Thursday, July 24, 2014

BFF Fest - July 26: Seraphine Collective Shifts the Scene’s Status Quo

Inclusivity; the idea of it, the beauty of it, the need for it, and, more so, the absence of more initiative to foster it… That inspired BFF Fest

“Women are grossly underrepresented in this scene,” said Erin Norris (guitarist/singer of Casual Sweetheart). “I get bummed out when I hear people say: ‘Well, I don’t know any good female musicians or bands…”

Best Fest Forever has been organized by the Seraphine Collective, an online-born co-op working towards establishing a safe, active and supportive community for female musicians in Southwest Detroit. That, (inclusivity) along with underlining that this “isn’t just some Women Who Rock fest,” says co-organizer and singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist Jen David (of Illy Mack and Mama Roux).

Much more than that, as elaborated by co-organizers Dina Bankole (singer/guitarist, Secret Twins and Swimsuit) as well as Norris, BFF Fest is about shifting this scene’s stagnant status quo and toppling the typical politics/inner-workings and perceptions idly clung-to around here when it comes to live music event; particularly, the lack of diversity amid the artists performing said-events.

BFF Fest subverts “the stereotype,” said David, “that women with guitars are a rare breed.”

Bankole said the original impetus for BFF Fest was also acknowledging “the lack of fun, summertime music festivals with diverse line ups. It’s the same-ol’-same-ol’ around here.”

Shelley Salant, an proven avid supporter/promoter and contributor to local music for years, based out of the Ann Arbor/Ypsi scene (Rebel Kind, Shells) initially joined with Bankole a year ago for the planning of this event. Bankole admits that, at first, she resisted that apparent need to emphasize the ‘female, POC, LBGTQ’-centric nature of the festival’s line-up of performers. “Not necessarily because of backlash or stigma,” said Bankole, “but…just to see if anyone noticed.”

“Music is sexless,” says Norris. “(Musical) notes are sexless. Instruments are sexless. Events should probably be sexless, too.”

For about 12 hours on July 26, BFF Fest will take over Trinosophes (concert venue/coffee café / generally cool Eastern Market hang-out). This diverse line up of which we speak features:

Rebel Kind, Kelly Jean Caldwell, Isles of ESP, Loretta Lucas, 
Blizzard Babies, Mexican Knives, Little Animal, Marx Marston, 
Mama Roux, Bárbara Eugênia, Sros Lords, Junk Food Junkies, 
Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Diskette, Double Winter, Drinkard Sisters, 
Sex Police, Van Houten and Deadbeat Beat. 

Norris is excited and inspired, having never seen a line-up with this many female musicians before.

The line-up also features Norris playing guitar in Casual Sweetheart, which includes Bankole on drums and bassist/singer Lauren Rossi Harroun. Harroun founded and facilitated the blog (Seraphine Collective) that would go on to play a key role in inspiring this Fest and its overall mission statement.

That mission includes highlighting, celebrating and promoting the talents of Michigan’s diverse community of musicians and artists, while prioritizing the participation of women, POC and LGBTQ performers to elucidate the need for, along with balance and diversity, an overall stronger and more supportive music scene in Detroit, in Michigan. The hope is to expand that supportive atmosphere out as far as it goes; in the Midwest and in North America., and, eventually, the world, the universe, the galaxy and all else beyond.

“(It) started out as (Harroun)’s blog that featured individual profiles of female musicians currently making music in Detroit,” said Norris. “It was also (Harroun)’s idea to start a collective with hopes of creating a safe, active and supportive community for female musicians.”

Formal planning meetings were held and continue throughout this year, to strategize towards attaining a space, be it through grants, fundraising or otherwise. The hope is to repurpose a vacant building into a type of community center, a gathering place, a resource library; able to facilitate festivals, educational programming, a space for rehearsals, a recording studio and office-space for an aspiring label.

“I came in to the Collective,” said Bankole, “to helm the record label and festival parts of the project. I’ve wanted to start a record label for a long time. There are so many great bands in Michigan that should have records out and get substantial support from a label, especially female fronted, or female-membered bands that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve.”

Bankole admitted that it is frustrating that “…BFF had to happen intentionally.” The conversations BFF Fest (and Seraphine Collective) hope to start include considering the need for shaking up the “same-ol’-same-ol,’” as Bankole put it, with most shows and festivals’ lineups (between Ann Arbor and Detroit), disappointingly dotted by the same bands getting the same headlining spots, or, other times, slotted as “supporting” acts for “big” shows.

Throughout the curation of BFF, Bankole “met so many cool new bands” that she doesn’t mind putting together an “intentionally” diverse festival, for now; at least until the day when “…Michigan’s music scene catches up to reality and modernity.”

The keyword may not just be inclusivity, no; it might actually be more about “balance.”

“We focused on showcasing celebrated and up-and-coming female musicians,” Bankole said, “regardless of their band’s makeup. The goal was a good mix in ratio opposite of the average show (which are largely male-dominated). So, (BFF Fest) is kind of like: ‘Hey…here’s a diverse, inclusive line-up you don’t see often, but should.”

The idea is to channel any frustration with a scene’s stagnation into something positive; David declares that she was tired of being the only female musician playing a gig. “I’m tired of line-ups that reduce women to only being fans, not performers. I’m tired of gender roles in general.”

David said she wants BFF to be an enlightening experience for the music community, particularly for any booking agents or fellow musicians in attendance that happen to have it seep in that an awesome band of women is awesome not just “because they’re all chicks” with guitars, but, truly, because they are purely, undeniably, elementally, altogether “…awesome.”

And Seraphine is driven by a similar sharing of encouragement, one member inspiring the other and the next member inspiring yet another – one band being awesome and spurring the next band to reach higher toward their very own next-levels.

“I find it kind of amazing that we could make a festival like BFF Fest happen,” admits Bankole. “We couldn’t do something like this in any other major city without some serious cash. Trinosophes is letting us use their space for free and our friends have pitched in to help.”

Portions of the cover charge go to benefit the Ruth Ellis Center, a nonprofit organization working to provide safe haven to homeless and at-risk youth. Bankole noted that Ruth Ellis Center was an ideal partner because of their particular outreach extending to LBGTQ youth, (up to 40% of homeless youths are LGBTQ), but also because the organization is also fundraising, this summer, with the Ally Coalition to build a new Community Health Center to provide services to 25% more youths currently under their care.

Says Bankole: “I would strongly encourage other bands/festivals to donate to the Ruth Ellis Center as well. The total development costs for the new health center are expected to reach $250,000. Start planning a fest right now!”

BFF Fest’s bands run the gamut – categorically defiant by genre and blending everything from neo-soul and trip-hop revivalism to paisley psychedelia and hardcore punk; scuzzy garage and spaced-out experimentalism to throwback AM radio vocal-pop.

And BFF Fest intends to come back next year, bigger and better—according to the organizers. But, beyond the music, this year, there will also be a clothing swap. Attendees are encouraged to bring clean, wearable clothing items, with seasonal items to be donated to the Ruth Ellis Center.

When you arrive, seek out the merch table where you’ll not only find recordings and swag for individual BFF-featured bands, but also the new BFF ZINE and MIXTAPE.

Visual artists Molly Soda and Dan DeMaggio will augment the ambience during the latter half of the festival with live art projections, tripping-out the Trinosophes milieu.

Saturday, July 26 – 3pm – 2am @ Trinosophes (1464 Gratiot Ave, Detroit, MI) $8 all day, all ages (3:00P - 2:00A)

\/\/\/ VALLEY STAGE \/\/\/
3:00P- Drinkard Sisters
3:50P- Sex Police
4:40P- Van Houten
9:10P- Sros Lords
10:20P- Blizzard Babies
11:30P- Isles of ESP
12:40A- Rebel Kind

/\/\/\ MOUNTAIN STAGE /\/\/\
3:25P- Double Winter
4:15P- Diskette
5:05P- Deadbeat Beat
6:15P- Little Animal
7:25P- Marx Marston
8:35P- Mama Roux
10:55P- Mexican Knives
12:05A- Loretta Lucas
1:10A- Kelly Jean Caldwell

$1 of every ticket will be donated to Detroit's Ruth Ellis Center in partnership with The Ally Coalition.

~Jeff Milo

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