclaim with the stellar album of classic soul covers and forgotten funk gems Ultraglide in Black that included wild interpretations of songs by Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton.
The band continued to make covers an important part of their repertoire with their prolific output of 7-inch singles (versions of other artists' songs made up half of their 2005 2-CD compilation If You Don't Already Have a Look) but put out more blistering original music on their next two albums Dangerous Magical Noise and We Have You Surrounded. Even though Collins and company have not put out any new music since the release of their Detroit techno covers album Party Store in 2011 and the bubblegum tribute Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! two years later, the band still periodically reunites for live performances. Collins, longtime baritone guitarist/vocalist Ko Melina (of Ko & the Knockouts) and dueling drummers Pat Pantano and Ben Blackwell make a welcome return to the Bay Area
The balance of the Saturday line-up includes anticipated performances by Shannon and the Clams singer/bassist Shannon Shaw playing songs from her stellar solo debut Shannon in Nashville, LA indie-pop band Bleached (featuring sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, formerly of kinetic punk band Mika Miko), iconoclastic San Francisco noise band Flipper -- who are now fronted by singer Fletcher Shears of the experimental SoCal group the Garden after -- celebrated Atlanta punks Carbonas, venerable Berkeley power-pop mavens Rubinoos, rising Oakland punk outfit Twompsax, and opening Nashville weirdos Snõõper.
The schedule for Sunday is topped by the first Bay Area appearance of reunited '90s riot grrl band Bikini Kill since the band originally split up over two decades ago. Led by charismatic singer Kathleen Hanna, the band came together in Olympia, Washington in 1990 when she teamed with fellow Evergreen State College students Tobi Vail (bass) and Kathi Wilcox (drums) and guitarist Billy Karren. Inspired by her mother's activism at a young age, Hanna had already been channeling her feminist politics into visual art and spoken-word performances before following the advice of writer and counterculture icon Kathy Acker to start a band.
The band's eponymous debut EP in 1991 produced by Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi) was a visceral blast of politically-charged punk. Songs like "Double Dare Ya" and "Suck My Left One" carried the same "girls to the front" message of Bikini Kill's blistering live performances -- Hanna would frequently leave the stage to confront male audience members who were harassing female attendees -- and the feminist zine the band produced that shared its name.
The band would spend time in Washington, D.C. that summer as Hannah collaborated on a pair of musical projects (Suture with pioneering DC punk Sharon Cheslow and Wondertwins with Tim Green of Nation of Ulysses) as well as the Riot grrl zine that had been started by members of Bratmobile and would essentially become the manifesto for the burgeoning underground feminist punk movement.
Bikini Kill would release the seminal riot grrl anthem "Rebel Girl" on their second effort, a split EP with the British band Huggy Bear the following year as they built on their growing fan base, bringing their explosive stage show to England for a tour with Huggy Bear that would be filmed for the documentary, It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill in the UK. The group would return to the States and begin working with another feminist punk icon, Joan Jett, who would produce and play on a second recording of "Rebel Girl" in addition to Hannah co-writing new songs for Jett's Pure and Simple album.
The band would continue to receive critical accolades for their subsequent albums -- Pussy Whipped in 1993 and Reject All American three years later -- but their desire to stick with punk's DIY approach and the pressure from antagonism and abuse the band sometimes faced because of their bold political stance led Bikini Kill to split in 1997. Its members would focus on new band projects, with Hannah launching her electronic-based act Le Tigre and her sampler-and-drum-machine project Julie Ruin. She shared the stage with Vail and Wilcox in 2017 to perform a single song for a book release event, which paved the way for a reunion in 2019 that has since seen the group headline arenas in the UK and Riot Fest in Chicago with guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle filling in for the absent Karren.
The rest of the Sunday schedule presents an outstanding line-up of performers including a set from festival regular Seth Bogart and his band Hunx and His Punx, teenage LA punk upstarts the Linda Lindas, San Francisco queercore greats Pansy Division, Gravy Train!!! and Younger Lovers frontman Brontez Purnell, self-described "musical grrl gang" from Fresno Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries and more. Additional information on the Mosswood Meltdown's COVID policy and how to get tickets is available on the festival's official website.
Saturday and Sunday, July 2-3, 12 p.m. $21-$249
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