The Necessary Music Symposium of GIRLSCHOOL

Issue 3 | Beyond International Women’s Day

Because there are so many women in music now, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the space was sparse. Each generation has had an icon, or a group of them, to look back at for influence and direction: Brittany Howard, Karen O, Kathleen Hanna, PJ Harvey, Poly Styrene, Linda Ronstadt, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, and onward. Peeling back the years, the landscape thins out for our icons to find their own icons. Many women formed their artistic performance by themselves for themselves because they had no map of how to do it. 

An artistic ideas and culture collective like GIRLSCHOOL, the Los Angeles based ideas symposium and music festival, is a thrilling endeavour but it is also necessary. GIRLSCHOOL launched in 2016 by co-founder Anna Bulbrook. GIRLSCHOOL provides inspiration and affirmation that there is abundant space for women in the industry. Inspired by L.A. ‘s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, Bulbrook saw a gap in her community where local heroes weren’t graduating to the top billing slot they deserved. GIRLSCHOOL’s first three-day festival in 2016 had incredible names and performers like Phoebe Bridgers, Kate Nash, Miya Folick, and Bulbrook’s band, The Bulls. With intention, the festival billing was comprised entirely with women. This proves that, yes, it is entirely possible to book a festival with more than 30 to 40 percent women or female-fronted bands. 

Telling DAZED in 2016, Bulbrook said of the event, “all we at Girlschool want is to shine a light on the talent that we see all around, while creating a little nest for a real and supportive community to develop. That’s the real stuff that will allow us to eventually bring about genuine change in the future. Also, selfishly, I just want to be working alongside women whom I admire and who inspire me. There’s nothing more satisfying.” 

In the years since, GIRLSCHOOL has grown beyond its music festival programming. In 2018, Bulbrook and co. launched GIRLSCHOOL Studio, a cultural programming and creative events agency. In February, GIRLSCHOOL held the IDEALAB.4: “RE-BIRTH” with Anna Wise. Through interdisciplinary performance, Californian native Wise performed a body of work on the transformational journey of having her child Jon Bap, also included in the event. 

Music history is so wound up in the false narrative that women in the industry are a novelty or a trend. Nearly a century into popular music, that is patently untrue. And yet, music festivals still prioritize men over women or women are treated as aesthetic fixtures to a band. GIRLSCHOOL’s ethos of support and care is a welcoming balm in an industry that is too often harsh on women. It is exceptionally clear that GIRLSCHOOL is an important place of artistic and personal refuge. 

Written by Sarah MacDonald
Lead Graphic by Marta Ryczko
Photo by Maria Jose Govea @thesupermaniak