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LADYFEST  
A Gentleman’s Guide to Ladyfest that from Andy (from Linus) wrote for Organ and that first appeared in a paper Organ in 2002

First of all let me say: Ladyfest rocks and rules like nothing else.

Ladyfest, originally a one-off riot grrrl-inspired event in Olympia, Washington – home of K Records and the original International Pop Underground festival in 1991 – is gradually becoming a global phenomenon. It has solved the problem of burn-out, which we in Linus encountered when trying to expand the original London riot grrrl scene (finding that the negative press had scared away people who might otherwise have gotten involved and gone on to set up their own events and projects), by the cunning device of having every Ladyfest start from scratch, with new organisers and new ideas, in a different town each time. So the network grows and diversifies while staying at a grass-roots level.

There are more and more events in more and more countries every year. Amy Lou Spencer, a London student who’d been to the original Ladyfest in 2000 and Glasgow Ladyfest in 2002, put the word out that she was looking for people to help stage one in London. The result, in August 2002, was the most fun, inspiring gathering I can remember participating in.

Contrary to press reports at the time, riot grrrl events weren’t the least bit hostile to men (after all, two of Huggy Bear were male too, and one of them wrote most of their lyrics). Similarly, Ladyfest felt like home to me: rock’n’roll bands, egghead electro-heads, artpoppers, zines, badges, films, screenprinted punk babygros & Lou Reed knickers, political banter, stand-up, dancing, and not a single corporate logo in sight.

What do you expect from a ‘festival’? Mostly these days it just involves a bunch of people filing obediently into a field or hall to watch some major-label acts, buying t-shirts and overpriced food, and filing obediently out again with the dismal conditions of their lives essentially unaffected. Well, you want bands, we got bands. We got your Hissyfits right here, with their New York swagger. We got Hello Cuca, blasting out from Spain with their crazed, almost mantra-like garage rock. There’s impeccably classy new-wavers Kirby – organisers of Ladyfest Glasgow. Fellow Glaswegians the Electroluvs, who come on like a hi-energy amalgam of the Buzzcocks & Magazine. Norwich’s fantastic KaitO. The sublime Electrelane. Chicks on Speed, more a multimedia experience than a band, though one of them does crowdsurf. Linus, of course. And many others. The biggest revelation to me and a lot of other people was Gina Birch’s performance. Gina – a founder member of the Raincoats – unveiled a whole set of multi-layered, intriguing music, with live keyboards, guitar, and drums, and pre-recorded bass and other sounds. She had brought the experimental and dub-like aspects of the Raincoats into the realm of the music they influenced – Massive Attack, etc – and she’d made a film to accompany each song. The result was a swirl of energy, intelligence, and emotion on a different level from any band I’ve seen in years.

But the bands weren’t even half the story. Never mind even the films, performance art, even sewing going on in various parts of the site. What really happened at Ladyfest was people meeting each other, realising – to their intense relief – that they weren’t alone out there, celebrating each other, networking. What do I mean by celebrating each other? There was a little group there from Sheffield, shy but wearing big badges with their band name, The Pick Ups, in big proud letters. They haven’t played a note in public, but the badges caught enough attention that they’re already a mini-legend. Doofy girls in their home-assembled finery, resigned to feeling like weirdoes in the streets where they live, suddenly finding everyone wants to know “where did you find that top? You look amazing!” The Radical Cheerleaders – two teenagers from Leeds who do cheerleading chants against sexism and racism, though far more entertaining than that might sound. I said to one of them, Holly, “you rock,” and she threw her hands up and exclaimed “I KNOW!!!”

Our own set made me more nervous than usual. A year ago we feared this kind of spirit was dead forever, now here it is stronger than ever – a whole group of our peers, peers we hadn’t dreamed were still out there. Playing for that audience was nerve-wracking. But I felt energised to be there. At one of the panels, finding myself in a room full of people talking about sexual politics, I realised I hadn't experienced this for too many years - it's as if a whole chunk of my brain had been in hibernation and had suddenly woken up at that moment. Despite not being in the exact target audience, I felt at home at Ladyfest, among people with a sense of other possibilities in life, a sense of what's really important. I'd been afraid it might all be a bit earnest, or maybe people would be a bit cliquey. There was none of that. It was a warm, welcoming, wild event, the essence of what I want life to be like all the time. More than just a bunch of bands or a few arty events, it was like a place in itself, a little city whose streets and squares exist in our heads. Something to carry in your heart for ever.

www.diskant.net/ladyfest
 
 

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