Ed.: If we’re going to see more women or other underrepresented groups in music, one place to start is by creating new spaces. CDM contributor Zuzana Friday is involved in an effort in Berlin that does just that. The idea is an informal one: just have exclusively female-identified artists meet for a couple of hours, to give them an environment all their own, then open up to anyone interested thereafter – covering musicians but also quite a lot of visualists, too. Even the name is simple: “Meetup.” That approach has proven fertile enough that it’s fired up the music network citywide. But just how does something so simple and direct work in practice? Zuzana takes us into a meeting to give us a picture.
We’re sitting outside in front of a wooden house with a bar and two dancefloors inside, where our Meetup takes place this evening. The June sun is setting as today’s attendees slowly gather, some coming directly from work, some refreshing themselves with a lemonade or a beer. When me and the other three Meetup co-organizers, Aiko, Bianca, and Yulka, decide that there’s enough of us (usually about half an hour after the official start), we get started with our discussion part, which is female-identified and LGBTQ-only.
First, we introduce each other one by one. Of course, if someone would want to stay anonymous, that’s fine, too. We say our name, specify if we go by she, they, or another pronoun if necessary, and explain what brought us to the Meetup. You’d be surprised: the reasons vary a lot, along with attendees’ occupations, interests, and a level of professional experience. This time, we have a rapper and singer/songwriter who are doing degrees in electronic music production, a scientist who likes making instruments in her spare time, a DJ who works in a museum, a young girl who just started thinking about VJing, a woman who realized she’s David Bowie and needs to follow her destiny… the mix is always unique and wonderful.
After the introduction round, we all go inside to start the discussion. This time, our topic is upcoming music festivals and gender issues connected to them. Our guest Anna from the Berlin edition of Mira Festival introduces the event, then we dive into the fact that the lineup of musicians is all male, and try to figure out why is this so often the case and whether all-female festivals help the issue. Ed.: Side note on Mira specifically – female artists contributed to visuals, but weren’t listed as headliners. Also, a separately-curated set of panel discussions on which I was one of the moderators was mixed, but the performance program was criticize over this issue. It’s great to see Mira taking interest in improving. -PK)
Some attendees make interesting points, some share their personal experience or opinion, and the discussion eventually branches to other topics related to event-organisation, festival and party policies and other things that have been occupying people’s minds. When we feel like we’ve said it all, and we see that people would prefer chatting in smaller groups or just enjoying some music, the party / musical part starts, around 9pm. From this time on, everyone is welcome and encouraged to join and party as an audience, as long as they keep it friendly and respectful – we do have male audience enjoying the music performances.
This time, Sissip, a musician, singer, songwriter, and recently also a producer, starts her solo show. She joined us in May for the Ableton edition of the Meetup, where we talked about creative processes and some shared their music productions. Sissip herself didn’t bring any music then, but she sang on the spot and mentioned she’d just started working with Ableton. And tonight, only one month later, she’s singing and performing her live set here!
The next act is multi-genre talent Juliane Wolf, who performs a captivating acid live set. And then we have DJs Kat Tat Tat and MS Elbe, who spin their groovy and deep house records, making it almost impossible not to dance (well in my case, at least). At the end of the Meetup, I feel thankful for having the possibility of co-organizing this event, as I see new possible friendships or partnerships, people being inspired by what has been said today and some new fans of this evening’s artists.
Meetup is a team organizational effort. There’s Aiko Okamoto, alias Mo Chan — a VJ, DJ, and artist. Bianca Ludewig is a cultural studies scholar doing her Ph.D in transmedia festivals and teaching about electronic music and pop culture, as well as a hosting a radio show as Jukebox Utopia. Jessie is a graffiti writer and a DJ. I eventually joined in because of Bianca, after she persistently encouraged me to. And so did Yulka Plekhanova, a VJ (Optic Veil [doing some of my favorite analog optic visuals, I might add, gorgeous work! -Ed.]) and an event organizer for many years in the US and now in Berlin. Since May, the organizing team was pretty much the four of us (Bianca, Aiko, Yulka, me), with help of Anja Weber aka Mila Chiral, a dancer, choreographer, musician, and a member of Minutektiv, who is in charge of the Ableton editions of the Meetup. We also get support from friends like Akkamiau, DJ Isa Wolff, Sissip, Donna Maya (a musician and a certified Ableton teacher) and many more, who join regularly, perform, DJ, take photos, and show us support. In December, we welcomed Anja, Isa and Elie Gregory (Strip Down) to the organisation team of the Meetup, because the more minds, hands and hearts, the better. 🙂
The initial idea of the Meetup was for female-identified and LGBTQ people to meet, talk, have a beer, and maybe start a project together or at least see who else has similar music / art interests in Berlin. I joined Meetup in April, after attending the event in March. At that time, Meetup was taking place in a Bar dubbed “ohne namen,” (literally, “no name”). The atmosphere was pretty laid back, with ladies sitting around and talking, but the bar setting meant we had to keep the volume down, and couldn’t add live acts or VJs.
So we moved over to an unlicensed/illegal club. (That’s why we can’t share its name and address.) We’ve met a wonderful and supportive group of people there, who provide us space and all the equipment and generally just let us do our thing and party until 1 in the morning. Anyone who has ever been there is blown away by its charm, as only a true DIY place can provide. And so we settled in a little house of this club complex, among shiny meteorites and iridescent decorations, dusty furniture and a fluid, ever-changing environment. Finally, we had not only working decks, but also beamers and a proper sound system and a dance floor!
We had our first Meetup in the new spot in April, for our first Ableton-themed edition. And with the new location, the impact of the Meetup started to grow. People started to contact us before hand; we started to ask our friends who produce, VJ, DJ, make movies, or do live painting, whether they’d like to participate. And so we started adding formal line-ups for each event. But in case someone wants to spontaneously come and DJ, we make sure that there’s space left for open decks! The discussions evolved, too – suddenly, it wasn’t just chats among ourselves anymore, but included guests, people who are interested in similar topics, individuals, collectives, festival organizers, social media managers, sound artists, DJs.
Among our wonderful guests were Konstmusiksystrar, a Swedish collective focusing on female-identified and LGBTQ artists in the realms of contemporary classical music and sound art, Michelle Manetti, a DJ and founder of the Lipstick Disco blog, organizers of festivals like Mira and [East Europe-centered] Easterndaze x Berlin, Ellie Gregory of EQ, an initiative for all genders underrepresented in electronic music, and even more interesting attendees working for magazines or music software companies joined us in the past months.
But don’t think that we are only limited to professionals – all kinds of people come and join. These are especially welcome because it always warms my heart when somebody comes to check out our event and then returns with a live set ready, or performs a song that they created after our Meetup, pumped with inspiration, or plays their first production experiments on the Ableton editions. As this has happened, it’s proven to us that organizing these events makes sense and really can inspire people or give them the push they need to move one step further.
Some time ago, I also started a blog, where I gradually post profiles of some of our attendees who are artistically active or are somehow involved, as well as profiles of our guests who presented their projects or work, and of course everyone who performed live or as a DJ or VJ. There you can find info about upcoming Meetups, as well as on our Facebook. We’re also thinking about expanding Meetup further, not only online, but also in the ether, or making some bigger events. But as we’re all busy, we’ll see how far can we stretch Meetup’s potential.
What I’d like to emphasize is that we open the door to all genders after 9pm to join us for a party, see some female or queer musicians, artists, DJs or VJs, and experience these unique intimate events with us. We still keep the safe-space for female-identified and LGBTQ from 7 to 9pm, in order to create the most supportive, open, and unintimidating atmosphere, and so far everybody who I asked felt comfortable. But even now, we think about letting male feminists and supporters of diversity in electronic music and digital arts to talk with us from the beginning, to be more inclusive and let more people from various backgrounds to participate and support each other.
Meetup is an ongoing process and we discuss all of this within our team. When I think about it, a big part of what we do is exchange a lot of emails! We share ideas regarding organization, topics, guests, and how to grow and to do things better. Now we’re even discussing changing the name. So anyone who would like to be informed about what we’re up to can follow our Facebook page or our blog. We did a screening of the documentary about last year’s Heroines of Sound festival, and had the organizers introduce their event.
If you want to join us in Berlin, you can perform, DJ, suggests topics or other ideas, or just drop by, please get in touch. And if you’d like to organize something similar in your part of the world, and want some ideas and support, I’m happy to encourage you and talk to you!
Meetup Berlin [Blog]
Ed.: I hope this opens up discussion not only about Berlin, or even exclusively about female-identified artists, but about spreading music outside its usual contexts and crowds. So of course, we welcome similar stories and discussion of how event organization is going elsewhere in the world.
Photos courtesy Meetup Berlin / Akkamiau Kočičí..