The next time you encounter the rage-inducing phrase that feminism is ‘dead’ or ‘obsolete’ (“We have the vote, after all. What more can these bra-burning bitches want?”), point the speaker in the direction of Annie Gardiner of Hysterical Injury, who shocked Bristol Ladyfest 2012 with her installation piece ‘For Whatever Reason’. Built from stacks of NME magazines from 1989 to 2008, Gardiner’s piece acts as a visual representation of the clear gender inequality in the music industry. With a towering pile of male-only cover stars, flanked by three very modest stacks of mixed-gender covers, all-female covers and gender neutral designs, the gender-bias of the music mag highlights both the importance and the necessity of Ladyfest.
Of course, it’s not just NME, and it’s not just the music industry: the gender bias in the arts is well documented and affects every area. Only 32% of Pulitzer Fiction Prize winners have been women to date, and only fourteen women have ever scooped the Man Booker Prize for fiction. In regards to the film industry, Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman to score the coveted Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture, whilst the first film directed by a woman to be nominated for Best Picture was as late as 1986 (Children of a Lesser God, directed by Randa Haines).
Ladyfest is the phoenix to rise from the flames of such obvious gender-bias in the arts. The non-profit festival spawned in Olympia, Washington in August 2000, and acts as a platform for female artists, directors, writers and musicians to come together and showcase their wares to a pro-feminist audience of all ages, nationalities, genders and sexualities.
“It’s about access,” says Annie Gardiner, tweaking her bass and looking like she’s ready to take on the gender bias single handed. DrunkenWerewolf favourite Hysterical Injury were just one of the bands to take Bristol Ladyfest by storm this July.
With a music stage curated by DrunkenWerewolf, comedy from What the Frock! and a selection of workshops, talks, film screenings, zines and vegan cupcakes from passionate, talented women, Bristol Ladyfest 2012 was a recipe for success from the get-go.
Two impartial members of Team Wolf, Alice Slater and Priya Sharma, got stuck into the festival in the name of unbiased reviewing for DrunkenWerewolf… (AS)
Saturday saw a full day of live music painstakingly programmed by DrunkenWerewolf founder and editor Tiffany Daniels.
The day starts off with accidental duo Drunken Butterfly. The three-piece are unexpectedly missing their drummer so it’s down to the remaining two members (consisting of just bass player and guitarist) to warm up the crowd. Opening Ladyfest is no mean feat and although their courage to go onstage and play a re-tweaked set without drums is something to be admired, their songs seem uninspired, unoriginal and leave no lasting impression. Their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” seems lacklustre, but it eases the crowd into the afternoon. (PS)
A lone presence on a dark stage, Rita Lynch commands much attention with a voice that cuts through the atmosphere of The Fleece, forcing the audience to prick up their ears. Her songs combine elements of British punk music with dark, ambient undertones and a voice that floats hauntingly above it all. Watching her play guitar in that pose with that hair, you know she’s done it all before and from here it seems as if the night is going to get really interesting. (PS)
The first band of the night that you can discreetly shuffle to (it’s too early for full blown dancing yet!), The Horn The Hunt fills the entire stage with all their get-up. Vocalist Clare Carter fills the entire Fleece with her impressively powerful voice and arty, ethereal clothing. Releasing all manner of electronica-infused soundscapes, The Horn The Hunt remind me of everything from The Knife to Adele, and their brand of pop deserves to take off in a big way. (PS)
Straylings singer Dana has a voice all deep and growly one minute and all twangy and sweet the next. Comfortably swaying to the guitars and nursing one herself, she seems to be the only interesting one to watch on stage sporting a white floor-length dress straight from an American Western. Sounding a little too much like a 90s throwback, I wasn’t completely set on it musically but Dana is lovely to see on stage. (PS)
Hoping for great things, I was not disappointed when Rachael Dadd made it up to the stage. Heavily pregnant and accompanied by her ‘family’– Rozi Plain and Kate Stables (of This is The Kit) this trio are literally like magic. Able to play every instrument under the sun and blessed with amazing voices that harmonise with each other perfectly, these are some ladies that made some people indeed. Not too cute, very folky and amazingly talented. (PS)
As another part of this holy trinity of folk, Rozi is quieter but has little eruptions of activity throughout her set such as hand claps and one song that brings to mind the summer-tinged feeling of Paul Simon’s Graceland. (PS)
She Makes War, aka Laura Kidd, dragged her career together with a relentless DIY ethos that is both humbling and exciting to behold. A rare opportunity to catch the looping lovely blasting her gloom pop with her immense stage presence, Kidd cajoles the gathered crowd into a readiness for the next act. (AS)
Unapologetic, loud, lairy and full of wholesome attitude, Hysterical Injury fill the Fleece with noise as they stir the crowd into a frenzy. Between thoughtful comments on the value of Ladyfest, Annie tears the room a new one with her brand of fast-paced punk-pop noise. A nod to Patti Smith in the guise of a quick rendition of “Ghost Dance” during medley track “Rainbow Thunderclap” leave this reviewer with a beaming grin. (AS)
At first, it seems as though Mary Epworth‘s blend of folk with ’60s psychedelia and prog influences may take the energy levels down a notch, but only in a kind of inevitable fashion that lets the crowd cool their jets without freezing up entirely. Hysterical Injury are a hard act to follow, but Epworth and her talented band fill the floor with their own brand of energy. Epworth’s ethereal shoegaze vocals soon drift over the thrum of crackling guitar and relentless drums to really grab the audience by the metaphorical balls. (AS)
Shrag are fierce, energetic balls of post-punk rage, blended seamlessly with sharp basslines and cracking vocals that cut straight to the bone. Shrag are a band that command the room: it’s impossible not to groove and shake with their fun, fast-paced and catchy breed of lo-fi zing. “Show Us Your Canines” is a Team Wolf favourite: shouty and brash, it’s a great floor-filler. (AS)
There are some bands that need no introduction, and This is the Kit should damn well be one of them. Frontwoman and ultimate brain box Kate Stables has a silky-smooth voice that packs a punch on demand. Both Rozi Plain and Rachel Dadd join Stables and band for a set packed with hip-wriggling folk that meanders between beautifully traditional and bass-ripplingly prog. The laidback twang on banjo leaves “Easy Pickings” a favourite live track, whilst the almost unnervingly cool “Earthquake” remain a strong crowd pleaser. When This is the Kit wrap up the night, it seems like a travesty that there’s nowhere for Ladyfesters to take their pent up energy other than home. (AS)
Sunday saw a host of events, workshops and talks for the discerning Ladyfest attendee to get stuck into. Whilst the vagina bag workshop remained a mystery for this reviewer, some excellent and thought-provoking discussion was whipped up by a representative of the Bristol One25 project, one of the many charities benefiting from the non-profit festival, as well as a whistlestop tour of the history of feminism from the Bristol Feminist Network. Art work adorned the walls, stalls sold zines and delicious vegan cupcakes whilst a couple of films were screened throughout the day. Unfortunately, attendance was disappointing despite good ticket sales and a packed out gig venue on the Saturday. Whether it was due to poor organisation or a clash with the men’s Wimbledon final remains to be seen, but it seemed such a shame that a day that promised so much ended up being enjoyed by so few. (AS)
Sunday evening was rounded off with live comedy organised by What the Frock. The duo O’Shea and Ogilvie are a bit hit and miss (in the same way French and Saunders are) but prove that physical comedy is still very funny. Stand-out stand-up of the night is Elf Lyons: long, lanky, (like a smart, funny Olive Oil), her weird, silly and highly imaginative brand of comedy reminds me of the surreal weirdness of Kristen Schaal – and all at the tender age of 21. It was a brilliant end to Bristol Ladyfest- silly, inspiring and entertaining in equal measure. (PS)