While festivals like Future and Big Day Out may be crumbling and falling, the mighty Grrl Fest continues on. From humble warehouse beginnings, this year’s Grrl Fest has showcased the move upwards with a bigger venue and a bigger lineup than ever, and received massive praise for its highly original content and its productive addressing of a societal issue.

Of course, all of this didn’t come out of nowhere. Behind every Grrl Fest there has to be someone who gathers up all the acts, arranges a venue to hold both a gig and an art exhibition and, sadly, to take the ‘why aren’t you making a Dudefest?’ questions. This person is the wonderful Amy Broomstick, who was generous enough to sit down with us and talk about the hows and whys of Grrl Fest.

The basics first! What led you to create Grrl Fest?

There was a real combination of factors that led me to produce Grrl Fest in Melbourne. I have to mention Kuala Lumpur; I went travelling there and met an amazing collection of women that were really inspired by the Riot Grrl Movement and had their own Grrl Fest aka “Lady Fest”. I saw these women fighting a very different sort of oppression in Malaysia and Indonesia, but I also saw the comparisons to Australia. There is such a lack of female representation in the music and arts industry here, and these women I met really inspired me to do something about it through their own actions and struggles.

What do you feel is the atmosphere for women in the punk scene at the moment?

That’s a hard question, as the “punk scene” is so varied and the experience of individual women in it so broad. I feel that women are tolerated, but only really celebrated in smaller scenes. Women are still so tokenised (“you’re a good drummer for a chick”) and awareness of male privilege (especially at punk gigs) still pretty minimal. There are a lot of super active women like Ani from DisInterested, Amy Bix (heaps of Sydney bands), Lara Soulio (Potato Cake), Dale (Liqoursnatch, 3CR) just to name a few who are relentless in their organising and activism for women in the punk scenes.

Have you experienced any of these injustices firsthand, particularly organising Grrl Fest?

The first year of Grrl Fest I experienced a bit of backlash. But it was always pretty cowardly and indirect. There was a lot of vague defensiveness and awkwardness as generally happens when you try to do something that challenges mainstream expectations. I did have A LOT of “well I’m gonna make a Dudefest” to which I never got sick of replying (please note sarcasm); “that shouldn’t be hard, the world is a dude fest. Look at any festival line up or gig at your local and that’s what you will find!”. I feel pretty good actually how creating Grrl Fest sort of weeded out the casually sexist and apathetic men and women from my life and replaced them with passionate, political and creative superstars!

Who are you most proud to have involved with Grrl Fest?

That’s a really hard question – but I suppose it would be the performers, writers, photographers and volunteers who contact me, wanting to be involved because they feel as passionately as I do about Grrl Fest. I am really proud of the amazing community that has formed around Grrl Fest to support it and help it grow.

I know as a “hard core feminist” I shouldn’t congratulate men for being interested in equaling the playing field of gender diversity in the music and arts industry  – but it honestly still surprises me when a guy is keen to volunteer, or is actually just excited about the art that women create. It is seriously so rare to receive outspoken support, so I am always proud of the men that get involved with Grrl Fest. Even though I know I should expect it to be the norm.

What brought on the decision to create a boutique arts and culture festival rather than just a music festival?

Ohhh are we boutique? I’ll put that on the next arts grant application!

It was a natural decision to present a range of art and culture at Grrl Fest in order to represent a broader dissection of women’s expression. Also, having stalls and zines engages people and provides a sort of context to the politics inherent in putting on an event like Grrl Fest.

What are your thoughts on the Australian Festival industry at large, such as the celebration of Laneway as being celebrated for being so centred on females despite its lineup being only 21% women, or that the largest alternative festival in the country has a grand total of 5 women playing?

I think it’s total bullshit. And it’s a huge reason that Grrl Fest exists. I was told by the Director of a leading Australian “alternative” Festival that he would “program more women if they had more merit.” Essentially stating that men are better musicians and that’s why they are more famous… So how does one gain this elusive merit women seem to be inherently unable to achieve? First your art-form and creative expression needs to be valued. First you need to not be tokenised, trivialised and challenged at every stage of your development for daring to break into a heavily male dominated industry. I could go on…

Grrl Fest 2015 - Northcote Town Hall (Dinda Advena) 41

Do you feel that riot grrl and music centred on women’s issues is having a revival of sorts?

I have certainly noticed in the past few years a “Riot Grrl Revival” of sorts, and I put it down to a broader reach of people becoming interested in Feminism, but also just our generations obsession with living in the 80s and 90s! I think the genre of Riot Grrl is evolving more than having a revival. I saw a t-shirt recently that the amazing Brooke Powers (DJ) was wearing that said “Trans Girls to the Front”. I absolutely love this statement as it draws upon an important message from the RG movement of prioritising women, but also totally smashes how trans exclusive those spaces were. This is the “revival” that I am really interested in, one that is evolving and growing and becoming more intersectional.

What do you think is the biggest downfall and upside of alternative scene?

Well I will start with the upside – Alternative Scenes are a vital part of counter culture where people that are othered, ignored or oppressed by mainstream society can flourish and thrive. It’s a place to feel at home, find your family and for many of us where our own personal stories of gettin’ liberated stem from. Without our alternative communities where would we be? Fuck I’d still be back in Wollongong surrounded by sexist surfies and pokie machines dying a slow and beige death. OK that upside didn’t stay positive for very long… Haha.

I think the biggest downfall of Alt scenes is the assumption of their inhabitants that they exist in a vacuum, unaffected by hierarchical and patriarchal structures. You can still experience sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism etc in alternative scenes and what makes it worse is that you are often not expecting it. We tend to let our guards down when we are in Alt scenes, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and bullshit to be challenged.

So, any plans of current for Grrl Fest 2016?

Yes I have already started making plans for GF2016! The plan is to get a grant. Ha…

My eventual plan is to have a self-sustained outdoor / warehouse venue festival in Melbourne every January.

Have there been any major differences between setting up last year’s show and this year’s?

Definitely. This year Grrl Fest took place in the Northcote Town Hall, which is starkly different from its humble warehouse beginnings. I decided upon this venue because I could not find a warehouse that was a) 100% wheelchair accessible and b) big enough for over 500 people.
The experience was a great learning curve for what I do and do not want for the Grrl Fest future. Finding the perfect venue is a real challenge, but that’s why I have already started planning for GF2016…

What would you say is the most difficult part of turning an idea like Grrl Fest into a reality?

The time and energy that it takes. For the majority of the year it is just me behind the scenes, although I am now starting to form a more permanent crew which is fantastic! But the sheer amount of time out of my life, that I do not get paid for, is pretty full on. It is certainly a labour of love that is so very worth it, but my personal mission is to learn how to delegate… So if you want to be on the GF Crew, please contact me.

What do you think is the future of Grrl Fest in general?

I think I answered that previously, but general world domination is the ultimate future goal.

Do you think as the fest grows it will still retain its DIY sensibilities?

That is what I will be trying to achieve. It is hard as I don’t wish to yell into the echo chamber or preach to the choir about Grrl Fest. I WANT to reach a mainstream audience and affect them positively, but maintaining the safe and inclusive Grrl Fest vibe is vital to the ethos as well. I love having really established, polished artists like Mojo Juju on the same bill as a performer who is having her first gig. It’s important to me to keep the DIY sensibilities as you put it, like keeping the event as cheap as possible and not using like, a pub venue in the city!

Grrl Fest 2016 is in the making and will be happening sometime in, well, 2016. You can keep up with the Grrl Fest happenings on Twitter through @Amy_Broomstick.

Cleatus Glob

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.