She who dares wins: music and activism for women

She who dares wins

Ashley Stein / credit: The Young Women's Movement

DAREFest is a music and activism festival aimed at self-identifying women. Kirstyn Smith spoke to the organisers to learn more about its riot grrrl ethos

Ashley Stein, one of the organisers of DAREFest, is talking about an article she read by a popular music researcher from Leeds University which stated: 'There remains a small number of groups who can actually generate consumer interest, and I think it's down to sheer economics. If you [a punter] are spending hundreds of pounds, you are not going to go for an indie band, you are going to go and see the Red Hot Chili Peppers or whoever.

'Bullshit,' she says. 'People do not spend hundreds of pounds on festivals tickets to go and see one band. This is a tired old argument rolled out by the white men at the top of the festival industry who are too scared to book female bands because of the revolution that might start.'

This revolution is what DAREFest is fighting towards. It's a one-day music and activism festival, a space for women to meet and discuss their ambitions, take part in workshops and get angry, passionate, and create. 'We hope DAREFest will inspire women to take down the music industry from the inside. Infiltrate, destroy, re-build,' says Stein.

An inside look at the music industry and a chance to consider following music as a career path, or just a chance to hang out with like-minded lassies, DAREFest is a punky, bolshy day for women to channel their anger at the industry and start creating their own opportunities. There's a workshop, run by Lou McLean – singer-songwriter and co-founder of the festival – called 'How to be a Badass'.

She who dares wins

Lou McLean / credit: Sarah Donley
'I was going to call it 'Emotional Self-Defence for Women' but it doesn't have the same impact!' she says. Using her degree in psychology, McLean has created a class about dealing with confrontation and sexism in music, having confidence in your decisions and building resilience. Stein will be running her own, titled 'DIY Tour Management', where she will discuss how to fund, book and promote your tour – without getting ripped off.

DAREFest is serious, and as important as ever given recent well-publicised events in music: both Kesha and Taylor Swift have been through the ringer with sexual harassment trials. If someone as all-powerful as Swift still has to defend herself against being invalidated and not believed, what hope do the rest of us have?

'Instead of making me feel frightened and disempowered, like it used to, it makes me furious,' says McLean. 'We're sending the message that this isn't ok and we, as a community in music and beyond, don't have to accept it as "the way it is". The behaviour needs to be called out, and we need to support and believe victims.'

As well as the support and the workshops and meeting new pals, DAREFest is, obviously, also focused on music's potential to empower.

'Little girls are expected to be quiet and small,' says McLean. 'But as a musician, you are big and noisy and you scream at the top of your lungs, wearing a glitter cape or a dress, or a shirt and tie, and do whatever you want. Play whatever you want. Sing whatever you want.'

'That feeling,' adds Stein, 'when you go to see your favourite band live and you come away so inspired, so desperate to create? That. That's what I want everyone who attends to walk away with.'

DAREFest, The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, Sat 23 Sep.


A one-day festival focused on helping women to build up skills and resilience needed for performance and feminist activism. Throughout the day, there are workshops and live music.