I’ve just got back from the most mind-blowing conference I’ve ever been to. Keep It Simple, Make It Fast, is a conference/music and literary festival/art show organised around DIY cultures, Spaces, Places. Events were held across various venues in Porto, bringing together academic presentations, some celebrity guests, live performances, exhibitions with daily book launches and a summer school. The event is convened by Paula Guerra and Andy Bennett with an incredible team of international volunteers. I went with my Subcultures Network army (Matt Worley, Petes Webb and Ward, David Wilkinson and stayed in a seminary with the Punk Scholars Network and Steve Ignorant from Crass).
Although there was a predominance of work on the canon of the spectacular; punk, post-punk and zine culture at KISMIF, the real lessons that I will be taking away from the event will be about how we work as much as whatever it is we work on. The focus on the process of keeping it simple, and making it fast, meant that we could free ourselves from some of the usual hang ups in work on subcultures or indeed post-subcultural work. Working on process allowed us to move away from myth bashing, rigid top down definitions and scoring authenticity points in our work. Instead I saw papers, performances and plenaries that wove together experience, memory, context, agency and cultural representation. Steve Ignorant and his band the Slice of Life performed one of the most moving, reflexive and analytical sets I’ve ever seen.
I was there to present a keynote and give a lecture to the Summer School
Fangrrrling Feminism: Letting go of some hang-ups
Riot Grrrl famously ‘put girls to the front’ and challenged the idea that audiences were ‘the opposite of the band’. It also raised significant questions about the possibilities of resisting dominant structures from a subcultural position; be they the patriarchal objectification of women, commercial incorporation by the mainstream, or the limits of sustaining grass roots activism on a day to day level.
In this paper I want to use my own engagement with Riot Grrrl and research in the Riot Grrrl archive to learn some lessons, and on the way challenge some of the artificial divisions we make in subcultural work. I want to pick up some of the lessons from fan-studies. I want to see what happens when we take girls, and fan girls seriously. If we recognise that fandom, like subcultural affiliation, is an active process of production and identify formation, maybe we can let go of some hang ups about production, about authenticity and about cool guitar boys. After all fans and scenesters are excellent researchers. And we as researchers often present our personal fandom as academic research.
This paper, and versions of it, grows out of the research I did with Laura Cofield during a visit to the Riot Grrrl collection at Fales Library, NY. But all of that was really just a way for me to talk about how much I fangrrrl Kathleen Hanna and how much I know she doesn’t want me to. But I can’t help it, she’s the perfect icon for a disabled feminist historian. Her band Le Tigre’s’ Hot Topic from 1999 builds a canon of new icons. It is an alternative historical syllabus.
“Hot Topic is the way that we rhyme”
Carol Rama and Eleanor Antin, Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneeman, Gretchen Phillips and Cibo Matto, Leslie Feinberg and Faith Ringgold, Mr. Lady, Laura Cottingham, Mab Segrest and The Butchies, Tammy Rae Carland and Sleater-Kinney, Vivienne Dick and Lorraine O’Grady , Gayatri Spivak and Angela Davis, Laurie Weeks and Dorothy Allison, Gertrude Stein, Marlon Riggs, Billie Jean King, Ut, DJ Cuttin Candy, David Wojnarowicz, Melissa York, Nina Simone, Ann Peebles, Tammy Hart, The Slits, Hanin Elias, Hazel Dickens, Cathy Sissler, Shirley Muldowney, Urvashi Vaid, Valie Export, Cathy Opie, James Baldwin, Diane Dimassa, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, Mia X, Krystal Wakem, Kara Walker, Justin Bond, Bridget Irish, Juliana Lueking, Cecilia Dougherty, Ariel Schrag, The Need, Vaginal Creme Davis, Alice Gerard, Billy Tipton, Julie Doucet, Yayoi Kusama, Eileen Myles
Like Hanna, I have a list of heroines public and persona, past and present who get me through my every day. For me Hanna is in that list. I’m sure that part of what brought a selection of academic/activists, activist/academics, practitioners and artists, together at KISMIF was our desire to broaden the list of heroes and heroines we have been given. To include the ones we discovered on our own, and the ones who found us by accident.
Well it turned out that I did just that at KISMIF. I collected an amazing list of women. It was like playing feminist top trumps. (although that might be a bit competitive in an unsisterly way)
First and foremost Paula Guerra who co-organises the event, and her team including Ana Oliveira , Paula Abreu and Susana Januário (who picked me up and gave me an insightful tour).
Steve Ignorant’s Mrs, Jona,
Catherine Strong from the Music Industry Program, RMIT University. (who also gave me the heads up on the Contemporary Art Museum)
Christine Feldman Barrett, from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research,
Samantha Bennett from Australian National University
Ana Ferrão, Radio Director
Gina Arnold music critic, author of Route 666: On the Road to Nirvana and academic
Sarah Raine, BMEC who is working on a really exciting intergenerational research project on Northern Soul with Tim Wall.
Sonja Zakula from University of Belgrade, and Gabriela Gelain (University of the Rio dos Sinos Valley) who are both doing important projects on transnational Riot Grrrl.
Rita Gracio (University of Exeter) working on the role of women’s craft making in post-Austerity Portugal.
Lisa Nikulinsky, Griffith University, Australia
Ana Mateus who brought together Lisa Simpson, Pippy Longstocking and portugese ecopunk feminism.
Apologies to all the other sisters I’ve missed out
I’m sure that the conversations we had, stories we shared, and the looks we exchanged will play out in my work and thinking for a long time. But one particular paper has been replaying in my head over and over. Marion Leonard from Liverpool University, gave a paper analysing the plethora of heritage events organised to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Punk in London. The involvement of the British Library and Boris Johnson as the Mayor invoked some scathing criticism of Punk London as the ultimate example of Hebdige’s ideas of reincorporation. But Leonard not only analysed those responses she moved beyond them, to think about the process through which the exhibitions, and the responses were composed. After all if you want the authenticity quotient, exhibiting was at the heart of punk’s initial moment. Exhibiting resistance to being archived might be the point. She has helped me think about oral history as punk rock history; mashing up the past and present, bearing witness whilst challenging the very structures it inhabits.
The paper sent me back to a particular oral history clip from the British Library voices digitalised as part of Observing the 80s. Although the clip is on a totally different topic, it is an interview with the wife of someone who saw active service in the Falklands War, it epitomises oral history as punk rock history.
In the clip Anne Dewey has her own agenda, moving between keeping the interviewer happy and railroading her. She slips between the past and the present, but with absolute focus on the future. She demands her agency, she makes it her own story, keeping it simple and making it fast. Because in the end it’s the love that matters.