‘Addressing the balance’: Ladyfest Manchester combat gender inequality in music

Click through to the Ladyfest MCR 2015 Facebook event and you’ll see that 1,207 people have confirmed that they’re ‘attending’ this Saturday’s celebration of all things female.

Unfortunately for co-organiser Carly Lyes, the Islington Mill in Salford only has a capacity of 325.

“There’s people all over Facebook saying ‘please, please I really want to come, can I get a ticket?’,” she told MM.

“It’s gone from being something where we were like ‘is anybody actually going to turn up?’ to being like ‘oh my god there’s so many people that still want to come in and can’t get in’.”

The one day event will, as the name suggests, be putting women’s voices to the forefront, with the line-up including bands, comedians, speakers and practical workshops.

For Carly, Ladyfest comes, in part, as a reaction to the commercial festivals and club nights that she thinks are ‘indistinguishable’ from each other.

“They’ve all got a really similar headliner, really similar bands that all come from similar management companies and similar record labels,” she said.

“Ladyfest is a lot more grass roots, a lot more than just another music festival. Something that’s a bit more dynamic, something that’s got different things going on.

“We’ve got comedy; we’ve got workshops and more of a kind of social and political aspect to what we’re doing.

“We’re not just another money spinning festival with major label artists, so I think people have responded to that really well and I think that’s what’s made it become such a popular thing.”

When it comes to finances, the money raised from ticket sales will be going towards next year’s event and proceeds from raffles and merchandise will be donated to local women’s charities.

The line-up itself is littered with punk and DIY bands; politically engaged and angry music that has always been integral to feminism, from Viv Albertine to Kathleen Hanna.

“We’ve had to ask for favours from a lot of people and I think the punk scene in particular has always been really responsive and open to new ideas,” said Carly.

“To doing things that aren’t necessarily about big commercial exposure and being paid loads of money.

“I think that DIY sort of feel and that punk approach really chimes in with that we’re trying to do and that ethos of the social-political non-commercial aspects of what we’re doing with Ladyfest.

“I think that’s why bands in those communities have responded a lot more. Obviously over the next couple of years we’re hoping to expand and do some different events some different styles of music.”

So far so good – but what about the inevitable criticisms that an event that is so bold in its embrace of femaleness is bound attract?

Carly said: “When we first started putting word out that we were looking for artists and participants people were like ‘well what about Men’s Fest? What would happen if there was a Men’s Fest where only men played?’

“We were like ‘what? Like 90% of the festivals that already exist in this country?’

“Something was published earlier on in the year I think it was Leeds and Reading or V Fest – they put up the timetable of bands and they crossed out all of the bands which had only male band members.

“I think they crossed out like 85% of the acts. Probably like 10 to 15% of the acts that had a single female member in, let alone a female artist who was actually doing the song writing or taking the lead.

“Most were like a backing singer or a drummer – not to denigrate those people’s contributions but they weren’t the main driving force behind that act.

“When situations like that are happening, to turn round and try and criticise people for trying to address the balance is pretty ridiculous.”

However, the all female line-up doesn’t affect the guest list, and Carly is keen to note that all genders are welcome.

The focus, she emphasises, is on raising female voices without disenfranchising others.

The workshops, in particular, will give those in attendance the opportunity to get involved with different skills that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.

From digital media, to self-defence and plumbing.

“It’s very rare that there are designated DIY workshops for women that are very supportive of styles of learning and ways of communicating that aren’t about competition and ‘I know more than you’.

“I’m also looking forward to the talks about consent, the ones about sex and gender.

“You don’t actually get to have women coming together and talking about their experiences in these areas very often. I think they’re going to be really, really special,” she said.

Entry to the Ladyfest workshops from 12 to 6pm will be available to non-ticket holders on a first come first served basis, but the organisers cannot guarantee entry.

Find tickets to the festival here.

Image courtesy of Gaelx, with thanks.

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