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Now Entering the 143rd Dimension: The Bay Area's Beloved BIPOC Punk Festival Returns

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Dalish Da Goddess performs at Oakland festival the Multivrs is Illuminated in August 2018.
Dalish Da Goddess performs at Oakland festival the Multivrs is Illuminated in August 2018. The festival, now called the 143rd Dimension, takes place in San Francisco Aug. 12-14. (Guerrilla Davis)

From the outside, The Lab doesn’t appear especially vibrant. It’s located within an unassuming brick building in the Mission District. But on Friday evening, the experimental art and performance space will house one of the Bay Area’s most anticipated DIY punk shows of the summer: the 143rd Dimension.

The in-person, three-day festival returns Aug. 12–14 following a two-year break—its last iteration was entirely virtual—to center a lineup of queer Black and Brown performers, musicians and DJs. More than two dozen artists are scheduled to screen their films, perform live sets and showcase new work.

Previously known as The Universe is Lit, the festival began in 2017 as a means to provide a safe and affirming environment for Black and Brown DIY artists to commune and celebrate each other’s existence. But Shawna Shawnté, the last remaining organizer from the festival’s original leadership, thinks of the 143rd Dimension as more than a breeding ground for DIY talent. To Shawnté, it’s an evolving entity, moving towards liberation and resisting the flattening of BIPOC identity and artistry.

Shawna Shante Scroggins (left) and Jade Ariana Fair envision The Multivers is Illuminated as a way to celebrate black and brown punk and experimental musicians.
Shawna Shawnté (left) and Jade Ariana Fair, two of the festival’s original co-founders, envisioned a multi-day punk festival as a way to celebrate Black and Brown DIY musicians. (Jeffie Freeman)

“We’re never gonna get liberation by appealing to our oppressors,” says Shawnté. “That seemed like a waste of energy. Like, ‘Let’s feed into each other, let’s build into one another.’”

Shawnté says they hope to pass on the feeling of safety and exploration that they were provided when they first moved to the Bay Area in 2005. Through living in queer collective housing, they began exploring their sexual and gender identities. They picked up music from roommates. Years later, after becoming embedded in the DIY punk scene through performing, Shawnté and a group of friends started the Bay Area Booking Collective to organize shows that reflected the diverse communities they were part of.

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“We started booking shows that were focused on queer bands, Black, Indigenous and people of color across diasporas,” says Shawnté. “And then we thought, how can we make it more queer and more Black and Brown?”

Shawnté learned more about organizing events while working at Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, an Oakland nonprofit dedicated to empowering young girls with music. Inspired by other punk festivals but noticing a lack of queer Black and Brown artists on their lineups, Shawnté and three other organizers assembled a free, multi-day experience for local punks to come together, share music, dance, scream and hold one another—literally and metaphorically. In 2018, The Universe is Lit became The Multivrs is Illuminated, which organizers say reflected the festival’s shift towards honoring the full lives of each attendant and performer.

Many of the festival’s performers say the event has encouraged them to lean into their art. Juicebox P. Burton, a Black trans-fem multidisciplinary artist and the other half of this year’s organizing duo, had just started working with film when they attended The Multivrs is Illuminated in 2018. The piece they decided to screen revolved around sex work, and the reception they received at the festival felt transformative.

“That was the first time I had screened my film in front of people of color, Black people. And the way I felt that day, I think, is one of the main reasons why I continue to stay a filmmaker,” says Burton. “I was in tears and people understood it. At that moment, I felt like an artist. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this actually makes sense. I should keep doing this.’”

Burton describes herself as a late bloomer to the queer community. In her 30s, she began performing drag before delving into performance art, music and film. Now, working as an organizer, she bubbles with excitement at the prospect of recreating her 2018 experience for this year’s attendees. Recognizing the dearth of punk festivals meant to uplift queer Black and Brown artists, Burton hopes this year’s event will be meaningful for those navigating a world that views unconventionality as disadvantage.

a portrait of a black woman with black and blonde braides and blue and red lipstick
Maya Songbird is among the returning performers at the 143rd Dimension in San Francisco. (Jaz Yossarian)

Maya Songbird, a returning performer, rebels against the ordinary. A queer Black disco punk singer who grew up in San Francisco’s Castro District, Songbird reflects her persona in her songs: lurid and witchy, haunting and sensual. She begins each of her shows with a magic ritual to set a mood.

“We don’t do shyness,” says Songbird. “We’re gonna dance. We’re gonna leave whatever stress, worries we had for the day at the door because we came here to turn up.”

The festival has also been a stable source of funding for Songbird. DIY artist spaces in the Bay Area have a long history of being underfunded, an issue that has only been exacerbated by tragedies like the 2016 Ghost Ship fire and the pandemic. So to Songbird, the festival is a necessary fixture of the scene. It provides a chance to be “paid decently” and to connect with fellow artists and new supporters. The 143rd Dimension represents hope and empowerment, says the artist, and is a movement she wants to be part of for a very long time.

“I hope I’m like 70 years old, talking about ‘This is my year number 55!’” she says.

For newer festival performers, the 143rd Dimension might be a chance to experiment with their most authentic selves. LBXX (pronounced Lunchbox), an emerging queer hip-hop artist, has come a long way since he moved to the Bay in 2018 and began releasing music.

His stage name comes from his experience as an educator, a stint where some of his fondest memories were formed when serving food to young students as a “lunch lady.”

“That was the only time that every kid in the building was really happy to see you, no matter what,” he says.

As he prepares to perform new singles from his sophomore EP Ready to Dine, LBXX is also looking forward to fostering friendships with fellow queer Black and Brown artists. Most of all, he yearns for the crowds, for the opportunity to command their attention and make sure his name reverberates in their minds long after.

“So I hope the girls are ready,” he says. “I’m gonna bring that energy.”

Mirrored fatality, an underground Kapampangan and South Asian nonbinary duo, create experimental noise punk music that includes spoken word, film and performance art.

Together, Samar and Mango form “cocoon webs,” portals of ambient sound meant to protect and embrace anyone who interacts with them. The duo describe themselves as farmers, educators, musicians and organizers; woven into their music are themes of community, mutual aid, prison abolition and anti-imperialist education. With the 143rd Dimension, they’ve found new ground for planting roots—all part of their mission to create love and security in queer BIPOC communities.

Mirrored fatality, an experimental noise punk duo, will perform at the 143rd Dimension festival this weekend. (Ian Castro )

“We live in a world that does not necessarily value our creative labor or our expression or create a space that specifically centers us,” says Samar. So the festival “feels like such a huge gift.”

“All of the labor and time that went into bringing all of us together, and being able to bear witness to that, feels really special,” Samar continues.

Mirrored fatality says their artistry is defined by the ways they’ve received support from other queer Black and Brown folks, including housing and rehearsal spaces, food and kinship. Describing themselves as mycelium, roots and air—always intertwined and connected—mirrored fatality adapt depending on the needs of their audience: visceral and hardcore in some spaces, tender and intimate in others.

“It’s not just about our performance on stage, it’s also about who we’re playing with,” says Mango. “So if we know everyone on the lineup is QTBIPOC, we’re going to come prepared with bottles of water. We’re going to come prepared with three bags of fruit. We’re going to come prepared with snacks and incense and gifts and spoil everyone, because every fucking person on that lineup needs to be spoiled today.”

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The 143rd Dimension takes place Aug. 12-14, with the first two days being held at The Lab in San Francisco, and the final day at a secret Oakland location. More information here.

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