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“Ladyfest is something anyone can do”. An email interview with Nina from Hasselt, Belgium.

Riot Grrrl
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Nina is a prolific DIY creator, making zines, illustration, and music. Here she talks about Ladyfest as a temporary community and a much-needed place to renew your energy and creativity.

Please introduce yourself!
I’ve studied illustration/art, cultural studies and gender studies. At the moment I’m trying to find illustration commissions and other artistic work (or anything related to feminism).

My projects include:
• writing zines and making comics, drawing, making crafts and textile art, playing music (as Lost Luna)…
• a DIY production project called Echo (tapes, zines, crafts)
• I started the Riot Grrrl Collectief in Hasselt in 2004
• taking part in actions and organising small DIY/art/feminist/zine/activism events

Some day I want to do a feminist (pirate) radio show and make animation/documentary films.

What was your first Ladyfest experience like?

The first Ladyfest that I went to was the first one that I helped to organise: Ladyfest Leuven in July 2002. I don’t want to boast, but for me it felt amazing. Even though it was only 1 day (or one evening), it gave me a lot of energy and was very encouraging to see all these grrrls and their cool projects and music. It felt like a temporary community, something I had been looking for, but that was over way too soon. So I was kind of “home-sick” when it was over.

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

There are lots of reasons for me to organise / take part in / go to a Ladyfest, but one of the most important reasons is to find a like-minded understanding supportive DIY-feminist space and community. It’s like a safe heaven where you can renew your energy to go kick ass, be confident, be creative, and fight injustice in the world again.

Other reasons why I go to Ladyfests: to learn interesting new things in empowering skill-sharing workshops, to find out about lots of great art, films, music and other interesting projects made by women, girls, feminists, queers and transgenders (to balance the otherwise very male-dominated art world, music scenes and activist movements, to realise that you can be creative too and that what we make/do is way more interesting than most of the high art, mainstream music or party politics), to build a feminist network that lasts longer than the duration of one Ladyfest and to encourage women/girls/transgenderqueers to make art, organise and do things themselves.

How does Ladyfest relate to your feminism?

I see Ladyfest as an example of feminist practice. In a broad sense it can be seen as a form of activism. It brings feminists and one-day-soon-might-be-feminists together, makes people aware of feminist issues in a fun and creative way and shares information about feminist-related topics. It’s also putting feminist theory into practice, like creating a small temporary feminist utopia where organisers, volunteers, bands, artists and audience are equally valued and everyone can and is encouraged to participate in a non-hierarchical way (or at least we try this).

I don’t know which wave Ladyfest is part of, maybe the 4th wave? (If you count early riot grrrl and cyberfeminism in the 90s as 3rd wave). I would like to see feminism as a constant flood! The feminist flood! Drowning patriarchy!

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

Was there a process? It was more like chaos! During both Ladyfests I was involved in, the organisers all lived in different cities. It was very hard to meet regularly and discuss the organisation of the festival. Some organisers didn’t have internet access so we juggled between mails, letters and a few meetings. It was difficult and stressful too because some of us (including me) didn’t have any organisation experience. But in the end everything went fine. I’m proud we have accomplished it! These Ladyfests were the first “things” I had ever organised, and even though I don’t consider myself as “an organiser”, they did show me that I can make such things happen.

DIY means a lot to me. It is crucial to the way I look at my feminism. It is autonomy, creativity, freedom, the encouragement that “you can do this”… I think for the Ladyfests I was involved in, DIY meant that anyone could contact us and join the organisation. The artists and bands we booked were quite DIY too in the way that they weren’t mainstream rockstars. They carried their own amps! It was important for us to ask indie bands/artists not only because they were more affordable but also because we like their music/art better and it needs to be heard/shown. And by putting DIY bands on the program, audience members will feel more that they can do this too, as opposed to when famous bands who are put on a pedestal take the stage.

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

The first one (Ladyfest Leuven 2002) was organised in a squat and the next one (Ladyfest Liège 2003) in a punk/art/youth venue, which I think was an ex-squat. These places were chosen by Coline because she already knew them. I think they were very good choices. Firstly because they were free, we didn’t have to pay rent (which would have been very difficult for us financially if we had to), and also they fitted in the DIY ideals of Ladyfests.

Did the boundaries between organizers, participants, and audience members become blurred or challenged during your festival?

At the Ladyfests I helped organise, it was like other DIY festivals I think. Not more blurred, but not less. We didn’t particularly discuss this, nor did we do extra efforts to blur the boundaries (such as include an open stage or ask people during the festival to volunteer, although everyone could always mail us to offer help). But when talking about physical boundaries, for example at Ladyfest Leuven 2002 there was no real stage. The audience was standing on the same level as the performers and bands. The organisers, bands and artists were of course very approachable (anyone could talk to anyone). There was never any rockstar - fan division. Bands that played were relatively unknown and independent/DIY which contributed to this. This also helped to keep the entrance cheap, which in its turn made the festival less exclusive or elitist.

Is Ladyfest a movement? What connections do Ladyfests have to feminisms past?

Ladyfest could be seen as a movement, but I think “network” is a better word. Movement seems to refer to a more agreed upon agenda or theory, and Ladyfest is something that anyone can do and make how they want (as long as it’s anti-sexist etc). It’s less predictable, less static and more creative.

I assume that there must have been Ladyfests in the previous feminisms, but under another name. Such gatherings and festivals of feminist women, this can’t be something new! Feminists have since the 60s done a lot of things themselves and organised creative feminist events. In Belgium and the Netherlands one of the more radical (but well-known) feminist groups in the second wave was Dolle Mina. In several ways they are similar to today’s anarcha-DIY-feminists. They were leftist and radical for their time and they did inventive funny sometimes “shocking” actions. I like to think of them as the mothers of riot grrrl and other contemporary DIY feminists in Belgium. But unfortunately there isn’t any contact between the women who were involved in Dolle Mina and the new feminist groups.

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

I see a lot of variety in the Ladyfest programs (for example in music styles and subjects of workshops). The concept behind every Ladyfest may differ too, but in general they are pro-feminist and pro-women. I assume almost all of them are autonomously organised by volunteers and this DIY-spirit plays a big role in Ladyfest, because it means that anyone can organise a Ladyfest. You don’t have to be a professional festival organiser or academic feminist. Still, there is a lot of space for regional focuses, personal preferences of the organisers and contemporary needs and interests. And even though most artists and volunteers taking part in Ladyfests are women and transgenderqueers, I’ve seen some boys too (like Eric during Ladyfest Liège!). So also gender-wise, anything is possible. As long as it’s a feminist and non-commercial/grassroots festival/event, it can be a Ladyfest. There’s a lot of freedom in its concept. And that’s a strength.

I find the name “Ladyfest” very interesting. I assume it was started as a response to riot girl, to involve and inspire older women too, because the organisers of the first Ladyfest who used to be involved in riot grrrl had grown older too. For me the name Ladyfest is both empowering and a bit of a funny joke. Because the word “lady” comes with a certain image of a rich upper-class well-behaved adult woman, I find it interesting to disrupt and redefine the word. It’s similar with how words like “dyke” and “queer”, once insults, are now reclaimed by the radical queer community. In this way, a “lady” can be a riot woman, a gender rebel, a DIY-feminist organiser or anything you want. It doesn’t have to refer to one single gender or one age group or one class or one subculture. I’ve seen that various Ladyfests, such as the ones in Berlin and Köln, are struggling with the word too and are trying to find new meanings, even new ways of spelling “Ladyfest”. This is good I think. It makes it flexible for different people and in this way, Ladyfest can evolve.

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

Start on time! Divide tasks! Think about what you want to do and what you can do. Have fun, don’t let it be a stressful experience, be sure you enjoy the Ladyfest and the organising of it!

Nina, Ladyfest Belgium organizer
Affiliated organisation: 
Ladyfest Belgium / Riot Grrrl Collectief / Echo Distro
Red Chidgey & Elke Zobl
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