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On feminist punk fests / by Liz Pelly

If you are friends with Ali Donohue or I, you have maybe heard our story about Ladyfest Easthampton. It sort of changed our lives. At least I can speak for myself and say with confidence that the three-day Western Mass retreat profoundly impacted me in ways I still feel. Though my first proper feminist punk fest was Smash it Dead 2011, that weekend in Western Mass was the first time that something 'clicked'; my first comprehensive glimpse at the potential for a punk scene to be something to actively engage in rather than just passively observe.

Sitting in a semi-circle of folding chairs at the Flywheel Arts Center, which feels like a church rec room, I listened to panels about women in hardcore and sexism and fighting to have be taken seriously, pushing reclaim space and have your voice heard. In my zine collection, I still have the Xeroxed hand-out from the 'I'm Not the Merch Girl' workshop on booking shows and being a woman working behind-the-scenes in a DIY community. I sat in on a drumming workshop with Angie from Aye Nako, which I credit with initially planting the idea in my head to one day try playing drums in a band -- something that finally happened this past year. I also was introduced to bands like Shoppers and Honeysuck . When the weekend came to an end, everyone sat around on the floor as a young singer-songwriter carefully performed gripping, heart-wrenching songs; I later learned this was Katie Crutchfield from P.S. Eliot, now playing as Waxahatchee.

In retrospect, it's easier to understand why that time and place felt so important. As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I was quickly enamored by a certain corner of the local punk and hardcore scene for about a year and then just as quickly repulsed by it's hyper-aggressive masculinity that made me feel like shit. I moved on to different types and ways of engaging with music and art and writing, holding onto bits of my own ideologies, even falling in with different pockets of a greater DIY-minded world, but still always sort of missing something. Even from a relative distance, finding feminist punks in Massachusetts felt like an invitation back into a world that I had been entirely dismissed from as a 15 year old.

After Ladyfest Easthampton, Ali and I went back to Boston and knew we had to start a band. We dragged a borrowed drum kit into her basement, propping them up with some crates we found be behind a dive bar down the block. We practiced a couple times and that was it. The short-lived nature of that band hardly mattered though. We were inspired.

Fests like Ladyfest Easthampton and Smash it Dead have since played a regular role in my life in various forms, whether writing articles and interviewing organizers, leading workshops on writing and getting published, helping organize benefit shows in advance of them, or tabling with zines. Ladyfest Boston 2012 was particularly transformative; I will never forget Alice Bag urging attendees to validate the culture they want to see around them. "Remember what Alice Bag said at Ladyfest Boston . . ." are words my sister repeats to me often.

The fifth installment of Smash it Dead Fest is this weekend in Boston, and in honor of such a radical tradition, we are sticking with one of our own. Last year, The Media published an entire issue previewing Smash it Dead Fest, including several timelessly relevant articles: an oral history of the fest, a reflection on 'safer space venues' from Support Boston, an interview with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. These pieces are timeless and perpetually relevant. You should revisit them.

"Punk has not always felt like it was our space to exist in," wrote the Support Boston collective last year in their piece Safer Shows. "This has made it that much more difficult to feel confident about speaking out against the abuse and trauma we experience . . . We are drawn to punk for a variety of reasons: alienation, curiosity, the desire for a community that understands us. If many of our experiences involve violence and trauma, we must address those narratives."

Fests like Smash it Dead deal in addressing these conversations head-on and using them as a launching points for fostering community amongst people typically marginalized in punk and in the world in general. "Smash It Dead Fest has given space to those who have, for so long, lacked or been denied representation," Support Boston's piece continued. "By highlighting bands with women, folks of color, trans*, queer, and non-binary members, the fest challenges notions of what typical punk shows are. Granted, it has been, and still is, a learning process. But at the end of the day, it's important to have discussions about safe(r) spaces because it's an opportunity to learn. We know that most of a scene's problems won't be magically fixed with a single workshop or article, but it's the conversations that happen after the fact between friends and smaller groups that make the real difference. When these conversations happen, the ability to create safer show spaces and forge genuine connections with each other becomes a greater reality."

Their point eloquently sums up something that can be hard to articulate, which is why these festivals continue to feel life affirming and worth attending and contributing to and writing about.

As Ali points out in her intro to this year's issue, Smash it Dead is but one in a continuing tradition of like-minded punk fests that have evolved over the years beyond just typical feminist punk fest narrative to more expansively and intersectionally think about how to make punk and DIY more inclusive beyond just gender oppression. In a perfect world, every day would involve perfectly-curated punk shows and workshops and discussions like the one's on this year's Smash it Dead. The real world is much less inspiring, but here we can find space to re-charge and re-connect and re-think our strategies to make the world more like the way we want it to be; frames to work within; places to start. I am eternally grateful.

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