Monday, August 06, 2007

Ladyfest Berlin: Shirts v Skins

Las Furias at Ladyfest Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixVarious Locations, 4-5 August

I don´t give nipples, mine or others', a whole lot of thought, I must admit. They´re there. Occasionally, one gets a bit of chafing, etc. But, they are not a part of the body that impinges on my consciousness.

But after the kerfuffle at Ladyfest Berlin over exposed nipples, it is one aspect of body consciousness I shall have to give more consideration. The row over exposed chests cast a bit of a pall over an otherwise sunny (weather and atmosphere-wise) weekend of festie-going.

Saturday night´s gig was capped by an uproarious performance by Barcelona quartet Las Furias (pictured above), three diminutive women and one male, who play old-fashioned surf rock. The women, on bass, vocals, and guitar, ran through the full gamut of rock postures, including falling to the floor, jumping on the monitors and flinging themselves into the audience, all to ecstatic effect. They were rapturously received, the only hint of discord coming when the drummer took off his shirt in the heat. Performance artist Die Helmut appeared on-stage and proferred her shirt to him and he put his shirt back on and the performance continued. Most people probably didn´t even notice the moment.

However, on Sunday, with the band Queen Kong playing, their male guitarist removed his T-shirt and then took down his braces and the reaction was very different. First, two Ladyfest women got on-stage and danced in front of him. Then he was asked to put on his shirt and he explained he didn´t feel comfortable and asked for a vote. The band´s supporters cheered him on and he put one brace back on, but not the shirt. Later, a bra was thrown onstage and he was asked to wear it. In the meantime the band´s female bassist had taken her shirt off and was wearing a bra. Then the singer took off her bathing suit top and bound her chest in duct tape, all in an effort to achieve some kind of parity. He said he would wear the bra if he could get the rest of it and tossed it away.

However, things turned confrontational. One woman from the Ladyfest group demanded he wear duct tape as his bandmate was doing. But another woman said it would be cruel. The first woman confronted the guitarist and then jumped on-stage and unplugged the band. Some discussion followed at the side of the stage and then the band left. Some time later they played another song but by then the congenial atmosphere had been ruined.

The issue has a history at the festival because in 2005 another band´s male drummer had removed his shirt and the objection was made that why should he be able to when women are prohibited from doing so, and why should a women´s space make that concession to him. Obviously, some members of the organising group feel very strongly about it. Most people on Sunday didn´t appear to be offended or angered by the guitarist´s gesture and, indeed, the loudest opinions were the band´s fans clapping in protest at the power cut.

My feeling is there is a big discussion to be had about body image, empowerment and safe space but that it didn´t happen at this gig and shutting down a performance in mid-flow is not the right way to achieve anyone´s liberation. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Keep your shirt on." Ahem.

Other than that, big props to French hip-hop duo Grace and Volupte Van Van who opened Sunday´s show with a very entertaining set of French and English-language originals. They had a good posse of followers who willingly jumped on-stage for some interpretative dance, as well. Nothing out on record yet, though.

Earlier in the day there was a picnic at Mauer Park in Prenzl´berg, a fantastic, visually impressive, lively location. However, for some reason the picnic was held in the least felicitous, hard-to-find spot akin to a gravel-strewn car park. Baffling.

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