Glorious Leader, Kim John Kill: Mosswood Meltdown 2022
Warning: This article contains humor. A lost art among some, yet one cherished till the grave by this writer and self-professed fool. Jokes, gags and gut-busters bring us closer to some elusive human truth, even in the case of fart jokes. No one is safe, but you can subscribe to certain ideologies that will vaccinate you from this humor and gain you entry to the “no punks allowed” club.
If you’re wondering what the name of this article is all about, it’s a merging of all three queens of Mosswood Meltdown into one radioactive mutant. I created this title after realizing the original title was not going to fly in 2022, if this was 2002 though and Jason Biggs was headlining, you better believe I would’ve went with my first choice. “Kim John Kill” does not by any means a suggest any relation between Bay Area punks and communists like Kim Jong Il, though I’m sure he’d do well if he was booked at Eli’s.
I was so thrilled to be back at Mosswood Park. To me, this festival is more than just a gathering of bands and rad fellows. This is an annual tradition that brings me closer to my higher power, which is art, and it does so more uniquely than any festival in the world. Mosswood Meltdown is a constant reminder that art has no boundaries. You can put on a festival where all the props are homemade creations that look a little flimsy and raw because that’s our character as punks at the end of the day. One of my favorite sights every year at the Meltdown is the amphitheater stage. I look forward to seeing what kooky direction Total Trash Productions decided to take their thematic visual messaging. It’s been foot fetish before but this year it was glitzy bayou trash if I had to give it a name. The main stage decor was by far the festival’s best they’ve ever created. Inflatable cones with sexualized cartoon characters in various compromising and queer positions. I’ll never look at Jimbo Jones the same way again.
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With John Waters steering this ship, I want these words to be something that’ll at least make his pencil-moustache bow up like an upside down rainbow above that iconic, deviant smile. All that said, and with humor in mind, I don’t know why a few rotten creeps decided Burger Boogaloo was their young punk hunting ground when this festival attracts the hottest mature women in all the Bay. At some point, a friend complained there were too many dad’s around and all I could think was that if you were a hound dog like myself, you’d realize you were bombarded by beautifully mature women. Yes, whether in the audience or on the stage, every woman over 40 was hot to trot at this year’s Mosswood Meltdown.
Note: Though I’ve been rather crude and idiotic thus far, I promise there’s a juicy socio-political take at the end of this article revolving around Bikini Kill’s performance and Twomp Sax’s Eli’s Mile High set and their different takes on how to respond to Roe vs Wade’s overturning inside a completely transformed social and moral fabric.
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There was music at this festival too. Breathing in a full-lung load of fresh, vaccinated Oakland air, my motley crew and I arrived just in time to see Bleached at the amphitheater stage. I was stoked this year’s lineup was so full of women and gay artists, ones that were difficult to see perform as well. One of the perks of Mosswood Meltdown is that it provides a comfortable space for you to find a good view of a big headlining act without being smothered tightly by an uncaring audience. Everyone is aware of each other’s space and comfort here and treats it with tender, loving care.
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Shannon Shaw took the main stage next as we got in close to enjoy her doo-wop and old school rock and roll stylings. With classic backup singers, pretty in pink, she serenaded the Meltdown back to a cool and steady internal-core temperature. One of my favorite artists of the weekend was next, The Dirtbombs, one of Detroit garage rock’s greatest bands, an off-shoot of the Gories with double the drums and guitar for a wild rock and roll ride, and with vocals that sound reappropriated bluesy growlings from George Thorougood. This band makes you grow hair on your chest for some daddy to curl.
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Kim Gordon was the most important artist for me to see this weekend. I had missed out on seeing Sonic Youth as a young punk, so this is the closest noise church I will ever attend but at least the congregation was led by the sound’s original pope, Kimlet Althea Gordon. Dressed in black tie and sparkling black pants, she was the boss, on a mission from God to create so much fuzz and distortion, heaven itself couldn’t hush the disruption to their cosmic peace. She had the same charisma as Iggy Pop, the confidence of a founding stateswoman of punk and even though she was the Godmother of the alternative movement, she deserves to be on the punk Mount Rushmore just as much as The Damned or The Misfits for her contribution to deafness. Her set was incredible, offering just as much noise as fresh new takes on the genre that drove her in almost trip-hop directions for a song or two. Her all-female band was in pocket when they needed and completely lawless when we begged for it. Kim was the ultimate ringleader of this sound, able to coordinate chaos with complete ease, like noise was her native tongue. John Waters introduced her as the Joan Didion of Indie Rock, leaning toward the new Bethlehem of Oakland, California where there’s plenty of people thinking they’re the messiah if you just look deep enough. I know what John meant by this comparison, beyond Kim’s literary prowess, Kim Gordon is something completely in-tune with the pulse of all things young, fresh and cool. After all, she in part created many of the aesthetics of what we still consider essential coolness to this day. When I try to define cool, the album cover for Goo comes to mind.
Hailing from Los Angeles, I sometimes forget how frigid the rest of the world is. The night before, during Kim Gordon’s headlining set, I was freezing in my punk shirt and jorts, hugging sonic waves to warm my soul. The next morning in Oakland was muggy, foggy and made us all think the worst weather conditions loomed on the horizon. My merry crew and I assumed we’d all freeze to death, so we headed to San Francisco to buy cheap winter clothes for this little slice of the North Pole in NorCal where I found a nice $30 coat to sport. I was the certified dandy of the Dudeabides when I entered day 2 of Mosswood Meltdown, the only problem was that the weather warmed up and mostly stayed that way into the evening making me the one guy ironically wearing a coat. Day 2 hosted some of the artists I was looking forward to seeing most, firstly, low-key literary, punk and gay icon, Brontez Purnell, who performed songs by The Younger Lovers, jokingly referring to his band as The Older Haters for the day. His jams were smooth and cool, full of punk rock attitude and storytelling.
Later, we’d see another band of gay punk icons at the amphitheater, in the form of Pansy Division, one of the funniest punk bands of all time, never straying away from gags about the size and dexterity of a particularly delicious member. Seeing Pansy Division certified everyone in attendance as punk rock because to even witness this band gives you some kind of credibility. They are an institution of queer punk history and the genius of Mosswood Meltdown to book them for this weekend can’t be overstated.
Next up were The Linda Lindas, a band worth all their hype and early success. Great vibe, good songs, good players, carrying a true punk spirit. This band should give everyone hope for the future of rock and roll. That said, all you punks that don’t want to ever say or do anything too gnarly because you could get cancelled (which is very easy to do in the Bay according to the friends I had around)–boy, is this the band for you! Wrap yourselves in bubblewrap and join the party! No offense to the band, it’s great music but they’re kids and as such, they can’t be punk in the sense of being raw, psychotic animals like the good ol’ days that made us fall in love with the genre in the first place. Though, drawing cat whiskers on your face is kinda punk, I guess.
Hunx and His Punx are the flagship band of Mosswood Meltdown. They even performed a song about the Burger Boogaloo controversy with a moral to the story to boot. The experience and sound of the band though, are everything that make this festival so special, all wrapped up into a single set. Whether it’s Seth Bogart’s humor, talking about sleeping with two daddy’s that wore elephant-trunk-like breathing machines while he slept in between; or whether it’s his music which harkens back to rock and roll’s roots while giving it a fresh and hilarious new spin, almost like John Waters on wax; or perhaps it’s his looks, the badass punk fashion Seth and Shannon dawn, whether it’s cheetah print of a thong, it exudes confidence and lawlessness the way great punk should.
The audience turnt up to 11 for this set, everyone was moshing and crowd surfing in the pit, really putting their youth to good use by doing harm to their bodies. Someone even threw a shroom on stage for Seth to munch. Hunx and His Punx were everyone’s highlight of the weekend, it’s the exact experience we traveled for, we wanted to feel our hearts filled with love and openness but at the same time, we wanted to drop all the rules. Let it be known, among punks, acceptance of people unlike yourself isn’t so much a rule but a state of being, if people don’t live by acceptance then they’re simply not a part of the family. You can protect family but policing outsiders requires you enter their world of rules, and trust me, you don’t wanna go there.
I remember seeing Bikini Kill‘s reunion at the Hollywood Palladium a few years ago. It was a pretty thrilling experience. This was before Covid and Joe Biden’s presidency and the beginning of this new world full of foreign frameworks of thought we’re living in today. Seeing Bikini Kill now, the music was good and punk and had the crowd going and all that jazz, but to me, it just felt like monotonous cheerleading rhythms without true power and charge. After Roe vs Wade’s overturning, Kathleen Hannah’s message was simply to go vote. Yet, if you’ve been paying attention to social media and raised your wet finger in the air, you would’ve noticed that young people have completely lost confidence in the democratic process, almost like the right wingers that also want to burn the system down for completely different reasons. Perhaps these warring sides might reach some common ground, in that they despise the government and in turn, the country. The central debate of the near-future might become whether less damage is done by radicalization or by sticking to a system that doesn’t work for anyone. Can you deconstruct the master’s house with the master’s tools?
This dynamic between generations played out in the festival’s zeitgeist once Twomp Sax hit the stage at the Eli’s Mile High Club, where Cher Strauberry began speaking her mind about how she felt Bikini Kill didn’t really do it for her. Cher held back though, perhaps not wanting to say anything that would ruffle feathers or perhaps not wanting to go into detail when she didn’t have the answer, which is understanding because no one has the answer. We are in the midst of a philosophical fraught of imagination, the world is changing too fast for us to think up solutions. The gist of what Cher began saying though was that Bikini Kill’s era of punk and Riot Grrrl must be out of touch if all they can say about the overturning of Roe was to go out and vote. It’s almost as if people that didn’t attend this show to see Twomp Sax, didn’t experience the complete thematic ending to Mosswood Meltdown 2022’s plot. I could be wrong, I have to depend on a little bit of mind-reading and instinct to arrive at my conclusion on Cher’s thoughts but regardless of her exact opinion, there’s no doubt it would provoke thought beyond a command to just vote. The reason this is important is because Cher is a community leader and though Twomp Sax isn’t as big as Bikini Kill, whatever punk is today, Cher is closer to it. This dynamic hasn’t been fully realized in the culture yet, it’s still bubbling inside this age gap between young punks that are willing to get some dirt under their fingernails and older punks that hit it big and developed faith in the system. The division never ceases, perhaps punks oughtta find their tribe in the most Mad Max sense of the word. Or perhaps we should settle our differences and make peace for the sake of the music. This is how you love someone and that is certainly Mosswood Meltdown’s aim. Introducing politics into the experience always runs the risk of burning bridges, maybe not on the big issues, but even the smaller ones seem to be distracting us from loving each other.
Make what you will of this article. Laugh at my jokes or belittle my takes. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you understand how special this festival is. Mosswood Meltdown reaffirmed itself as an essential festival to attend. I refuse to ever miss a year, whether I’m cancelled, dead or worse, vanilla, I’ll try to make my way up to Oakland, where people love each other and punks rule the world. Gays and Women were celebrated every moment and the straights were totally onboard for the ride. I didn’t feel like I was enjoying the art of some sort of other, I felt like every artist was just like me but cooler, no boundaries between punks, all love at Mosswood Meltdown.
Words by: Rob Shepyer
Photos by: Jessica Moncrief