Does Mosswood Meltdown’s female-led lineup mark a sea change in rock culture?
Since 2012, early July signaled the return of Burger Boogaloo to Oakland’s Mosswood Park.
The annual music festival featured local bands and longstanding legends, including the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Dead Boys and Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes, hosted by the master of ceremonies, cult filmmaker John Waters.
Co-produced by Marc Ribak and Amy Carver of Total Trash Productions, the festival borrowed its alliterative moniker from Burger Records, a Southern California record label known for its bubblegum pop and garage rock artists. In addition to co-branding, the festival lineup was often populated by Burger bands like Oakland’s Nobunny and San Francisco’s Hunx and His Punx.
In July 2020, however, Burger Records’ name was invoked for different reasons.
Multiple band members and musical artists associated with the label faced a spate of sexual misconduct allegations, including accusations of grooming, sexual assault, abuse and rape. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Burger Records store in Fullerton had a back room where musicians often hung out with staff members and fans; Taylor Kourkos, one of the accusers, said that older men in bands would compliment her and offer her beer, alcohol and weed in that room when she was just a teenager.
Once the allegations surfaced, it was clear that Burger’s reputation as the kiddie-friendly, sugar-shellacked rock label was fouled. After a hasty attempt to rebrand and issuing a statement promising to address its “culture of toxic masculinity,” the label ultimately collapsed.
Mosswood Park, meanwhile, remained silent, as the pandemic paralyzed the global population.
It would’ve been easy to succumb to this apparent death knell, but Ribak wasn’t discouraged. After parting ways with Burger Records, the festival was retitled Mosswood Meltdown.
This year, Mosswood Meltdown will return on Saturday and Sunday with a female-fronted lineup, headlined by Kim Gordon and Bikini Kill.
Several Burger artists who weren’t implicated by the allegations will also return to the festival, like Hunx and His Punx and Shannon and the Clams’ Shannon Shaw.
This rebranding is neither temporary nor merely cosmetic, Ribak promises.
“[Amy] and I and our event staff met weekly for months over Zoom, developing a safer spaces strategy for the event all throughout the pandemic,” he says.
“While Burger Records’ prior involvement with our event was rather limited, we still felt it was important to address the issue of sexual harassment and misogyny that is prevalent throughout the music industry by creating additional safeguards for our event, so that all attendees can feel safe and supported.”
Several artists in the 2022 lineup confirm Ribak’s efforts.
“They were pretty diligent about reorganizing this fest,” says Jennifer Clavin, one half of Bleached, a garage pop band composed of Jennifer and her sister, Jessica. “They reached out to us and asked us what we felt would be important to include in the fest, and we had a bunch of ideas.”
In addition to participating artists, Ribak and Carver consulted musician and writer Shawna Potter, the author of “Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot Wherever You Work, Play and Gather.”
“Through the training we’ve done, we’ve also had the opportunity to connect and work with a couple of awesome organizations like Our Music My Body and Bay Area Women Against Rape in order to create an even better experience for audiences at our event,” Ribak adds.
Mosswood Meltdown’s female-fronted lineup appears to align with these priorities, although Ribak says that the majority of selected artists were booked in 2019.
“A diverse event for all kinds of people has been our vision for many years,” he says, but the first festival with female-fronted acts headlining both nights didn’t come together until this year.
Ribak is especially excited about this year’s lineup, however, praising a slew of local bands before adding, “Holy cow, it’ll be Bikini Kill’s first Bay Area show in 20 years!”
Bleached, who recently opened for Bikini Kill on a brief tour, counts Kim Gordon, Shannon Shaw, Flipper, Carbonas and the Linda Lindas among the artists they’re excited to share a bill with.
The Clavin sisters will perform on Day 1 of the festival, and are in the process of recording a single that was shelved when the pandemic hit.
“We had started writing really seriously for a new album, and the pandemic totally took us off track,” Jennifer explains.
Both sisters are eager to see John Waters next month, a festival fixture who transcends rebranding efforts.
“I feel like [Waters] was a huge inspiration for us,” says Jessica, citing the infamous Pink Flamingos as her favorite Waters film.
Ribak, too, has a special fondness for the film.
“My partner and I met John at his free art show a decade ago, and we told him we saw Pink Flamingos on our first date,” he recalls. “He made a crass joke, won our affection and, 10 years later, ended up officiating our wedding in Oakland.”
“The Pope of Trash” has remained a constant at the festival since 2015, introducing bands with his signature foul mouth, equal parts clever and crass.
“[Waters’] no-nonsense humor is like a new form of psychotherapy,” Ribak says. “Who knows? It could be used to cure everything that’s wrong with the world in the near future.”