Congratulations again on winning the ‘Just A Girl’ competition! Will this be your first time at a Ladyfest? Who are you looking forward to seeing the most?
I’ve actually never been to a Ladyfest before because I always seemed to catch wind of the London events just after they happened, so I’m looking forward to a pretty special weekend. I entered the band competition solely because I was so keen to perform at Ladyfest after reading about it over the years. I’m excited to be taking part! I’m also running the riot grrrl ukulele jam session on Sunday morning so that should be fun! The acts I’m most looking forward to are Viv Albertine, Mary Epworth and Catherine A.D.
Tell us more about the competition. Were you scared/excited? How did it feel to emerge as the winner?
In the week leading up to the competition I was really regretting my decision to enter, because I couldn’t imagine how the night would be run. I released my debut album [Disarm] independently in September, so I was pretty much dreading a situation where judges would make comments on the things they thought I should change about my songs and my performance style; for example, I’m a solo artist by choice and I wondered if someone would say they’d like to hear me play the songs with a band. As much as I respect every one of the Just A Girl… judges I consider myself to be an independent artist rather than someone who’s just starting out and developing a style, so it was a great relief when there was no ‘X Factor’-style panel situation and just the opportunity to perform to a new audience.
I get very excited about performing and the atmosphere was really lovely in the venue. Winning was very surreal – I wasn’t even thinking about it, just enjoying a night of all-female music and drinking lots of red wine, so I was quite dumbstruck when Zoë shouted out my name. I was filming snippets of the night for my videoblog series so my camera was on her when she shouted “She Makes War”, and you can see how it drops in surprise!
When did you first become aware of the Ladyfest movement? What does it mean to you?
It was a gradual thing, just reading snippets of reviews online I think. It was obviously harder to find out about Ladyfest in the early 2000s because the internet wasn’t so widely used. And as I didn’t meet another feminist until 2004 (!) I was quite out of the loop until later on, when there didn’t seem to be many London events happening anyway. This year has been great. I feel I’m finally plugged in to female music in the UK through sites like The Girls Are… and Wears The Trousers, and the Ladyfest Ten organisers have done a wonderful job of getting the information out to everyone online throughout this year.
What would you say to someone who argued that Ladyfest is irrelevant these days?
Look around you – how many women are mentioned in the music magazines every week, every month? How many female artists (excluding pop singers) and female fronted bands do you hear on the radio? It’s lovely that a lot of the boys I know wouldn’t ever think of making gender an issue; that explains why many of them ask me why feminism is relevant these days, and why can’t I just get over it? I know that female music pioneers like Viv Albertine are shocked at the state of things today. After all they did to pave the way why is it still a struggle to be a female musician?
There has been a clear re-emergence of a lot of obviously riot grrrl-influenced music over the past couple of years. What do you think are the reasons behind this, and who do you think is doing it well?
I think these sorts of things come in waves, as with all sorts of styles of music, and I think it’s a wonderful time to be making exactly the sort of music you want in exactly the way you want it. We have all the tools at our disposal now to get music out in to the public domain very easily and to get people listening to it and sharing it with their friends. There has always been music being recorded and released separate from “the music business”, and as music lovers use the internet more prolifically to find new music, and as the stigma of the “unsigned band” becomes less, there are more opportunities to be heard.
I think what’s key is to get away from the idea of having permission to make your music – being endorsed by a label / manager / booking agent is less relevant to your music’s success than at any time, and so women and men don’t have to be constrained by the idea that they should be trying to replicate what’s in the mainstream music press. Maybe women are getting pissed off again at not being given the space to be heard, and maybe the internet allows them to make music around busy work / life schedules, too.
How much has riot grrrl influenced your own music? In terms of style, aesthetics and/or principles?
riot grrrl has been a big influence on my principles, as has punk in general. I think it’s really important that women get a safe space to learn, rehearse and perform, which is why I got involved in the 2008 Ladies Rock Camp in London as a bass instructor and filmmaker, documenting the weekend. I also recently curated a female-centric night called Re-Dress featuring brilliant music from Lobelia, Dana Jade and a German band called Two Tears For Barbarella. I’m far more interested in organising interesting shows like that myself than clamouring to get on the bill of yet another “up and coming singer/songwriter night” in West London, so I’m planning my own house concert tours of the UK and Europe and generally doing my best to speak out about ways of staying independent and creative. For me it’s just as important to be doing these things as it is to be making the music I want to make. I’m happy to make all that stuff part of my mission as well as the art.
Ladyfest isn’t just about music but about celebrating all forms of female creativity. Do you have any other creative talents that would surprise your fans?
I think my fans are aware I have an unhealthy obsession with creating all sorts of content, from my promo videos to my videoblog series to my photographs and all sorts of other things. I see them all as different ways of telling stories and communicating with people, and I often have people emailing me saying they heard of me through my photos or my videoblogs, or even through my client video / photo / writing work, and then they listened to the music and bought the album. That’s lovely. Everything I do online is me, there’s no separation between “work Laura” and “artist Laura”, so I don’t think there are any surprises. It’s no secret that I’m a hula hooper too – it’s in one of my videos!
If you could curate your dream Ladyfest lineup, who would you include?
Wow, that would be incredible! I’d love to have Juliana Hatfield, Carina Round, Kristin Hersh, Sleater-Kinney, L7, Liz Phair, Björk, Sierra Swan, Emily Haines, The Slits, Bikini Kill and Marilyn Monroe.
Do you have any general thoughts or issues regarding feminism in 2010? What do you think are the most pressing feminist issues right now?
Womens’ rights in countries where it’s legal for them to be harmed by their husbands and family must drastically improve. It’s despicable they are treated with less respect than an animal and are allowed to be punished for spurious crimes like talking to another man or refusing sex.
Domestic violence is a subject that also needs to be taken a lot more seriously in the UK, as well as safety in the streets – the fact that women are regularly bothered while going about their daily business is absolutely ridiculous, and maybe one way to help change that would be to start young and implement some sort of education in schools to try and catch boys early before that mentality has time to develop. I used to think when I had kids I would only want to have a daughter, but now I think I’d prefer a son so that at least there’d be one more feminist man coming in to the world.
A far smaller but still significant issue is that the mainstream music world is still not very inclusive for female musicians – ever noticed the dearth of female session musicians in pop bands on tour and on TV? It’s not because there aren’t any girls going for those jobs! I was at an industry event recently with a room full of female A&Rs who weren’t aware there was an issue; they were shocked to hear about it because they just assumed girls didn’t want to audition.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year and beyond?
After Ladyfest I have a few more London shows planned including an acoustic gig at the Lomography shop in Soho – very exciting as I get to perform surrounded by gorgeous cameras! Then in December I’m planning a jaunt around the UK playing some gigs, seeing friends, doing some hooping, collaborating on a few projects and generally shaking off the London smog for a week or so. Then it’s time to gather demos together for album #2, work on some more video concepts for songs off album #1, and start booking shows around Europe for early 2011. I’m also working on a couple of documentaries – one about hooping around the world and a couple about independent bands – and starting to write a short film that I hope to make early next year.
Laura plays the Saturday at Ladyfest, an all-day feast of music kicking off at 3pm at The Relentless Garage. The Saturday lineup also includes: MEN, Nicky Click, Battant, Vile Vile Creatures, Veronica Falls, The Hysterical Injury, Severin and Femmepop.
A Saturday ticket will set you back a very reasonable £15, or you can get a full weekend music pass for a mere £10 extra. All tickets available here.