USC’s Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment put on its annual FemFest, which they describe as a “counter-patriarchal music festival” . This was the first year that it was conducted virtually, but this year’s lineup was their most ambitious yet. The festival, which happened on Saturday, April 3, touted a diverse lineup of musical artists, guest speakers and drag performers, all selected under the festival’s mission to amplify the voices of women, LGBTQ+ people and people of color.
The festival was organized by a committee of 12 USC students, headed by director Nico Pizzati. FemFest’s digital headquarters was https://femfest.online, a site created specifically for the event. On the site, festival attendees could watch the stream, shop for merch from featured artists, view a list of queer resources and more. One particularly impressive feature was a custom Topia space, where festivalgoers could travel around a custom-designed digital festival grounds and video chat with other attendees. The Topia space was created by a team of six artists who each designed their own sector of the virtual map.
Among a slew of sponsors, FemFest notably partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT Center in West Hollywood to promote free access to STD testing. Those who wish to get free STD testing done at the Center can mention FemFest and receive a $25 Visa gift card, which automatically sends a $25 donation to FemFest as well.
The festival’s musical guests were divided into three groups with guest speakers and drag performers filling the gaps between. After an hour-long delay due to technical difficulties, the festival kicked off strong with the first trio, starting with singer Ayoni. Ayoni set a wonderful tone for the evening with her lush, floral setup and gorgeous vocal performance.
Next was Atlanta-based pop duo Coco & Clair Clair. With their matching black puffer jackets and signature swagger, the pair delivered a high-energy four-song set on their feet. “Wishy Washy,” their unbothered bop about wanting attention and financial support without the attachment, was an energetic standout.
R&B singer Raveena, accompanied by her guitarist, took to the spotlight next as the festival’s first headliner. She conjured up a sonically soothing atmosphere with her gentle, sweet vocal melodies and ended her set with her 2017 song “If Only,” winning the audience over with her delicate charm.
The lineup then left space for its two guest speakers to share their work. First, Nigerian American playwright, performance artist and professor Funmilola Fagbamila gave a powerful TED Talk-esque speech that tackled Black identity, especially Black womanhood and Black transness. The sheer passion with which she spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement interspersed with photomontages informed the festival’s anti-patriarchal and anti-racist stances.
Fagbamila was followed by Mykki Blanco, a rapper, activist and poet who read some of their original poetry. The poetry spoke to their free-spirited nature and creativity as an artist.
The following trio of musical performances saw hyperpop talents caro♡, Fraxiom and Dorian Electra lighting up the stream with their futuristic sounds. Caro♡ turned heads first with her ultra-cute setup, which featured a backdrop wall covered in plush animals, and her soft, autotuned vocals. Fraxiom took audiences across cityscapes and into the fictional universe of Super Mario Galaxy with their performance’s fast-moving green screen backdrop and abrasive, intentionally chaotic music.
Electra brought high production value to their headlining set, sporting an extravagant bodysuit, a sculpted wig and their signature makeup. Taking to a neon-lit dancefloor as their stage, the gender-bending hyperpop artist performed tracks from their two studio albums “Flamboyant” and “My Agenda,” their spirit staying undeniably true to the title of the former. Electra’s performance captured the attention of festival-goers, who sounded off accordingly in the stream’s chatbox.
Drag artists Freckle, Abhora and Vander Von Odd delivered high-concept performance videos, showcasing the power of drag and providing a nice segue from the festival’s hyperpop-themed midsection to its darker final trio.
The final group of musical performances was spearheaded by Mexican industrial reggaeton act, Meth Math, who delivered a mind-boggling, visually warped set that showcased their unique sound. Next was an extensive, noisy DJ set by artist Yves Tumor that took viewers to hell and back with its dark, experimental soundscape and near-pitch-black visuals, with bright-white Tumor as the sole source of light in the frame.
Closing out the festival’s lineup was alternative pop singer Caroline Polachek with an intimate set of piano renditions seven standout tracks from her critically acclaimed debut album, “Pang,” as well as a cover of “Lady-O” by Judee Sill. Rather than feature her signature atmospheric, immersive production, Polachek stripped it back to put her classically trained, entrancing vocals on full display. Bathed in warm red lighting, Polachek brought FemFest to a beautiful and cinematic close.
But the final note of FemFest, a touching tribute to late experimental pop producer and trans trailblazer SOPHIE, was perhaps the most show-stopping moment of the entire festival. Artist and graphic designer Luke Greenwood created a 3D-animated video to SOPHIE’s anthemic “Immaterial.” The tribute beautifully summarized the spirit of the visionary producer and showcased Greenwood’s incredible rendering capabilities and apparent love for SOPHIE’s music.
Although FemFest couldn’t be held in person this year, the team of organizers impressively harnessed the opportunities of a digital platform to put together an immersive experience that showcased their most dynamic lineup to date. The festival did a fantastic job spotlighting the talents of women, LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color, all with their own distinct styles and spirits.