Live review: The Linda Lindas, London O2 Academy2 Islington
The Linda Lindas make their UK debut with a scintillating sell-out show in the capital…
Most teenagers don’t do much with their summer break. After months of lessons, homework and exams, it’s a relief to spend the sunnier part of the year doing sweet FA. It’s a simple time, made for seeing friends, sunbathing, and generally cramming in the fun and relaxation that school timetables selfishly don’t make space for.
This year, however, sisters Lucia and Mila de la Garza, their cousin Eloise Wong and long-time friend Bela Salazar will be having a summer vacation like no other, as their band The Linda Lindas embark on their first-ever headline tour. By this time next month, they’ll have released their debut album before even finishing high school. They’ve already played on TV and had their songs included in a film (Amy Poehler’s recent coming-of-age hit Moxie), and are able to rattle off an anecdote about Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna emailing one of their mums to ask if the girls could open for her band's reunion tour. Now, they are gracing their first cover anywhere in the world. So much for relaxing, right?
Unlike many band set-ups, The Linda Lindas have no real frontperson. All four sing and write lyrics, allowing all of their voices to be heard in near enough equal measure. Bassist Eloise is the fieriest member, possessing a mighty shout-singing style perfectly suited to their angriest songs. Guitarist Bela brings the biggest riffs, alongside a honeyed yet subtly gritty voice, fit for melancholic musings as much as angsty yells. Lucia, also on guitar, writes with a sweet, sunny optimism, seeing the world for what it is but finding joy in it all the same. Drummer Mila has a similar outlook in her lyrics – perhaps naturally so, given that the two are sisters – but with a self-awareness and thoughtfulness that’s particularly striking for someone who’s only 11 years old, a fact even her older sister sometimes forgets (“I can’t even believe she’s 11! I think she’s 12; I even think she’s 15 sometimes.”)
The quartet burst onto the scene in the middle of last year, after a video of them performing Racist, Sexist Boy in the LA Public Library went unexpectedly viral. Inspired by a classmate of Mila’s, who told her that his dad advised him to stay away from Chinese people like herself, their spirited anti-hate anthem struck a chord when the world was desperate for change in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing and the subsequent protests in America and beyond. Such a display of strength and hope from a band so young was heartening to see, and shortly after they were signed to legendary punk label Epitaph Records.
All four of the band grew up surrounded by the sound of rebellion, with their parents playing the likes of Best Coast, The Clash, The Adolescents and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“I never listened to kid music – it was just Ramones!” Eloise adds). They attended their first concerts while still in pre-school, armed with chunky pairs of ear defenders. Many of these were all-ages daytime shows at the City Of Angels’ iconic Amoeba Records, which proudly calls itself the largest independent record store in the world.
As musical upbringings go, it’s quite impressive, even without mentioning the surreal encounters with their musical heroes. They started making music together in 2018, after being invited to join a pick-up band for Girlschool LA festival, where they first met Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Lucia and Mila were only a degree of separation away from Paramore, given that their father, the GRAMMY-winning producer and sound engineer Carlos de la Garza, has worked on their two most recent albums and on both of Hayley Williams’ solo records. In fact, some of the best advice they’ve ever received about the music industry came from Paramore vocalist: “Know when to say no, and that a no can sometimes be as powerful as a yes,” says Bela.
After seeing them cover signature track Rebel Girl, Kathleen Hanna knew she had to take a chance on a band who were treading the same ferocious, feminist punk path Bikini Kill did three decades before, and brought them on tour with her in 2019. “That was a huge opportunity. We probably wouldn’t be in a band if it weren’t for [Bikini Kill],” Lucia reflects. “They started this revolution where it was acceptable for women to be in bands, go to concerts, and do their own thing without being judged for it as much. That’s really special. There are so many people who really have believed in us from day one, supporting us, giving us advice and telling us that we can be creative in whatever way we want to be.”
Not everyone gets it, though. Certain people on the internet have seen four girls playing instruments, not listened to what they have to say, and dismissed them as ‘cute’. Naturally, it irritates The Linda Lindas, to the point that Mila says she’d almost rather deal with hateful comments than condescending ones. “You wouldn’t say that to an all-guy band,” Lucia points out. “We take what we’re doing seriously. We haven’t been doing this for a super-long time, but we know that making music is super, super important to us.”
But really, these narrow-sighted keyboard warriors are missing out. These four friends have messages for our time. Doubt The Linda Lindas’ punk credentials, and you’ll be sorry.
Racist, Sexist Boy sent The Linda Lindas stratospheric, and will likely remain their signature song, but they are keen to stress that there is more to them than just fighting for representation and tolerance. “We’ve been put in a position where sometimes we’re expected to talk about racism and sexism, and we want to talk about it, but it’s not all we are. We don’t want it to become our responsibility because we’re young women of colour,” explains Lucia. “It doesn’t mean we owe anybody a story.”
Their debut album, Growing Up, goes deeper than anything they have previously released, keeping an eye on the world they’re discovering, with clear focus on just how confusing and frightening the teenage experience can be. There’s more turbulence to adolescence than adults often give credit for – it involves reckoning with yourself, making mistakes, handling intense new emotions and carving out your own identity. It’s a universal struggle, but one The Linda Lindas have had to face in some incredibly unique and unprecedented circumstances.
“We’ve experienced a lot of history in our childhoods,” says Bela. The pandemic is the most recent example that springs to mind, which compounded the already difficult process of growing up, adding new anxieties to the ‘normal’ day-to-day worries and crises of human life. “We’ve had a lot more time to think and be in touch with our emotions,” she continues. “Sometimes the pace of life, especially here [in LA] is so fast, that you don’t really have time to think.”
While grappling with the events of the last two years, many of us have felt a sense of longing for the experiences we lost when locked up inside. It’s felt especially poignant for the younger generation who have lost more than a year of what’s supposed to be the best time of their lives. Yet for The Linda Lindas, even if there wasn’t much they could do with their band by way of performing, the pandemic still afforded them the chance to make something more of themselves by practicing and improving their songwriting, mitigating the sense of loss for their school years. “Being in lockdown was super-stressful at times because it was kind of scary. We never got to see our families. We couldn’t see each other,” recalls Lucia. “But we’re coming out of the pandemic as better musicians, and that’s invaluable.”
But even before COVID-19 reached American shores, the girls were growing up in rather controversial circumstances thanks to the Trump administration, and the man in the White House who branded Mexicans people as criminals, drug dealers and rapists, and referred to COVID-19 as ‘the Chinese virus’. “There was certainly something every day, that’s for sure,” nods Bela.
It proved pivotal to forming the perspectives that these young women had on the world, which they have shared through their music. It was partly why they wrote Racist, Sexist Boy, which they finished during the throes of the 2020 presidential election that finally saw Trump removed from office. It became an antidote to the sense of powerlessness that they felt, knowing that they were profoundly affected by who their country had chosen for as a leader, but unable to do anything about it because they were (and still are) too young to vote. Adults presumed that they were too young to really be affected by political rhetoric and decision making, but they knew that it couldn’t be further from the truth. “Some people think that because we don’t understand what’s going on, but we see it every day. We understand it,” says Mila. “But if we don’t understand something, we want it explained to us, because we want to understand.”
They might not have had the ability to vote, but at least they have music. And those burning feelings inspired the four punks to write early single Vote!, a rousing yet fun call to the ballot box that made their voices heard in a different sense, as well as encouraging others who are able to vote to do so. This is, in essence, everything The Linda Lindas are about. It forms the backbone of their mission statement, that everybody’s voice is important, no matter their race, gender or age, and that no-one is too small to make a difference. “Whatever you have to say, you should say and be proud of it,” asserts Lucia. “There’s something inside all of us that is really special. I hope that people find inspiration from us.”
All of these influences – the pandemic, global politics, and ever-present emotional growing pains – came together during Growing Up’s recording sessions. As an album, it reveals angrier, angstier sides to The Linda Lindas, inevitably as a result of the sadness in the world at the time they were writing, but it never becomes downbeat. There’s an ebullient bounce to it, as if the fun the band were having making these songs was literally crushed into powder and pressed into the record.
It’s visible from the moment The Linda Lindas fire out of the gates with opening track Oh! (inspired by Eloise trying unsuccessfully to help a classmate who was being bullied), and sweetens its spiralling, angry remorse with a gloriously catchy chorus. Talking To Myself sees Mila take a breezy tour through her own mind as she tries to digest her thoughts, while Bela offers a break from the self-reflection to dial up the fun with Nino, a song about one of her cats, thinking it was only fair that he received recognition after she wrote about her other cat Monica.
Arguably, the angriest moment of the record comes in the form of Fine, which Eloise wrote after feeling aggravated by a film she had watched. “I was very, very angry at the way the main character treated her friends. One of them is a person of colour, the other is a queer coded character, and she uses them the whole time and they never got anything back. It’s kind of how the world is: people with privilege using minorities as stepping stones. That film was branded as feminist, and that bothered me. I feel like with Fine specifically, it’s like people are constantly telling us, ‘Oh, there’s this problem, but it’s going to be fine,’ but I’m like, ‘What can I do about it?’ I feel like it’s important to recognise that things aren’t fine sometimes.”
Lucia preferred to contribute some of the happier songs on the record, including the upwards-looking title-track about embracing being swept along by the tide of growing up, and squeezing the fun out of it wherever possible. She had written some sadder tracks in the studio, but didn’t feel quite ready to put more of her feelings out into the world. The closest she comes to doing that is in Remember, which she co-wrote with Mila about trying to find hope during the bleakness of the pandemic.
“During the days of Zoom school in the pandemic, it just felt like all the days were the same and blurred into one, and you couldn’t keep track of anything,” she explains. “It was hard trying to figure out how to forgive myself for not doing anything on a given day, not feeling guilty for being more productive. Sometimes you have to be okay with not doing anything. Sometimes you need that for yourself.”
Bela had a greater reluctance to dig deep into her feelings when writing songs. She admits that sharing her emotions is something she struggles with more generally, preferring to stick to happier, easier topics like on Nino. When she did have feelings she wanted to explore, but felt too afraid to share publicly, she found a way by writing Cuantas Veces (How Many Times) – the lyrics of which are in Spanish. “Not everybody will understand them, so sharing my feelings feels more sacred and safe,” she explains. “I grew up speaking Spanish and I learned Spanish and English at the same time, so Spanish is a really deep part of who I am.”
As the release date of Growing Up hurtles closer, the girls remain in a state of dizzy disbelief. The Linda Lindas’ successes have piled up so quickly that they’ve still not quite absorbed it all yet, and releasing their debut is the tip of the iceberg. They’re still wrapping their heads around the fact they’ve even made an album. Understandably, they’re buzzing with anticipation, but more than anything, this foursome hope it might be the key that will unlock the doors to more of their dreams. “I hope it helps us reach a larger audience, so we can play other places in the world. We want to travel, we want to put out more music. But it’s about more than that. It’s about us doing what we love.”
Growing Up is released on April 8 via Epitaph Records.
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