Posted on September 23, 2019
Last July, KALXer Kat attended Burger Boogaloo with a notebook and a camera. Here's her take on where the festivals falls within the social and political landscape of Oakland in 2019.
By Kat Cone
Photos by Kat Cone
Edited by Tessa Rissacher
I stood near the front of the stage and compulsively fiddled with my camera.
I was shooting film and, as a poor college student, was (and still am) working with a tight budget, so I set a limit of one roll of film per day of the festival. It was early and only a few older crust punks were milling around on the lawn. I leaned against the barricades up front and debated whether or not I wanted to photograph the band playing.
“This is a song about a hot waitress! One-Two-Three-Four--”
Well, decision made.
I got a text from my friend Justin who was volunteering as Boogaloo staff and handing out schedules near the front.
>>> Hey are you busy or can you bring me a coffee rn?
I put the lens cap back on my camera and replied.
>>> I mean, I should be taking pics rn but this band just seems like a bunch of old biker punks singing songs objectifying women, so not exactly my thing. I’ll try to find some coffee.
>>> Lol, old misogynistic biker punks. You know that’s what most of Boogaloo is, right?
I didn’t. This was my first time attending Burger Boogaloo and I’d heard so much from my friends about this festival. I’d come to recognize the diverse East Bay DIY community—a scene inclusive to punks and misfits of various ethnic, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds and identities—as the home I was always looking for but never found growing up in Orange County. Idealistic and optimistic, seventeen-year-old me who had just been accepted to UC Berkeley—who spent hours consuming articles on the Gilman Street Project, and who couldn’t stop listening to Op Ivy in “preparation” for my move to Berkeley—would have been appalled to hear such lyrics at a festival put on by the scene she was hoping to soon adopt.
Luckily, college me has learned to be investigative, so I was much more willing to confront this confliction with an open mind. I came up with a mission for myself: a punky “I Spy” of sorts, I would scour the festival for glimmers of the representation I wanted to find at Burger Boogaloo 2019.
I opened up my notebook and scribbled a title page using my best scratchy, DIY-aesthetic lettering:
“My Quest For Femme, Youth, Queer, and POC Energy at Burger Boogaloo”
I decided I’d make a note of every energy and identity that moved me for the rest of the festival.
I was handed a schedule on my way in to the festival, but it was soon lost in my overstuffed tiny backpack. No matter, I already knew what acts I wanted to look out for. I’d done my research about who I wanted to see and who I wanted to interview for airplay. I’d revisited classic punk groups from back when all my music recommendations came from my dad’s friends and I’d brushed up on the up and comers. I wasn’t sure how but I was hoping to photograph, take notes, and mosh all at the same time.
AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS
“Do you think you’d ever get a mullet, Kat?” my friend and fellow KALXer, Elie, asked me. I opened a bottle of water, took a sip while I pondered. I think I’m edgy, but am I THAT edgy?
“I don’t know. I feel like you’d have to either be really confident or really hot to pull off a mullet.”
Elie nodded, “I feel that. And Amyl is definitely really confident and really hot.”
Amyl and the Sniffers are part of the double overhead wave of punk and indie artists coming out of Australia. Their first, self-titled release had been majorly charting at KALX in the weeks before the festival. I made sure I was in the front, leaning against a speaker (my ears would thank me later for that), camera ready. The entire mulleted line up took the stage.
“This song is for everyone I hate, it’s called ‘Go F*** Yourself’!”
The performance was nostalgic enough for comfort and modern enough to provoke thought. Amyl pogo danced all over the stage and waved middle fingers while shouting simplistic, angsty lyrics that told the crowd off—visually and sonically evoking 70s punk icons. And yet, there’s something definitively 21st century about how she can sensually dance while yelling “I DON’T GIVE A F***!” It felt reminiscent of Bikini Kill-era Kathleen Hanna writing “SLUT” across her stomach and dancing in her underwear, showing that she owns her sexuality, no one else. In the Sniffers’ song “I’m Not A Loser” Amyl proclaims, “People look at me like I’m a hooker / But I just want to be a venue booker.”
Feeling satisfied with the shots I’d gotten of Amyl flipping off the audience, I tucked my camera back into my bag, tightened the straps, and jumped into the pit—because there was no I way I wasn’t going to mosh for Amyl and the f***ing Sniffers.
When I was a kid, 70s arena rock was all that I listened to—and I thought of myself as superior to my peers because of it. I was always practicing Stones riffs on guitar, and The Who’s Tommy was the most mind-blowing album I’d ever heard. That is, until I hit puberty and realized I’m a woman.
Then I realized that Led Zeppelin lyrics are, well, icky.
Where is one to find that crunchy classic rock sound while still being politically correct?
Sheer Mag blends the tasty punch of arena rock riffiness with lyrics about the Stonewall riots and being an outcast. Frontwoman Christina Halladay’s Joplin-esque wails feel like an exfoliating scrub, rough enough to peel back what’s old and dead and reveal new skin. It feels abrasive and fresh. By the end of the first song, they had already broken a snare drum. Halladay bantered as stagehands scrambled to remedy the percussion snafu.
“John [Waters] said we we’re from Brooklyn, but we’re actually from Philly. Sorry John, we love ya! But we’re not from Brooklyn, we’re from Philadelphia. It’s a much, much dirtier city with a lot uglier people,” Halladay walked back and forth across the stage with the wind blowing back her hair. I met her later and she would tell me how pleased she was with the weather working in her favor.
“Everyone in New York is like, really hot and it’s very infuriating, so we don’t live there. All of us are like eights in Philly and fours in New York City. So why the f*** would we live there?”
I looked down at my boots and laughed
“Hey, can we have The Jesus and the Mary Chain’s snare drum?”
After the snare drum was replaced (not with that of The Jesus and the Mary Chain) a hammer-on guitar riff brought us right back into good ol’ soulful rock n’ roll, for real people.
A lot of my friends were working as volunteer staff for the festival—slapping wristbands onto guests, picking up trash, and restocking some formidable port-a-potties—but most everyone still had opportunities to see the performances they wanted. My friend Sarah stepped out from behind the fenced-off staff area and waved me down.
“Kat, have you ever seen NOBUNNY live?”
That was a nope.
“Kat, you must see Nobunny.”
It was relatively easy for two girls to slide through the sea of denim vests.
“Okay Kat, get ready to start counting bunnies.”
One - full suit bunny on guitar; two - headband bunny on tambourine; three - masked bunny on drums; four – ears-tied-neatly-into-hair bunny on bass—
Everyone started clapping. Headband bunny danced proudly in just a tank top and underwear.
Five - BIG (according to his stomach tattoo) bunny in a leather jacket, underwear, and socks—
BIG jumped and jiggled up and down, deeply embodying the concept of letting it all hang out while waving maracas high and low.
Six - sneaky bunny in a mask with a beer bottle, knees bent almost ready to leap—
Justin Champlin, the fuzzy, masked gutter punk who performs under the name NOBUNNY smashed a bottle over his fellow bunny’s head, and the big boy toppled to the ground in Stooges fashion—comics and garage rockers both.
“No no, no no, no no no, no no no, no no NO NO, no no NO NO!”
All the bunnies sang.
“NOBUNNY loves you!”
All the bunnies in their many shapes, sizes, and levels of nudity performed proudly and outwardly bizarre. An air of body positive, queer energy (coupled with absolutely zero f***s given) emanated from the furry punks. It was endearing, like the smell that comes off your free spirited friend who might not shower much but whose presence is so overwhelmingly positive that you don’t even notice.
“I am a girlfriend—”
NOBUNNY called and the crowd responded. I never thought I’d see so many of what I call “bro-punks” sing those words so proudly.
NOBUNNY’S snout, strapped to his face by a thin string of elastic, fell away from his mouth. The upper half of his face was still concealed by matted fur. He put one bare foot atop a speaker and I was close enough to see the sweat in his leg hair.
“I just want to let everyone know that we will be doing a magic show in between the Dwarves and the Dead Boys, so please stop by our merch table—it’ll be a great photo opportunity!”
I arrived in the afternoon for Boogaloo Day 2 and met up with my KALX friends backstage. Elie and I sat in the grass and mulled over our notebooks between sets.
“I’m so excited for the next band,” Elie said. “They haven’t played in the mainland US for like 7 years or something!”
I checked my schedule: “DÁVILA 666”
“They’re from Puerto Rico. I feel like their sound has a lot more range than some of the other bands here. When you can, look up their song ‘Tú’, like the Spanish ‘you’, tú.”
I changed the pronunciation in my head from “six-six-six” to “seis-seis-seis”.
In spite of a seven year hiatus, the sun-soaked garage band continue to ooze a sort of carefree coolness—the kind of energy required to effortlessly pull off denim on denim with the jacket collar flipped up.
In a lineup that only featured one other artist of color (Derv Gordon), at a festival that tends to attract a predominantly older, white audience, to say that seeing a band of color perform songs in Spanish for a mainland American audience was “refreshing” would be way too neutral of a descriptor. As a young person of color, to see someone different, like me, onstage, and to see people dancing and moshing all the same, was one of the only moments at Boogaloo that had an air of something revolutionary to me. Davila’s bass player, raised a fist in the air.
“This Burger Boogaloo, it’s gonna be f***in’ special!”
In a climate where it’s become increasingly dangerous to speak non-English languages, the entirely Spanish lyrics felt like prideful rebellion. Frontman Carlitos Dávila (a socially aware artist in his own right), says that it’s not necessarily what the lyrics mean but rather how the lyrics work phonetically , that makes people feel something. Regardless of language or meaning, everyone danced, thrashed, and skipped around the circle pit together. I heard the tambourine and guitar intro to “Patitas”.
“Estoy rodeado por todos lados ya,
Y esta vez no creo que podre escapar,
Trate de fumigar, mi apartamento es un tri -cal
Me quieren humillar a mi
Tantas patitas me caminan por el lado”
The set ended and the entire audience chanted “Otra! Otra!” together.
I rocked back and forth from toe to heel, trying to figure out the best height and angle for getting shots over a sea of spikey, dyed heads—a more 1992 kind of look than I would expect of an audience for a contemporary indie group like King Tuff but definitely the fashion I’d come to associate with Boogaloo. The middle aged woman in front of me had a patch on the back of her jacket that said “I Hate Emos.” I thought of my friends in emo-adjacent bands, regulars of the current East Bay scene—artists who have done so much to keep spaces like 924 Gilman alive and current, folks who encourage a healthy culture of vulnerability and mental health awareness in their music, who’ve taught me that being punk is a lot more than just a bristled f*** you attitude.
The scene has changed, I guess?
I wondered where these older white people with colorful hair came from—whether they anxiously saved up to buy tickets to the festival or if they didn’t think twice about it. I watched a friend haul a bag of trash from a nearby Port-A-Potty. All of my crew was here as volunteer staff. I wouldn’t have even been at the festival if I hadn’t gotten a press pass. A fifty-something aged man with a mohawk checked his Apple Watch for the time. So much for sh*tty punk.
I continued to rock back and forth.
King Tuff introduced his lineup, which included Ty Segall on drums and a bassist he described as his “own personal firecracker.”
She looks like a badass.
Tuff’s firecracker laughed and smiled throughout the entire performance, all the while ripping riffs up and down the neck of her bass. She looked daring, in a bright orange shirt tucked into even brighter red pants, and she laughed it all off—tossing her head, leaning forward and bowing down. I felt the bass intro to “Psycho Star.”
Throughout the two days of Boogaloo, a mysterious punk in a cartoon panda suit had been appearing and disappearing at random amongst the crusty, studded audience to crowd surf. I hadn’t been able to get any shots of Panda thus far, so after taking sufficient pictures of the band, I repositioned myself to be ready for a pair of ears to emerge from the crowd. I wondered what kind of person had the moxie to change in and out of a panda suit between bands and dive into the pit with such enthusiasm.
As King Tuff sang,“The universe is probably an illusion / But isn’t it so beautifully bizarre that here we are?” I heard screams coming from behind me. Panda rose above the rest of the crowd and everyone’s hands reached toward them, if not in hope of helping to carry our masked hero towards stage then at least to brush the black and white synthetic fur as they passed.
“Watching the fire getting higher on this strange little star.”
Panda got close enough for me to make out a small, seemingly femme figure beneath the suit.
I snapped away and hoped with all my heart I captured Panda in all their glory.
SHANNON AND THE CLAMS
An out of state friend who had just moved to the Bay Area asked me who Shannon and the Clams are. My mind felt like a deflated balloon released, excited and squealing in the air as I struggled to conjure the right words.
“Thomas, Shannon and the Clams are Oakland.”
The beloved garage-rock doo woppers of the East Bay had been spotted prepping white cloaks, soft pink bolo ties, and masks backstage throughout day two. I knew I would finish my roll of film during their set. They started with “Surrounded By Ghosts”, a lyric made visible by dancers clad in white sheets who circled each other as Shannon crooned and guitars echoed in jangly, reverby bliss.
With songs that condemn toxic masculinity and encourage emotional vulnerability and queerdom, Shannon and the Clams take the surfy sound that in the 60s belonged to the heteronormative, apple-pie-ideal, and repurpose it to welcome the marginalized outsider in the warm, playful sunlight as well.
“Wait don't go, I'm lonely
'Cause I wanna be surrounded by ghosts
Here in my room, I'm not alone
But I'm surrounded, surrounded by ghosts.”
The ghosts transformed into dancing gorillas for “The Bog”.
“You better catch her!” Shannon exclaims mid-song as a girl falls backwards into the audience to crowd surf. “We’ve got a policy: if we’re gonna stage dive and crowd surf, I need 89% of you to be women, and if you don’t catch them, we’ll have those gorillas on stage drag you out and beat you in the streets.”
The intro synth to “I Leave Again” began with a sense of urgency that felt like a ritualistic dance. Another girl jumped onstage. Panda remerged from the crowd and skipped around gleefully behind the Clams. The girl positioned herself on the edge of the stage like a messiah in black high-waisted denim.
She jumped, and we supported her.
These moments of empowerment were peppered throughout the weekend like a dashes of spice in mashed potatoes—present, potent, but not enough to fully transform a bland and traditional dish. . Femme artists who explicitly spoke up for women at the show were followed by your classic greasy haired rock n’ roller guys and leather clad punks with songs about cars and bangin’ chicks, delivered with sneers that now come off as both cheesey and condescending in 21st Century Oakland.
To be a young woman of color making her way into the East Bay scene, I sought out progressivism and inclusivity at Burger Boogaloo, and while I came home with a list of inspiring moments in my notebook, seeing outdated and offensive acts such as the Dwarves in their studded jockstraps, who proudly expressed their intention to “f*** some sluts”—I questioned how the efforts of progressive artists can be validated when they’re billed side by side with those who explicitly oppress them. I also couldn’t help but wonder why the two day festival only featured two acts with artists of color and what that might suggest about where Burger Boogaloo stands in the changing demographic landscape of Oakland.
Still, I am moving forward into the next year with eager anticipation for both Burger Boogaloo and the Bay Area DIY scene as a whole. I will keep my notebook that holds both points of contention and empowering moments. I’ll continue to look for pits to mosh with friends and stages to jump off, and I’ll hope that when I do, others will be there to support me.
Kat is punky, spunky, and an all-around dork who can't enjoy a hot beverage without burning herself. Catch her on the air as DJ Helen Earth.