Back in February, a music blog called ‘Crack In The Road’ tweeted a now widely seen image of the Reading / Leeds music festival line up, edited to include only female performers. It was far from impressive….
Yet it’s not that women artists don’t exist. As we know from organising LaDIYfest, there are so many amazing women and non-binary performers in both DIY culture and mainstream music. In an article for The Guardian following the publication of the altered Reading and Leeds poster, Alexandra Pollard concluded that the reason for the lack of women artists in the line-up is that women are ‘blatantly, malignantly ignored, fetishised or undermined by the music industry’. The Reading and Leeds poster is symptomatic of a wider undercurrent of sexism in music culture, whereby women are constantly judged on their appearance in ways that men simply are not, assaulted by their audiences or undermined at the same time as being celebrated, when successful artists are described as ‘good, for a woman’.
At our Off the Shelf event on Women in Music in November 2014, we discussed these issues with musicians, critics and fans, and found similar problems to be widespread across a range of genres.
Chatting to Dan from Pop-O-Matic, we decided it would be really awesome to showcase some of our favourite bands with female performers, but then we decided to go one step further, why not put on one stage some of the amazing bands that we loved which were ‘all grrrl bands’…?!
Quickly we started compiling lists of bands we wanted to ask..
But just as quickly, we realised that this didn’t come without problems of its own, in the emphasis on ‘female/women’ performers itself.
LaDIYfest Sheffield has always operated, and run events, around being as inclusive as possible. In particular, you may have noticed that we avoid running workshops with gender restrictions like ‘women only’, and try not to phrase issues in relation to biology, or using biological terminology.
One of the problems raised by an event featuring only ‘grrrl’ performers is the issue of ‘gender policing’, or, assuming an individual’s gender identity based on their appearance. Making these assumptions might force someone whose gender identity had been wrongly assumed to ‘out’ them self, which is absolutely not ok.
In an attempt to take account of this, we’ve decided use the term ‘all grrrl band’ rather than ‘all girl band’ – as a distinction moving away from biology, and towards a movement of riot grrrl politics and aesthetics. We want to include all individuals who might feel marginalised by their gender, including people who don’t conform to the gender binary, or who identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, agender or trans. It’s imperfect, but we hope you’ll agree that promoting women and non-binary people in music is work that needs doing – and we’re open to a conversation about better terms, if you have them !
By using the term ‘all grrrl band’ we want to raise our fists in the air to a movement spanning decades, empowering women to literally take centre stage, to pick up instruments and make noise. In doing so, we’ve been influenced by Julia Downes’ inspirational celebration of ‘all-girl bands’ in her book Women Make Noise, which is a great read. Julia, who we were thrilled to have speak at our Women in Music event last year, calls for a recognition of the creativity, skill, and political engagement of all-girl bands, writing that they can be ‘a powerful force for cultural change’ in using music to further the cause of social justice.
And so we hope to present an event with sensitivity to potentially problematic issues, but which gives powerful meaning and attention to bands and performers we admire and want to dance to. We hope you will want to join us – everyone is welcome to attend!
Mark your diaries – Sunday 30th August, at The RedHouse!