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  • Venus Zine-"Listen Up!"

    Venus Zine / Fall 2006
    Listen up! 

    Audio artist Julie Shapiro shares her thoughts on the current radio renaissance and shows how you can get in on the action

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    As managing director for Chicago’s Third Coast International Audio Festival, an annual and on-going celebration of documentary and feature audio works, Julie Shapiro is an expert on fascinating radio segments, but her girlhood listening was uber-ordinary; "Typical for a white Midwestern Jewish girl,” she laughs. “Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Peter, Paul, and Mary." Shapiro began working with TCIAF in 2000. There, with executive director Johanna Zorn, she chooses radio documentaries for their competition, hosts "Listening Room" events, and travels to worldwide radio conferences, which has been life-changing: “It’s opened my ears and mind to audio work from all over the world, and stretched my mind about the power of sound.”

    Shapiro did a college radio show at Transylvania University, where she played typical indie stuff of its time; Husker Du, Uncle Tupelo, The Slits. During the 90’s, she lived in Boulder, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, and Durham, North Carolina, where she worked in a record store and public radio station and played drums, which helped her become “more receptive to sound” and led to her appreciation for experimental artists like John Cage and Meredith Monk. "I got into composition and very beautiful spacey sounds."

    An audio artist herself, Shapiro produced a tribute to model-horse collectors titled, “Are There Any More Rare, Plastic Ponies?,” which was picked up by TCIAF’s Re:sound. (thirdcoastfestival.org/resound_2005_june.asp). She also runs an audio-blog called notetheslantoftheovals.blogspot.com, and, apart from TCIAF, hosts Lissenup!, a listening event that began as a potluck, where she plays beloved audio pieces including one by Benjamen Walker (about a Darth Vader impersonator) and another in which Brooklyn student Natalie Edwards does a tongue-in-cheek investigation of prostitution. She’s currently considering new Lissenup! venues and the use of blindfolds to engage the senses.

    Shapiro claims that we’re in a radio renaissance, evidenced by the number of younger people, journalists, and filmmakers exploring the field. “Radio's being recognized as an art form as well as a source for news and information, like in the pre-TV days. And, being surrounded by radio stories at TCIAF, I'm constantly learning--whether about blood feuds in Albania or one guy's encounter with a blind dog in Wyoming. Being able to help bring these stories to many more ears has been such a privilege. And a blast.”

    Julie’s Advice on Producing Audio Segments

    --Equipment
    There's tons of used equipment online. The basics are: a microphone, recorder, and editing software, such as Audacity. (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/).

    --Choosing a Story
    Listen to many different styles of radio, and learn to be critical. (See transom.org, prx.org, and radiocollege.org.) Be careful with personal stories - they're often not that interesting to others. Make sure your story's really a contender for audio, and isn't just a spoken print piece. Think about stories that will surprise people or show them something new about the world.

    -- Interviewing
    Ask simple, straightforward questions. Watch for sounds that may disrupt conversations, like barking dogs, or humming refrigerators. It's ok to ask someone to repeat something or to stop wriggling in a squeaky chair. Always gather more tape than you think you'll need, and keep recording as long as possible. (Very often the best tape materializes after the "real" interview ends.) 

    --Putting Words Together with Music/Background Sound
    Use the medium to its fullest! Sounds can play as important a role in telling your story as the narrative, [because] they're crucial to setting scenes. Music can add a lot to a listening experience but can also be a huge liability; don’t use the same songs you've heard in dozens of other radio stories. (No more Yo La Tengo!) In general the old adage "less is more" applies.

    -- Editing 
    Writing is very different for radio than for print. Write like you talk - keep sentences simple and use words you usually use when you speak. Cut out every bit of tape you don't absolutely love. Then cut some more. If you're using narration keep it minimal and let the subjects of your story speak for themselves and move the story along. But don't leave out crucial information that'll help a listener understand the full context the story takes place in. Try to show, not tell. This is easy to do in radio, because you can actually include a clip of, say, a dog barking.

    --Where to Send Your Finished Audio Segment
    My advice to someone who wanted to get a serious start in radio would be to get an internship somewhere, not to start making stories cold and sending them around. That said, it's much better to contact any show or station you're hoping to work with BEFORE you produce anything, to find out what sort of work they're seeking; (most stations and shows' websites have contact info for this). Besides getting work onto airwaves, you can make a podcast and, or post it at prx.org, (a web-based marketplace for public radio pieces), where it can be reviewed by peers, and possibly picked up by a radio station. You can also just invite a bunch of friends over for a potluck, open a couple bottles of wine and beer, and have a listening party. ----GK

  • Venus Zine: Review of Edith Frost's "It's A Game"

    Venus Zine; Interview; Edith Frost

    Venus Zine, November 2005

    Interview with Edith Frost 

    The Chicago musician's new album, It's a Game, evokes a country carnival

    Edith Frost’s brand-spanking-new album, It’s a Game, the long-awaited follow-up to 2001’s Wonder Wonder, was released by Drag City on November 15, 2005, with a corresponding CD release party at Chicago’s Hothouse and a glowing, full-page review in the Chicago Tribune.Known for her heartbreak-y tunes and melancholy, wistful lyrics, Frost is used to fielding questions from journalists about her relationships. She's matter-of-fact about a recent breakup on her massive blog, edithfrost.com, and a recent post expresses frustration that her relationship status gets so much attention. I chatted with Frost at her Chicago apartment in the Ravenswood neighborhood, where we drank Hefeweizen and chewed the fat about Chicago weather, the new album, blogs, stupid jobs, and pets. 

    So I’ve listened to It’s a Game, and I wanted to tell you that I think it’s so beautiful and melodic.

    Thank you. … I like it too.

    Do you have a favorite tune on the album?

    Well, “Emergency” and “Playmate” are the ones that — when we were talking about what to put out on mp3 — we talked about showcasing. I’d been thinking about those two, and then one day Rian Murphy [Drag City’s head of staff] just yelled out in the studio, “Everybody, what’s the one?” And they were like, “Emergency! Emergency!” “Playmate” is a super old song; it was written nine to 10 years ago. I actually played that when I first starting playing out with my own songs, when I was in New York. I was wondering if you have daily rituals for getting work done, or do you wait for inspiration to strike?Rian says that I used to do that a lot more. When he met me and when we were recording Calling Over Time, I guess I was sitting with a guitar every single day. I was just sitting every day playing folk and country tunes for the sake of playing. I really don’t do that any more, like I used to. I don’t practice regularly.

    Is it because it is so second nature to you that you don’t even need to make a ritual of it?

    No, I should be doing it! I should, because then I’d write a lot more songs. I should definitely get back into that habit. Because if you’re dealing with the music every day, then something is more likely to come of that than sitting and watching All My Children. (Laughs) Well, you never know, there might be something you could use from that show? (Laughs)There was a quote from the show today that I loved. Something like, “You got me pregnant and now you’re dumping me?!” In that one, the guy was a sperm donor. Like, he was like the family doctor, so he didn’t actually screw her. He impregnated her by insemination. Still pretty shocking.

    When I'm home writing during the day, I’ll turn on the judge shows sometimes. They’re a problem for me. 

    Those I can get sucked into, those and Elimidate, because it’s always on after South Park, which I love. I Tivo that, and so I get Elimidate at the end. At some point, I got sucked into the reality shows. My theory was that I’d start watching all of them and eliminate one every week until I’m down to the One True Reality show that I really love, but I’m still Tivo’ing all of those. My favorite is Big Brother. I don’t really watch-watch them, but I just work right here on the couch and have them on out of the corner of my eye … I swear I’m not … oh well. 

    I wanted to ask you about public versus private personas, because your music is introspective and wistful, but you’re also out in public mode pretty often, blogging and performing, so do you think of yourself as more of an introvert or extrovert?

    Well, my natural inclination is to be a total homebody. I can be perfectly happy just being at home and doing the little projects that I do. And, with the blog, from my perspective, it doesn’t seem that revealing or that I’m giving away too much. When I first started it years ago, I was blabbing too much and using too many names. I keep going back and forth, with “I want a private life, I don’t want them to know everything” and then just talking about everything on the blog. But it was just a matter of learning how to go about it and assuming that who you were talking about was going to read it. And performing is cool, because you get feedback. I do well at it, by my standards. In other words, I get a lot of fulfillment from it.

    Had you played with any of the musicians that you worked with on It’s a Game before? 

    Yeah, pretty much. Lindsay [Anderson], Josh [Abrams], and I had opened for Cat Power three years ago, and Ryan Hembrey is someone who I’ve been working with ever since I moved to Chicago. Mark Greenberg is someone I’ve also known forever, too. He worked on Wonder Wonder and also Love is Real. Jason [Toth], the drummer, is in Manischewitz, and I’d done a tour a while back with them. I have the worst luck with drummers — they always go onto bigger and better things. Like, my first drummer in Chicago was Glenn Kotche and he’s in Wilco now, and then Gerald Dowd who plays with Robbie Fulks, who has about 365 gigs a year. And Adam Vida who is in US Maple. There is just this trail of drummers behind me. 

    So your last album came out in 2001, four years ago, and a lot of reviewers so far have fixated on the four years between that one and the new album. I thought that seemed sort of weird …

    Yeah, I did too.Because it seems to put out the expectation that you’re supposed to trump out a record a year or something.Well, the others were like a year and half or two years apart, so maybe I’d set up these expectations by cranking out stuff a little faster. But to me, the time just flew by so fast — it didn’t seem like four years. I think if I’d had it together a bit more, it would have been maybe three and a half years instead, but that’s it.Do you find yourself going through seasonal cycles of productivity versus simmering?Well, if I’m touring I’m not writing, and I don’t write when there is something going on with my family. Basically, almost anything can distract me from making music. Your Web site has the heading of “roller skating enthusiast.”

    How frequently do you roller skate?I haven’t in a while — I need to get back into that. Do you think you’d ever like to skate with a roller derby like the Windy City Rollers? 

    No, but I bet they’d like me to. I mean, I’m a really good skater. Oh, I shouldn’t say that because there are really good skaters who could say, “No, you’re not.” I mean, I can skate. But I don’t have health insurance, and that is one of their requirements. Also, the roller derby is just not my thing. I’m more into wanting to be a wannabe figure skater. I like doing jumps and spins.

    You’re from a warm climate, and it’s getting to be wintertime in Chicago. Do you have coping mechanisms for Chicago winters?

    I don’t know — the winter seems to go very fast for me. I got used to the cold because I lived in New York for six years. There, it seemed like worse, sloppier winters, since it was on the ocean. It’s colder and more bitter here, but more tolerable, I think. And I learned in New York how to dress: three pairs of socks, hose under the long johns, pants, blah, blah, blah. I get more bothered by the really gross hot weather. I finally broke down and bought an AC this summer, during that weekend when it was 94 degrees all weekend. Y’know, in Texas, everybody knows that you don’t live without an air conditioner — you just don’t do it! And here, it’s more like you don’t live without heat. All of the buildings I’ve lived in have had good heat but not automatic AC, like in Texas. But, coming from a place where there weren’t really seasons — where it was just hot, hotter, or maybe not as hot — I do like Chicago’s defined seasons.

    This is a big apartment building. Do your neighbors ever hear you singing and playing and complain? 

    It’s a really quiet building and no one has ever complained. Also, I don’t jam that loud; I don’t do the amp too much, just sometimes to make sure it works. I think that if they were going to complain, it would actually be about the incessant TV. I don’t think they hear me; we have pretty thick walls. I don’t hear them, except for little footsteps from above and their cats sometimes.I hear my landlord’s bassett hound sometimes, when it’s chasing toys across the hardwood floors. I can’t have a dog in this apartment. I’ve had cats in other apartments, but not here. Really, if I could I would, because they’re so fun, but when I tour and go away, it’d be such a drag for the cats. If I was living with someone it would be different. It wouldn’t be like I was putting this creature in the position to be really lonely. My best pal just got a dog, Lois, so I live vicariously through her, and Drag City has Easy; she is a pitbull who is the sweetest. So I get a lot of pet privileges. 

    I love offices with dogs. Venus shares space with this skateboard company, and the owner rescued these two greyhounds that are always there. 

    Greyhounds are so damn big, though!

    Yeah, but these two are really mellow and sweet. They sleep in the sun for most of the day, and I’ve only seen them be high strung when they hear a vacuum cleaner. 

    Yeah, the great nemesis of all dogs — they say it’s the postman, but no!

    How do different producers’ styles affect the sound of your albums? 

    Well, Rian has produced all but the second album, Telescopic, which was done by Neil Haggerty, and they had very different styles. Rian is a lot more of the kind of guy who will gather all the pieces and musicians together and say, “Work your magic!” Whereas Neil was a lot more structured about things. He took detailed notes, even to the point of changing structures a little bit, like adding longer middle parts or whatever. And he was really really specific about what he wanted. And they’re all great ideas, so it worked out. But Rian is a lot freer with bringing people together and letting them work. And he does come up with ideas for arrangements that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with myself. His talent really lies more in being the conduit or the facilitator. 

    Kind of like throwing all of the ingredients in the pot and letting them work together? 

    Yeah, and he’s really good about knowing who might sound good together. And he just keeps it light and jokey. He’s a funny guy.Must be comforting to have a producer who you can trust to go with their instincts like that.It’s really cool to have worked with Rian for so long. To have him know the language, you know? He knows what is best for it and what will make the music sound good, because he’s heard it for so long, so he knows what works and what doesn’t work.

    Were you a musical kid?

    My mom had me in lessons periodically. I took some cello and piano when I was a kid, and I got a little guitar when I was 14. And she always had a piano and was always hanging out with orchestra people. And my dad has always been really into jazz and classical stuff, and he turned me onto a lot of stuff too. My mom always had a lot of records around: Joni Mitchell and Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Led Zeppelin. But yeah, there was always music around, and that was fortunate for me, but I was in Mexico from fourth to ninth grade, and they didn’t have a music program there. So when I moved back to Texas for high school, the other kids had already been in the programs, and I really wasn’t prepared to read music or play an instrument in band or anything. I missed out on the schooling in the early years, kind of caught up, took music lessons at University of Texas, and tried to make up for it. But there are still big holes in my knowledge of music — like as far as the technical part of it, even though I’ve taken all these classes, and I should remember all this theory and stuff. But that’s never been very natural for me. I do a lot better just with three chords and banging around. I know that a while back you weren’t getting international distribution.

    What’s going on with that?

    Yeah, yeah, they got me a better distribution deal since the last album, but it’s only been in the last six months or year. It used to be that if there was a store that had my stuff, they had it as imports, for the most part. I used to go there and hear, “I’ve never heard of you. I haven’t seen your records. Where do I get your records?” It should be a lot better now, I’m hoping. I’ve never had a bad tour [in Europe], but it’s been a little lacking as far as prepping them for who the fuck I am! (Laughs) But there are always these weird little pockets of fans, like in Stockholm, I had like fuckin’ 20 superfans, with lighters, singing along to every word, but that’s an anomaly. 

    Where do you like to play in Europe? 

    Paris has always been great. London I’ve only played once, but it was awesome show. When I played Spain, I had so much fun there, because I speak Spanish — since I used to live in Mexico — and it made it a lot easier to joke with the audience. Sure, they didn’t know who the hell I was there, but I had the advantage of being able to joke with them and speak to them. The show there was a super-fun show. 

    That’s right, you speak Spanish. I read that you moved around a bit when you were a kid, in Texas and Mexico.

    Yeah, the order was San Antonio, Austin, Guadalajara, Austin, San Antonio, Austin, New York, then Chicago. And there were about five different homes in every place.

    You’ve maintained your blog for 10 years, you were on the Internet before most people even knew what the Internet was, and you once had a day job as a programmer. Do you still do that work to make extra cash?

    No, well, the last little freelance thing that I did was with Drag City, helping them with their Itunes, uploading data entry, but that’s just song titles and stuff, not like “programming.” As far as Web stuff, I just do my own site now. I like separating my fun from my work (laughs). The best job I ever had was as a courier, when I was using my van to drive packages from like downtown FedEx to the airport. It was for a shipping company. I was a substitute-courier for Adam Jacobs, this Chicago character who tapes concerts. And so it was no brainwork — just picking up, signing for the packages, driving them out somewhere while listening to the radio. It was so removed from any of my responsibilities in my real career — the music — that I really [enjoyed] that shit work. 

    That sounds like a dream day job for a creative person — just being able to zone out. 

    Yeah, stupid jobs can be really fun like that if you don’t have to worry about what you’re doing so much. Working in music could be a drag if you’re just being immersed in music all day and having to do it for your vocation, too. I think it takes a lot of dedication to keep things separate.Yeah, it makes you value what you’re doing for the love of it as opposed to the money. I’ve been lucky, because more and more over the years, the music has moved from being hobby to work. Even my tax lady can say so, and then she can take more of a percentage! It’s hard, but the more I work at it the more I can do that. If I got off my ass and played more shows, I could make a pretty comfortable living. It’s just that I’m lazy and I like to avoid working. 

    You were just playing some shows with Calexico in Austin. How did that go? 

    I met them in Tulsa — we played there and then Fort Worth the next night — and then we played Austin. It was a blast, it was so fun. I didn’t have copies of It’s a Game with me, so I was just talking it up and playing some songs off of it. I had the pedal-steel player from Calexico, and “Playmate” was actually one of the songs that we were doing. He would come up at the end and we’d do “Mirage” and “Playmate” on pedal steel. It was sooo pretty. I don’t know how they do that, those guys. Pedal steel seems like a really hard instrument to me. But it was perfect.

    Many of the tunes on the new album are hinged on heartbreak or a love-affair ending. Do people make assumptions about you and your love life based on that? 

    Yeah, it’s part of the mythos or whatever. I don’t like it — I wish that my thoughts were a little less rooted in the real (laughs). But the thing is that it’s just the topic that is easiest for me to write about. I have all of these aspects of my life — friends, family, hobbies — but I just don’t choose to write about them. The way I see it is that you write a sad song and you can kind of “validate your feelings” and then you can leave it behind and it becomes just a pretty song eventually — you know, after a few weeks. I just really like sad songs. Some of my favorite songs are really broken-heartedy kind of songs. It’s just ... yeah, why do people like that, why is that enjoyable? I don’t know (laughs). I envy the people who can just make up a story and write really vivid imagery and can take you to a place that they haven’t even necessarily been. I can do that somewhat — a little bit — but that is harder for me. It is easier for me to just pull from my own e-mail or things I’ve said or things I overheard. Plus, the songs do tend to be patched together a lot, because I’ll just write like three phrases down or something when the thing is going on. And then, in a notebook, piece of paper, or on a computer or something and might not come back to it till much later. There was one, “My Lover Won’t Call” — I literally had every word of that for 10 years, and it took me that long to finally stumble across it and say, “Oh, I could finish that” (laughs). So, in that way, the albums end up being much more at a distance than what is going on in my head at the moment, because it is so pieced together time-wise.

    So the songs are not necessarily about what’s happening at that time period.You’re actually mining old scraps of paper, moments, and journals?

    Yeah, by the point that I am pulling it together and actually making it into a song, that is definitely not the point that I’m actually going through the heartbreak. When the heartbreak is happening, I will tend to write stream-of-consciousness shit, but I’m not in a state where I want to actually sit down and do a demo or figure out chords or anything. It’s just like “bleh, bleh, bleh,” and then I’ll come back to it and be like, “Hmm, that rhymes!” I have to go through [the scraps of paper] later and attempt to pull something out of it that makes sense. It’s just about the discipline to do that.

    Top photo © Drag CityBottom photo © Eric ZiegenhagenNovember 23, 2005.

  • Venus Zine-Interview with Elizabeth Merrick



    From my full review: "Girly takes place mainly in rural Pennsylvania, and depicts the unfolding of events in several women’s lives, most primarily the lives of the Hart family women, made up of Racinda Hart, her psychologically damaged sister Ruth, and out-of-it mother Amandine, who became a born again Christian when Racinda was a baby. " Venus Zine, January 15, 2006.

  • Venus Zine-McCarren Park Concert

    Neko Case, Joanna Newsom, and Martha Wainright at McCarrenPark Pool, August 24, 2006

    Venus Zine / September 1, 2006

    Three performers crank it out in an abandoned pool, despite the ominous weather

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    John Lennon once described New York as the center of the universe, saying that, “If I was living in the time of Rome, I’d go to Rome. But I’m living now, so I’ll be in New York.” Freelance work being a bit slow in Chicago right now, I had this in mind when I hopped a red-eye to NYC to visit a pal. We got $2 sandwiches at the deli on the corner in her Brooklyn ‘hood, then hopped on the train to McCarren Park Pool where Joanna Newsom and Martha Wainwright were playing a 6 p.m. show headlined by the superb Neko Case.

    The pool, unused for 20 years and three times the size of an Olympic one, has only recently been used as a venue, (to much controversy, since Clear Channel is sponsoring the shows). We got there amidst threatening rain clouds, and plopped down on the crumbling edge of the old pool just as the rain started full throttle and the charismatic Wainwright started to play. She began with the pensive “Far Away;” “Green grass blades are all on fire / I own the crack that's in the wind,” and later did a rocky-version of the standard “Stormy Weather” in a small homage to the increasing sea of umbrellas and ponchos. She was sweetly apologetic about the weather, yelling to the crowd, “You guys are such troupers; thank you for staying…Wish we had bathing suits.” As she wound up the set with “Baby,” she noted that she wasn’t going to be touring for a while “cause I need to make a new fuckin’ record!”

    When Newsom walked onstage in her ‘70s sun-dress, the sky was clear, and the rain was drying from the peeling paint bottom of the decrepit pool. With a voice that the New York Times describes as “froggy, girlish” and my friend Meghan calls “Lamb Chop-esque” (the puppet, not the band), Newsom charmed the cheerful gaggle of hipsters with her weird, winsome songs, warbling in “Emily,” “I saw you last night by the river / I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water / frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever / in a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror.”

    By the time Newsom finished, the sky was clear. It was almost too bad, we thought, because it could’ve been great to see force-of-nature Case belt out songs during a thunderstorm. But to no one’s surprise, Case was magnificent anyway. She played a nice mix from her albums Furnace Room Lullaby, Blacklisted, The Tigers Have Spoken, and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Almost immediately, she played one of my favorites, uh “Favorite,” and the crowd began visibly swooning as she sang, “I thought you were golden / I thought you were wise / Caught you returning / To the house you caught fire.” One girl, evidently moved by the spirit, started waltzing by herself in an empty part of the pool, and three art-girl rockers began dancing near her with a spazzy mix of mod and country moves. In “Set Out Running,” Case threw back her head to bellow, “Want to GET it all behind me / you know everything reminds me / can’t be myself without you / wanna crawl down deep inside,” and I realized that the only trouble with her performances is that she makes it look so easy that people think that if they throw their heads back and belt it out, they can sound that way too. Hence, leaving the shows, you often see folks mimicking her singing with the same lusty abandon but without her blessed vocal chords. Ouch.

    Case was in punchy spirits and kept referencing unicorn tarot cards that were recently gifted to her. “The unicorn oracle is guiding every decision I make tonight — even my clothes,” she informed the crowd. “Unicorns have this sexual power that I think is harnessed from every 12-year-old girl in the world. Basically when they’re not humping their Pink Panthers, they’re looking at unicorns and they don’t know why….” We left the show elated and I’m catching tonight’s red-eye back to Chicago.

    So, in short, my visit did just what I wanted:
    Jolts of confusion, in a good way: check. (Newsom).
    Goosebumps from a favorite performer: check. (Case).
    Celebrity sighting: check. (Jimmy Fallon was at the show).
    New music introduction: check. (First time hearing Wainright live).

    Back to ye olde Midwest, and my big, affordable apartment go I, fresh with invigoration. Thanks and kiss-kiss, NYC.
  • Venus Zine; DIY, Spring 2006, Guerilla Drive-Ins


    Venus Zine; DIY article, Guerilla Drive-Ins

    Venus Zine, Spring 2006

    Guerilla drive-ins These groups are reviving the lost pleasures of the drive-in movie

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    When was the last time you watched a movie with a bunch of strangers under the stars? Drive-in movies have been phasing out since their heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. They were popular because of the inherent romance in watching a film under the stars, snuggled up with siblings, friends, or paramours under blankets. Contemporary technology allows an extremely high-quality home entertainment experience, but it has come at the cost of estrangement from fellow movie-goers. So some radical folks began their own “guerilla” drive-in movie collectives as a DIY way to enjoy the intimacy and communal nature of drive-ins, with the added bonus of being able to show whatever films they damn well pleased, usually free of charge.

    One of the most organized groups is the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In in Santa Cruz, California (guerilladrivein.org). In 2004, they started showing films such as “The Third Man” and “The Gleaners and I” on vacant walls of abandoned buildings for friends and strangers to enjoy. The Santa Cruz drive-in doesn’t actually involve cars, however — movie-watchers bring lawn chairs and blankets to the given location, where they view the film via a projector and high-powered speakers.The nation-wide MobMov collectives — short for Mobile Movie — (mobmov.org) take the term “drive-in” a bit more literally. They use technology similar to that used in ye olden days, utilizing an FM transmitter to broadcast the movie’s sound into car radios, so that, as organizer Bryan Kennedy notes, “there is no sound pollution at all.”

    Because of this, says Kennedy, they are rarely bothered by law enforcement. He thinks that the MobMov idea (now active in 12 U.S. cities) has caught on because of “the sense of community you get when you come, the experience of sharing something unique with strangers.”Most groups have guidelines for if and when they are approached by police or upset neighbors, since, as theSanta Cruz group notes, “good neighborly relations are an important element of DIY culture.” In Kennedy’s experience, a law enforcement confrontation “has never happened--if it did, I would just show them my papers, and if they asked that I stop the movie, I would.”

    The Santa Cruz group notes that the best defense to hassling from cops is to “know the laws restricting amplified sound and rules restricting access to public space after dark, and have people on hand who have experience with non-violent communication.”Most collectives agree that the real issue at hand is one of public versus private space. The Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In notes on their website that; “Beyond showing great movies and bringing a broad community together, our mission is helping to reclaim public space and transforming our urban environment into the joyful playground it should be.”Kennedy from MobMov echoes the sentiment, saying, “A drive-in is much more than just a movie projected on a wall like at your local cineplex.

    In a cineplex, you have this huge public space, yet interaction is frowned upon, so it is not appreciably different than watching the movie by yourself. In the drive-ins of old, some people would roam around and visit each other, while others would sit in the privacy of their car, unperturbed. With a drive-in, you can select the level of interaction you want. It’s a much more customizable experience.”

    Plan Your Own Guerilla Drive-In Location, location, location. The Santa Cruz group suggests that you scout out a dark location near a smooth, light surface, in areas that are either full of warehouses or under bridges to minimize the chance of interruption. 

    The technicalities. Determine whether you’ll use speakers or a radio transmitter, and then scrounge for speakers, amplifier, and projectors. Additional technical information about projecting films can be found on the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In and MobMov websites.

    What ya gonna watch? Make a list of films to choose from. Some groups have subversive or political themes, while others make a specialty of documentary or foreign films. 

    If you build it, they will come. Let people know when and where the screening will take place. This can be done via a website, e-mail distribution list, or fliers on local bulletin boards.

    Dealing with authorities. The Santa Cruz group always has a few “cop tamers” on hand to serve as police liaisons. He explains, “A good cop tamer has experience with non-violent communication and a good understanding of applicable laws.”

  • Venus Zine; Interview: Ladyfest


    Published on VenusZine.com, November 2005.

    You've come a long way, lady
    Ladyfests are gaining steam ‘round the globe

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    The first Ladyfest took place in 2000 in Olympia, Washington. In addition to bands like Sleater-Kinney and Cat Power performing, the weeklong event hosted bands like the Rondelles, Neko Case, and Mary Timony, and a dizzying array of varied spoken-word artists, authors, and visual artists, along with workshops and dance partiesOlympia festival, an astounding 80 Ladyfests around the world have been successfully planned, testifying to the need for this sort of event. Ladyfests should not be mistaken for a franchise, however, and the different Ladyfests are not related to one another, except in spirit. The varied places around the world that have hosted Ladyfests include Bloomington, Indiana; Chicago; San Francisco's Bay Area; Nantes, France; Glasgow, Scotland; Toronto; Los Angeles; Stockholm, Sweden; Melbourne, Australia; Seattle; Berlin; Napoli, Italy; and Vienna, Austria. In 2005, approximately 30 Ladyfests were scheduled to take place worldwide. Venus interviewed organizers and performers from this year’s festivals in Brisbane, Australia; Guelph and Ottawa, Canada; Denver; Lansing, Michigan; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

    The Organizers
    Ladyfest organizers as a whole are a determined lot with an idealistic focus and an overabundance of energy. They also are uniquely open-minded about their attendees and welcome all genders, unlike the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, for example, which restricts attendees to only biological females. Sarah Brown of Ladyfest Ottawa noted that their demographic was "definitely young women 18 to 30, but we had audience members of all ages and genders." Fellow Ottawa Ladyfest organizer Natasha Beaudin attributed their good turnout to dynamic and feminist-oriented programming, affirming that, “it was definitely a better turnout than one would get [from] a lecture on feminism, for example."

    Ladyfest Guelph organizer Ashley Fortier was impressed with the event’s large attendance and the variety of ethnicities that were represented, especially given Guelph’s small population. “It was a very diverse crowd, especially at the hip-hop night," she said. Ladyfest Out West organizer Shannon Perez-Darby commented on the queer focus of their festival’s performances. "Over 75 percent of our performers were queer, lesbian, gay and/or trans identified," she said. The organizers of Ladyfest Guelph went a step further by specifically listing their event as"anti-oppressive, feminist, queer and trans-positive, DIY, and collective."

    Local Focus, Broad Appeal
    The 2005 Ladyfests had varied concentrations in their different locations. Some had a heavy hip-hop presence, while others were more film-centric or focused on performance art or workshops.At Ladyfest Ottawa, the closing party with the Gossip was the most popular event, and Alix Olsen was a "big hit" in Lansing, Michigan. The best-attended performance at Ladyfest South Africa was a band called Electro Muse, a string quartet that combines drum‘n'bass tracks to trip-hop.

    Workshops also drew in enormous crowds. Sarah Brown of Ladyfest Ottawa mused that, "A panel discussion on privilege in activism was one of our best-attended events. Bookbinding also had high numbers." Nearby in Guelph, the workshop on urban gardening was hugely popular. Oftentimes, decisions about performers and events were made broadly and then localized, with organizers focused on bringing in as much local talent as possible. "We included similar broad themes like music, art, politics, film, etc., but then tried to re-appropriate it to the Brisbane context," said Ladyfest Brisbane organizer Nikola Errington.

    Similarly, Ladyfest Ottawa included local talent such as Les Alumettes, Sarah Hallman, Daydream Square, and the Hussies. Ladyfest Out West brought in resident spoken-word artists Jeanette Henriquez, Angela Palermo, and Isis, in addition to well-known local activists Ashara Ekundayo and Kelly Shortandqueer MC and the Denver band Supply Boy.

    The Talent
    When asked about their Ladyfest experience, performers often got gushy. Susie Patten was double booked at Ladyfest Brisbane with her bands I Heart Hiroshima and the Mean Streaks, and she enjoyed playing to the crowd’s enthusiastic response. “My bands played first and second, so we thought that there'd be a pretty quiet vibe around, but everyone was really into [it]. The crowd response was fantastic. Maybe that was just because Kate Bush was played in between sets." Patten attended other Ladyfest events while on location and said that "apart from the rad music, the photography exhibition was probably the highlight — so much awesome talent."

    Patten said the only changes she would make for future Ladyfest stints are that she’d like to play last. "And for Cat Power to support us, and maybe even for her to fall in love with me,” she said. “So realistic." Deb Cavallaro of the Golden Circles called the Brisbane Ladyfest an "intimate, beautiful, dynamic, honest, and inspiring gig. As far as sisterhood goes, there was a fair bit of that feeling going around that night and [it was] kinda great … when you look at the stage and see more than one woman out there."

    Organizational Challenges
    The momentum for these festivals seems to be only increasing as time goes by. In 2002, there were 13 Ladyfests; in 2004, the number had reached 26, and in 2005, close to 30 Ladyfests occurred around the globe. This steady growth is encouraging to those of us who aren't having our needs for this kind of event met in mainstream culture. However, there are definite challenges in planning these festivals. First, there is no one source of income or funding for Ladyfests, and one of the first things that organizers are obliged to figure out is how to raise funds through advertising, fundraising events, or auctions.

    Ladyfest Ottawa raised funds via craft sales, bake sales, film nights, rock shows, garage sales, art parties, and bottle drives. Sarah Stollak and Latricia Horstman of Lansing, Michigan’s Ladyfest invested the money from their tax returns to fund their town's festival, in addition to applying for grants and selling ads to local businesses. Ladyfest South Africa secured Jose Cuervo as a sponsor and "used most of the funding to pay the marketing and printing" costs for their festival. There are definite challenges to organizing other than finances. Many organizers struggle with the admittedly valid critique that Ladyfest and events like it can work to marginalize women artists and performers. Being cast as an "alternative" culture can run the risk of alienation, an important point to consider when in the planning process. Others depict the female nonprofit organizing process akin to a series of infighting sessions, characterizing women's managerial styles as too emotional or complicated.

    However, the typical response from a Ladyfest organizer is that although the planning completely consumed their life for the better part of a year, the payoff was enormously rewarding. Most organizers said that they'd do it again but would change small parts of the process. For instance, they suggested a different organizational structure, setting earlier application deadlines, and, as Nikola Errington of Ladyfest Brisbane said, "we would try and make EVERYTHING all-ages."

    When asked if she'd program another Ladyfest, Sarah Brown said, "Hell yes. Organizing this festival is so rewarding. It deeply affects your life, and as an organizer you have the privilege of watching it affect others." Latricia Horstman muses that she set out on a mission to bring Ladyfest to Michigan in a way that changed her community’s mindset, all the while having fun and providing a fantastic opportunity for folks to get involved and learn. “The ultimate goal for everyone participating or attending: to have fun, learn something, and have some money at the end to give to a charity,” she said. “Every year we've done just that."

    Good Deeds, Progressive Values
    Ladyfest South announced on its Web site that it is a forum for "radical and progressive women everywhere" and goes above and beyond the <leo_highlight style="border-bottom: 2px solid rgb(255, 255, 150); background: transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%; cursor: pointer; display: inline; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial;" id="leoHighlights_Underline_0" onclick="leoHighlightsHandleClick('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" onmouseover="leoHighlightsHandleMouseOver('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" onmouseout="leoHighlightsHandleMouseOut('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" leohighlights_keywords="call of duty" leohighlights_url="http%3A//thebrowserhighlighter.com/leonardo/highlights/keywords?keywords%3Dcall%20of%20duty">call of duty by not only paying their performers, but raising a good deal of cash for local social-service projects that assist women, such as the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center and the Women's Center to End Domestic Violence.

    Ladyfest Mexico will be held in Monterrey in February 2006, and the organizers are calling for submissions of women artists, including photographers, writers, actresses, filmmakers, musicians, and fashion designers. The festival will focus on subjects such as the situation of women in politics, society, and the economy, with a critical reflection of the role assigned to women in the work-field and family by societal and moral values.

    The possibilities of Ladyfest seem endless. As long as there are women producing good work, there is a seemingly endless array of locations and venues for Ladyfests to showcase them. It is of note, though, that what most of the organizers, participants, and attendees are ultimately working for is a world where the kind of work, art, and music featured in Ladyfests around the world would automatically be showcased and valued by a larger and more diverse demographic of society. We've come a long way, ladies, but there is still a long way to go.

    The Future of the Fest
    Some upcoming Ladyfests in 2006 are in Atlanta and Monterrey, Mexico. For more information about past and future Ladyfests, visit http://www.ladyfest.org.

    All photos courtesy of Nikola Errington of Ladyfest Brisbane 2005.

    Top photo: Stitch N' Bitch event
    Middle photo: Scout Niblett performing
    Bottom photo: Women in Activism workshop