H.O.O.F. Music Festival Celebrates the Women, Femmes, and Thems of Chicago Punk Scene
By: Kimberly Kapela & Justice Petersen
Unsurprisingly, most music scenes are male-dominated and testosterone-driven to the point that women stand in the back of concerts to avoid getting thrown into a violent mosh pit or leaving the venue with a bruise or two. The punk genre has its roots in anti-sexism and ideas of reaching gender equality, yet it has a history of mistreatment and discrimination against women and queer people involved in its scenes. Most overt forms of sexism can be seen in today’s music scenes but aren’t exclusive to a singular genre.
Enter H.O.O.F., better known as Hands Off Our Fest which takes its inspiration from feminist slogans such as “hands off our bodies.” The music festival aims to uplift and empower the “women, femmes and thems of the Chicago punk scene” – the very community that keeps the genre alive and flourishing. Held in Blue Island on Sept. 30, the lineup featured performances from Sweetie, Hayley and the Crushers, Won’t Stay Dead, Heet Deth, Hi Ho, Sex Dream, Sleeping Villains, and Shannon Candy.
Teddi Garson of Electric Tattoo Parlor did flash tattoos at the event. Drag performances were followed by Dr. Cali Girlie, Ichabod Vicious, Spencer Money, Kai Valentine, and Sindy Vicious. H.O.O.F. also featured a weird Barbie contest, vendors from Girls Rock Chicago, and local roller derby and rugby teams to encourage community collaboration.
Frontwoman of local punk band Sweetie and festival organizer Birdy Vee has noticed a big need for more inclusivity in the scene after feeling uncomfortable and intimidated after experiencing poor treatment from bookers, venues, and male musicians.
“I noticed that working in the scene, the shows that I found to feel the most safe at and that were the most rewarding were events that were either female or queer-driven,” Vee says. “Sweetie started playing drag shows a while back and I realized I enjoyed it so much because the energy is more safe and inviting.”
Vee recalls fests having the label of “female-fronted” but most of the time, it’s all straight women with very little queer representation and all male bookers running the event.
“I was sometimes feeling unsafe in the scene and my main purpose for H.O.O.F. is for it to be a healing moment,” Vee says. “I want this to really focus on joy and celebration. That’s why in the phrase, it’s a celebration of the women, femmes, and thems of the Chicago punk scene because oftentimes, I noticed that the non-binary folks are not really included in it.”
Vee says that some venues have more inclusivity than others, but wants to see festivals have more women, non-binary and queer representation on its lineups.
“I want to help diversify festivals,” Vee says. “I want this to be a moment of feeling safe and joyful and having a fest for us where we can enjoy ourselves.”
Tattoo artist Teddi Garson created Flash where half of the earnings were donated to the Youth Outlook program that’s dedicated to the support of LGBTQ+ youth.
“I’m part of the cause. I’m a non-binary folk in the punk scene,” Garson says. “As a tattooer, I’m out here and I want to be seen and I want to make sure that I’m here representing my folks, and I want them to make sure that they know that they have a safe place to go get a tattoo.”
Garson says that despite inclusivity strides being made, there still needs to be more efforts to feature trans and queer-fronted bands and femme artists at music festivals.
“It’s unfortunate to see that there’s not a whole lot of femme or trans-fronted bands headlining bills,” Garson says. “I want people to leave here with a super full positive heart. I want them to know that there is a community here for them and we’re not going anywhere.”
Sleeping Villains kicked off the festival adorned in pink and rocking out on an electric ukulele. The band played a dedicated song about coming out as trans and acknowledged that it’s good to know that everyone in the audience looked like them. Followed by guttural screams and an electrifying performance by Hi Ho, the band reminded attendees it’s the celebration of ourselves and to not masculinize yourself and be who you are. The sweet affirmations of inclusivity and acceptance remained true to the sentiment of the event being centered around queer joy and acceptance in the punk community.
Won’t Stay Dead, iconic for their horror-influenced pop-punk sound, combines grunge influences and Y2K emo pop with spooky aesthetics and lyrics. The band is a bone-chilling force to be reckoned with as they remind the alternative music scene how crucial it is for young women both on and off the stage to feel represented.
“At a lot of our shows, we have women in the audience come up to us and be like ‘Man it’s so great to see other women up on stage. I feel like I don’t see enough of that,’” says Saffron Lair, the band’s bassist and co-vocalist alongside guitarist Violet Staley. “It really is a reminder that representation is important. It’s awesome to go see a band that you really enjoy, but it’s a whole other thing when you can see yourself in the band.”
For women in the industry, misogyny and ignorance from men are all too familiar. Therefore, Lair was happy to be able to perform at an event where women, femme-presenting, and nonbinary artists who are underrepresented could have a platform.
“As women playing music, you encounter a lot of awesome people, but you also encounter a lot of idiots and a lot of men that are – even if they’re not outright rude or shitty or misogynistic to you – a lot of the time they’re just ignorant,” Lair says. “They say bullshit and it gets really frustrating when it happens over and over. So I know that Birdy has really wanted to put on a show highlighting exactly what the mission statement says: The women, femmes, non-binary, queer people of our local scene. So that’s what she did and I think it’s really great.”
As a double female-fronted band, Lair says that alternative female-fronted artists aren’t mainstream anymore – unlike its predecessors in the 90s when feminist and Riot Grrrl bands were charting. Hopefully with events like H.O.O.F., women and queer-fronted punk bands can make a resurgence again.
Female-fronted is not a genre, but a community according to Lair. She says that while the music and the look are fundamental when it comes to the meaning of punk, what is equally important is the sense of community.
“I think it’s about having an outlet to express your feelings, your beliefs,” Lair says. “You can say that about music as a whole. But I feel like with punk specifically, it’s a lot more focused on that, whether you’re singing about politics, your emotions, whatever it is, I just feel like punk as a genre really amplifies that. It helps you find a community of like-minded people.”
Heet Deth, consisting of Laila Eskin (guitar/vocals) and Julia Bard (drums/vocals) is a noise rock band with a vintage horror meets glam rock aesthetic. Reminiscent of David Bowie when it comes to their extensive dystopian lore, Heet Deth is a representation of “the new, bad future.” Here to warn us all about the disastrous world we are destined for, Heet Deth will provide the music for when we all must dance during the apocalypse. As a queer band, to play at an event like H.O.O.F. is an honor, according to the duo.
“I love being asked to do things like this because it means that we’re being seen too,” Eskin says. “I feel like it’s so hard – I’m sure we’re not alone in this – because a lot of queer and women-fronted bands are often feeling like they’re on an island by themselves. While all of these dudes move on and do their thing [and] move on to bigger stuff.”
Bard says H.O.O.F. is a unique event for not only its inclusive lineup but also its variety of performances.
“There is not enough of an intersection of punk bands and drag queens playing shows,” says Bard. “So if you can go to a show and see some bands and see some drag performers do their thing… I think it’s a really wonderful mix of things that don’t come together often.”
After concerts, Eskin and Bard both love hearing female and queer fans talk to them after shows. Many fans will tell them how much they appreciate the passion and acceptance found at one of their concerts.
“They just say ‘I didn’t know that I could feel this kind of rage inside. I didn’t know I could mosh like that… you make me want to start playing guitar,’” says Eskin. “We need more. We need more of everybody to come out and play for themselves. There won’t be enough until [it] completely spills all the way throughout. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
H.O.O.F. is a one-of-a-kind event for the Chicago punk community. As an industry consisting mostly of straight, white men, a festival with the mission to empower women and queer artists and fans of the punk music scene is refreshing. But it’s only a start.
“There just needs to be more of these [festivals],” says Eskin. “I think there needs to be more feminine- and queer-fronted bands all over. Because there is something divine in feminine rage, and we all need to embrace that.”
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