Living in the real world can be a challenge once you've had your eyes opened to all forms of oppression and it's impossible not to look at the world through a critical lens. As someone who identifies as an intersectional feminist and who is aware of (and further educating themselves on) critical theories surrounding race and gender I feel like my lens is wide open. In a lot of cases it would definitely be conducive to my enjoyment of situations to be able to switch that awareness off but honestly, I've tried and it's impossible.
I've been into punk music since I was 16, so over half of my life, and if you've met me or read this blog for a while this'll come as no surprise. For me punk isn't just about the music but the politics behind it. Not every band I like is political, Less Than Jake are all about the dancing, but as I grow older I like the music I listen to to have more substance. I've been attending gigs and festivals to get my fix of live music since I was 17 and have attended V Fest, Reading, Glastonbury, Ozzfest, Groezrock, Slam Dunk, Boomtown and, most recently, Punk Rock Holiday.
Punk Rock Holiday (henceforth referred to at PRH) has been running for four years now and I'd heard a little about in the last couple of years as people I know via social media have attended. PRH has by far the most beautiful setting of any festival I've attended being as it's situated in the Slovenian mountains next to a fast flowing (but utterly freezing) river. The stages are shaded either by trees or by canopies the festival organisers have thoughtfully constructed and, as I veteran festival attendee, I was excited to discover that there were no timetable clashes at all! The smaller beach stage ran from midday until around 6pm and then the main stage hosted bands between 6:30 and 2am. I was able to check out all of the bands on my must see list - Against Me!, Anti Flag, Madball, Teenage Bottlerocket, War On Women and Less Than Jake, as well as spending plenty of time discovering awesome new-to-me bands like Not On Tour, Siberian Meat Grinder, Ratos De Porao and The Decline to name a few.
Wood chips also mysteriously appeared overnight to cover any dangerously slippery patches of mud and they somehow had better wifi serving the camper van area and the main stage than the majority of the campsites I've stayed at this summer have had in their reception areas. This was super awesome because when it costs £1 to make a call to your friend's phone having the ability to fire off an iMessage is important. PRH also had a more environmentally aware crowd than at any other festival I've attended - I think the beautiful location contributes to that as does the €1 cup deposit you pay for any alcoholic beverage but it's also the only place I've ever seen people putting out their (totally gross but that's a whole 'nother thing) cigarettes and depositing the butts into the nearest bin.
From a vegan and sober ally perspective this festival won over all of the others I've been to, yes almost every single one of the other 5000 people there were drunk the majority of the time but people were better behaved in their drunkeness than at any other festival I've been to - nobody set fire to any tents or gas canisters, nobody tipped over any portaloos or tried to destroy the lighting rig and yes, depressingly, this did come as a surprise!
PRH is also incredibly vegan friendly and there were good drink options for the sober walking among us. Every single stall at the beach stage was 100% vegan and the food was both varied and of excellent quality. I was able to get my fix of tofu burgers, juices, kebabs, hummus and roasted vegetable sandwiches and raw vegan ice creams whenever I fancied.
There were also salads, seitan kebabs and raw cakes and you were allowed to take your own water bottle into the arenas where the bands were playing. That's something that's been a no-no at other fest's I've attended and it's one of the more rage inducing things to have your reusable water bottle confiscated by security to then have to spend the day purchasing plastic bottles of water that are more expensive than beer - I'm looking at you Groezrock.
Despite these great things I ended up feeling deflated, irritated and angry on so many occasions during the week because of the rampant sexism I saw coming from both festival attendees and the bands themselves. As a woman who has been involved in the punk scene for a long time it wasn't entirely surprising but as I've recently been moving in more inclusive and socially aware circles it definitely brought me back to the real world with a bump, no, a crash. I was left with a feeling that despite PRH being pretty left of mainstream when it came to the lineup, environmental awareness and prevalence of vegan options that it was ultimately pretty damned mainstream when it came to it's politics. Sure, I saw plenty of anti fascist and anti racist flags, t-shirts and pin badges which was great but where were the people challenging the sexism (and, to a lesser extent, ablism) coming from both the bands and their fans? I ended up giving up noting down instances of sexism because it was just too exhausting (and my phone battery kept dying) but here are just a few examples:
• I was wolf whistled at five times whilst bending to apply suncream to my legs at 9:30 in the morning.
• Whilst walking with a female friend a man had a quick discussion with another man about whether we were hot or not before waving a "Spank Bank" sign in our direction.
• Whilst War On Women (one of the handful of bands featuring female artists) were playing a man shouted "thanks for the nipples" at the lead singer.
• A man kissed my female friend on the cheek whilst she was sleeping outside her tent.
• One band asked if everyone was enjoying the beach and pointed out that they all were because of all of the "hot chicks" he further went on to explain that he's had "enormous balls" all day because of the way the women there looked.
• A man onstage used the term retarded to describe the way a fellow bandmate was acting
• I spotted one man walking around wearing a "Boob Inspector" lanyard.
• When the drummer and bassist of one band messed up a song the lead singer called them "girls" in a derogatory tone.
Even writing that felt tiring and experiencing it was even more so. One moment I'd be enjoying a pop punky tune, dancing in the sun with my friends and the next I was being reminded about how much sexism, ablism and objectification there is in the world and that despite being surrounded by "punks" nobody else even seemed to notice. These microaggressions added up and conspired to give me a less than perfect view of what could have been a close-to-idea festival.
The white male led punk scene has a lot of work to do if it wants to be more inclusive of women and people of colour and that has to start at the top with the people putting on shows and festivals like PRH. If no consideration is made at that level to include more bands featuring women (including women of colour) the scene itself will remain unchallenged and unchanged. Five bands featuring women on a 56 band lineup is a pitiful and inadequate attempt at inclusivity and I would hope that nobody would suggest that it's because there aren't great bands with female vocalists, guitarists, bassists and drummers out there because there are and they aren't hard to find.
I have since read more about the festival Fluff Fest which takes place every July in the Czech Republic and has an anti sexism and sexual violence policy in place - I haven't been (yet!) but I would assume that such a policy stretches to the things bands say on stage as well as the behaviour of attendees. This must foster a safer space and therefor attract a more radical crowd who are more empowered to challenge sexism when it does happen. I would like to see Punk Rock Holiday adding such a policy so that it can be an enjoyable holiday for everyone attending.