Feels, a hugely popular, homegrown event, has been on hiatus for two years, but Wine & Bowties — a culture blog and event collective with Max Gibson and Will Bundy at the helm — has kept its momentum going with smaller events, like their Jungle Pussy-fronted New Year's Eve party at Geoffrey's Inner Circle.
Tuesday night, experimental singer Spellling, indie producer Toro y Moi, and DJ Fela Kutchii made museum-goers dance at the BAMPFA between screenings of experimental short films by local artists like Yetunde Olagbaju and House of Malico. Attendees also got first dibs on the Feels 6 lineup, which was printed on postcard flyers scattered about the space.
The BAMPFA party was a sneak peek of what's to come at Feels 6: Spellling, Fela Kutchii, and Queens D.Light (whose ritualistic short films screened at the museum) are all included on the upcoming musical lineup.
Refreshingly, as other Bay Area festivals draw criticism for their male-dominated booking, the Feels bill skews heavily towards female and LGBTQ hip-hop artists. "Bossy" rapper Kelis; outspoken New Yorker Princess Nokia; performance art rapper Mykki Blanco; sex-positive firecracker bbymutha; and the soulful Oakland native Siri are all included, in addition to rising East Bay stars AllBlack and Rexx Life Raj.
Outside of hip-hop, enigmatic composer Yves Tumor and experimental singer and "outsider artist" Lonnie Holley — who exhibited at museums nationwide before becoming recording artist at age 62 — round out the bill, in addition to DJs Namaste Shawty and Shruggs.
Previous editions of Feels at American Steel Studios in West Oakland have drawn out upwards of 2,000 attendees. The Craneway Pavillion, a 45,000-square-foot waterfront venue with glass walls and a capacity of 6,500, is certainly a step up from the festival's warehouse-party beginnings.
"In terms of the evolution from the first Feels to now, it's been growing in leaps and bounds in someways," said Bundy, adding that Jesse Sachs, a childhood friend who previously worked at South by Southwest, was instrumental to planning the festival's expansion. "But the key has been trying to aim for sustainable growth, taking some risks and trying out new things."
Even in scaling up, Feels has managed to keep its homegrown charm by cross-pollenating Oakland's various art and music scenes through its diverse musical and visual art lineups. The BAMPFA party was a clear illustration of this, with artists of many different ethnicities, gender expressions, and disciplines enjoying themselves together on the dance floor.
"Maintaining that frame of eclecticism on everything we do has always been a central point, even if you go back to our old Blogspot," said Gibson, referring to Wine & Bowties' beginnings on the blogging platform in 2009.
Discussing the hiatus, Gibson and Bundy say that the two-year break was due to trouble finding a venue following the sale of West Oakland artist warehouse American Steel. The struggles of Oakland's underground music scene, with rampant venue closures and evictions, have been well-documented since the 2016 Ghost Ship fire, and Bundy and Gibson say they had difficulty finding a new, sizable location.
"It was a real uphill battle trying to keep this thing alive," said Bundy.
Visual art has been a major aspect of Feels from the beginning, and now that Wine & Bowties have landed on a much larger venue, they plan to feature more ambitious artworks, says lead curator Ali Madigan, whose geometric installation work will be featured in the show.
"Building out a gallery space in a 45,000-square-foot glass box on the water is an inspiring place to put some beautiful things," she said. "What we're showing is really a direct reflection of Oakland."
For more information and tickets for Feels 6, click here.
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