Never mind the b*ll*cks

Ladyfest, the in­ter­na­tional mu­sic and cul­ture fes­ti­val for women, comes to Cork this week­end. Yes it’s a fem­i­nist event, and it’s also a show­case for some hap­pen­ing fe­male mu­si­cians, writes Sinead Glee­son

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

ARLIER THIS year, af­ter the Brit and NME awards, there was some de­bate about the lack of fe­male win­ners. Look­ing at the gong tally for boys, you’d think that a) there were no women mak­ing mu­sic, and b) the ones that are, aren’t very good. Non­sense, of course, but in re­al­ity there isn’t much room on th­ese testos­terone-soaked mu­sic stages for a de­cent com­ple­ment of women.

One fe­male-friendly plat­form that has seeped into world­wide pub­lic con­scious­ness is Ladyfest. Billed as a non-profit, com­mu­nity-based mu­sic and cul­ture fes­ti­val pro­mot­ing women, it’s hard to be­lieve that the con­cept is not yet a decade old. The first fes­ti­val took place in 2000 and has been run in such places as Am­s­ter­dam, South Africa, Hawaii and even Dublin in 2004. It con­tin­ues to thrive as more women em­brace its ethos of em­pow­er­ment through art, fem­i­nism through mu­sic. The latest in­stal­ment kicks off this week­end in Cork and it’s 100 per cent in­de­pen­dent, or­gan­ised by women and aimed at ev­ery man, wo­man and child who wants to par­tic­i­pate.

“Ladyfest Cork was con­ceived by a group of women in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing pos­i­tive, al­ter­na­tive and kind of fem­i­nisty in Cork,” says Shelley Mars­den, one of the or­gan­is­ers. “What started as a pub con­ver­sa­tion has be­come a week­end-long fes­ti­val show­cas­ing fe­male tal­ent. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the DIY ethic, and shows what we’re all ca­pa­ble of.”

Mars­den and a group of 12 other women rolled up their sleeves to get the fes­ti­val be­yond the idea stage stage. Ev­ery­one on the com­mit­tee has an equal say, and all de­ci­sions are made by con­sen­sus, but one of the fes­ti­val’s mis­sions is to get oth­ers to par­tic­i­pate.

“With the vis­ual arts as­pect, a huge em­pha­sis is on col­lab­o­ra­tive art, where fes­ti­val­go­ers will be able to help cre­ate sculp­tures and art work.”

The DIY el­e­ment of the fes­ti­val can’t be stressed enough. The Ladyfest anti-brand is a tem­plate to be tweaked and stamped with the iden­tity of the city and the peo­ple host­ing. At the 2004 Dublin Ladyfest (which I had in­volve­ment in), ev­ery­one brought a skill to the ta­ble and con­trib­uted in what­ever way they could. Un­like a fran­chise, Ladyfest is open-ended and mal­leable, as long as it pro­motes fem­i­nist ideals through art and mu­sic. With no drinks-com­pany brand­ing or PR spin­ners, the fes­ti­val re­lies heav­ily on al­tru­ism and word of mouth.

“We re­ceived no fund­ing or grants so all costs for the fes­ti­val have been cov­ered by fundrais­ing, ” says Mars­den. “Lo­cal mu­si­cians, pro­mot­ers and busi­nesses have helped out through lend­ing gear, do­nat­ing raf­fle prizes and of­fer­ing their venues free of charge.”

An­other hall­mark of Ladyfest is that any profit made goes to char­ity – Ladyfest Cork has cho­sen the Cork Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Cen­tre.

Al­though the fes­ti­val pro­gramme con­tains ev­ery­thing from film screen­ings, clothes swaps and craft stalls to work­shops on DJing and yoga, mu­sic has al­ways been the cen­tral cog in Ladyfest’s wheel. The fo­cus isn’t on lo­cal acts or even fem­i­nist bands, but par­tic­i­pat­ing bands are al­ways aware of the ethos be­hind the fes­ti­val.

“Ladyfests are not only about pro­mot­ing fem­i­nism, but all forms of equal­ity. It’s about cre­at­ing an in­clu­sive, pos­i­tive space for ev­ery­one. We want peo­ple to be able to look be­yond the la­bels like male, fe­male, straight, queer, etc and see the tal­ent that’s there.”

Show­cas­ing Ir­ish tal­ent is im­por­tant but all­girl bands are not a pre­req­ui­site. Many of the acts, in­clud­ing Janey Mac, Es­tel and Queen Kong, have male/fe­male line-ups. In­ter­na­tion­ally, Ladyfest has at­tracted high-profile per­form­ers such as Sleater-Kin­ney, Cat Power and The Gos­sip, while Kimya Daw­son and New Bloods play Ladyfest Lon­don next month.

One of the acts on the Cork bill, Bela Emer­son, has par­tic­i­pated in five other Ladyfests and loves the ideals be­hind it. “Ev­ery one I’ve at­tended has been so much friend­lier than per­form­ing at a large fes­ti­val like Glas­ton­bury. It’s such an amaz­ing cel­e­bra­tion of women be­ing creative. At each Ladyfest, the at­mos­phere and en­ergy are wild. It’s so fo­cused and so cel­e­bra­tory . . . just what a fes­ti­val should be.”

Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Erica Jong re­cently urged us not to for­get about fem­i­nism and the ideals of 1968. So is Ladyfest the nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of group fem­i­nism and sis­terly co­op­er­a­tives, or could it be viewed – as some view the Orange Prize for Fiction – as a to­kenis­tic event for women that cre­ates sep­a­rate­ness, not unity?

Mars­den doesn’t be­lieve so. “It could be, if there weren’t al­ready a lot of women out there mak­ing mu­sic and art, but with­out a plat­form. Ladyfests are more about re­dress­ing the bal­ance. Hope­fully, it will en­cour­age more women to pick up an in­stru­ment and start mak­ing their own mu­sic.”

Emily Aoib­heann of Party Weirdo and Janey Mac agrees. “As it stands, women are of­ten ex­cluded from the main­stream mu­si­cal sphere, where most of the women are to­kenis­tic. Events like Ladyfest open up a space for a more rad­i­cal ex­plo­ration of what it is to be a wo­man and, more re­cently, what it means to be a man.”

As pro­gres­sive as new men may be, a lot find the F-word very off-putting. Medbh Cheasty of You’re Only Mas­sive be­lieves that, as long as fe­male artists are marginalised, “we may as well claim the mar­gins as a space, but men and women are not that dif­fer­ent ul­ti­mately and I don’t think there is a need to sep­a­rate them, just to level out the play­ing field.”

Men at­tended the Dublin Ladyfest in size­able num­bers, and Cork can ex­pect the same sup­port. Di­ver­sity, co-op­er­a­tion and in­clu­sion are what Ladyfest aims for. Whether you sign up for belly-danc­ing, com­edy im­prov classes or a talk by Mus­lim women in Cork, it’s all about cel­e­brat­ing women.

Ladyfest vet­eran Bela Emer­son

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.