“I was told when I was younger, like, ‘Oh, you’re good for a girl,'” says Kimi Recor, reflecting on the days of trying to reconcile who she was against messages about what a young woman could or couldn’t do. Running with a group of young punks, she felt she had to prove herself; she built a tomboy exterior to shield her love of Ace of Base and Aqua, but hated having to hide what made her different from the rest of the pack. “I was always like, ‘Really? Actually I’m awesome, because I’m a girl.'”
Today, Recor — along with Ammo Bankoff, Lisa Fernandez, Laura Peters and Francisca Valenzuela — is working to erase “good for a girl” from our vocabularies. With Play Like a Girl, a monthly showcase of female musicians, comedians, storytellers and artists at the Echo, the team encourages women to explore any and all creative avenues. “It can be anything,” says Recor, “play like a girl, write like a girl, create like a girl. It’s about taking away that negative connotation and being like, actually it means you’re killing it if you’re playing like a girl.”
After missing Field Day Weekend in January, the inaugural, annual female-focused festival thrown by Los Angeles women artist collective Girlschool, Recor was inspired to put together her own event — one that happened more frequently than once a year. She called upon a team of local musicians with expertise in other relevant areas to get the ball rolling: Ammo Bankoff, whose fluorescent tresses are almost as recognizable as her photography; PR professional Lisa Fernandez; Laura Peters, who designs graphics and riot grrrl–inspired zines for PLAG (and also runs a gorgeous DIY space, Vega’s Meat Market, out of the front of her Echo Park home); and Francisca Valenzuela, who helped organize the all-female Ruidosa Festival in Chile (“the first mainstream promotion of women’s music and enterprises in Latin America,” she says).
Since May, Play Like a Girl has been throwing its music series, and Valenzuela is helping to take them into the realms of education and empowerment. “It’s about questioning your privileges,” she says, noting that even for a group of forward-thinking feminists, intersectional issues can get lost, and it’s beneficial to continuously check in on who the organization is catering to. “At least for Ruidosa that was important, because you do have your own biography and you come from that biography so strongly, so it’s good to acknowledge it. Of course there will be mistakes, and there will be blind spots, but it’s the intention that counts.”
Play Like a Girl’s intention, first and foremost, is to give women a platform to express themselves. Recor listens to each and every artist submission she receives, making a master list of descriptions along the way in order to create the most complementary lineups she can. “It’s really important to us not to just have indie bands or you know, indie pop, but also hip-hop and reggae and electronic musicians,” she says. “We want to connect with women of all genres.”
Diversifying the acts not only keeps things from becoming too stale but also shows women in the audience that they don’t just have to pick up a guitar to find their way into music; they can go out and learn Logic, or practice bars in the mirror. “I think it’s really important for women to see that, that even if you barely know anything about it, if you have an instinct for music you can just pick up GarageBand,” Recor says. “You don’t have to be the craziest shredder on guitar.
“That’s the kind of tradition we wanna have,” she continues, "taking these bands that may not have a voice but have undeniable talent and drive and helping them." PLAG doesn’t care about how big your band is, how many followers you have on social media, or whether you have a manager. In fact, the team aims to book at least two bands per show that have never had the opportunity to play the Echo, and they pay each act equally, regardless of their rookie status or standing as headliner. They understand the Catch-22 of trying to make it in the music industry — “You can’t be in the club until you’re in the club,” as Peters puts it (she actually opened Vega’s Meat Market after she couldn’t find a place to book her band, Psychic Love) — and they want to give girls the tools to break that vicious cycle.
Beyond hosting a monthly showcase at the Echo, Play Like a Girl acts as a production company and label, with planned releases from Psychic Love and Iris, an alternative female-fronted group that performed at the June installation of the series. The team also aims to facilitate educational talks about the music business at future PLAG events, perhaps having a music lawyer come in to explain music publishing and to help demystify the opacity of purposely complicated contracts.
“It’s really hard when you have an artistic brain to wrap your head around the business side of it,” says Recor. “But when you educate somebody, you’re creating a new path for them.”
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Most of all, Play Like a Girl is a catalyst for community, networking, friendship and support in a scene that can be discouraging, selfish and competitive. “This industry can be really damaging if you’re always feeling like you’re never enough,” says Recor. But she’s noticed a stark difference at PLAG events: “We really value all the female musicians that come and meet each other. … I’ve been like, ‘Wow, so many of my favorite female musicians are here supporting each other,'” she says. “It’s actually creating a community where people can show up, and you can actually trust your audience because your audience is you.”
“As an artist, I have put everything into my music. And as a female artist, it feels wonderful to have a community to perform for,” says indie-pop singer-songwriter Elohim, who is headlining the next PLAG on July 28, also featuring local acts Alina Bea, Vox and Vum. “It's really special when strong, independent women come together to share their art and talent. I admire the love and dedication behind Play Like a Girl and what they stand for.”
Play Like a Girl returns to the Echo this Thursday, July 28. Tickets and more info.