Belltown Bloom starts tonight, and the two-day festival is stacked with rad bands, from up-and-coming locals including Mt Fog, Medejin, Nada Rosa, and Coral Grief, to headliners like Philly punk trio Mannequin Pussy and Russia's anti-Putin feminist art-punk collective Pussy Riot.
This impressive array isn't an accident. The festival is co-produced by sisters Veronica and Valerie Topacio, who are also in the dreamy pop band La Fonda. They founded Belltown Bloom after being frustrated by other music festivals' lack of diversity.
Veronica told Kurt Suchman when they profiled La Fonda for The Stranger's spring music package, “Music is our extension of giving, and we just hope that whatever space we're creating, we hope that it serves positivity, and will help and encourage our community to stay attuned to practices that keep us centered as conscious allies and as friends. That's really what Belltown Bloom is. We want people to be inspired by music discovery."
So, in the spirit of discovery—and as an excuse to write about some stellar music on Bandcamp Friday—here are five bands I'm most excited to see at Belltown Bloom this weekend. If you find a new favorite, throw them a little love on Bandcamp! It's Bandcamp Friday so 100% of all sales go to the artists and record labels.
Friday, Crocodile Stage, 8:50 pm-9:30 pm
Skating Polly are ramping up to release their new full-length Chaos County Line in June, so I expect to hear some new songs during their Friday night set. Judging by the first single "Hickey King," the trio (who relocated from Oklahoma to Tacoma in 2015) have polished their angst-ridden, guitar-driven outbursts, but there's still plenty of grit, too. After all, the record was produced by Brad Wood, who also worked on a little release called Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair. Maybe you've heard of it? You can pre-order Chaos County Line on Bandcamp here.
Friday, Madame Lou's, 9:20-9:50 pm
With their 2021 EP Lucky, Seattle's Prom Queen answer the question, "What would it sound like if the ghost of Mary Kaye played Britney Spears songs in the middle of the night at a deserted Reno casino?" Songs including "Baby One More Time," "Toxic," and even the all-French "Coupure Electrique" are given a '60s surf/lounge makeover and the results are more haunting than gimmicky. In fact, when the EP was first released, Prom Queen vocalist Leeni Ramadan said the band would be donating a portion of the proceeds to the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse in support of Spears and the conservatorship he fought for years.
To hear Prom Queen's original material, grab 2017's perfectly titled full-length Doom-Wop. It sounds like ethereal doo-wop being played by a band who died on the way to perform at their 1959 high school prom.
Friday, Madame Lou's, midnight
If you like lo-fi riot grrl punk with a sense of humor and a side of surf, you will love Bellingham's Cat Valley. On "Dive Bar Fight Song," a modern ode to Bratmobile if I've ever heard one, vocalists Whitney Flinn and Abby Hegge snap, "I know what I'm worth / And I ask for it / I'm a show off / I know what I want!"
The band follows in the footsteps of Tacocat, Heavens to Betsy, and Dolly Parton with "Red Sea," a witty song about getting your period. It starts out as a sweet and sunny bop but devolves into a muddy, bloody mess of guitar, drums, and emotion—"You think I'm cute now / Try going down on me / I'll drown you while you part the red sea!"
Saturday, Crocodile Stage, 9:40-10:40 pm
Speaking of vaginas, there is a specific theme in this year's Belltown Bloom lineup—Pussy Riot, Mannequin Pussy, Thunderpussy. If only Perfect Pussy could've reunited to join the club. Sigh.
Despite being one of the best and most innovative modern punk bands in the country, Mannequin Pussy are constantly having to fight for their place in our social media-driven society. As singer Marisa Dabice pointed out on Twitter recently, Mannequin Pussy's music is unsearchable on TikTok because TikTok says the "phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines." It's 2023!!!! Dabice uncovered an absurd and sexist loophole—search for Mannequin dick and THEIR SONGS SHOW UP!?!?
Stick it to the man! Buy a Mannequin Pussy record today!
Saturday, Crocodile Stage, 11:10-12:40
You'd be wrong if you thought L7 didn't fit right in with the lineup of crotch-related headliners. In 1992 L7 vocalist Donita Sparks famously pulled out her tampon and threw it into the restless crowd at Reading Festival while shouting "Eat my used tampon, fuckers!"
That little bit of history has followed the band ever since, but instead of being bothered by the unshakable story Sparks told Vice's i-D in 2017, "I am cool with it. For a while, I was like, ‘Ah fuck! Why is it always mentioned? Why did I do that?’ But now I’m glad because young feminists seem to really embrace it and dig it. I dig it. Hopefully that’s emblazoned on women’s minds: ‘Fuck! I should have thrown my tampon at him!’ That is a good revenge fantasy to think about, as a ‘fuck you!’”
The unflinching rock act has had plenty of newsworthy moments since—in 2000 they supposedly raffled off an "intimate meeting" with drummer Dee Plakas at one of their London shows, for example—but even without the headline-grabbing stunts, L7's performances are cathartic, can't-miss spectacles. What a treat it will be to see them in the intimate confines of the Crocodile.
Belltown Bloom is May 5-6 at the Crocodile, 2505 First Ave, 5 pm, $60-$296, 21+.