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Interview with Manuela from "Ladyfest Amsterdam"

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54° 41' 16.0944" N, 25° 16' 6.798" E

How would you describe the main idea and purpose of the Ladyfest?

Each Ladyfest has a different purpose (bring together people of different genders in a safe non-threatening space, celebrate femininity in all its forms, just a music or just a political festival). The idea when the first one was organized in Olympia was to bring together the Riot Grrrl bands from the 90s, they decided the word "lady" because they had all grown up since then. As it spread around the world it became THE gathering of Riot Grrrls and anarcafeminists, then it was embraced by the queer movement and the purpose became gender smashing. At this point variations of the festival came about, some thought it should stay punk and DIY, others made it big and commercial, some focus on feminism, some are just another queer party with a new name. I think most people will agree that the idea is to offer an alternative to the mainstream festivals and showcase talent and ideas which normally don't have a place.

Could you please tell briefly the history of Ladyfest in the Netherlands?

The year after the Olympia fest, there was the first one in Europe, in Glasgow (2001), and months before the line-up was even known all the online Riot Grrrl Europe chapters talked about meeting there in person, writing "RGE" with the anarcafeminism sign on our arms so we could recognize each other (nb: these websites all don't exist anymore, there is little left, sadly, try googling a bit and digging). Us Dutch grrls went together, and crashed the stage on the first night letting ourselves known haha! From the very first day we decided we should do the same back home, initially we wanted to go to one big European fest with something from every country but we were far too ambitious, so we just went for Ladyfest Amsterdam 2002. Anyway it was sold out and amazing (scroll: for my review).
We organized one more in 2003, 5 days, 6 venues, ambitious program, looking back it was far too big and we didn't break even - after a benefit night "Ladyfest reloaded" to cover debts we had, the group dispersed.
In 2008 some new, younger girls from mainly womens' studies groups decided to organize one too, and we collaborated with the program but didn't interfere as we felt they should do their own thing, and it was an innovative fest with for instance prostitues speaking, and an urban stage to reach out beyond the white-girl community .
In 2009, a guy from a record label in Rotterdam decided to use his position as programmer of a venue and ask for subsidies to receive money for one, in occasion of touring artist Lydia Lunch. Us original Ladyfesters tried to collaborate, but he ignored and even insulted a couple of us (me&Nora, and later Giuliana Videopirate and finally the whole A'dam scene) and programmed only bands which have nothing to do with Ladyfest (we know them personally and they often said they don't understand why you need one). A couple of people from the original Ladyfest team came back once again, and we organized an alternative festival the same weekend, "The Return of No Future". The Rotterdam festival was empty except when Lydia Lunch was playing, while we had a full house. Unfortunately the press got the wrong end of it, and it's only documented that the two fests are in contradiction, and people's names are mentioned in a negative light. I doubt we will ever have a Ladyfest ever again. At least nobody dares to use that name right now.

It seems that nowadays women and their rights are more or less fully acknowledged, women can choose to live their lives in a way they want and are able to play major role in various different spheres of contemporary society. Is then Ladyfest still needed and why? In other words, there was a question raised for discussion in the last Ladyfest in Amsterdam: ‘Post-Ladyfest, post-punk – why still bother?’

I wasn't at the debate! I was donwstairs getting the stages ready for the bands and managing the time schedule/sound check, my personal contribution has always been the music program, being a music fanatic myself, and playing in a band myself :-) Nora can tell you a lot more about what was said, but basically the conclusion was made that while Ladyfest will remain something very definite for a closed group of people and there's nothing wrong in a gathering, the original Riot Grrrl/Olympian idea has long been surpassed and efforts should be taken elsewhere and new ways to engage more people from different groups should be found. There are still a lot of hetero girls that don't feel at home at a Ladyfest, not enough (gentle)men, transgendered, not enough non-white middle class folks,and otherwise people that have nothing to do with the d.i.y. culture. While it remains a phenomenon of the underground scene it will always exclude a big group. Not everyone agreed that we should include them and go overground, that's why variations should be encouraged. However it's very important that people are connected and we build on each other's experience rather than being isolated events. That's why everyone agreed that for instance the actions of our man in Rotterdam go against the thing that Ladyfests always will have: Participation and empowerement. The problem with a copyleft idea is that anyone can claim it, and i am very inspired myself by for instance the grrls at Wonderground distro in Nantes, FR, who call their parties something else every time and still people come and know what it's about. I tried to do the same with The Recipe Book. (

Ladyfest is closely related to DIY culture and Riot Grrrl movement. Do you think these notions can help to empower women and improve their self-expression? In what way?

I think growing girls don't have enough good role models, and it's getting worse, in this age of "Stupid Spoiled Whores" (South park quote, but basically, all the Paris Hiltons that are in the media teaching girls the only important thing is to look skinny in expensive clothes and party hardy). Riot Grrrls will always be appealing for those looking for empowerement, there are few girls who don't get touched by seeing another girl screaming about sensitive things like rape on stage so openly, without knowing even how to play their instruments very well. And DIY culture shows that punx girls or hippy girls with their face piercings and dirty clothes are happy just the way they are, doing the same things as the boys, squatting, demonstrating, etc. The problem is it doesn't help at all if you're not exposed to these things in the first place! So it actually only helps the people who are on their way there already....

Ladyfest is a feminist event (or at least an event where feminist ideas are prevailing. Correct me if I’m wrong). In Eastern Europe the very word feminist makes ironic and scornful smiles to appear on the faces of both men and women. Would you say that more or less similar attitudes toward feminism and feminist movements can be found in Netherlands and other Western European countries? If yes, why?

Feminism is an F-word all over the world and it's because even within feminism people disagree with each other. My mother was an active feminist when i was born (she took me to meetings and demonstrations, south Italy early 80s was still a dark place), and we disagree! So what people not involved see on the outside, is a lot of anger. Also the more hardcore feminists are very hard in their message, there's a lot of separatism, people are afraid to say they are one. My experience is that when i organize a feminist event but don't call it that way, that's when completely startled people come up to me seriously and say: "Wow, I have been really enlightened with that movie you've shown just now" or, all excited, "what an amazing group of girls that just was on stage".

What in your opinion are the most pressing issues regarding women rights, their social status and identity nowadays?

All women should have the right to live as they want, earn as much as the rest, procreate when and if they want to (and not when they don't), and have the right to live a happy, healthy life, just like the guys. This is also one of the main reasons why I chose to live in Holland and not Italy.

What’s your opinion on the future of Ladyfest?

I have a feeling we will be doing interviews on the history of these last 10 years for another 10 years to come at least....

Manuela U
Goda Klumbyte
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