When asked about their mission, the three members of San Francisco band Late Bloom — singer Riley Davis, drummer Krizta Em, and guitarist Francis Percy — modestly described themselves as "three friends supporting each other in their varied identities through music." But this humble answer is an understatement when it comes to the group's impact on the local punk scene.
Late Bloom's raw, honest lyrics tackle topics like queerness, gender nonconformity, mental health, and other identity-related subjects that, until lately, have rarely appeared in the genre. But with their upcoming mini-festival, Hairy Pits — which takes place at Thrillhouse Records on October 29 — the bandmates are creating a space for like-minded queer, trans, and feminist punk bands to perform.
Years ago, Davis began organizing intimate house shows in their living room as an alternative to the greater, predominantly-male punk scene. Now, their events are gaining momentum as other women-led, queer, and trans punk and hardcore bands gain prominence across the country.
Late Bloom joins a number of other bands such as G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society's Shit), the recently disbanded Olympia, Washington hardcore band whose 2016 EP Trans Day of Revenge fiercely advocated for equality. Right in line with the way punk has been a vehicle for social movements of past decades — take the feminist riot grrrl movement of the Nineties, for example — Hairy Pits is a way of giving weight to those excluded from the traditional punk narrative.
"The world is dominated by people who aren't like us. So, it's nice to get in there and challenge it and represent our freak friends," Em, the band's drummer, said in a phone interview. "Bring people together. And also just have fun."
This year's Hairy Pits lineup is the biggest one to date and features ten bands, including prominent local ones such as Sirena Victima and Quaaludes. And the event is a benefit for A Woman's Place in San Francisco, a nonprofit that offers women emergency shelter, long-term medical treatment programs, and other social services.
Pumpkin, a duo composed of two women of color, is another one of the bands slated to perform this year. Its members, Ruby Perez and Cinthya Hernandez, both play drums and guitar and often switch instruments mid-show. In a phone interview, Hernandez described the two as "sad — but also, like, a little bit angry — brown girls who don't stereotypically fit into the punk scene." Their nostalgic songs touch upon their experiences with heartbreak, loneliness, and, sometimes, their personal take on what it feels like to be a girl.
Pumpkin recently began playing shows at established venues such as The Knockout in San Francisco and the duo plans on releasing its first album this winter. But despite their growing traction, the bandmates said that they've struggled with making themselves heard in the male-dominated punk scene. They said that promoters have treated them as an afterthought on lineups and even asked to rearrange their schedules to accommodate all-male bands. Strangers often approach them with condescending, unsolicited advice (like that they should get a bassist, for example) — something they say their male peers rarely have to deal with.
"We're always [at shows] on time; we make sure to get things organized," said Perez. "And people will be like 'You're okay if this happens? You're okay if you go last?' It almost translates to the way women are treated. You just kind of take it in stride, you know."
"We're lucky to play shows that feature very diverse people, but we've also played shows where we're the only girls in the lineup," added Hernandez.
Perez continued, "As a woman, you're always hyper-aware of your surroundings. But in spaces [like Hairy Pits], you can just let go and be yourself, and not be judged or criticized by a white-alt dude. You're playing for people who understand you and where you're coming from."
Organizer Davis explained that a supportive audience and inclusive environment don't just happen by chance at a show. They've faced a number of challenges in expanding Hairy Pits while making sure the event stays true to its values, such as finding an all-ages venue that can accommodate the performers (Thrillhouse is a record store) and ensuring that everyone in the audience feels respected in the space.
Since this is the first edition of Hairy Pits on this large of a scale, Davis was a bit nervous when we spoke on the phone. "I definitely have some anxiety about this Thrillhouse show — just what it looks like to be hosting a show in a space that's not mine, and what can I do to make sure that the people who go feel safe and supported," they said, adding that they're not yet sure of how large they hope Hairy Pits will grow.
But at the end of the day, the members of Late Bloom described Hairy Pits simply as a space for friends to get together and celebrate each other's company. For Pumpkin's Hernandez, her favorite part of performing is how it shows as a "public display of how much I love my best friend."
Em from Late Bloom echoed that sentiment. "It's just about having fun and feeling good. Whatever that looks like is fine with me. Creating together. ... Making more music. For me, that's amazing."
And while a lot of nuanced politics factor into creating safe spaces, the organizers of Hairy Pits encourage attendees to have some carefree fun, throw their arms up, show off their pits, and dance.