How One Local Music Fest Became the Coolest Coachella Alternative

Staying true to L.A.’s underground scene takes a lot of work

Imagine you’re throwing a dinner party, and you need to fill just the right number of chairs with a mix of people who are all going to get along and, ideally, have sparkling conversation. Think about how tricky it can be to wrangle all your friends to be in one place on the same night, but not invite that one guy that half of them don’t like but the other half love, and accommodate all their dietary restrictions. Now multiply that task out times several thousand, add in tight budgets, venue logistics, and other factors, and you start to get a sense of what it takes to curate a music festival.

For the team that comes together to throw BROKE LA (formerly Brokechella), a seven-year-old festival celebrating L.A.’s vibrant independent music, comedy, and art scenes, it’s a labor of love—but it’s definitely still labor.

This year’s two-day, three-stage festival—which takes place during Coachella’s second weekend, for a fraction of the price—features over 50 musical acts and 40 comedians, and includes a vendor market, art installations, a yoga and wellness activity areas, and tons of other moving parts to manage. The process of putting that all together starts months in advance, when the event curators put out a call online for artist submissions, which netted almost 700 applications this year.

BROKE LA Festival

Photograph by Justin Baker

“Though our curators and producers are plugged into what’s going on in the scene, it’s important to us to give opportunity to folks we may never have heard of,” explains Negin Singh, co-producer of BROKE LA. “We promise that our curators listen to every single submission, no matter how new you are to the game.”

Each curator brings a short list to the show’s producers for consideration, and the team goes over all the finalists as a group. From that list, they’ll assemble the bulk of the lineup, but they still need to make final adjustments to keep the talent roster balanced.

“We look at any holes that are needed to be filled, and reach out to artists that could fill those spots,” Singh says. “We want to make sure we’re well-rounded in the sound, that we’re representing a variety of genres, and, of course, keeping our talent pool diverse and at least 50 percent women-lead.”

They’re not just looking for the most famous acts they can book, either. “You get such a mixed bag, and some real surprising gems. […] You’ll get a submission that is some kid who just released three amazing tracks and has 100 followers, but who is doing something totally fresh and new, and we program them,” Singh says.

BROKE LA Festival

Photograph by Rachel Collins

Listening through all those submissions also gives the BROKE LA crew a sense of the trends going on in L.A.’s underground. This year, Singh observed a major resurgence in pop, with artists taking that genre in exciting new directions, and a wave of talented women artists. “We remember five years ago, having to really comb through submissions and do reach-outs to find acts lead by women, but this year, it was abundant, and across genres too.”

All that work putting the puzzle pieces together pays off when the show opens. Among the artists to watch are Sizzy Rocket, whom the festival’s head music curator, Jessica Delijani describes as “basically the biggest badass.” By age 20, she had assembled a punk band, co-written songs with Diplo and Run the Jewels, and launched her own record label, Diet Punk. Delijani also calls out the innovative electronic-pop of Robokid, and the must-see live show of CAPYAC. Comedy curator Chelsea Quinn is excited about The Wave, a trio known from Comedy Central’s Roast Battle; Atsuko Okatsuka, who was the co-founder of the first-ever all-Asian, mostly female comedy tour in the U.S.; and Jackie Fabulous.

BROKE LA, April 21 and 22, at the Regent Theater, 448 S. Main St, downtown. Tickets ($25) are on sale now. 

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