Ladyfest, Easthampton: Preview, Interview, Get Fuckin’ Pumped

OK, a Ladyfest preview, interview, and general geek-out session, just after I tell a little introductory story.

A Sex Sux (Amen) origins story, if we were a super hero… (NERD ALERT!)

Intro Anecdote

I graduated from UMass-Amherst two years ago.  As I reflect and consider the important decisions and indecisions I made over those four years, none were as important as my freshman-year impulse to DJ my very own radio show at 91.1FM WMUA.

Before I knew it, I was music director, then programming director; co-host of two prime-time shows; and inundated with more music than I had time to listen to.

The most educational part of my schooling was the time I spent at 91.1 FM WMUA.  I owe a lot to the people who ran and currently run that place.

A few weeks back I visited my old radio station, attended the excellent Elephant 6 collective gig at the Flywheel in Easthampton, and visited the best record store in the world, Mystery Train Records (in Amherst).  It was nice to check in and see all the cool things that were going on around town.

I ran into one of my fellow WMUA DJ’s, Erika Elizabeth Patsy, at Flywheel, and she told me about the tremendously inspiring festival she was planning.

Erika is one of the many people at WMUA who shifted my perspective on underground music.  When she was music director, Erika was always questioning the established standards for the average college radio DJ, always pushing everyone to check out new stuff that deserved attention, but was slightly under the radar.

Back when I was a stubborn 19-year-old child, Erika introduced me to millions of bands.  Generally whenever she vouched for a record, via her accurate and concise reviews, they were worth checking out.

A brief list of music I discovered through her insight: the back catalog of K Records-related bands, “Rriot girl” punks, the horribly underrated Nina Nastasia, Steve Albini-related riff-raff, the early seeds of No Wave, Jay Reatard and King Khan and other garage punks (before that was hip), and countless other artists who I’m forgetting.

Thanks Erika!  Praise music snobs everywhere!

The most important aspect of Erika’s radio philosophy was not to settle for whatever Pitchfork was force-feeding the hipster masses.  If you think for yourself, dig around a little bit, then you were bound to find cooler, more genuinely artistically and gratifying music.  And then, you know, you might even build your own personality, rather than be the next hipster kid with horned-rim glasses and tight pants, waxing poetic about LCD Soundsystem.

I’m glad to hear that Erika’s still fuckin with people’s heads.  She has helped organize a very cool happening out in Western Massachusetts this coming weekend!!

Ladyfest?  Ladyfest!

The event is called Ladyfest Easthampton and it’s happening this coming weekend at the old town hall, now known as the Flywheel Arts Collective, April 15, 16, and 17.

According to their website, Ladyfest is “a three day music and arts festival, with hands-on workshops, vendors, and performances at Flywheel Arts Collective and Smith College, our mission is to celebrate and support all musicians and artists in the DIY underground  whose gender identity falls outside of the dominant cultural mainstream, including but not limited to women.”

Click here: Ladyfest homepage

Also click here: Ladyfest schedule

I’m super psyched for Erika and all the Flywheel people for their contribution to progressive, f0rward-thinking art and music.

I sent Erika a few questions about how Ladyfest got organized and got the inside scoop on a whole buncha stuff.  Enjoy!

Interview!

Sex Sux (Amen): What, specifically, was your light-bulb/epiphany moment that got the ball rolling on organizing Ladyfest?

Erika: In terms of the seeds of Ladyfest, it came about back in the fall at a Flywheel event (which one exactly, I’ve since forgotten), where I was talking to Meghan & Tessa, two friends of mine who happen to also be Flywheel volunteers.

I don’t remember exactly who brought it up first, but somehow we all realized that we had a similar idea in mind for doing a show or series of shows at Flywheel that would feature all-female or female-fronted bands, because more involvement from lady musicians was something we were all pretty interested in supporting within the local music community.

Being made aware of the fact that other people wanted to do something similar definitely lit the fire under all of us to actually start planning an event together.

We threw around some ideas for a few months & ultimately decided to do something under the Ladyfest umbrella because we had all been really inspired by previous Ladyfests/related fests, going back to the Olympia/DC riot grrrl days. It seemed like an amazing way to integrate our goal of celebrating women in the DIY/underground music scene at Flywheel AND continue this really rich tradition of like-minded projects that had come before us all over the world throughout the last several years.

SS(A): When did you stumble upon the Olympia/DC scene and what kind of effect did it have on your outlook on art, music, and, subsequently, your life?

E: Oh, that’s a tough one. I can’t quite pinpoint how it happened – around the time I was thirteen or so, I started to realize that the music I was most excited to hear on the local alternative rock radio station was sort of an anomaly in their overall programming. This was the mid-to-late 90s, so I was lucky enough to be able to catch stuff like the Breeders, Pavement & Nick Cave on mainstream alternative rock radio if I was willing to sit through a bunch of mediocre grunge knockoffs in the meantime.

So I started listening to an unhealthy amount of college radio (literally, because I would not sleep in favor of staying up to tape shows off the radio all night) after turning my radio dial to the left on a whim & trying to get my hands on as many underground music zines as a kid can in suburban Houston sans the internet.

Basically, I got pretty geeked out on indie rock. By the time I was in high school, I started developing a greater social/political awareness that wasn’t always a focal point in the indie rock scene, particularly when it comes to issues like feminism. Most of my friends were involved with the DIY hardcore/punk community & socially, I identified more with that scene, although I found a lot of the music to be really uninteresting.

So I was kind of caught between two camps – being really into indie rock music but often feeling somewhat out of place in that scene as someone who identified very strongly as a feminist (also without wanting to be lumped in with the Lilith Fair/Indigo Girls mentality of feminism in music), versus identifying very closely with lots of “punk rock” politics (anti-sexism, class awareness, projects like Food Not Bombs) although I didn’t really care about the music at all.

I started trading mixtapes with people very frequently, reading more zines & slowly this really amazing connection came about, where I discovered a bridge between a lot of the “indie rock” bands I already loved (like, say, Beat Happening, Unwound & K Records/Kill Rock Stars stuff) & the story of this “riot grrrl”/DIY scene that had been off my radar, even though I was familiar with a lot of the major players.

I heard bands like Bikini Kill & Bratmobile on college radio, but I had no idea about this whole musical/artistic community that existed in places like DC or Olympia, with people who played in bands AND we talking about getting more girls to pick up instruments, about DIY ethics, etc. This was huge for me!

Even though the heyday of riot grrrl was over & I never officially aligned myself with the movement, I finally felt like I didn’t have to make a decision between listening to my Sonic Youth albums & calling dudes at shows out for asking me if I was just there because my boyfriend brought me along. I started doing my own zine, I ran a record label for years, I minored in Women’s Studies in college, I did a radio show at my college station & all of these things were totally natural to me because I no longer felt like I had to choose an alliance between being an underground rock fan & giving a shit about my personal politics.

SS(A): What were the steps you and meghan and tessa had to take to get this together?  how long have you been planning this?

E: The initial seeds together came together back in September or so, where we threw around possible ideas for this yet-undetermined event, but we really started to plan things concretely around December or January. That’s when we figured out a date (we picked mid-April so it would fall in between spring break & summer vacation for all of the colleges out here) & began to write to a ton of bands from all over the place, expecting that a lot of them wouldn’t be able to play (especially considering some of them were from places like England & Costa Rica).

Once we started getting some responses in January or February, we were able to expand things a little bit, knowing that we had a pretty solid base to work from. That’s when we started reaching out to other organizations and people that we wanted to be involved with Ladyfest, either by making pieces for the group art show we’re hosting, or setting up an info table during the event, or selling local crafts, etc.

Mid-April seemed really far away when we first started planning, but it came up so damn fast! Once you’re trying to coordinate crash spaces for a dozen bands, contacting local businesses to donate some money to the event, printing hundreds of flyers & answering tons of e-mails from people wanting to play, the time seriously flies by.

Thankfully we had a really amazing response from other people who were interested in actively helping to plan Ladyfest – Erin, Jeremy, Chris & Lei who are also Flywheel volunteers, an intern from Hampshire college (also named Jeremy), our friend Candace who plays guitar in a really rad local band called Bunny’s A Swine, and Grace who is a DJ at WOZQ over at Smith College all came on board & have been totally crucial in making this crazy thing actually happen.

SS(A): Who were the first people to get booked?  Did one door open up and lead to other groups/speakers?  Do you see this becoming an annual thing or a one-time only?  Does it depend on the turn-out?  Can you give me one or two lesser-known musicians/groups that are performing that people should check out?

E: Some of the first people to get booked were local/regional bands that didn’t have to worry about trying to schedule Ladyfest into any tour plans. When we first started talking about doing this sort of festival, it was actually at a Flywheel show for this really amazing band from Boston called Banditas fronted by two women (one of whom is involved with the incredible Girls Rock Camp Boston project!). We asked them after the show if they’d have any interest in playing at this yet-to-be-determined event & they said yes immediately. So I guess they were officially the first confirmed band!

We also got tons of great leads & tips from bands we reached out to – I had seen this band of local high school-aged girls called the Feel open for the Feelies in Northampton a few years ago & I thought it would be really great to do a showcase of younger lady bands from Western Mass, so I got in touch with them & not only were they very excited about playing, but they gave us a HUGE list of other younger lady bands in the area that we hadn’t heard of yet!

Having such an amazing group of organizers involved with Ladyfest also really helped in reaching out to a wide range of speakers & bands – Candace was instrumental in booking Shepherdess from Boston because she had volunteered with some of them at Girls Rock Camp Boston, Meghan has toured all over the place with her band Ampere & discovered a lot of the bands playing Ladyfest in her travels, Erin had a friend who runs a blog about gender issues in mainstream comic books & we were able to get him to do a presentation for Ladyfest… it’s really inspiring to have so many people who are so stoked on pulling something like this together!

We definitely want Ladyfest to be an ongoing event. We had so much interest from people wanting to play music or do workshops that I think we could totally keep it going in the future. Of course, having a space like Flywheel available to us as volunteers is a gigantic help, because everyone involved with Flywheel was completely on board with Ladyfest, so it was relatively easy for us to start the actual planning process without having to worry about negotiating with a venue.

There’s so many bands playing Lsdyfest that I’m excited about! Banditas from Boston, who I mentioned before, are incredible, sort of like Patsy Cline fronting the Velvet Underground. I’m really eager to see Aye Nako from Brooklyn, who play really poppy ’90s throwback indie rock. Mortartar are an all-lady trio from upstate New York, very no wave-inspired, which should be really awesome. There’s also Honeysuck, who are a new Northampton band, are totally neo-riot grrrl & do an X-Ray Spex cover in their live set, so that’s definitely not to be missed either!

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