Get Ready for Grrl Fest with Creator Amy Broomstick
In preparation for the February event, LOTL speaks with Amy about the festival, community, and female empowerment.
The Village – Photo by Jorian Gardner
1. First and foremost, we’d like to know where, when, and how much this event would cost. In what type of venue is Grrl Fest held?
For the past two years, Grrl Fest (GF) has been held in underground warehouse venues and changes every year. Currently I am in negotiations with the KO-OP and on the brink of confirming an amazing, huge warehouse in the CBD! Two stories, big dance floor, art rooms and workshop spaces. As the venue is almost confirmed I can’t give away the date yet either sorry! But mid-Feb is definitely when Grrl Fest will be returning. The event itself is an all day and night event for just $15/$20.
2. What types of activities can participants expect during Grrl Fest? Music? DIY activities? Food stalls?
Where do I start! Grrl Fest is a multi-platform arts event. So you can expect a great variety of music, ranging from punk to soul, and booty to garage. Last year Reverse Butcher curated a spoken word stage, and Emile Minx was the sparkly MC of the sensational late night cabaret. We will be holding an art exhibition, showing works from local and interstae artists such as Tiera Boo. Grrl Fest is also an event that is designed to engage with local communities and encourage networks. So having a stall market, zines and workshops are a very important aspect of that. And catering to a diverse range of people is also a very important and challenging aspect!
Last year we had Casey from Knit Your Revolt teaching her unique counter-culture knitting tactics, along-side the “Wheel of Kink” – a (PG) Dominatrix run, interactive game. We hope to incorporate more community-led workshops in the future.
3. What inspired you to produce Grrl Fest?
There were a number of factors contributing to my deciding to single-handedly produce a festival! I have been a passionate events producer for 6 years, focusing on social justice issues. In 2010 I travelled to Kuching Borneo and met some incredible women who told me about their chapter of the international movement “Lady Fest”. I was inspired, but not yet committed to the idea. I continued travelling on my own, and long story short was assaulted walking home late one night. The experience gave me no physical scars, but I was left feeling alone, disconnected, disempowered and most of all completely unsupported. And it struck me that it was actually my destiny to create a feminist festival that strengthened our networks and communities, that brought together all of the amazing women I already knew to make us even stronger.
And of course, this coupled with the fact that all major Australian festivals have an average of 10% female musicians and artists booked is my ongoing inspiration to turn the tables on a male-centric arts and music industry.
4. After doing a little bit of searching, I see that not only are you the director of this event, you are also a performer, known as Bam Bam! Will we see any of Bam Bam’s exciting acts in the upcoming event?
Ahh, well you never know! I am usually running in a million directions the day of Grrl Fest, so performing would be a fantastic luxury. But maybe a more realistic idea for future Grrl Fest’s when I have learnt to give the reigns to others and sit back and enjoy it a bit more. My performance certainly draws upon my feminist ethics in a pretty wild way, so I would love to perform at Grrl Fest one day as Bam Bam.
5. On your website it states that you have recently co-produced and performed at the Found Festival. Is this festival something that you have drawn inspiration from for Grrl Fest?
I draw inspiration from all of the “Power-Babes” in my life, and the Director of Found Audrey Hulm is certainly a constant source of that! Found Festival inspired me greatly to keep on pushing the envelope with Grrl Fest, and keep on expanding. And in return, it was actually Grrl Fest that inspired Audrey to create Found! She came up to me at the end of GF 2013 and said “I’m doing it, we need to talk business”. This is exactly why we need events like this, because they give people permission to go off and create their own dream events/happenings/movements. The more empowered we are as individuals, the more we intrinsically support each other to out and conquer the patriarchy.
6. What do you feel you have learned about yourself and the surrounding female-identifying community in the past Grrl Fest events?
Great question. The year after the first Grrl Fest I learnt so much about the local and global “female-identifying” community. I was also instantly expected to speak for “feminism” with authority and wisdom, because apparently when you put on an event that celebrates women you have to become everyone’s Feminist Oracle. I realised that I had a responsibility to be informed and aware of how Grrl Fest might effect different aspects of surrounding communities. I had to do my research. I had to acknowledge my privileges and make time and effort to listen to the communities around me. Unfortunately, spaces that celebrate women have historically excluded trans women, women of colour, and generally women not from the middle classes. I learnt that there is still a real fear that these spaces will still discriminate against some women, so I did a lot of listening and learning to try to figure out how to move forward with all of our sisters and heal the damage of the past. Grrl Fest is very explicitly and proudly open to trans women, and more than that really. It’s about this space (GF) being their/your space too, a space where all women will be valued and celebrated.
7. On your facebook page, you note that “GRRL FEST is an inclusive safe space for all who wish to be involved.” This wonderfully includes a large number of communities. How does Grrl Fest celebrate all of these different types of people?
I try to program as diversely as possible, not just with musical and artistic taste, but also prioritising different groups that are often over-looked or under-valued. It’s certainly hard as one person, trying to have the broadest reach possible, but there has been a great response in the past of the variety and diversity seen at Grrl Fest on and off stage. And I only want to make that better. The idea of a “safe space” is so much more complex than I realised when I first started this project. You actually can’t please everyone, or create the perfect festival for each and every attendee, but if you come from a place of respect and humility you can just keep working towards that perfection! Grrl Fest operates from a “zero-tolerance” to any form of discrimination frame-work. This goes for the people performing and presenting work, and for the attendees. And the responses to Grrl Fest have been overwhelmingly positive, with the vibe being that of a fun, safe, vibrant and respectful atmosphere.
8. Lastly, what does female empowerment mean to you, and what does it look like in your life?
I think I need another coffee for this question! Wow. Well, female empowerment is having personal and political freedom. Freedom of choice and movement, which also means to be free of violence, oppression and constant judgement. Empowerment to me is ownership of our bodies and lives, to have equal opportunity and a voice that is valued and listened to. Female Empowerment is addressing your own privileges and empowering your sisters along the way.
In my life, I suppose this looks like Grrl Fest. That is the ultimate goal of course.
Amy Broomstick (GRRLFEST)
Taken from Vol.2 – http://homogestaltzine.tumblr.com/
Q1. You spearhead the festival GRRL FEST, which celebrates female performers in the means of arts, music and performance, what inspired you to create this festival?
I do think it’s important that women-orientated fest’s seriously evolve from their beginnings. It’s really important that Grrl Fest be a super inclusive/intersectional space that doesn’t perpetuate discrimination or bullshit. It’s hard to create a space that everyone is 100% comfortable with, but it’s pretty easy to be respectful and keep trying/listening.
Q3. it is interesting you mention the scene in Kuching, i felt the same in Tokyo when i went to a show there, everyone was included there wasn’t a single person left out whatever gender, do you feel that there is a ‘Australian’/misogynistic mentality that is preventing us from progressing onto a equal plane? or do you think that is changing?
I don’t think gender inequality/ misogyny in different scenes is purely an Australian trait. I only touched on the amazing scene in Kuching, and while the women there are really active and respected, they have their own uphill battles to fight. Plus the stigma of being a punk is much greater and therefore much more alienating and a real statement of what you believe in. But like any political scene, there are things that they are working on. My partner and I had to make a big point whilst in Kuching to a number of punx that we were queer, and that homophobia is fucking lame. But the great thing was, was that people actually listened and wanted to understand, rather than reacting defensively or aggressively. Pretty amazing actually!
I think that what is preventing Australian punk scenes from “progressing to an equal plane” is that defensiveness when being called out or challenged. From sexism to transphobia to classism, people across the board are pretty resistant to being “wrong” – which I find a bit boring. No one is born with perfectly balanced politics, and we all have to go through a self-education let go of the idea that we know everything.
Q4. You also mention challenging norms, does it ever frustrate you that these ideas of tokenisation still exist? do you ever feel like “this should be the norm?”
Absolutely! When I first thought to create Grrl Fest, I really just wanted it to be “Rad Babe Fest” or something un-gendered haha. Whilst Grrl Fest came about because I saw a lack of representation and appreciation for female musicians and artists, it was also just because I had SO many friends who were female artists! I will happily stop putting on Grrl Fest when the major Australian Festivals (SoundWave, BDO, Folk Fests, Harvest, Falls, etc) and radio stations have a gender equal line up. I want it to be the norm for an “all female band” to just be a “band”. For the female guitarist to not be first noticed for her gender/looks, but for her kick-ass talent. Haha, yeah it frustrates me!
Q5. With the anti abbott info fair, what are you planning on having at this event? Also has the mediums of social networks helped aid your causes and events? has it been a very positive outcome so far for you and your ideas on DIY?
The Anti-Abbott Info Fair is basically lots of stalls and vendors with information about local and interstate organisations that benefit the community. Orgs such as RISE, FOE, IRAG, Ceres, CASA etc. Basically all of the sectors of society that the Liberal government doesn’t give a shit about. I hear so many people complaining about Abbott, and feeling powerless. So this info fair is designed to show you what you CAN do – volunteer, donate and support the campaigns that already exist, and need the help more than ever.
Social media has definitely been a powerful medium to organise and spread the word of a lot of my projects, including Grrl Fest. This and printing/distributing posters really allows you to access a wide intersection of the Melbourne community. Especially if you are actively seeking a diverse range of people and groups, to make an event as accessible and welcoming as possible. Community radio is also a big factor in DIY organising, and 3CR, PBS and RRR have been so amazingly supporting of me in the past few years.
Q6. In your Burlesque performances, how have they been received? Do you feel performance art is an incredibly strong way to get your messages across because of the interaction you can have with an audience?
Shock is generally the reaction from an audience, but it depends on the environment. I perform sideshow as well, which involves things like eating glass and stapling my chest and butt – so the reactions to this are mostly ones of disgust, which is what I’m going for!
The burlesque side of what I do often challenges notions of gender, and I have been met with a lot of confusion and even anger from male audience members. Often women just laugh laugh laugh at what I do, because they get it I suppose. And in a way I do make fun of how cis males interact with women behaving sexually. I find burlesque is such an effective way to translate across ideas challenging sexism because where else in society do you have women being nakedand funny. I think its very “4th wave feminism” or something, I have been challenged by older feminists before about the use of my body in the realm of the “male gaze”, but just the fact that my performance can spark interesting conversation means that I’ve succeeded in making people think at least. Performance art is definitely a powerful way to convey sticky messages, but it’s always a gamble because you can never really control how an audience will perceive you.
Grrl Fest write up in Time Out.
Inspired by similar Grrl Fests overseas, sideshow performer and self-confessed loud laugher Amy Broomstick launched the Melbourne bash in 2013, a riot of lady talent (or, more specifically, women-identifying talent, because trans-women are equally celebrated). Since its inception, the event’s grown exponentially, celebrating femme musos, cabaret and spoken word.
Grrl Fest makes it clear that everyone’s welcome (including dudes), but only women-identifying talent is showcased. For anyone pondering the necessity for such an event, just check out the women to men ratio on the forthcoming festival line-ups. Not to drop anyone in it, but when Broomstick contacted a major summer festival and encouraged them to include some more female artists, the response was that said festival was “interested in new ideas”. What the? Since when has the inclusion of ladies on a bill been a new idea? We reel.
Grrl Fest also provides a safe festival space and none of us need a reminder that it’s not entirely risk free out there, especially if you’re not a fella.
As you’d expect, the lineup at Grrl Fest is always diverse. The 2014 bill included everyone from Jen Kingwell (who recently wowed the Fringe Festival with a track for track tribute to Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love and DJs the excellently alt-edged cabaret show Glitter and Doom on 3PBS) to those lycra lovin’ Real Hot Bitches.
The event’s not funded, but in past years has been proudly supported by Victorian Roller Derby League and The Village Festival and an impressive collection of stallholders, including Reclaim The Night and Bakehouse Beauties (“vintage buxom broads” who bake – win, win we say).
While a date’s yet to be pinned down, Grrl Fest 2015 is likely to run mid-Feb 2015 and if you’d like to get involved applications are open now for performers, stall holders and volunteers.
The Seen & Heard Film Festival, celebrating the work of women behind the camera, is coming to Melbourne! Between November 13 and 16, at ACMI in Federation Square, Seen & Heard will be presenting eight sessions of funny, moving, beautiful and shocking films made by women around the world.
Check out shmelb.com for the full program and ticketing information.
GRRLFEST.COM HAS BEEN LAUNCHED!!!!