Illustration © Nikki McClure

contentarea top menu

“Ladyfest: Play if you feel like it, not for the money”: An email interview with Melissa from Auckland, New Zealand.

Queer feminism
Race & ethnicity
Teaser Image: 


New Zealand

Melissa discusses DIY, why white Ladyfest organizers need to mind being "inclusive", and the importance of the festival as a queer event.

Please introduce yourself!

Melissa, from Auckland, New Zealand (now currently living in London), 29, library assistant for the money (haha), and co-owner of an underground comix and zines store Cherry Bomb Comics, for the love. Also pretty slack blogger on, a music blog I do with a friend.

Why are Ladyfests needed? What significance does Ladyfest have for you?

There are lots of outlets for girls and queers to create and have fun, but Ladyfest still holds a special shine for me; maybe for riot grrrl nostalgia’s sake or maybe cos I've had fun at most of the Ladyfests I've attended. As soon as people start finding it rule-based or formulaic, it won't be needed anymore: it'll be time to move on and I hope we can recognise that time when it comes round in our own little parts of the world. In terms of it being a way to feel connected with like-minded people from all over the world, it's great – it's our shared experience. The collaborative process usually results in the creation or growth of a community of like-minded individuals in a place, some of whom perhaps didn't know about each other before. Obviously, ten years down the track from first hearing about Ladyfests, I don't think about them with the same naive starry-eyed wonder. Having helped organise a couple I realise some of the problems and am more critical of them; I don't think of Ladyfest as the be-all, end-all, but I'm not disenchanted yet!

How does Ladyfest relate to your feminism?

I was already identifying as a feminist when I started to find out about Ladyfest. The fact that Ladyfest is about promoting music and arts by girls and queers within a political context (ie. workshops, zines for sale, underground films shown) to me is feminist activism, but every Ladyfest is different and some I would consider more "feminism-lite" than others. To honest I think of them more as queer events. To me the word "queer" encompasses gender/sexuality/race/class etc a lot more thoroughly than the word "feminist" - at least in terms of the ideas it seems to conjure up in people's minds. Even though not all Ladyfests deal with these issues all that well, it is the general intention of most people who organise one [to think about these things]. I mean, running a Ladyfest is creating an alternative to the mainstream, one which seeks to inspire and empower, and that's totally activist.

Can you tell us about the process of organising a Ladyfest? What does do-it-yourself (DIY) mean to you?

For Ladyfest Auckland 2008, it started with a bunch of us meeting at someone's house to brainstorm what we'd like to do with Ladyfest. This then got narrowed down to specific jobs (i.e. I was organising the zine fair and workshops, someone else would contact the bands, etc). Everyone went off and did their thing, and we reported back every week or so. We started about three months before the event was planned to happen. We set up the webpage, the email and all that kind of stuff, and also organised a couple of benefit club nights to raise money to pay bands travelling up to Auckland. DIY is what makes a Ladyfest in my opinion, and Ladyfest Auckland 2008 was a good example of that; we pretty much didn't need to pay for anything except a couple of venue hires. Part of the idea of Ladyfest is to show people you can make something happen in your own town, you don't need to be rich: being DIY models that idea. We did consider sponsorship, but ultimately I'm glad we didn't go down that route, as there is no need. Bands should realise what a Ladyfest is, and only play if they feel like it, not for the money. If you only rely on yourselves then you can make the event exactly as you want it, and you don't have to pander to the company or whatever sponsoring you. That said, some kind friends of ours donated various items for our raffle (tattoos, professional photography, etc); DIY encompasses making use of what everyone has to freely offer.

How did your host city and country affect what kind of Ladyfest event you organised?

Auckland is quite small so our networks were pretty interlinked; most of the bands knew members of the Ladyfest organisational team. Because NZ is relatively isolated we focussed on local bands rather than bands and performers from overseas cos we just couldn't afford the cost of flights. But that's always cool anyway, to support what is going on in your own local queer and girl community. The workshops were about what was relevant to us in Auckland too. For example, the workshop "Worse than queer: a discussion on being queer and non-white" was a direct reaction to this really dumb lesbian event that occurred in Auckland shortly before Ladyfest which many of us thought was really racist. Also the way in which we discussed issues surrounding race and identity was specific to the country we live in: a country with indigenous people who are not white and a lot of immigrants of colour and mixed race people.

Did you search for, or try to create, alternative spaces/venues for your Ladyfest?

Yeah. Hiring venues in Auckland can be quite expensive, especially if they are in the areas people generally go to drink and hang out. We picked this old man's pub for the bands to play in, so it wasn't really an alternative space, but it was different anyway and pretty fun to take over that space with our own stuff. There aren't really squatted places in Auckland; cos it's such a small place it'd be really obvious if we'd taken over some building or whatever to have our Ladyfest, that wasn't really an option. It was also sad cos Cherry Bomb Comics had recently closed our physical premises due to rent issues, otherwise that would have been ideal for an event like the film screening. But the performance night and the zines and workshops day was held in a place called Cross Street Studios, which is run by a collective of young artists who live there (they built their own living spaces), and have a big gallery space and library. That was great to be able to collaborate with them and use a space that was DIY and inspiring. We probably could've tried harder looking for more interesting venues for the other events, but we also knew that people can be quite lazy and would prefer not to travel to random locations to get to events!

Do you see Ladyfest as having links to other social movements? Is Ladyfest a movement?

I don't know if I'd go as far as to say Ladyfest is a movement, because hopefully they're all very different. Plus there are lots of other similar festivals going on, like Sheilafest in Sydney and Homo-a-go-go and stuff, so Ladyfest isn't any more or less important than those. But for sure, it has links with other social movements, as often organisers are trying to further a particular cause – e.g. feminism – using Ladyfest as a vehicle, for example by running self-defence workshops— or anti-capitalism, by being DIY. Ladyfests are the new generation of feminists sharing ideas and skills, kind of like the old consciousness raising groups from the 70s.

Do you think there is a stereotype or formula of Ladyfest? What do you make of the 'Ladyfest' name?

When I helped organise Ladyfest Auckland 08 I was really keen to break out of the whole bands/workshops/film formula, but we ended up doing that anyway (though we had a really amazing aerial performance kicking off the event, so that was actually really different). There are criticisms about Ladyfests focussing on one kind of music (like girl punk), but I don't actually think this is really a problem. I mean, that's the music Ladyfest was born out of, and I think including other genres just for the sake of trying to be diverse will always come across false; unless of course the organisers of a particular Ladyfest are actually really into hip hop or whatever, then that's totally great. I'm just sceptical about the handwringing that occurs cos it's kind of patronising too - if girls & queers into hip hop want to make an event, then they are just as capable as girls & queers into punk, and would do a damn sight better job than people who aren't particularly into that genre of music.

Tied up in all that is the criticism that Ladyfests are often not racially diverse, and I think the same thing applies. I'm not white but I like riot grrrl, and there are plenty of other people of colour who like what I like and play in those kinds of bands etc, so I go along and am entertained by what I see (or else I'm involved in organising it, and so make it how I want). Other people of colour who don't like riot grrrl aren't gonna care if the kinds of music they like isn’t represented at Ladyfest, because they're busy attending and organising other events. That said, something I read in the zine Race Revolt #1 really stuck with me – that promoters of Ladyfest should make it clear that it isn't about "women's music" in general, rather it is catering to a specific genre of music that some women play. This avoids creating the impression Ladyfest is for "all women (and queers etc)", when clearly it can never be everything to everyone.

Ladyfests that make out like they are all inclusive are just replicating the hegemonic society that we are trying to avoid living in, where "white" is assumed to be "normal" – or in Ladyfest's case "whitegirlpunk" – so the extent of what a particular Ladyfest can offer should be made clear. Obviously, being a multiracial and queer identified girl from New Zealand, I think diversity is of utmost importance, but the concept of "how can we get more brown people involved in our awesome event" always grates on me. As for the Ladyfest name, I like it. For me it's kind of rooted in riot grrrl and beyond, like "Ballad of a Ladyman" by Sleater Kinney, "Mr Lady" etc. It's probably getting a bit old for the younger generation now (haha); I guess they'll come up with other words.

What practical advice can you give to someone wanting to organise a feminist event?

Try and be as DIY as possible so your group can retain as much control as you can over the event, rather than having to pander to sponsors. Also, work with people you like and can trust, cos it can be a stressful thing to organise if there are dramas in the group. Give yourself plenty of time!! And make sure you promote it with posters and other stuff so that people beyond your group of twenty friends know about it! Other than that, just do it if you want to, cos you can! It's totally possible, and it's a really good feeling afterwards when you realise what you achieved.

Affiliated organisation:
Red Chidgey & Elke Zobl
Show on calendar: