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Tomorrow afternoon, Logan Square's Burlington Bar will play host to the inaugural Frontwoman Fest, a celebration of all things feminist within Chicago's music community. Despite the name, the event isn't strictly limited to celebrating frontwomen—it aims to showcase women who make music in any capacity, whether it's behind a microphone or a drum kit. Presented by the cultural publication Midwest Action, the record label Impossible Colors, and Radio One Chicago, the fest is also a benefit: all proceeds will go to Girls Rock! Chicago, a community organization that helps empower young girls through music. In anticipation of the event, I spoke with the festival's chief organizer Elaine Davis, who also makes music as Spaces of Disappearance.
Over the past year and a half Davis has used Spaces of Disappearance as a way to teach herself programming and learn the ins and outs of making electronic music. "I think it's very socially acceptable to be a female singer, but to be a female programmer, to be a female songwriter, it's a little more of a struggle to get credit for your work," she notes, citing a recent Pitchfork interview with Björk in which the singer lamented how the press overlooks or misattributes her work, such as programming her own beats and writing her own arrangements. "This is not anything unique to a specific music scene. This is a general industry-wide problem."
Davis worked to put on Frontwoman Fest as a way to combat the idea that women can be singers in bands, but not much else. When putting together the lineup, she sought out bands that had strong female songwriters or female musicians who play instruments they're not expected to play, like the drums. She also hoped to reach out to bands with activist leanings. "One good example would be Haki," she says. "They're a great band. They're very into gender-equality issues and social issues. They just played a benefit show for the mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia."
Other bands playing include Strawberry Jacuzzi, Bleach Party, and Impulsive Hearts, who are all led by women. Adele Nicholas, who runs Impossible Colors and helped Davis organize the fest, will perform as Axons, while Davis herself will play a Spaces of Disappearance set. Impossible Colors just put out a compilation of tracks from each band performing at Frontwoman Fest; it's available now on cassette and as a digital download from Bandcamp.
The festival itself is intended to strengthen notions of community—for women, people who identify outside of the gender binary, and feminist allies. Each of the scheduled acts has agreed to donate their time and play for free in support of Girls Rock! Chicago. "We decided to make it a benefit for Girls Rock!, which is a really great charity," says Davis. "They provide classes and workshops and opportunities to encourage young girls to get involved in rock music. They're definitely an ideal charity, bringing girls into the musical fold and allowing them to explore all of these opportunities and hopefully create a lot of fresh music in the years to come."
As an artist and organizer in Chicago, Davis is optimistic about the present and future of feminist-minded music. "There's a very strong feminist community driven by DIY culture that Chicago has. We really respect the local," she says. "It's certainly a good place and a good time to be a female musician. Larger scale, you still hear about the struggles, but I think locally in Chicago it's actually a very rich time for music overall. People are very open to a lot of different types of people making music. And I've got so much positive feedback from the press, from female musicians, female music fans; but also from male musicians, male music fans. There's a very strong feminist community from all ends. I think that's awesome. It's a good time to play music in Chicago. There's no question."
Doors open at 2 PM at the Burlington. For more details and full set times, see Frontwoman Fest's Facebook event page.