Looking down at his checklist and after delivering a somewhat serious warning about the cannons of pulsating smoke that were set to explode expeditiously during Tinashe’s set, the belugued, grey-clad security guard noted that, at precisely 1:38 a.m., a fountain of condoms would be set to explode into the crowd. “It’s in here as the ‘Durex moment,’” he said. “You don’t want to miss that.”

Beyond the $6 bottles of water and the coming canon of condoms, there was a lot not to be missed at the fourth incarnation of LadyLand, an evening-long music festival that is almost as old as the cavernous former steel fabrication shop that an Austrian EDM promoter named Billy Bildstein has been inspired to make work as a “prehistorical amphitheater” based on a Wu-Tang Clan music video. And years later, his Brooklyn Mirage still has some of the charm that still evades the more corporate, similarly named rivals that dot the former warehouses of East Williamsburg, like AEG’s Brooklyn Steel or the slightly smaller and newer Brooklyn Made, a project of a former Live Nation executive. The open-air club’s sheer bigness still gives it a kind of monumental beauty – the number doled around when it opened gave it a capacity of 6,000, second in Brooklyn only to Barclays. It’s a little Berlin and It’s a little Red Rocks and it gives its center stage a transfixing grace. 

Tinashe (above) and Vanessa Vanjie (below) play LadyLand in Bushwick.

Early into the night, the once-“RuPaul” star Vanessa Vanjie yells “Love you! Deuces! Let’s get turnt up!” She had finished a tight dance set, an athletic romp that involved a considerable cartwheel or two through a trap-pop mashup of hits and was now pouring shots of tequila into the Mirage’s front row. She wore a one-piece that donned the logo of Pumps, an East Williamsburg strip club that, like the festival itself, quietly reopened last year. The local branding was comforting and seemed to solidify the small festival’s connection to the neighborhood’s nightlife scene.

Any festival poster has a kind of self-evident randomness to it and this was no less true of the minor institution that LadyLand has become – “the lineup is eclectic, and so is the crowd,” a notice for the inaugural 2018 festival read in the New York Times. That year was helmed by the late hyperpop sensation SOPHIE and, further down, Kim Petras; the “RuPaul” star in that year’s festival had been Aquaria. The years since have circulated names like Allie X, Mykki Blanco, Caroline Polachek and, perhaps most climatically, Christina Aguilera, who last year used the billing to outfit big hits like “Genie in a Bottle” and “Your Body” in snow-white glamor and energetic drag performances. The Los Angeles R&B singer Tinache, I’m told, was in the crowd back then and watching it had allegedly inspired her to immediately ask when she could put on herself. 

She had come clad in rich cream-colored tights and was circled by backup dancers who refracted her twists and turns with steely precision. Like Aguilera, she delivered rousing takes on familiar older material like “2 On” and “All Hands on Deck,” songs that showcased the then-girl group star trying to find a place on hip hop radio. On stage, she eased into their knowing and precise choreography, commandingly negotiating with the ways they organized the body. The constraints of the processed nostalgia could be felt in the air, but it was undoubtedly infectious. The London rapper Shygirl, who took the stage earlier and whose proper debut in November could make or break her career, could be seen jostling in the VIP section with surprised abandon. Perhaps fitfully, Shygirl had delivered her own set, which stretched from the fitful declarations of “Freak” to an icy new track that luxuriated in material wealth, without negotiating the stage at all.

Tinache’s sound would eventually leave the hard precision of crunk records and it was nice to hear her depart from those on stage too, as her remarkably freer form would occasionally slip into a thick, warmer coat to properly belt out some of the more avant R&B songs she’s put out in the years since she’s left the major labels. The most climactic of these was the rousing finale of her show these days, a version of last year’s “Bouncin,’” that’s performed by the group from a maze of trampolines. (Complex describes her “trampoline routine” as “when she drops to the floor on her hands, grabs hold of a mini-trampoline, springs her knees around in coordination with her dancers, and thrusts to the sky.”) 

It had not been the stage’s first display of elegantly-wrought calisthenics. I had been mildly captivated by the purely physical lurching that anchored the opening set by a DJ act called Tory Stiletto. He would play Cardi B records, buried in acid and lift his fingers up at opportune moments. The logo on his crop-top looked suspiciously like that of a Tesla automobile and, on the screens behind him, large block-letters read things like “No Requests.” He had been followed by the somewhat more remarkable Brooke Candy, a figure from the L.A. scene whose minimal approach to denim and maximal approach to tattoo art brought to mind a mix of Riley Keough characters. A duo of colorful male dancers weaved in and out of her songs, most of which came from an album she recorded before the pandemic called Sexorcism. As she performed her half of a rousing Iggy Azalea record from that album called “Cum,” she shouted the song’s titular refrain while using their legs as a kind of standing podium.

A stately and Dion-esque performance from the Irarian-Dutch singer Sevdaliza (“Some artists, it seems, have an irrepressible drive to ride the razor’s edge, to go places the world isn’t necessarily ready or willing to explore,” recommended Pitchfork in 2017) would later drag me away from main stage and into one of the smaller club rooms that surrounded the monterious amphitheater like important provincial islands. In one, groups of men moved cosmically to a seemingly endless run of Whitney Houston records, spun by MikeQ, a New Jersey DJ who recently got a star turn on HBO’s “Legendary.”

On a summer night, the cool air was comforting, practically peaceful. The evening was full of outfits; a walking lampshade that slid quietly through the dancefloor; an Energizer-pink bunny costume that lounged gracefully along the barriers to the stage; a hundred different varieties of shirtlessness. When Jam Rostron, a singer from the suburbs of Manchester who now lives in Estonia and performs as Planningtorock, entered the room to play buoyant songs from an EP they recently put out called Gay Dreams Do Come True, the sentiment animated the air. They really do. 

Images taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily.

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