Figuring Out L.A. Nightlife in the COVID-19 Era

On June 15, California reopened and Los Angeles bars and clubs were able to resume business without most of the pandemic-related restrictions that had forced so many to go dark for over a year. Two days later, I returned to The Lash, the venue downtown where I was a resident prior to COVID-19, for my fist gig there since March of 2020. There was no theme on this Thursday night; I played a little of everything, including a lot of songs that would have heated up the dance floor in 2020 – if dance floors were a thing that year. Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Jessie Ware, Roísín Murphy and three tracks from Kylie Minogue’s latest album, Disco, all made it into the set. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw people dance that hard. We were making up for lost time. 

Los Angeles was lit for those first few weeks after the city’s grand reopening. I went to Footsie’s for my friend Rose Know’s postpunk party, Death Disco. The bar was slammed and the patio was buzzing with people I hadn’t seen in months. We played catch-up, like it was the first day back at school after a summer break that lasted far too long. I snapped a selfie with Rose as she played Soft Cell, Marc Almond singing, “I collect, I reject, memorabilia” while I fussed with the angle of the phone. A week later, I stopped by The Lash for my friend Don French’s Sophie tribute night, the IRL version of a Twitch event they held when we were still stuck at home. The crowd launched into a dance floor sing-a-long before midnight. 

A few weeks later, on a phone call, Don recalled the elation inside the parties following the reopening. “I feel like I had never really experienced that prior to COVID, where everyone is genuinely happy to be in a space with music playing and you’re dancing,” they said. 

Of course, this would change quickly. That’s just how life in this city, maybe this country, seems to operate during the COVID-19 era. 

The Delta variant hit Los Angeles and new cases rose. L.A. decided to reinstate the indoor mask rules for everyone, vaccinated or not, about a month after the reopening. The rule went into effect right around the time I was mixing a 20-year-old Jamiroquai song into The Reflex Revision of Roísín Murphy’s jam, “Narcissus.” In the days that followed, many bars and clubs across the city independently announced that they were enacting a new policy: proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test were required for entry. 

You could say that these are nothing more than temporary nuisances  that will help us party safely and I agree with that. DJing while masked is uncomfortably hot, sweaty and annoying, yet I’ve done it. Plus, I don’t care if anyone wants to see proof of the two Moderna jabs I got specifically so that I could enter spaces filled with other humans without feeling an overwhelming sense of dread. At the same time, though, the constant influx of bad COVID-19 news on our timelines has been demoralizing in a city that, just a few months ago, seemed to be heading towards brighter days. 

At a Friday gig in late July, something about the vibe felt weird. Rose had a similar experience at her gig on the same night. “The people that do come feel a little hesitant to be there, but are still coming out,” she told me when we talked on the phone. “It’s just a strange contrast to how it felt, initially, when the bars had opened again.” At my gig, people seemed nervous, like we were all trying to have fun, while also waiting to see what new hell was in store for L.A.

After a year and a half of social distancing, we’re reintroducing ourselves to IRL society and that hasn’t been the easiest thing to do. Those who have started going out again are relearning social cues, figuring out the rules of etiquette for a world that’s not the same as it was in March of 2020. 

Back in June and early July, going out was cathartic. “People were coming out because they wanted to feel alive and feel connections with other human beings and warm bodies, be around other people,” Rose said on our phone call. “It’s so important, as a human race, to have that, and we were stripped of that for so long.” 

She adds that, maybe, this time apart has “stripped us of some of the humanity we need to move forward.” 

I was thinking about what Rose had said on our call while I was DJing on a Friday in early August. The crowd was light, but the people who were there seemed to really appreciate the night out. There were some great requests. People came up to me to say thanks for the music, something that’s been happening more often now than before the pandemic. Sometimes, I think that the weirdest thing about returning to the clubs is how nice people have been. After watching shitshows unfold daily on social media for far too long, I didn’t know what to expect. Generally speaking, though, I’ve seen friendly, albeit sometimes awkward, interactions. All that has reminded me of how important it is for us to be able to gather together in person, whether it’s because of music or some other shared interest, and how important it is that we still have spaces where we can do this.

Boise-based Performer Angel Captures Her Quaranmood with Debut Solo Film Project

Angel in the video for “Spatial Therapy” (Photo Credit: Adam Wright)

On Quaranmood, Boise, Idaho-based singer and musician Angel Abaya, who uses just her first name for her solo work, goes through the range of emotions triggered by this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, and the stay-at-home orders that came as a result of it, over the course of a three-song EP and accompanying short film out on Friday, October 16. The EP, released through record label Earth Libraries, marks Angel’s debut as a solo artist. 

“This project is pretty new to people,” says Angel. “It’s pretty new to me.”

However, Angel, a lifelong musician, is a familiar voice in Boise’s music community. “I’ve been singing since I got out of the womb,” she says. At six, she started playing violin. Two years later, she picked up piano. Choir and orchestra were a part of her youth. As a pre-teen, she found jazz. “I think that’s really when I found more expression in my voice and was able to find new pathways to creativity,” she says. 

In her teens, she began dabbling with guitar but, she adds, it wasn’t until about four years ago that she really got into playing it. A short-lived band when she was 18 led to an invitation to play with the performing arts group LED. She’s been with them for five years now. Angel was also part of the band Electric Coconut. She’s played in a jazz duo and an all-femme cover band and has collaborated with various artists, like the singer-songwriter Kathleen Williams. She’s a regular at Boise’s annual Treefort Music Festival, where she also works in the communications department. Since 2016, she’s played the event every year, either with LED or Electric Coconut. This year, she was set to play solo. However, the COVID-19 pandemic took the event off-calendar for 2020. 

“I had only played two shows before under my solo project and it was just me performing by myself with some loops and some live instrumentation,” Angel explains. For Treefort, she had intended to step up the live set, with dancers and other performance elements. 

Angel had already been at work on a collection of songs that she intended to release as an album, so she continued that route, releasing her debut music video, for a song called “Gelli,” in at the end of March. “All spring, I was working really hard writing and recording and I was determined to have my album finished,” she says. Naturally, some of Angel’s songs from the period reflected her experience during the pandemic, but they also worked with the greater themes of uncertainty and changing times that she was already exploring on the album. “I felt that when I started writing songs about my shelter in place, it seemed to fit within the world that I was already creating,” she says. 

Angel in the video for “Haute Hermit” (Photo Credit: Adam Wright)

Meanwhile, there were grants available for Boise artists to make work about the pandemic. That inspired Angel to spin her shelter-in-place songs into a separate EP with an accompanying short film. “I think that it makes more sense too,” Angel says. Since staying at home was something that so many people experienced as a result of the pandemic, Angel explains, her own work from that period might resonate more with listeners on its own than as part of a larger collection of songs. 

Angel was able to obtain a grant that allowed her to work with a videographer, Adam Wright, on clips for all three songs from Quaranmood. They filmed in May and June of this year in the house where she was living during that time. Each video and song represents a different part of a day and a different mood.

In the electroclash-throwback jam “Haute Hermit,” Angel depicts the “stir crazy” portion of quarantine with camera-ready outfits, colorful food and Instagram poses that devolve into a mess of dripping cocktails and flying pillow feathers. “Spatial Therapy” takes a somber turn as Angel sings about isolation and loneliness, while hanging out in a yard and riding a bike down an empty street. Closing out the EP is “No Ill Will,” an indie rock tune with ’90s vibes that’s about acceptance. “It’s mostly letting it all happen and trying to be understanding and patient about your situation,” Angel says. 

Angel is continuing work on a full-length album, which she plans to release in 2021. She says that working solo has given her an opportunity to see and hear how much she can do on her own. “I think it’s really cool to realize that I can compose and write and record all these songs by myself and not feel like it’s missing anything,” she says. 

“I do cherish and appreciate collaboration,” Angel adds, “but it’s been good for me to find independence.” 

Follow Angel on Instagram for ongoing updates.

WhatUpWally? Recruits Cincinnati’s Best Rappers & Producers For ‘Pandemic’ LP

Photo Credit: Chaya J.

Wally Hart, aka WhatUpWally?, tapped some of Cincinnati’s best rappers, beatsmiths and vocalists for his debut album, Pandemic. Spanning across 14 tracks and picking up assists from over 15 MCs – not to mention another seven producers – the sharply-made effort cuts through the noise of other quarantine offerings and provides relevant, outspoken takes, rooted in a love for hip hop.

Pandemic was created during Cincinnati’s COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate, with WhatUpWally? first approaching fellow artists with the idea in early March. In what ended up being a four-month process, the album’s many collaborators would send track recordings to each other via Dropbox or work at opposite ends of the studio, the hip hop aficionado/music educator told Audiofemme.

“The result is a full coherent concept album with 26 collaborators that is meant to be listened to from front to back, in order,” Hart wrote on Facebook. “The mood of the album represents the mood of various times during the pandemic.”

Photo Provided by WhatUpWally?

“I thought we were going to end Pandemic on a happy and optimistic note so I sent out a beat to AC [the Entity], SamSun, [Sharp.One], and Wonder [Brown] and asked them to write something with a hopeful tone to end the album with. That was it. The album was finished and it was dark with an optimistic ending,” Hart says, but in the wake of continued police brutality that sparked “the beginning of the largest civil rights movement in the nation’s history, we had to go in and rewrite the ending.”

The police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the likely racially-motivated murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery are most felt in the album’s “Outro” and bonus track, “XPac,” which samples a speech by Malcolm X and interview with Tupac. WhatUpWally? also offers a razor-sharp analysis of systemic racism, oppression and economic disparity in the stinging “Capitalism Kills.”

Besides timely boldness, the album stands out in its sonic diversity. Boasting a wide range of talent, Pandemic has songs for classic hip hop lovers and contemporary fans alike, with the unifying factor being thoughtful lyricism. Scratching and nostalgic flows are on full display in the opening “Cincinnati Cypher” and “Use Your Sword.” A few places down the tracklist, “Duke Energy” stands out as a new-school melodic high-point, where Khari and Spirit swap bars about cutting the negative energy out of their lives.

“Some really dope art is coming out of this time,” Hart noted to Audiofemme. On Facebook, he added that Pandemic is a “representation” of these times and, he hopes, will provide a reflective listening experience.

Check out the album on Bandcamp and see the full tracklist below.

Hollis Does Brunch Series Combines Music and Food to Help Those Affected by COVID Shutdowns

Photo Credit: Janae Jones

When talking to musician Hollis Wong-Wear, it feels as though she has all the time in the world for you. This is indicative of the enjoyment she gains from meeting people and creating connections. “I am a very passionate host and I love bringing people together and cultivating a cool vibe,” she says as we chat over the phone. “My sense of self as an artist is inseparable from the community.”

Beginning her music career as one third of the band The Flavr Blue, writing music for other musicians and her band, it wasn’t until recently that she felt ready to create her own collection of work. “I had become this master facilitator. When I work with other people I can take on the responsibility of doing something as a joint venture to motivate me,” the singer-songwriter explains, adding that when it came to creating with her own voice and story it felt akin to an uphill battle. ”It goes back to that insecurity of ‘Why does my voice matter?’”

Her anxiety is more than relatable; in a social media-saturated world, anyone and everyone is clambering to have that big break in their career, whether they’re an artist, musician or writer. Knowing she was more comfortable collaborating and building community, Hollis used those skills to her advantage. She created her unique Hollis Does Brunch series, which takes place in a number of cities across the U.S., and acted as a Trojan Horse to get her used to performing her own music and telling her story. She released her debut solo EP half-life last February. A deluxe version of the EP arrives May 22nd, with two music videos to celebrate – live recordings of her singles “Sedative” and “Back To Me.”

Organizing food-related events was an organic step – growing up in her mom’s Chinese restaurant in the suburbs of San Francisco made Hollis a moth to a flame when it comes to good meals and community spirit. “I think food is kind of like the first art form that I really, truly understood… the idea of gathering people around music and food was a concept that, for me, was a natural connection,” she says. “My end of goal of why I create anything is to bring people together in a meaningful way and forge connections. When we did the [last in-person] Hollis Does Brunch session in Seattle, people brought their kids, their parents and their friends. It was fun and inclusive – people were drinking cocktails and feeding their kids! I want these sessions to feel good and welcome for all.”

When the current pandemic hit the States, it became clear that our lives would change drastically, and that necessary social distancing measures would protect lives. With this in mind, Hollis decided to move her brunch sessions online, creating weekly live-streams and raising money (and perhaps most importantly, awareness) for those most severely affected by the situation. She admits she had some personal motivations, too. “I love hosting and the worst thing for somebody who loves to host is not being able to have any people over to their house! So I thought: how I could scratch my ‘self-care’ itch? How can I extend that in a digital space?” she says. “If I can be a resource to others, that’s a privilege. I’m happy to get into the weeds with live-streaming because it provides that. I wanted the sessions to be about community – less ‘oh they watch me perform!’ and more about bringing in the insights of other folks. My heart hurts so deeply for all of the restaurants that have closed and laid off employees.” By organizing these sessions, Hollis hopes to provide a degree of nourishment both mentally and physically. It’s a symbiotic relationship as it brings Hollis herself a degree of commitment and structure.

Bars, restaurants, diners and cafes all played vital roles in how we lived before the pandemic. They were places of refuge and relaxation; after a busy day we flocked to them with friends, eager to shed our everyday stresses. For students and freelancers, cafes were the perfect hideaway when unable to focus at home. They housed our small ensembles to large gatherings; we shared birthdays, holidays and celebrations there, and in some cultures, wakes to remember lost loved ones. Yet they’ve endured some of the worst effects of the pandemic, the results of which has left many owners wondering if their small businesses will survive, and how they’ll pay workers who relied on tips.

These online brunch sessions raise funds for those groups especially in need during this time, such as Feeding America and the NYC UndocuWorkers Fund. Each organization is close to the heart of one of her guests joining that week; Hollis allows them to explain how they’re affected and why it’s important to extend a hand, as it were, and help lift up their chosen cause.

“One of the live-streams I did was fundraising for undocumented workers in New York City who were laid off, and then it was also fundraising for the restaurant of the chefs that I had on that day,” Hollis says. “After that I used the next session to raise money for two artist organizations in Seattle that are doing a Seattle artist relief fund, and they’ve actually already raised $200,000 and are trying to raise another $700,000 more because of the demonstrated need.”

In fact, many of the people Hollis invites have already begun their own fundraising, and the series helps garner even greater attention. “One of the chefs [Erik Bruner-Yang] that came on is doing The Power of 10 initiative, trying to raise $10,000 to hire 10 employees who will make 1,000 meals for people in the DC area. They’re trying to make that a pilot program,” Hollis says.

Like many who are working to support their local community, Hollis volunteers her time and it’s a testament to her hard work that many groups have received much-needed support in a time where it feels as though there is none. Her live-stream series “is really about giving – I’m not taking in money. The only thing I’m doing is starting a Patreon page, which I did feel conflicted about. But after looking at my expenses I realized I might need to!”

When asked how people can get involved, she stressed that there is no prescribed way to do so, and that simply being present for the brunch is enough. “I just hope that what I’m creating provides solace and support to this moment,” she says.

Follow Hollis on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Bella Alubo Contributes Track to Red Hot COVID Relief EP Kele•le

On her catchy new single, Nigerian hip-hop/afro-pop artist Bella Alubo sings about being the “Loneliest Girl in the World” — a position many people under quarantine can relate to right now. But for some people in the midst of the pandemic, loneliness is the least of their worries. That’s why Alubo donated her single to Red Hot, which uses music to raise money for various charities, mainly to raise awareness in the fight against AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.

Alubo has released two albums since 2017 – her debut EP re-Bella and last year’s Summer’s Over, which feature a wide array of Nigerian guest talent. “Loneliest Girl in the World,” along with four other songs all written and performed by Nigerian women, is part of an EP called Kele•le. Revenue from the project will be used to provide relief for people affected by COVID-19. We talked to Alubo about the importance of the EP, not just for helping victims of the global pandemic but also for shedding light on Nigerian women and their music.

AF: What inspired the song “Loneliest Girl in the World”?

BA: I usually feel lonely, and I’m sure it’s something a lot of people around the world feel, not just creatives. Especially when you have to work on something and you are focused on your dream and things are not looking the best. At that point [I wrote the song], I just started my Masters [in Public Health]. Back then, I was in London. I was living upstairs of my apartment complex, which was quite tiny, and the tiny space forces you to think a lot. I think my bank account then was literally red. I don’t know, I just felt like it wasn’t a good day for me at all.

AF: What does it mean to you to be on the Kele•le EP?

BA: It’s a difficult time for the whole world, and there are some people out there who can’t afford a lot of things. People shouldn’t be in such vulnerable positions in the first place. Really, if we can help in any way, it will go a long way. Right now, the help I have to offer is my music, my talent, my time through sharing what I create. And with COVID-19 coming without anybody expecting it, obviously this help is much needed. Especially in vulnerable societies.

Sometime creatives, like myself, may not be able to contribute financially to a level that would be impactful, but when organizations like Red Hot, who are using something that we can give, like our creativity and music, to help the world around us, I feel like that such is a such a creative avenue for artists to give back. It’s helping me give back in my own way, right now. Before I can become super rich and can do more, hopefully by God’s grace.

AF: Why do you think it’s important to spotlight Nigerian female artists?

BA: Because it’s pretty much affirmative action. The industry, like all other industries, is male-dominated. It would be nice to see women more. Women need visibility. Women need for people to take note of their art. There are a lot of talented women, and the only reason they aren’t making money is because they don’t have visibility. So, projects like the Kele•le EP are not only giving back to society, but it’s contributing to creating visibility for talented women.

AF: How would you like to change people’s perception of Nigerian culture?

BA: Not just changing perception of non-Nigerians but also perceptions of Nigerians. Obviously outside Nigeria, even though we’re known for being smart, creative, and resilient, sometimes we’re also known for not-so-great things. I’d like for people to see more great sides of Nigerians, better representation of our country, more achievements, young people being more innovative and proactive within their fields. Within our country, I’d like us to get rid of negative aspects of our culture. Obviously, patriarchy has to go, as it shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Sexism, tribalism, classism, all of that has to go because it’s unethical. I’m hoping our culture gets more ethical with time.

AF: What battles are Nigerian women in particular fighting right now?

BA: If you follow Nigerian Twitter, there has been a lot of outing of alleged sexual predators, alleged rapists, alleged abusers, alleged harassers; I’m actually so glad we are having this conversation. About a few years ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. People would probably feel like they need to be ashamed that things happened to them, if people were raped or sexually harassed.

We need to facilitate a culture where we encourage victims to speak up, as victims don’t always feel they can speak up as we have these conversations. A lot of women have been abused. A lot of women have to bottle it down. It ends up creating issues in their lives, issues with their trust, mental health. Nobody should have to feel like someone can treat them badly and not pay the consequences of their actions.

Younger men are getting educated. Men who have done wrong things in the past are getting educated. Obviously, ignorance is not an excuse, and men or even women who are guilty of such crimes are paying for their crimes; our system really needs to be on that. Someone was telling me a story about a judge asking a lady, “What were you doing at his house at night?” And this is a judge who needs to uphold the law. It’s a lot. It’s really a lot. It’s quite depressing if you think about it. We need to fight, we need to not back down, we need to stand our ground, we need to use our voices because we shouldn’t allow anyone to silence us.

Follow Bella Alubo and Red Hot on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Country Artists Use Music as Healing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nashville is known for being a giving community, a gift that’s often expressed through music. As the world grapples with the jarring reality of COVID-19, many artists continue to share music as a source of healing, including many of Nashville’s finest. Whether releasing original songs or delivering powerful covers that provide light during these dark times, here are some standout musical tributes from the country music community.

Ashley McBryde stuns with “Amazing Grace” at the Ryman Auditorium

The Ryman Auditorium has been a sacred place since its inception in 1892, but Ashley McBryde brought an especially harrowing energy to the venue with her performance of “Amazing Grace” in honor of those we’ve lost due to COVID-19. McBryde’s voice on its own is incredible, but pairing it with the spirit of the Ryman takes it to a whole other level. McBryde was so overcome with emotion that it took seven times to get the performance right – and that emotion pours through on screen. As she stands on the stage solo in the hallowed venue, her voice fills the room in a way that’s bound to bring a tear to one’s eye.

“Some things just can’t be healed. Some losses can’t be reconciled and some wounds will never heal. Sometimes we don’t get closure the way we want to. All we can do is honor our predecessors and hope that we touch the hem of heaven sometime in our lives. I wouldn’t normally sing this song but we all may need this right now and there isn’t a better place to sing it at than the Ryman,” she writes about the experience. “The mother church pulls things like that out of you and will tell you what to sing and when to sing it…even if you can’t.”

Brandi Carlile covers John Prine’s “Hello in There”

The music world lost a true pioneer when John Prine passed away due to complications from COVID-19 on April 7. Many artists paid tribute to the iconic folksmith in the wake of his passing, but Carlile’s cover of “Hello in There” on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert demonstrates a sense of empathy the world needs right now. Creating a simple stage on the staircase next to a fireplace, Carlile’s performance is touching, connecting Prine’s lyrics, penned in 1971, to modern day. Her voice soars over his poetic words that prompt us to truly see one another, especially in times of loneliness. But her introduction to the song is just as urgent, encouraging viewers to respect older generations and the impact they have on our lives. “This song refers to the people that we’re all staying home to protect and it reminds us that older people aren’t expendable, that they made us who we are and they’ve given us every single thing that we have,” she prefaced, offering a grounding perspective alongside the beautiful tribute.

Thomas Rhett is a “Light”

Thomas Rhett brings heartfelt meaning into his new song, “Be a Light.” Rhett originally wrote the song in 2019 as a response to the divisiveness he was witnessing in the world, but decided to release it now as a sign of encouragement during these trying times. Combining the soothing nature of a lullaby with the power of compassion, Rhett called on his friends and fellow superstars Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum and Chris Tomlin to help deliver the timely message. With such lyrics as “In a time full of war be peace/In a place that needs change make a difference/In a time full of noise just listen/In a world full of hate be a light,” he presents us with sobering advice that’s important to keep at heart even after the pandemic passes.

“We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic affecting every single human on earth, all while our town of Nashville is still healing from devastating tornadoes that destroyed so much of our city less than one month ago. But, among the wreckage, I see us come together in ways I never dreamed possible,” Rhett expressed about the uplifting track upon its release. “I hope this song serves as a reminder that we are all in this together.”

He also dedicated “Be a Light” to a new program called Gratitunes that sees artists and fans donating songs to a playlist streamed to the medical professionals at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as they work tirelessly to save lives.

Keith Urban’s live streams

Keith Urban is one of the many artists who has hosted virtual concerts during this era of social distancing, but it’s the heart of his shows that make them stand out. Urban has delivered two sets performing many of his biggest hits, and one of the best aspects about them is his wife Nicole Kidman. Between serving as his guitar tech and sole audience member who dances around the room thoroughly enjoying life, there’s a sense of joy that shines through with Kidman’s presence. Additionally, Urban always makes a point to recognize healthcare workers in his broadcasts. “All of you first responders out there, all of the families of all of you and your friends that are supporting you through this time, we are right here with you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he vows. “Our whole family thanks you for everything that you are sacrificing and doing right now.”

Brad Paisley keeps the laughter flowing on Instagram

Since the quarantine began, Brad Paisley’s Instagram has become a holy ground of humorous musings. Between recording virtual duets with Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Darius Rucker and posting cover videos, scrolling through Paisley’s Instagram is likely to put a smile on your face during these somber days. Paisley has also contributed to the Gratitunes program with an acoustic version of his hit “Southern Comfort Zone” that he used to thank all of the healthcare workers on the front lines during the pandemic. But perhaps his most noteworthy effort is that he and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley have set up a special grocery delivery service for the elderly and those in need through their nonprofit, The Store – one of the many ways the Nashville community continues to give back.

Country music will also be represented in the upcoming global virtual event, “One World: Together at Home” in support of healthcare workers around the world. Urban, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Lady Antebellum will perform during the online broadcast that benefits the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. It will air on major TV networks and stream online on April 18.