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Ladyfest Bristol 2007
After many months preparing, organising, hosting meetings and fundraisers, finding bands and artists and venues and volunteers, Ladyfest Bristol 2007 took place on the 27th August until the 2nd September, in venues all over the city.
Ladyfest launched with an exciting and diverse line up at the Cube Microplex, a venue that has become synonymous with Bristol’s DIY music and arts scene, and which was heavily involved in Bristol’s Ladyfest of 2003. The night saw the opening of one of three art exhibitions, featuring work by London illustrator Susie Hogarth and Bristol based Lady Lucy, and an installation in the ladies loos created by Ladyfest organisers Liz Payne and Emily Dawson entitled “What do you See when you look in the Mirror?”. The work was designed to get women to look at themselves and write their responses, as well as provoking response by covering the toilets in articles and collages discussing women’s relationships with their bodies.
The Launch opened with a film by Lady Lucy that tracked her skateboarding around Bristol, followed by a speaker from the Bristol Fawcett Society, a charity that raises awareness of gender issues and runs campaigns helping women and men challenge sexism in society. Then the night moved on to the music. First up was Bristol based and Ladyfest organiser Gaptooth, playing her brand of politically motivated but upbeat electro pop songs, with the help of her sampler, guitar and microphone. Gaptooth has bucket loads of presence up on stage, chatting and interacting with the audience, and her tunes are just so god damn catchy, as the perfect pop song should be. It goes deeper though, with lyrics such as ‘the right to vote, did not set you free’ (Ladykillers) and ‘send them our carpet bombs for free’ (These Machines’), Gaptooth isn’t afraid to use the stage as a platform to raise debate and provoke a reaction. And as part of a line up for a festival whose aim was to “provoke thought and discussion on gender issues”, her inclusion makes perfect sense.
Everyone sojourned to the bar for a while to drink ginseng beer and hear the stylings of DJ Blackrainbow, who specialises in “music you didn’t know you loved”; a heady mix of Asian underground, two step, drum n bass, beats from the Balkans and a host of world dance and electro music, before heading back to the auditorium for the rare and much anticipated performance of Anat Ben David.
Accompanied by exciting visuals and the original DykeRider on drums, Anat pulled out a stunning and dynamic performance. With huge and complex beats and a voice that almost assaults the audience, she commanded the stage. Her songs are witty and angry and demanding. Visuals included her duetting with herself on the “things I can’t give you are useful, things that I can…aren’t!” – a defiantly feminist record about how women’s “usefulness” is valued, particularly in terms of her lesbian perspective, – dancing in gaffa tape (reminiscent of my favourite Chicks on Speed track!), and joined by multiple Anats on the screen to sing “We’re having a good time”. Anat Ben David doesn’t do solo shows very often so not only was it an exciting performance, it was a privilege to see her.
Tuesday hosted Ladyfest Totally Unplugged at the Lansdowne Pub in Clifton. No amps, no speakers, this was a night for women, their voices and their guitars. Lacuna was first on the line up, melodic voice singing about nostalgia. She was followed by Poppy, whose nasal twang and chatty lyrics are completely captivating, singing about tea and biscuits with a knowing look to her audience. Rasha Shaheen pulled out her ukulele to give a brilliant performance. I would go so far to say that Rasha is one of the best female performers in Bristol right now, with songs taking us from Saudi Arabia to Bristol’s Montpelier. Her voice is just sublime, lilting and seductive whilst still having a great power behind it that brings up the hairs on your neck and completely hits your emotions. “Fingers” is her stand out track for me; it encapsulates so much desire and longing, whilst being so simple in its execution.
Ladyfest aimed to cover as many aspects of women in music as possible, from electro and folk on Monday and Tuesday, to punk and riot grrl at the Ladyfest Mix Tape. The night opened with the debut gig of Blue Tobias, a female two piece with keyboards and vocals. For a first gig they were polished and received an enthusiastic reception, with nice use of samples and harmonising, singing about Dick Van Dyke – excellent! They were followed by Shut up Sonya in a balaclava, who mixes hip hop and riot grrl to sing eclectic and energetic tracks about cheese on toast, chavs, friends, anxiety and shoplifting. Drunk Granny and Venus Bogardus brought a punkier element to the proceedings, with loud guitars and a brash stage presence that got the crowd dancing.
I missed the Lipstick Live show at the Louisiana which featured The Mentalists, Manic Cough, Colliding Lemons and the Panther Girls, and Girl Wonder’s Reggae Special, as I was attending Zuleika Ziegfield’s Cabaret of Curiosities and another performance from Rasha, so next up on the musical line up was Ladyfest Live at the Thekla on the Saturday. Bath based Hysterical Injury was on first, and was brilliant. Really fresh sounding, a hint of PJ Harvey, quite stripped down (the band has three members, guitar, bass and drums) but with influences from a range of genres, hints of electronica and bass driven sounds, to create an overall effect that lifted it from your average grunge rock affair.
Corey Orbison are Ladyfest Bristol alumni and have been playing here and there on the Bristol scene for the last few years, band members Mike, Lisa and Irene (formerly of Lesbo Pig) familiar faces to people who hang out in Café Kino and the Cube. They take their music back to the routes of punk and riot grrl, high pitched shouting vocals from Michael, whilst Lisa completely bangs it out on the drums – they are confrontational and loud and demand the audience’s response. They aren’t for the fainthearted, and their songs have a clear political motivation that was delineated by Michael’s speech about his place in feminism, and how the band want men and women to come together and support one another as feminists, instead of hurting each other, as is so often the case.
The gig’s headliners, London based 586, have been compared to Art Brut and Arcade Fire. Although I didn’t get the last reference (because there are girls in the band?) they were brilliant. Red lipsticked and feisty lead singer Deborah amazed by playing synth, violin, melodica and percussion, whilst her absolutely lovely voice, accompanied by Steve’s, belted out songs about money and monkeys, small town living and paranoia, mixed with “disco dilemmas and punk politics”. Kind of nu rave with the use of synths and sampling, but still resisting categorisation, the five piece of Deborah, Steve, Simon, Grant and Samantha are fun, brash, loud and exciting and about to start touring with the Soho Dolls.
The Thekla gig was supported by Ladyfest Socialism with organisers Chicks with Decks playing their brand of riot grrl, indie and electro – basically spinning all the tunes they like to play, followed by Tight Fit, who got me dancing to BOB by Outkast – fantastic track!
So there you have it, a whistle stop tour through the musical delights of Ladyfest Bristol 2007. It wasn’t just the music though, the festival comprised of craft, singing and feminist workshops, and Open Day at the Feminist Archive South, storytelling and spoken word events, debates, three art exhibitions and a children’s Mad Hatter’s Tea party. “We wanted to make a festival that everyone could enjoy, with a diverse and accessible programme that was open to everyone,” explained the organisers. “And we think we succeeded.”