Q&A With the Organizer of the Female Fronted (Fuck Yeah!) Fest
Published: September 1, 2010
The Female Fronted (Fuck Yeah!) Fest
For more information visit hexagonspace.com.
Rachel Levy, a 23-year-old New York native and recent Goucher College graduate, is co-editor of a collaborative zine revolving around the goal of “bringing feminism into everyday life.” Levy initially planned on programming a single night of four or five female-fronted bands, but after placing a call for artists in the zine, the one-night event ballooned into the weekend-long Female Fronted (Fuck Yeah!) Fest, featuring nearly 20 acts ranging from the all-charm folk of Fearsome Creatures to the giddy bitpop of Talk to Animals to future-soul “anti all-girl band” Mzery Loves Company. City Paper caught up with a very jetlagged Levy via e-mail shortly after her return from a month in India.
City Paper: Do you think we still need to convince people that women can rock or make good music?
Rachel Levy: I’ve heard many people argue that, since female musicians are no longer anomalies, there is no longer a need for female-fronted festivals like this. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the visibility of female musicians has drastically increased in recent years. Still, I don’t think that we should necessarily take that as a sign that the inequities between male and female artists have been completely leveled. Many of us mystify ourselves into believing that, in this “post-feminist” era, misogyny and sexism are problems from the past.
After all, women can work, vote, produce No. 1 selling albums, etc. It can be easy to simply ignore the more subtle inequalities. As a result, we tend to lack a critical consciousness about the ways in which female artists are represented in the music industry. Women are often strategically placed in bands as sex objects, and, no matter how hard they may try to resist, wind up chained to that role. Many of the female musicians whom I’ve spoken with have expressed how they felt that, in the audience’s eyes, their musical talent played a backseat to what they are wearing and how they may have gestured into the microphone.
I personally think that the music of female musicians doesn’t tend to be taken as seriously as the music of male musicians. All-girl bands especially are often labeled as “fun” and “cute,” but rarely do you hear them described as being innovative. That being said, I don’t think that the point of this festival is, or should be, to prove that female musicians can rock. There are a number of people out there who already appreciate the talent of female artists, and this festival was designed to showcase women’s talents rather than to dismantle stereotypes and prejudgments.
CP: In what ways do you see women being marginalized in underground music?
RL: While underground music consists of various subcultures, some of which uphold values that are contrary to the prevailing norms of society, it is still not immune to overarching systems of hierarchy. A man in a show is not nearly as likely to be sexually harassed or heckled. Nor can he expect to have audience members remark, Wow, he can play? He’s a guy! when he performs a guitar solo. There is still a shortage of women who perform with electronic and computerized instruments. This might be in part because girls don’t tend to be encouraged to play with mechanics like boys are, but it’s a complex social phenomenon. These are just small examples. It is impossible to fully explain male privilege—and privilege in general—in just a couple of paragraphs.
The thing about privilege is that people who have it are often blind to their own privileged state.
CP: I notice something in music writing: when a woman is fronting a band, she’s called a “frontwoman” but when a man is, he’s usually just called a singer or vocalist (sometimes a frontman, but less so). What I mean is that a woman fronting a band is already somewhat exceptionalized. Is that helpful or a hindrance?
RL: [A] women’s gender is almost always called to attention when she is playing music. Men, on the other hand, rarely have the same experience because to be a man leading a band is considered the norm. I do think that, in many situations, calling a female lead singer a frontwoman, and thereby gendering her role in the band, is pigeonholing. I, however, made the conscious decision to use gendered terminology, purposely advertising this as a female-fronted fest, in order to make a point. Women are over half of the population, so why is it that having women leading bands is not considered to be normative as well?
I received some criticisms for advertising this event as specially female-fronted because some felt that it was falling back into that trap, but there was no other way to meet the demand and desire to see two nights’ worth of women playing music without calling attention to gender. Of course, in shows that may consist mostly or entirely of men, gender will never have to be mentioned because it is accepted as the norm and nobody has to seek out an opportunity to hear men’s voices.
CP: With those out of the way, what is your goal for the festival?
RL: I had two primary goals in mind while organizing this festival. The first was, quite simply, to showcase a diversity of female-fronted DIY artists in our local communities. I personally have an affinity for female-fronted bands, and I wanted to see more play. The second was to foster a supportive community and safe space which is empowering to all who are involved. I really hope that this will sow the seeds for more events like this to happen in Baltimore and beyond.
CP: Who are/were your women idols in music?
RL: My life was radically transformed when I purchased a copy of Hole’s Live Through This the summer before ninth grade. When the first track “Violet” played on my stereo, I was completely taken aback. I think that was the first time I had ever really heard a women yell into a microphone. And, wow, was that empowering!
Courtney Love is obviously quite a controversial figure and not necessarily the best feminist role model, but I was moved nonetheless by how raw her delivery was. Through Hole, I was introduced to more politicized and anthemic riot grrrl bands such as Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. I think that riot grrrl is quite possibly the most empowering genre for a 14-year-old girl to discover. Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker’s lyrics taught me that I didn’t need to apologize for my thoughts, feelings, body, and sexuality. It vested me to feel confident creating my own space in the world, and taught me that I didn’t have to feel guilty about making mistakes along the way.
> Email Michael Byrne