Written, filmed, & interviewed by Mingjie Zhai
Photos by Aaron Glassman, Juliana Berstein, Tony Edwards, and Watchara
About Woogie Weekend
After hosting a sold out 11th annual Lightning in a Bottle festival and a packed house at their Coachella namesake stage, reigning catalysts of creation Los Angeles’ Do LaB, ventured to Oak Canyon Park July 8-10 to transform the lush, sprawling So Cal landscape into a whimsical water wonderland in celebration of the second annual Woogie Weekend festival. Two newly reimagined stages known as The Hive and Kaleidoscope brought a stellar collection of house and techno’s finest to the forefront of an intimate, carefree playground overflowing with sublime vibes, vivacious dancing, blue skies, Slip n’ Slides, water balloon fights and even a pond complete with fish. [x]
Tattoos, Rings and Furry Things
It was one of those Saturday afternoons. The kind of afternoons that could’ve been the music video for Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World if Lee Reynolds mixed it with the Desert Heartthrob of house techno. As the journalist stared into the crowd of strange creatures—purple fairies in neon hula hoops, Big Foot with hot pink fur wearing pink neon spandex, and 6-foot twin parrots flapping their wings to the heavy bass of deep house, she felt like a stranger who has come home. On this mid-July weekend, Oak Canyon Park was transformed into a stranger’s paradise in Silverado, California. The cool breeze that traveled through the vivid colors of the festival wound up caressing her cropped hair, interrupting her thoughts as she looked up at the white clouds and the clear blue sky on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Backstage at the Hive, a woman was getting her hair shaved by a man, a few artists were lounging by the couches, the stage manager was talking with some of the production crew, and the sound engineer was smoking a cigarette on the park bench with his iPad in hand. The journalist found it fascinating that such power—the ability to turn on and off the sound while the DJ is performing in front of hundreds— can be welded on a 6.6 x 9.4 electronic device.
She sat down, a bit sore from carrying the camera and monopod.
“What’s your name?” a man sitting across from her said.
“MJ,” she told him, “and yours?”
“Reverend,” he said. She reached out for a handshake, and he gave her a hug.
Reverend looked like a Malcolm X if X was a biker who preached on the weekends— bald, muscular, and the glasses that steadied the bridge of nose also seemed to steady his cadence when he talked.
“You know any female builders? I’m doing a story on Women of the Woogie,” she said.
“You should talk to Michaela and Shira,” he said, “they are two builders on our team who happen to be women.”
“How many people on your team?” she asked.
“Five,” he said, “and it took three days to build,” Reverend said. MJ looked up. It was a hexagonal structure, in yellow, red, orange, and teal-blue, and shades of purple.
“The textile was custom sewn by a woman,” he said.
“Just for this stage?” MJ looked in awe—it looked like rainbow wings bathed in refracted light.
“Three days,” he continued, “but there were moments we had to go back and start over, because if we were off just by a few centimeters, the whole thing had to be redone.”
DoLab’s Jesse Wright was playing his house set. Backstage was just as crowded and as much of a party as outside–inside, artist managers, stage managers, artist relations, DoLab producers, media, PR, sound engineers, hospitality, and artists were all mingling. Strange elixirs like Kombucha and Lotus were freely dispersed, paralleled by strangers connecting on strange levels within minutes. Such were the case of the introductions Sky, the artist relations coordinator, made for MJ to Ninja and Alex, artist relations & hospitality, respectively.
MJ and Ninja shook hands—she had a golden necklace that said “fly” on it. She was wearing a leopard skin top, black boots, and a cuffed off short shorts, black glasses on, though the sun had just set. Ninja, a girl who looked like a hybrid of Lara Croft and Aeon Flux, laid next to the inflatable couch where they all lounged. It was their time to relax a bit after the chaos of setting everything up the week prior leading up to Saturday evening.
MJ recognized Alex from earlier that day. She was the girl who was getting her head half shaved backstage at The Hive—it reminded MJ of half GI Jane with her boy fade left side and half Demi Moore with a nice wave on the right.
Alex was even-keeled and level-headed. As a former chemist working in big pharma, she was having panic attacks at one point. It wasn’t until she finally left Austin, Texas to pursue a different path that the psychosomatic symptoms finally disappeared. Her artistic search in Los Angeles led her to a Crystal healer in Venice who recommended her to volunteer at Lightning in a Bottle, where she met the people at The Do Lab.
“I wasn’t in alignment with my inner truth,” Alex said.
“Did you find a home here?” MJ asked.
“I found the start of an adventure here. I met a crystal energy healer who told me about LIB. She gave me my first opportunity to volunteer there. And when I got to LIB, things just started happening.”
Alex introduced MJ to Giselle. “I have been involved with the Do Lab for only a few years, but this woman right here,” she points to Giselle, “has been with The Do Lab since the very beginning.” Giselle was a Brazilian woman, tiny stature at 5’1, calm, collected, and the energy was mellow. For the past five years, she was campground management, worked the box office, and was part of Lightning in a Paintcan—and was involved when The Do Lab was still referred to as “The Orange Kids” because of the orange house where they used to congregate.
“It started out as a birthday party. The Orange Kids was a family of creative friends. We were very close to each other,” she said.
From this group, there came a lot of artist creations—DJ, Ravers, Artists, Painters. They started spending every weekend together and created a strong friendship that evolved.
“There were the ‘OGs’, the ‘In-Betweenies’ and the ‘Newbies’…I was an ‘in-Betweenie,” Giselle said, when she got hands-on in 2003, three years after LIB initiated.
“So what’s the story you’re covering?” Giselle asked.
“The story I’m covering is about women of Woogie, but what the organization’s mission is to transform our love loss into creativity,” MJ explained.
“Really? That’s interesting. Perhaps I should be reading Love Story. I’m currently going through my own heartbreak,” she said.
Inner Thoughts of the Woogie Women who Hold their Own
Women were always involved
“Since the beginning,” Giselle had explained. It was Sunday afternoon at the Press tent. They had spoken about love and loss less than 24 hours earlier. Now in broad daylight, MJ had caught the girls at a vulnerable moment—when they were decompressing to compensate for being awake all night.
This vs. the Muggle World
“But do you see a difference in the way women here hold themselves versus normal society?” MJ asked.
“You mean the muggle world?” Giselle stated.
“Yeah, I didn’t think of it that way, but it makes sense,” MJ said.
She leaned back and drew in a deep breath for deep reflection.
“The women in Brazil have an attitude of ‘take care of me,’ but when I came here, I met so many strong women who were very independent that it was actually intimidating. Then I was mesmerized by their power. Very powerful women who knew what they wanted,” she says. The sun was beginning to warm the couches where they were both sitting.
“What do you think was the difference?” MJ asked.
“I believe it’s about the culture. Not necessarily the woman. When I was in Brazil, as a single woman, people were often jealous. I felt uncomfortable around couples because the girl may say, ‘Oh, she’s hitting on my boyfriend.’ Here I don’t see that. You can hug your friends—the girls trust you. That feels really good. I didn’t get along with women in Brazil—they mostly focus on the relationship and everything else seems like it’s not good enough.”
“The women here focus on many other things. But I think there are many women in Brazil, who are just like me. I don’t think the community changed me. I think the community tends to attract people who think alike,” Giselle said.
Alex nods her head in agreement.
Giselle continued, “The women here are just part of the team—it doesn’t really matter. The women here are so strong that there’s no question of ‘can they build this? Can they organize that? Do this or that?’ If you’re here, you’re capable.
“I was actually shocked the first year I worked here because women in my home country, you don’t carry shit, you don’t do that. So when I first came to help, I thought I needed help from somebody to put up signs, and then this woman, who is just a little bigger than me was like, ‘What do you need?’ with a huge hammer and I was like, holy shit, I didn’t expect that. Alright. This is good. Women do this too.
“I think it’s accepting that that is okay. Because in Brazil, I was already like that, but people criticize, “Oh, you’re so independent.’ Here, It’s cool to be independent. I don’t have to be the fragile, vulnerable girl all the time.”
Alex continued, “Nobody came in here as like a ‘wounded flower’ and became a freakin boss lady. Everyone who was here, tearing it up, was already like that. It’s very easy to truly be yourself than to be out there. On a personal level, you can get a lot of confidence from that—being your authentic self, being accepted—that’s what you take to the outside world.
“What’s interesting about this community is that both sexes exhibit male and female qualities, in a very balanced way,” Alex added.
“Do you ever feel intimidated by all the strong, powerful, beautiful women here?” MJ asked Alex.
“Well it’s funny we’re talking about being intimidated by the women in this community,” Alex said to MJ. She then turned to Giselle, sitting next to her in the couch at the Press tent. “I think about all the amazing things that you do and that you have done in the past, and now I’m thinking back to meeting you at my first gig, thinking that you have so much power in this little tiny woman —you have that ‘take charge’, ‘authoritative’, ‘getting everything done’, just like everything you have described, you are.”
Giselle smiled and blushed with this compliment. Giselle added, “You build these bonds really quickly in this environment. People are in this environment are more open, I feel, people are more vulnerable in general—maybe that’s what creates these bonds quicker.”
Giselle and Alex have been closer over the last year, starting with their road trip to Lighting in a Bottle this year.
“Yeah, and everybody here is completely unique and be themselves so each connection is completely different and it changes as you change and they change,” Alex said.
Women in Media
“Women here hold their own,” seems to be the mantra of Do Lab. “Just because you’re a girl, doesn’t mean you get special treatment,” Monica had said in the interview.
So that goes both ways—women who want to break into this industry, like any other minority group albeit race, economic status, whatnot, the mass pays more attention to the newcomer—assessing, “can this person hold her own?”
And it seems like women have to fight harder, just because they stand out more since there are so fewer filmmakers, artists, and artist managers who are women, it seems as if they have to match their counterparts or be even better to earn the respect of their male colleagues.
“No Special treatment,” is a double-edged sword for most women—because they have been so pre-conditioned to “getting away” or “getting extra assistance” by virtue of their sex on certain things, that in this climate, the mentality of “holding your own” could also be a rude awakening for most women who were so used to having someone else do it for them. If gender equality was gender-blind, then this would mean that the most skilled earned their credentials and not because they get in just because they are a woman.
As MJ was writing this, she realized that her art, her writings and her shorts have a double weight to it—if it sucks, it’s not only “MJ sucks,” but the more insidious subconscious that seeps into her psyche and perhaps the social psyche is that “Oh, how cute, she’s a woman trying to be a filmmaker.”
MJ had done this three times already—on her own—but never without having some assistance from men. She’s pounding the metal rod into the solid ground—every inch seemed to be a dead end. The dirt was as stubborn as the sweltering heat. Yes, it was pitching a tent, but it was still significant. She was alone on this adventure, like many of her adventures. When Jacob asked who she came with, he was surprised to learn that she came here on her own, even though he himself was a lone sojourner from Colorado. Next week, he is heading off to Thailand after the festival. It still seems odd for a woman to be traveling alone—though there are more and more who do so—women who have inspired MJ over the years—her best friend who backpacked Europe on her own for two months inspired her to travel to Peru for a month—her colleague who drove to the Mountain High every weekend to learn snowboarding on her own inspired her to do the same—it gave her the ovaries interview strangers in different cities in different countries, do festival circuits as media, scooping her own stories and producing her own short docs for her own publisher. It’s
It’s odd though—because she’s working for herself and she wears multiple hats—but in the counterculture scene, she’s more accepted this than other cultures. People here are more encouraging, especially when an idea, a dream, seems too bizarre for it to be realistic—in this inclusion-centered culture, anything is possible, because anything is a matter of your creation in action.
“Yeah, the ground is very hard,” Jacob told MJ. This provided a huge relief for her. It validated that it wasn’t because she was “weak.” She catches herself thinking this. Wow, so this is what Sheryl Sandberg meant when discussing gender issues that women tend to second guess themselves more often.
“Thanks,” MJ said. She continued to hammer the metal stake in. Her hand was getting numb. The metal was becoming flattened and the rod wasn’t budging. “Jacob,” she called out to him.
“On second thought, I do need help,” she said.
The metal rod was hammered halfway in, but when Jacob came, he hammered it down a few more times. It budged a quarter of an inch.
“Thanks, Jacob. You just saved me 30 minutes,” MJ said.
He smiled, “You’re welcome.”
Aliss was working Black Rock Security. This wasn’t her first rodeo working security. She looked stunning, strong, and calm in her smile. She is also a documentary filmmaker, but tonight she’s rocking the black T that says “Black Rock Security.” Her project is called Dream.Shift.Inspire both as an inspirational coaching platform and a documentary testimonial to what we can achieve for ourselves.
“MJ!” she heard Aliss call out to her as she was heading back to the parking lot to go home. TEED was still playing, she took twenty minutes of footage of him onstage earlier but she couldn’t stay because she was getting tired and she still had to drive back home. She was at the entrance to the festival and saw blue and red security lights flashing nearby the entrance. Three Black Rock security personnel were hanging by the Woogie staff, checking festival attendees if they had their wristbands while entering and leaving the campgrounds. This year, there were an increase in festival crashers who tried jumping fences and other sorts of tactics. They were greeted with compassion and asked to head back home. One crasher even had a sign that stated, “I’m Crashing Woogie Weekend” “What’s going on
“What’s going on Aliss?” They met halfway in the cool night desert night. Crickets and frogs and TEED’s “Rachet” mix were complimenting the evening conversation.
“Did you say you caught that on film?” Aliss says.
“Catch what?” MJ says.
“There was a guy who tried sneaking in, but when I detained him, he thought he could get away from me so he pushed me.” From her flustered countenance, her shaky voice, MJ had a hunch that it was more than just a “push.”
“Are you okay?” MJ asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I had two guys step in for support,” she said.
She sounded a bit embarrassed, but that embarrassment was familiar. The words were not said but it was in the air. Both Chinese-American women, together, in this festival, could feel that layer in their identity.
“Good teamwork,” MJ said.
It was the smile afterward when Jeremy had asked MJ if she needed help hammering down the metal rods to her tent. It was also the embarrassment of, “yeah, I probably do need help, and I happen to be a woman.”
It’s all filtered by the colors of the tapestry—it’s rainbow. It’s not that we’re color blind or gender blind to our differences —biologically, physically, emotionally—it’s that gender differences do exist and accepting that our genes and our personalities mutate and fluctuate. One way of looking at it is gender.
There are no more, women “should” or men “should” –the dialogue has shifted to women “could” and men “could.” That shift is the counterculture. That shift is inclusion. Though we are ONE, we are all different. Different light energies designed to bond. The soil underground was too hard for her to pitch her tent, so MJ bonded with Jacob. The crasher got physical with Aliss, so she had back up from her male colleagues. It took 5 people 3 days to build the Hive stage. The water balloons, made by the hands of men, women, older, younger, darker, lighter, Eastern, Western, choose to fill the same water in different plastic colors. That’s what who we are–Water wrapped in different colors.
Alex throws the water balloon—she is holding pink and blue. Monica is holding purple and green. They are all throwing the different colors at each other. The colors breaks upon impact. The water cools warm bodies. One balloon hits MJ’s face—straight into the camera. “Not cool,” someone says. “OoooO,” those nearby said. A Dolaber helps clean MJ’s camera with his shirt, but it heightens her awareness. It’s a reminder that she is always part of the game, even when she thinks she’s just an observer.
Women (and men) come in all colors, and the personalities are fluid so it may take on many forms. The Dolab women have elasticity, velocity, momentum, and each its own destination. Upon impact, it is an explosion.
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