Girls rock the town - the first-ever "Babyfest"
Seven women's hard rock bands under one roof - quite a rare occasion I made sure not to miss. Prague's female hard rock, hardcore and punk musicians met recently at the city's Rock Café club for the first-ever Babyfest.
Don't be mistaken, although spelled "B-a-b-y-fest", the name of the festival has nothing to do with babes. "Baba" is a Czech slang word for a strong, if a little scary woman.
"I don't think that such an event has ever taken place here, at least of this size. We thought it would be nice if we brought together bands with women players, either all girls' bands or mixed groups. I thought it would be great to bring together these enthusiastic girls who rarely get to play for a large audience. The public and the media know little of them. I thought this could help the girls a little and if not, at least they might have fun."
Jana Henychova from the band Four Roses is the woman behind the idea of Babyfest. Alongside her band Four Roses, the festival featured six other bands: Tao, Toy, Sun Beach, Matahari, Zaba and the four-girl formation Stillknox, with lead singer Eliska Kohoutova.
"Our band's name is Stillknox which is Czech is a brand name for sleeping pills but in English it sound like "still knocks". We are four girls, we've been playing for around a year now and today we are going to play at Babyfest. We are really enjoying this and we want many other girls to start playing, not be just sitting there and listening passively but also go actively into it."
RP: What kind of music do you play?
"Everyone thinks that we are punks but we don't really play punk music. We have short songs with gothic harmonies - it's more like punk rock. We sing in English but we also have three songs in Czech."
RP: Do you think that girls, that women musicians, have it more difficult than men?
"Well, they have the same opportunities as men if they really want to. Obviously, because of the society, the discourse is so different... Men have it easier but women actually have the same opportunities but it's harder in the way that there are so few of them. But still, there are enough of them and this should encourage them to go for it. Sometimes the women's bands are even better than men's but, of course, that's my own opinion (laughs)."
RP: What do you think about the stereotype that women are only good for singing and they should not play instruments?
"Well, I think it's bullshit."
"You should listen to our drummer tonight."
"Yeah, if you listen to our drummer, you'll think that she's male but she's female. I think it's just because the society is raised this way. We were socialised to think that women are good for this and men are good for that, and actually in reality if you socialise a person to this and that, they will do it and, of course, there are genes but what do we know about genes?"
I was curious to find whether the women performing at the festival still had to face stereotypes about female rock musicians. Martina Porkertova was one of the co-organisers.
"I think that people still see it in this way but it's hard to say because I myself don't look at it in this way. It is still a bit unusual for a woman to play in a band. But the stereotype is challenged by every woman who plays an instrument and is serious about it. If she doesn't give up with her first serious relationship if her partner disapproves of her performing onstage and being watched by people. If they do stick to their music, all those girls can influence the general view significantly, and I think it is changing not only with regard to music. The view on women as such is changing. Men can cook if they enjoy it and if women enjoy playing music, they play it."
Among the revelling audience, I spotted a legend of Czech rock music, signer Marcela Brezinova who first became known as lead singer in the group OK Band in the 1980s.
"If women play instruments or sing well, it's great. It's a tough job to do it together with men and try to push through your own ideas. It is not easy at all. I know very well what I'm talking about because I was with OK Band, and sometimes it was difficult to convince the other players that I was right. I keep my fingers crossed for the girls, I'm really curious and that's why I'm here. I guess girls need a lot of support as they are much more delicate than the tough guys."
Marcela Brezinova speaks from experience. Since 1980 she's been in bands with men, trying to convince the guys of her own ideas. She came over to Babyfest to have a look at the budding generation of female rockers.
If you say a women's band, many people may think of girls' groups which after the Spice Girls first emerged, have mushroomed all around the world - and the Czech Republic has not been spared. The organiser of Babyfest, guitarist and singer Jana Henychova has her own idea of what a women's band really is.
"I don't call that a women's band. I must say that for me women's bands are for example "Stillknox" or "Tao" who are playing tonight. About some of the girlie bands I think they are good singers and the final product is all right. But I don't call it a band. It is a project, created by someone who is capable and successful. It was good for the girls in that they get attention, and if they are ambitious, they can start their own solo career. But I would not call those bands. The girls dance and sing - that's not a band. A band should play."
The four-girl band Stillknox who performed at the first Prague Babyfest also have a strong opinion on girlie bands.
"If I can speak for myself, I really hate them."
"We hate the music, it's not like we hate the women who play the music."
"I think it kind of influences the view on women's bands, when you see the Spice Girls and so on. You think that the woman's there just to look good and sing conventionally..."
RP: You look good enough to me...
"Thank you but that's a coincidence."