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How Women Fuck Shit Up Fest creates an empowering space for musicians

By
Michael Juliano
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When Mayra Cortez and her friend Merilou Salazar wrapped up a volunteer stint with the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, they felt inspired to carry on that “we can do anything” attitude. They set out to create an event for women to show off their art in a safe, free and empowering environment.

But first there were some stereotypes that needed to be shed. “A female musician is always a ‘female musician’ and not just a musician, because we are [perceived as] feminine and soft,” says Cortez.

And so Women Fuck Shit Up Fest was born. The unambiguously titled fest brings together eclectic, female-fronted L.A. acts, including hardcore political punk and bubblegum electronic pop, as a way to stomp on gender stereotypes and provide a platform to seldomly heard, marginalized voices.

The five-person, women-of-color–led collective behind the fest donates proceeds to a different feminist organization with each iteration; past recipients include Alexandria House and Heart of Art Gallery, while this year will benefit the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. WFSU always incorporates the beneficiary into the lineup in some fashion, whether through storytelling sessions from women’s shelter residents or performances from lady rock-camp attendees.

This year, the homegrown fest’s fourth, WFSU collaborates with the like-minded collective Play Like a Girl to program one of the event’s four stages (either at the Smell or Five Star Bar). Cortez sees such relationships as integral to WFSU’s message of encouragement and hope, as well as its own DIY roots. “Wherever there’s struggle, there’s a group of people who are trying to fight against that,” she says. “[These collectives] are going to outlive us; they’re going to create the change that some of us aren’t able to reach yet.”

About 80 bands vied for around 30 festival slots last year. Cortez insists, though, that she listened to every submission. That tolerance and inclusiveness is ingrained into the event’s ethos: The organizers give priority to acts that haven’t played the fest two years in a row, as well as to women of color, bands that are at least 50 percent female-fronted and to trans or gender-nonconforming performers.

“[The festival] makes you not feel alone, to want to go out there and vote, protest or write a song,” says Cortez. “That force of community moves people. We want to encourage that always.”

Women Fuck Shit Up Fest takes place Feb 23 and 24 at the Smell and Five Star Bar. The organization also stages smaller shows throughout the year.

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