L-Beach and its reputation had long preceded itself. I Googled the festival from home when I found out Purple Velvet would be making a performance pit stop there. L stands for — wait for it — lesbian. The video footage from previous L-Beaches was like if Beverly Hills 90210, Michfest and, The L-Word had a ménage à trois—lots of white women with that signature lesbian hairdo, the one that includes jagged bangs and a forward toss in a random direction. My final verdict though, was, “Whatever. It’s on the Baltic Sea.”
We made the 3-hour drive from Berlin to Ostee, the 5th-year home of L-Beach Festival. Upon arrival, the first sea to reveal itself was the women. Lesbians like rolling waves pouring out of hotels, cars, and restaurants. Lesbians, hand-in-hand, wearing the universally-accepted costume of Abercrombie t-shirts and Oakley-style sunglasses. Lesbians, comfortably isolated on this Gilligan’s for Girls. We parked and were greeted by a woman who equipped us with the tools to ensure our L-Beach survival:
1: A “Handler.” Our greeter handed us off to our handler, Nadine, who arrived with all of our necessary L-Beach accoutrements in her holster. She would be the person throughout the evening to escort us to the appropriate places at the appropriate times. Amongst the mandatory locations, a post-show red carpet, where we’d pose in front of a wall of sponsors while lesbians waited in line to greet and take photos with us. (see #5).
2. Keys to the City. The Weissenhäuser (“White House”) Strand is a beach resort community complete with, “over 1,000 apartments and bungalows plus the 4 star beach hotel…exclusively reserved for L-BEACH.” Sounds like if SNL did a spoof of MTV’s Real World spoofing Charlotte Perkin Gilliam’s “Herland.”
3. Map of the City. A handy pocket-size guide to all the L-Beach goings on including drag workshops, daily listings of live acts, and a mention of “Dark Zone,” where L-Beachers could arrange blind dates in a poolside dark room, which by design sounds like irrational heights of visual impair.
4. L-Dollars. Each Purple Velvet tour member received exactly 25 L-Dollars to spend at the restaurant and bar, although access to the “VIP” areas required no usage of L-Dollars. The whole concept was a bit wasteful and annoying, but made for solid moments of humor. I don’t recall these being the chosen form of currency in Herland.
5. Odd occurrences of constructed celebrity. It was like a real-time epiphany watching the various ways L-Beach perpetuated this hierarchy of human worth and how we all contributed to it, no matter our reluctance. The whole beach was very clearly built around a Hollywood model of “star power.” The opening event was hosted by Shirin Valentine, whose claim to fame was that her band Noble Savages opened up for Michael Jackson in the ‘90s. She was also a host of Europe’s MTV equivalent, VIVA. After we were settled in, Lex, DJ Doowap, and I met back stage at the opening event where nearly 2000 L-Beachers had assembled to kick off the fifth annual L-Beach. Valentine walked on stage wearing a sleeveless fur jacket, leather pants, and a blindfold (a recurring theme). She was directed toward a balloon, which she popped, at the guidance of the audience who acted as a chorus of human GPS’s. And with that, L-Beach 2014 was underway. It was a strange entertainment.
I joined Lex and DJ Doowap at the opening to talk about our midnight Purple Velvet performance. Looking out at the assembly of lesbians housed in a circus tent on the Baltic Sea, I was able to relinquish my sarcasm (a bit) and embrace the feel-good of such a gathering. I’d immediately established that it was not my scene, but yielded to the fact that there were women who found refuge here. In a moment of planned spontaneity, Lex and I kicked an L-Beach freestyle while Shirin beatboxed. If only I’d known then of her band’s opening stint with MJ in the nineties, I would’ve demanded better.
Throughout the day, we were approached by an L-Beach camera crew who asked questions about our L-Beach appearance and forthcoming performance. They were particularly interested in the perspective of Tom and Gabe, my bandmates, who were the only men in our group. I heard rumors (never confirmed) that male-identified people are only allowed to attend L-Beach in a performance capacity, so the curiosity around Gabe and Tom’s presence made them self-proclaimed “exotic unicorns.” I found the gaze and attention placed upon them ironic given that L-Beach is a women-centered space. By the end of the night, Tom and Gabe were asked numerous times and in various ways, “What’s it like to be a man at L-Beach?” They handled it gracefully and diplomatically, and of course, with a slight bit of sarcasm.
An hour before our performance, Nadine escorted us to the makeup suite, where those who desired were primed and prepped by an L-Beach cosmetic team. We then headed to L-Hall, our performance venue, where several hundred lesbians were already bouncing to the sounds of the house DJ who was dropping Top 40 electro-pop on the collective craniums of eager lesbians. Anyone who’s ever played live music following a DJ set knows the transition can be disastrous. The crowd is already in that familiar music zone, singing along with Rihanna, and then, you hop on stage and the lip-syncing screeches to a halt. The BPMs of boombap hip hop are severely less than that of poptronic radio tunes, so the collective body of party goers jolts and heaves in an effort to slow itself. As the first of the three Purple Velvet acts to take the stage, I was directly nursing the audience’s radio withdrawal.
They stared at me blankly, heads lowered, sucking alcohol from straws. I buried my face in my microphone for the first song before looking up and seeing a few shoulders settling into the new tempo. I was sweating enough to feel the ice cracking, but not breaking. Throughout our collective Purple Velvet set, the energy level of the evening never really broached sea level. However, when we headed over to the red carpet area post-performance, there was a line of folks waiting to say hello and have merch signed. sookee and I greeted people for about an hour, some longtime fans of her work, demanding a focused energy, which sookee exhaustingly gave. The way she managed this tiring process made it feel a little less like an entertainment meat market.
By the end of the night, I was wandering around alone, drunk off Beck’s and feeling a bit dirty, clutching a dwindling wad of useless L-Dollars. Celebrity culture is a truly ridiculous composition of sound bytes that could never possibly constitute a “real life,” yet we all perpetuate it by mining our prescribed roles.