“Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brought a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland. How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?
This installment of the “Women Runnin It” series features Sarah Sexton, owner and creative director of Oaktown Indie Mayhem Productions. Ambitious and hard-working, Sarah has forged a noticeable steam train as a promoter in the last five years. She produces concerts and events, co-founded the Mayhem Fest along with Awaken Cafe’s Courtt Dunlap (an online song and video contest exclusively for Oakland-based bands), and most recently held down a monthly residency at Leo’s and co-founded a new record label out of Oakland, OIM Records. Currently the booker for both Awaken Cafe and Legionnaire, the eclectic diversity of Sexton’s programming displays a commitment to community strength, engagement, and capacity-building.
A Texan-born Southerner, Sarah grew up in Alabama and Florida and spent time in Seattle before eventually moving to the Bay in 2005. She has been producing events here since 2009. She says her drive to share the resiliency of the cultural arts of Oakland was a motivating factor in her work. “Art, music, & nature are the only things that could ever express both the beauties & the atrocities I felt on the inside about life,” she explains. “[It’s] like a secret moment between the artist & myself. Some things are too hard to voice without a vessel, but art can be that vessel. That is why I created Oaktown Indie Mayhem.”
Her newly established OIM Records, focusing on the indie rock scene in the Bay Area, is a collaboration with producer and engineer Jeff Saltzman and Angelica Tavella, the founder of Oakland Drops Beats. Their debut release, set to be released June 23rd, is a compilation album featuring tracks from thirteen Bay Area bands; the first video release “Frayed” has already received positive reviews for its use of dance and 40,000 still photographs. A special limited edition run of vinyl will be pressed and free cassette tapes are offered at OIM’s June residency tonight at Leo’s with Lila Rose.
Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?
Sarah Sexton: The collaboration factor seems pretty amazing to me right now. There seems to be this overwhelming feeling of musical camaraderie, rather than competition, that seems to be boiling over in this ever glorious puddle of creativity. Artists here genuinely seem excited and inspired by other musicians. I think thats pretty exciting.
Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your promotional and production work?
Sarah Sexton: If you mean, my own creative craft, it’s been an interesting path. I have found that although my passion growing up was painting, writing, and performing. I hit a wall several years ago and got a kind of artist’s block. I had started booking and promoting music and for a while blamed my work for sucking the energy out of my art . . . but in time I realized that the way that I express myself artistically has always changed throughout the years. I hadn’t lost my passion, my medium had just changed. I’m currently learning piano and it’s the perfect accompaniment to my career. It can totally mellow me out after a long day of deadlines and emails and scheduling, which I’m really grateful for.
Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?
Sarah Sexton: It definitely has always been important to me to be conscious in my booking so that i offer a wide array of artists opportunity to express themselves. However, it’s not something that is always easy. It takes breaking out of comfort zones to approach new communities, and taking risks on bands that you don’t necessarily have personal connections to or the inside scoop on. There’s also the whole factor of stepping on toes…I don’t believe I can cover everything on my own . . . it’s not possible. So I might be really strong at promoting/booking indie rock and world music lineups, but that doesn’t mean I know the local hip hop or electronic communities. And if I did, what a boring world it would be if Sarah Sexton thought she had enough taste to book everything. So I prefer to try my hand at an array of styles, but also invite others in to curate their own shows, highlight their communities, and make the venues i work with feel like their home for a night too! I believe diversity is what keeps art forever evolving and blossoming in new incarnations, and hope to support that.
Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes?
Sarah Sexton: It’s all out of love. Love for the music and how it makes me feel inside. Love for the community that deserves a platform for expression. Love for the venues that understand the impact art & creativity has on people and how desperately we need it to heal. There are a lot of other careers that would guarantee a lot more security, but I follow my heart, and my heart says Oakland.
Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?
Sarah Sexton: This may sound kinda cheesy, but i’m really enamored by Bill Graham. How people associate him today in some ways is neither here nor there for me, anytime someone gets big enough there is bound to be the ups + downs of their contributions to society I suppose. But it’s what he helped to build that blows my mind every time i think on it. As a young kid separated from his family in Europe, and coming to America post-Holocaust, he managed to grow up to play a pivotal role in a movement that drastically changed the entire world of rock n roll. That’s pretty epic in my opinion.
Sarah Sexton: I have a few Oakland femme fatales that keep me ever striving upward and forward in the hopes of bringing their level of ferocity and classiness to the game. Women like Jennifer Johns, Antique (Naked Soul), and Zakiya Harris all have inspired me endlessly in their undying commitment to both their music and their community. Strong minds, hearts, and drive show that you can reach great heights if you allow yourself to be the glorious you.
Oakulture: Words to live by?
Sarah Sexton: There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness. -The Dalai Lama
OIM Records Residency at Leo’s TONIGHT!
Lila Rose, Emily Afton, Yassou Benedict, + El Elle
$12 DOS / $8 ADV
Doors 8pm, Show 9pm 18+
Get to know the women previously highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez, Gina Madrid aka Raw-G, DJ Zita, the Soulovely crew Lady Ryan, Aima the Dreamer and DJ EMancipacion and Ramona Webb.
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