Ashley Stein and Lou Mclean set up feminist, one-day event, DAREFest to encourage women into the music industry. It kicks off on 23 rd September 17 in Edinburgh. We interviewed them about their brilliant idea, the smells they love and of course, what makes them damn rebel bitches.

Tell us about DAREFest?

LOU: DAREFest is a one day event co-founded by Ashley and myself. During the day we will be running workshops aimed at helping all women break into the music industry and build self confidence and skills for music performance and feminist activism. In the morning we will have a feminist pin badge making workshop run by the Women’s Aid project Speaking Out- In the afternoon Ashley will run DIY tour management, then I will present ‘how to be a bad-ass’. The title is a bit tongue in cheek but what I want the workshop to demonstrate is that we can all be the bad ass versions of ourselves. Women are taught to be quiet and apologetic all the time, but you don’t have to be. It’s about finding that confidence, and I’ll be sharing techniques I’ve learned through experience to address sexism and handle confrontation.

ASHLEY: We are trans and non binary inclusive. Girls Rock School Edinburgh (where we met) enabled us to become empowered through music and from there we embraced the principles of making noise and taking up space to become more confident, capable and bad-ass; a skill set that we are eager to pass on to other women. Organising a tour can be really stressful the first time round because you don’t have a clue what you’re doing and it’s easy to get ripped of when it comes to fees. I used to be a freelance booking agent so know how difficult it is to organise gigs in other cities and what goes in to planning a full UK tour.

What inspired you to start up this project?

LOU: I was really inspired by the sense of community. I ran songwriting workshops for women and found that the all-female creative environment was productive and inspiring. So many of the songs the girls were writing were about feminism, or activism-related experiences: a lot about emotional abuse, about being sexually harassed, or underestimated because of our gender. I started thinking about the possibility of making an event for women in relation to music, but not about learning how to play instruments. But something so that women who weren’t necessarily musical could take the lessons we learned and use them in whatever way they felt they wanted to. When Ashley and I met, it was obvious we had really similar interests and plans. Our skillsets matched up and we decided to make it happen! It’s been such a ride and I can’t believe it’s happening this month!

ASHLEY: I have a degree in Music Business so my background is in events. I used to run a monthly band night for female identifying, gender queer and non-binary performers called Revolution Girl Style Now. In uni I organised a few panel-based events where I had women from the music industry talk to an audience about their experiences. Since then I had wanted to do that on a larger scale but had never found anyone else who I felt I could pull it of with. After chatting with Lou a few times we decided to go for it! We have both realised recently that the best way to get stuff done is to do it yourself. You have to create your own opportunities. Participants can expect to learn a lot and have fun. Hopefully the music industry can expect to have a lot of angry  women banging on their door ready to fuck things up and tear down their archaic tendencies.

How can people get involved?

LOU: COME TO THE EVENT! I can’t stress enough how important it is to show up. I think in these days of social media activism we all think that clicking ‘like’ and sharing will make a difference (and by all means please share and like our event and pages, cos this is important!) but activism is about showing up! We can change the world but the revolution will not be televised! We want to create a network of real live women to create art with, to write with, to make noise with and to change our communities for the better. If you can’t afford a ticket, or are anxious about accessibility or turning up to a room full of radge punks, drop us an email! I guarantee we will be able to help you out with discounted tickets or buddy you up with someone who will understand your fears.

ASHLEY: Aside from coming along on the day or to the gig: Right now we are trying our best to spread the word as far as possible so social media shout outs and retweets are great. Know the best place to put up posters? Let us know! Want to hand out some flyers – come get some! We are also open to ideas for collaboration with other feminist events or organisations so are happy to hear from people if they have an idea. Anything that sees us assisting other women, we are down.

What gender equality issues matter to you most, personally, and why?

LOU: I think violence against women in all it’s forms needs to end now. Sexual assault is hugely important to me in particular, and the perception of victims is so deeply rooted in our culture. We blame women and it is so disgusting to me to hear anyone, including other women, criticising or disbelieving women because they don’t fit society’s profile of a ‘good victim’. This is something I strongly believe needs to end. There has been research on society’s false perceptions of sexual assault since the 1980’s, really there is no excuse for the media to still perpetuate these falsehoods to the detriment of survivors everywhere. Let’s focus on the perpetrators, not thevictims.

ASHLEY: For me its gender-based violence too, specifically emotional abuse. I was in a horrendous relationship some time ago now but have only recently been in a place where I can deal with it. Before I was able to get counseling, music was the only way for me to express my pent up rage, if I wasn’t in a band I don’t know how I’d be coping. Also, having a community that I could go to and talk these things through with was so empowering for me. Sharing those experiences in a truly safe and inclusive space helped me build my confidence. I don’t know what I would do with out the support I get from Lou, the other women on the GRS committee or the girls in my band. They lift me up and make me feel powerful and supported. I hope that’s what women will walk away from Darefest with; a feeling of belonging and sisterhood.

What women do you identify with from the past and the present day?

LOU: Amy Winehouse. I relate to Amy so much, because she was a guitar-obsessed, singing, funny weirdo, who was very introspective and shy but had an overwhelming need to make music and get attention! She was brash, and not ladylike, and didn’t give a shit about what other people thought her writing should be like. Her lyrics are beyond anything and she spent hours creating them, which is my favourite part of making music. I love finding funny rhymes. Her style influences mine a lot too. I just love everything about her and I am still devastated that she passed away. I have a sign on my front door that says ‘Do it for Winehouse’ so every day when I go out, I’m reminded that life is fleeting, and it inspires me to keep writing and make good choices.

ASHLEY: Oooooh that’s tough! I’m gunna cheat and say Patti Smith past and present! I’m re-reading her and one defining moment in her life “The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passerby, my mother, the trees or the clouds.” Not shitting you, that exact same thing happened to me when I was about 12. I was on the bus to school and as we passed a field I could see through the battered hedge a swan run through the dirt and then take flight into the morning sun. It was fucking beautiful and I was overcome by my inability to describe it and I’ve been trying ever since.

What are your favourite smells and why?

LOU: The salty smell of the sea reminds me of my hometown of Kirkcudbright. I love the smell of muddy riverbeds in the summer, and the forest for the same reason. It reminds me of being a wild little kid! Walking past the chippy in winter is a great one. In fact, all of Edinburgh in autumn/winter smells fantastic. Really sharp, frosty air, decomposing leaves, smoky fires, and candyfloss from the Xmas market. Love it. ‘Chance’ by Chanel, as it reminds me of my mum. My nana’s house smells great, like cooking, flowers and cosyness! I also love the smell of petrol!

ASHLEY: I love lavender, I have some in a little bag with some smoky quartz under my pillow to help me sleep. Also that musty ass smell that you get in charity shops, the stronger the better! Reminds me of my gran. Sun moon and stars perfume, such a childhood smell. I think my mum had it and I loved it. And that smell when someone comes in from the cold? When my cat smells like that, it’s very familiar and nostalgic and reminds me of all my cats, past and present.

Are you a witch, a bitch or a bit of both?

LOU: When I was in highschool I had a keyring on my backpack which said: BITCH: Babe In Total Control of Herself. I’d forgotten about it until I read this question and I now realise how important that mantra has been for me! I am very opinionated and quite frankly, that’s because I know quite a lot about different things. I’m also very sure of what I want, how I’m going to achieve it and how I am perceived (though sometimes I need my friends to prod me into relaxing for 2 mins!) So yeah, I’m a bitch! I do believe in the power of stating intention to make things happen… I’ve had some pretty spooky coincidences throughout my life so maybe I am a bit witchy. Hopefully Ashley can help me re-discover my witchy side, post DAREFest.

ASHLEY: Right now I am working on being both! Iv always been interested in witchcraft and have bought a lot of books on it recently. I’m teaching myself how to read tarot cards, which I love. On the bitch front, I have always been so scared to confront people on their shit for fear of not being liked. Recently however I have learned to deal with that and now that I know I can handle it I feel empowered and awesome. Witch bitch for life! That’s me and Lou’s next project; start a coven.

What advice would you give your past self about DAREFEST?

LOU: Ask other people for help earlier, you’ll be amazed how many people want to lift DAREFest up! Keep your head up grrrl!

ASHLEY: It’s going to be hard work but it will be worth it because you will be making a difference to the lives of other women. Slay my qween, slay.

What makes you a damn rebel bitch?

LOU: I’m confident and uncompromising about the need to empower women. I don’t care what you think I should be doing, or how I fit into your worldview. I want to be who I am, and use that to help other women. Confidence in yourself is the most liberating and rebellious thing you can do!

ASHLEY: I’m organised, driven, ambitious as fuck and ready to change the world.

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