Fempunk Zine & Ladyfest Spain: An interview with Mabel and Maria from Madrid, Spain
“We need more girl references and more girl heroes”
Can you introduce yourself?
Mabel: I'm from a small beach town in the south of Spain. I work in Madrid now as a librarian. I also write in magazines, bulletins and with other people.
Maria: I'm from the Basque country of Spain, and I came to Madrid nearly eight years ago. I studied for my PhD in social psychology and now I’m a clinical psychologist. When I was in the Basque country, I played in different bands in the underground music scene. I am also a feminist and in a collective that makes direct actions – symbolic actions. We closed a church and we paint shop windows that we think are sexist; we work in direct feminism.
How did you get into zine making?
Maria: I think once you get into the underground scene, the music and political scene comes naturally.
Mabel: In my case it was because of the comic books me and my sister used to read. We saw comic book zines and thought it was something that we could make. Years later we were more into music, so the next step was making a music zine called Miaow. The first issue was in 1996, after we heard about Riot Grrrl. We were about twelve. It was the beginning of the Internet so everything was really slow. You could read about Riot Grrrl in women’s magazine, about Babes in Toyland and L7… that wasn’t really Riot Grrrl but in the magazine it was. We made seven or eight issues with friends and then we stopped about 1999.
Can you tell us about the Fempunk zine?
Mabel: We made a mailing list called Fempunk. The idea was to connect different girls who were interested in punk feminism, because there was no real network of this kind. We decided it would be good to make a fanzine together after some months – like a way to do something more elaborate together. The fanzine is more a collage, it doesn’t have an editorial. Everybody can send something – maybe sometimes you write something but you are not going to write twenty pages. So it’s like, ‘What do I do with this, it’s only two pages?’ We put it all together and made a fanzine in 2001, a kind of collective thing. Sometimes it’s like an excuse to publish. Maybe there are a hundred people on the list, but in the end it’s five or six or four [writing], but it’s ok. We have made five issues.
Maria: The second issue of the zine came out in 2002. It’s a very slow process. You have to send your text [call for submissions] for two months, then have four months [getting submissions in], then it takes another month to make the compilation and the design stuff. It takes a long time to do one issue.
Mabel: I think the days are past for the mailing list. It’s difficult to make things collective, with people from different places. The network is very weak.
The Fempunk zine developed into the idea of a Ladyfest. Can you tell us more about that?
Maria: There were some articles in the zine about Ladyfest because some of us went to Ladyfest London . There was a group of people looking forward to starting a Ladyfest in Madrid and there were like a hundred messages in one week or something on the Fempunk list, saying ‘let’s organize a meeting next week, who’s gonna be in the organization, which artists should be in Ladyfest and blah blah…’ We decided to make another list and have the first meeting.
Maria: That was in 2004. We had one year of preparation, collecting money and arranging everything, and also contacting artists and looking for different stages and clubs. The Ladyfest happened in 2005.
There was another Ladyfest in Madrid in 2008. If you compare the first Ladyfest with the second one, what would you say?
Maria: Ladyfest stopped for a couple of years and then we made another one this year, but it was with a different organization [of people]. Me and Mabel were the only ones from the former organization. You need a year of preparation because it's really hard to do anything DIY or feminist in Spain, it's very tiring. The second Ladyfest was held in different venues because some venues were already closed, and Madrid has changed a lot in a couple of years.
Maria: The first Ladyfest was bigger and more musical, with more bands. This one was more political. The first one was special for me because it was the first. The second has been important because we made a big net of feminist collectives in the city and the rest of Spain during the preparations.
Who were some of the Ladyfest organizers?
Maria: In the first, I think most of them came from the mailing list. It was women from the underground music scene but not very much into feminism, so it was a bit strange – you're in a feminist festival but you don't declare yourself feminist. Ladyfest was new in Spain so you had to explain the concept a lot of times and we had a big backlash, like a big resistance. In the second edition, the people involved were more into social movements as well as feminist music.
Did the different politics express itself in the workshops or...
Maria: In the workshops, conferences and the net of feminist collectives. We had this idea that the festival should be feminist, it should be DIY; it should be political and have low prices, these kinds of things. We were very clear it should be like that or nothing! We decided it could be a really small festival, but it should be under these criteria.
Was it easy for you to decide to use the name ‘Ladyfest’?
Mabel: From the goal of the organization it was clear that it would be a Ladyfest.
Maria: We decided in the first edition that it should be 'Ladyfest Spain' because there were people from different cities, not only Madrid. In the second we decided it was ok to be 'Spain' again, I don't know why. We didn't discuss it very much.
What is the significance of Ladyfest for you?
Maria: It's like a celebration, a special place. The importance of Ladyfest is that it's a net[work], it's the thing after the Riot Grrrl movement – we're telling the world that Riot Grrrl was not a fashion, it was a real revolution and it meant empowerment for women. Ladyfest is grown up women, grown up girls from the Riot Grrrl movement. We are still working and making nets; I think that's the most important thing, that we are connecting women through the world. There is a common cultural background, with the same music and the same message. It's really empowering going to Ladyfest because the thing of 'you can do it', 'do it yourself' – because you can do it! There are not the patriarchal and capitalism rules. It's like this place where you can really be yourself.
Mabel: The same. When we were with my band and we went to Ladyfest Glasgow  – the first Ladyfest in Europe – it was really fun and inspiring. It's a very good feeling, enjoying a Ladyfest and [thinking] 'why not try to make a Ladyfest where we are?' Because it's always positive and it's an opportunity to know new things, new bands and new ideas. For a lot of people who go to the Ladyfests, there is this kind of ‘oh, wow! I'm meeting people who think like me and everything'. I come from a small town and that kind of feeling, like 'I'm meeting someone'... it's like when you make these networks with people who write zines and it's really cool. It's a really good opportunity.
Do you have any criticisms of Ladyfest?
Mabel: Maybe when it becomes very repetitive or something, it would be a good idea to try to find a new thing. But at the moment each Ladyfest has a different feeling – depending on the city and what is happening – and the people. It's not like a branch; it's not exactly the same thing. We have been in Glasgow and then in London and then in Amsterdam and it's not the same at all. When people are criticizing Ladyfest, like 'you are copying this American idea', well, it's an idea but everyone is different and they're not like 'America' or branches. They are very particular, and the way that place is brings a lot…
What lessons did you learn from organizing a Ladyfest?
Maria: Many! (Laughter) That it is really difficult to be a feminist in the social movement, because you pretend you are at the same level but you are not. Not in the social movement and not in the musical scene. It's always [said that feminism is] for later and you know it's like now! So what I learned is that I feel more comfortable in feminist collectives, and I learned the importance of the DIY concept. I think I am more radical now then a few years ago.
Mabel: I think you learn a lot because organizing something like this is very complicated. It gives you organizing skills for the future. It's a very interesting experience, 'everything goes'.
Maria: After doing the Ladyfest or during Ladyfest you feel that you are not alone. It's not for being a victim; you always find people that are encouraging you, making you go on all the time...
Ladyfests are talked about as third wave or new feminism... Do you identify with third wave feminism, or does that concept mean anything to you?
Maria: Yeah, I think America’s into the third wave but I think it's different in Europe. I'm not into queer feminism and I'm not into post feminism, because I think it's not very much into reality, like real women's expectations and demands and stuff. But I think there's a third wave of feminism which is very much related to cultural feminism – Riot Grrrl and Ladyfest is related to that, and I identify with that and the radical feminism of the 70s.
You're both playing in bands, perhaps you could talk about your experiences as performers, or as women performers...?
Mabel: There’s always the typical guy giving you advice about everything, you know, you should do this, do that—I don't need your opinion! This is my band! I think a lot of girls go through that. Now we've been together for a long time we are more respected, but it’s still a boys club. Women don’t have a place and I think we're all suffering. I think my experiences are the same as many other women and girls.
Maria: I don't play in bands anymore. I quit now. I agree with Mabel, it's like a boy's club. Sometimes you can be in, but they don't take you very seriously. That's why I think Ladyfest is a good place to play if you're a woman, because you can feel comfortable and you are respected. In other festivals and gigs, you have to prove that you can carry your own stuff and that you can plug your guitar in – it's tiring all the time. A lot of people finally respect what you're doing, but a lot of people treat you like 'ok girl'. It's like, 'I'm taking this seriously and this is my life’ but hey you’re just looking at you because you are pretty and stuff. It's like yeah, yeah, 'I'm just a pretty girl on a stage'. Or they think that you are just here for fun. It's a political act to be on stage because of that. Sometimes I was like, ‘I don't give a fuck what I'm gonna play, but I'm gonna play because I'm punk.’ It is punk to do that.
How much has Riot Grrrl meant for you to keep playing for so long?
Mabel: Riot Grrrl really influenced us. I remember when I was with my sister and we wanted to play, but when you hear music – not punk music but mainstream music or whatever – first of all you don’t know how they made that song. But when you hear punk music, it’s like 'ah, this is simple and I can make it'. I remember listening with my sister to this Bratmobile record and we thought 'oh, we can make a song like that!' So that was very important. Also, it’s people like Bratmoblie and Bikini Kill and people like that, as individuals from different bands they keep doing things. It’s not like these punk zine girls that have been in a band and have been very wild and then disappear like the Sex Pistols, or like one year and then everything is over or whatever. It’s cool when you see people from the DIY scene that keep doing things, like Tobi Vail and Allison Wolfe. You see that it doesn’t have to be only a youth thing or whatever – you do something you like and you keep doing that for years. That’s something to hang on to.
One thing I think was important about Riot Grrrl was the whole name – this is about the girl as a rebel. As girls we don’t have many girl heroes or something. In pop culture, you have The Bell Jar. The main character is a girl who commits suicide…I want something more positive. We are all Sylvia Plath, while the boys are having fun? That’s the good thing about Riot Grrrl, The Slits and The Raincoats... but we need more references. It's really sad when people say, ‘Oh those angry girls'. Why can't we have angry girls? It’s normal to have angry boys. That kind of angry boy thing is cool, but if it’s a girl it’s not so cool. It would be cool to see more angry girls.