"You guys remember what the G chord is, right?" asks Anna Oxygen, while eight fifth- and sixth-grade girls look down at their keyboards. She draws a quick diagram on the small whiteboard at the front of the room, and then helps one girl with pink streaks in her hair find a bass line to accompany the drum machine, clapping along with the beat.
"After we set the bass, feel free to just come in with whatever you'd like," Oxygen offers, and one by one the girls take turns layering on their own collection of notes using a simple chord structure. And just like that, a song is born.
This isn't an afternoon at your average summer school, it's Loop Girls, a two-week workshop offered at Northwest Film Forum and taught by the city's most popular Loop Girl herself, Anna Oxygen (with the illustrious Mirah also on hand to assist). The students, however, are completely oblivious to the fame that surrounds them; they just want to write twee pop songs about ice cream.
Over the short run of the class (it started August 8 and will end August 19), the eight girls enrolled split into three bands; write original songs using a drum machine, keyboards, and samplers; record those songs; and create an accompanying music video.
For inspiration they watch live music performances and listen to bands like Le Tigre. During one song, Mirah points out that the track, although fantastic, is also exceedingly simple, with the same drumbeat and a three-note keyboard part looped throughout; nothing these 12-year-olds can't handle. In fact, during my visit, the class performs a cute, original group jam called "Mystery Girl," a song with a simple C-G-D chord structure and the phrases "Mystery girl!" and "Where does she come from?" looped and experimented on through the sampler. The result is rough around the edges and the bass line struggles to keep up with the drum machine, but with a little more polish, it could easily be a quirky K Records B-side.
Ultimately, though, the class is more about being creative and having fun than the actual caliber of musical output. Anna and Mirah fill the room with constant praise and creativity, which allows the girls to feel completely comfortable to share their ideas.
After a quick history lesson, and a few more minutes of experimenting with the keyboards, it's snack time. While they munch on muffins and fresh fruit, I ask a few of the girls if they're enjoying the experience of group songwriting and video making. They giddily jump up and down and clap their hands together, answering, "Yes! So much fun," before launching into "Mystery Girl" again. Who knows, with this kind of enthusiasm, the song could very well be a hit.