Monday March 4th, 2024
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Femme Fest: Building Spaces for Women in the MENA Music Scene

With a focus on inclusivity and safety, the platform has become a space for breakthrough female artists in the region.

Farah Desouky

Femme Fest: Building Spaces for Women in the MENA Music Scene

In a region where inclusive music spaces are a rarity, where having a female DJ on a lineup is the exception and not the rule, Femme Fest emerges as a platform for regional female artists in the music industry. With an increased focus on discussions around inclusivity and safety, the platform has become a space for breakthrough artists in the region. Over the past four years, Femme Fest has been enabling the creation, production, and consumption of music beyond the constraints of male-dominated structures that often dictate the music production landscape.

Co-founded by British Dubai-based DJ Megatronic and multidisciplinary artist Stavros Antypas, the founder of UAE-based women's empowerment organization Tawahadna, Femme Fest is a space where “She plays, he listens, they stay” as per their manifesto, acting simultaneously as a music festival and a networking event. “No one with toxic masculine energy would say, 'I can't wait to come to Femme Fest.' Especially because we start with panels and workshops before music, so we get to set the energy before introducing music,” Antypas tells SceneNoise. “Most attendees are part of the conversation from the start, and if someone comes with the wrong intention, the crowd overwhelms them.”

Venturing into an exploration where they unlearned alongside the community, Megatronic found her footing in the regional scene, questioning ideals of Western feminism that she believed didn’t fit her experience. Antypas, meanwhile, sought to question and understand his positionality as a ‘white-passing’ man working with female artists. “I believe driving change for people like me holds less significance within the creative community than working with women,” Antypas says. “Because if I can create that impact I would rather it benefits those who need it most and for it to be sustainable.”

At its inception, Femme Fest primarily focused on the intersection of music and women in business, fostering networking opportunities between these realms. The project’s growth led to a transition to a festival format in 2019, with their first digital festival becoming part of a wider movement bringing together marginalized people digitally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost four years later, Femme Fest hosted a special showcase at Riyadh’s XP Music Conference - which the brand has been part of since the start - with a lineup featuring Fulana, Meron T, and Manal. “We still encourage men to join our parties. While our main focus is on women and female-identifying individuals, having masculine energy is essential, because how else will people learn?” Megatronic tells SceneNoise. 

The duo believes that to build a safe and sustainable music space and maintain the communal aspect of Femme Fest, whether as a learning space, a networking hub, or a party, they’ve had to step away from commercialized models. “Profit isn't our goal. We've done reasonably well sometimes and sometimes we haven’t, yet maintaining a grassroots approach is what makes it glorious,” Megatronic adds. “We're doing it because we want to, not because someone told us to, and we don't take ourselves too seriously.”

With that playful yet collaborative spirit, they believe that their work is rooted in what they call ‘creative activism’ and a desire for joy integral to feminist activism. They started in Dubai, which still serves as their base, and expanded to Cairo and Beirut as they discovered the region’s vibrant music scenes, especially with female producers. “Femme Fest needed to make sense for the entire region, going beyond Dubai. It would have been as absurd as saying Nigerian artists reflect Africa’s music scene for example,” Megatronic reflects.

With plans to take the festival to Europe, recognizing the growing market in Saudi Arabia and the thriving music scenes across the region, Femme Fest stands as a testament to the power of community-driven initiatives, carving out a space for voices that resonate far beyond the festival grounds and a mission that continues to build spaces and opportunities for silenced voices across the region.

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