Security was teeming and the streets were a wash of rainbow flags, glitter and sunburned flesh on Santa Monica Boulevard Saturday afternoon (June 10) while as many as 100,000 people were predicted to attend Los Angeles’ 47th two-day Pride Festival — one of the biggest in the country.
Boasting a jam-packed lineup full of blasts from the past and upcoming breakthrough acts across three stages, the main music highlights on this first day of events was due to be provided by headlining Canadian electro duo Chromeo. And yet it’s the acts earlier on the bill that provided the most memorable moments and served to remind the LGBTQ community why it must continue to celebrate its many identities and fly in the face of threats towards its safe spaces.
Mid-afternoon it’s Aaron Carter, baby brother to Backstreet Boy Nick, who kicks off proceedings, jumping between his laptop set-up and slapping his bongos. Dressed all in white with peroxide blonde signature curtains, he’s the prototypical Justin Bieber. Only Saturday ahead of security concerns about the weekend, Carter said in a self-filmed interview while discussing recent terror attacks at music shows, “I’ll shoot you if you try and come at me with stuff like that. I live in America. I’m allowed to have guns…” — as if to suggest he would personally retaliate to any threats with open fire. He doesn’t get as heavy on stage. Instead shouting out his new EP, Love, introducing his latest breezy pop single “Sooner Or Later” and bigging up his band, who have been with him for the past 17 years.
“Loyalty is everything in life,” he says.
The mood dips slightly when he starts to talk about his recent bereavement. “Two weeks ago I lost my father unexpectedly,” he says. He tells the crowd that in anticipation of a hefty grieving period, music was the first thing he turned to. He worked on a fresh beat for 20 hours before taking it round to his collaborators’ house. He performs that song — a rousing ode called “Champion.”
“My dad was a professional boat racer and he never lost a race in his life,” he says, just about holding it together. “The beginning of this song is the last voicemail I got from him.” Between chorus lines he shouts out “I love you dad,” then leaves the stage vouching his continued respect for the LGBTQ community. “And no I do not support Donald Trump.”
Between sets, DJ Whitney Fierce gets the late afternoon arrivals pumping and sweating with her filthy disco anthems, which includes an uplifting mash-up of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” spliced with the beat of Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ “We Found Love.” It’s the perfect precursor for the heaving crowd who arrive to witness Brooklyn rap upstart and openly lesbian artist Young M.A. — the self-confessed “hottest in New York.” Most renowned for her 2016 release “Ooouuu” and for turning down a role on TV show Empire in order to concentrate on her music career, Young M.A. has enough hype and reputation here to entice some ample hysteria among the fans in the front row.
Running through tracks such as “10 Bandz” and “Brooklyn Poppin” she receives enormous cheers for rhymes such as: “I get p***y from my looks, you get p****y from you pockets.” Her freestyle “Kween” is the most redolent with its verse: “They talk about me like the past perfect, like they present pretty, like they future flawless/ Like this world ain’t got drug addicts and alcoholics, rapists, robbers, dealers, murder, extortion/ Like me being gay is so fucking important.” She jumps off stage and reaches into the audience to rap among the crowds. They know and hang onto her every word.
It’s a tough act to follow, and iLoveMakonnen succeeds while laying his life-story on the stage. “I just came out on January 20,” the 28-year-old Atlanta-based rapper says. He spent some of his younger years in South Central L.A. and makes several pleas today for tolerance. “I never judged nobody,” he says. “We all human. We all here on this earth for a limited time only. A lot of people hating and they stay hating. Look how beautiful you are tonight.”
Wearing a T-shirt with the words “Mr Bitch” on them, he proves he’s nobody’s plaything by serving up big tunes such as “I Like Tuh,” “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” “UWONTEVA,” and, of course, “Tuesday,” which is rendered oddly emotional given what comes before it. Giving another speech on how hard it was growing up as a young gay black man in South Central, he says, “My momma woulda got her ass whooped” had anyone found out his true sexual identity. He brings his mother out on stage and encourages the audience to raise a fist as a symbol of solidarity and support. “We have the power to change the world right here in our hands,” he says, then aptly follows it up with a climactic performance of “I Love Wrist.”
Topping off night one are Chromeo, who bring the crowd pleasers with their hybrid of Daft Punk-meets-Maroon 5 electro pop on tracks such as “Somethingood” and “Sexy Socialite.” Singer/guitarist David Macklovitch employs the entire stage and even jumps into the pit at one point to take the packed audience past midnight and provide a second wind for whatever after-parties lie ahead.
“We can’t express how much this show means to us,” he says, preaching that Chromeo stands for “open-mindedness, diversity and tolerance — funk music encompasses all of that.” Macklovitch is keen to point out that in our current climate and particularly since the election of Donald Trump “the music means something.” He laughs to himself. “I’m really holding back cos the whole night I’m gonna be on my ‘F–k Steve Bannon’ shit.”
Having received authorization from the security teams early Saturday evening, he launches into “Over Your Shoulder” by insisting that as many people in the audience as possible get on someone — anyone’s — shoulders. At Pride 2017, the theme is most definitely to lift each other up.