With Ladyfest London 2002 kicking off this week (click here for our preview, and check out the official site), it seems many still have misconceptions about the festival and its aims. I asked Ladyfest London organsiers Irene and Richard to clear up a few things for our readers' benefit:
DiS: First of all can you tell us a little about the origins of Ladyfest - how long has it been going for, who started it and how did it come about?
Irene: Olympia, Washington USA, was the first Ladyfest in 2000, organised mostly by women involved in the local scene such as Sleater-Kinney. It attracted many great performers such as Cat Power and Neko Case. In a broader historical context, we feel very much rooted in the ethics and legacy of early 80's punk and new wave musicians such as The Slits and Kleenex, among whom there were many women.
DiS: Roughly speaking what are its aims?
Richard: Partly to cast some sort of spotlight on sadly-ignored female artistic talent, and partly to encourage more women/girls to get involved in arts and music, whether by actually meeting people and networking at Ladyfest itself, or by reading about it and thus realising that this is something they can do for themselves.
Irene: For people to come and have fun, participate, and take away with them a sense that anyone can get their hands messy with art and get active however they feel they want to!!
DiS: How much work do you feel needs to be done in raising awareness of womens contribution to the music scene, and of DIY culture in general? With bands like Le Tigre selling out the Astoria recently it seems like progress is being made - how successful do you think Ladyfest has been in the past?
Richard: I think there's a huge amount that needs to be done. I think the very fact that Le Tigre selling out the Astoria is seen as some sort of victory just goes to show how atypical it is. That's not to say I don't think progress is being made: I can think of lots of indie bands who have 1 or 2 female members, and whereas 10 years ago that would have been "shock! horror! there's a girl playing bass/drums/whatever", it's nice to see that, say, the drummer from Seafood isn't seen as some sort of gimmick but as just another musician. But I hardly think that's the end of the road - if I count the female artists playing at Reading Festival, for example, well, it's not exactly a large percentage, is it?
DiS: Many seem to have the mistaken impression that Ladyfest is a women only event or that men are not welcome - in particular many men I've spoken to seem reluctant to attend some of the Ladyfest gigs despite being really into the bands playing because of the "vibe" given out by the event in some circles. Do you think more could be done by the organisers to avoid this rather unfortunate effect?
Richard: Well, I'm male, and at no point has anyone ever told me not to turn up to meetings, or made me feel unwelcome. I suppose some men might feel intimidated by mixing in a predominantly female audience, but if that really is the case then surely it would be even worse for women who want to go to (male-dominated) gigs normally. In which case isn't that a much more serious problem for us all to worry about than any fear men might have about turning up to Ladyfest?
Irene: Hearing that men feel deterred is really the saddest thing for us - we were precisely clear from that start that it would be an event for everyone with the involvement of everyone - you only need to look at the number of male peformers, or the fact that several of the key organisers are guys. Personally, of my friends coming, I think the majority are male - most of whom are veterans of previous Ladyfests! And crucially, sexism and patriarchy affect 100% of the population, men as much as women - so we want them to come along and have just as much fun!
DiS: While celebrating women in music, Ladyfest seems to concentrate on DIY/Punk/Indie areas of expression - to what extend is an effort being made to include women into other types of music and the cultures surrounding them in the festival this year?
Richard: Well it is certainly the case that in the past feminism in music has been associated particularly with the indie-punk genre that is "riot grrl". Now, there's a limited amount we can do about that - given that lots of the people who will turn up to Ladyfest want to hear that sort of music, and that many of the bands who want to play are into that sort of music, we can't just turn around and say "No, we're only having drum and bass this year, and it's for your own good", as that would be more than a little patronising. But on the other hand, there is some great "non-punk" music made by women, and we've tried to show that as well, hence the line-up on the Sunday night. I mean, it'd be terrible if there were women out there who were interested in music but felt that because they were women they weren't "allowed" to be into, say, electronica, and while we can't magically create loads of female electronica bands to encourage them, we can certainly show off the ones that we know about!
Irene: To make it clear, Ladyfest is all about independent and DIY alternatives - we have no interest in aping Lilith fair! I believe that punk is everything to do with attitude, and enthusiasm, and very little to do with musical style. We tried extremely hard to have bands that we feel represent that attitude in 2002 - thus the inclusion of many more electronic musicians such as People Like Us or Printed Circuit. We want to inspire new and exciting forms of expression rather than some retro aesthetic.
For those interested in attending, the evening line-up features many DiS faves, including Chicks On Speed, Electrelane, Katastrophy Wife, Angelica, Kaito, Lolita Storm, Mika Bomb and Bangs. For more detailed line-up and ticket info visit ladyfestlondon.org.