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Celebrating Women in Black and Brown punk and heavy metal, it’s #Blkgrlswurld Punk Fest and Zine Fair at Philadelphia’s ICA

Alex Smith interviews one of the founders of #Blkgrlswurld about their upcoming Punk Fest and Zine Fair celebrating women of color in heavy metal and punk music scenes. The two-day festival starts today, September 27th, at ICA Philadelphia in University City at 6pm and continues tomorrow, September 28th at 11:30am. The event is free and open to the public, so catch it if you can!

Courtesy #Blkgrlswurld Zine, 2018
Courtesy #Blkgrlswurld Zine, 2018

MAGE from ICA Courtesy #Blkgrlswurld Zine, 2018

The 2003 documentary AFROPUNK explored the ideas, feelings of ostracization, and the dreams of Black people involved in alternative culture, filling the film’s run-time with interviews that furthered a conversation that led to a zeitgeist shift. Gradually, movements would coalesce, often inspired by this documentary and fanzines like Osa Atoe’s far-reaching examination of the Black punk rock experience, Shotgun Seamstress or by the constant, persistent touring of Latinx punk bands like Chicago’s Los Crudos. Black and Brown participants in the DIY punk, hardcore and heavy metal scenes carved out space for themselves. As visibility increased, that empowered even more bands, events and movements all over the world. In 2019 it’s hard to imagine punk rock without its strong Black and Brown presence.


Photo courtesy of #Blkgrlswurld ZINE
Photo courtesy of #Blkgrlswurld ZINE

Enter Christina and Courtney Long of #Blkgrlswurld, a publishing and promotion collective that, according to their website, “celebrates and documents Women of Color who participate in heavy music genres like Metalcore, Hardcore, Punk and Black Metal”. They focus on “interviewing bands, attending concerts and vending at zine fairs”, enabling their #Blkgrlswurld ZINE to “introduce readers to new music and the diversity within music scenes” This weekend, beginning Friday September 27, the siblings bring that raucous, multi-cultural spirit to Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA): #Blkgrlswurld Punk Fest and Zine Fair is a two-day festival of presenters, panelists, and loud, abrasive rock bands, all of whom are powered by energetic vocalists of color. As residents of NYC, the siblings are the recipient of a visiting artists grant from Penn’s The Sachs Program for Arts Innovation. While this award allows them access to the ICA’s backing, that association and any perceived institutional stuffiness won’t be holding them back. “An opportunity came up to host the event at ICA after we were awarded [the grant],” Christina says via email.

“It’s been great working on this festival with them for the past six months. That being said, I don’t think they know what’s likely to pop off at this event until it happens. Mosh pits and mayhem have been in the back of my mind from the very start. Love the idea of shaking up formal spaces with our crazy community.”

Through all the fun and chaos of organizing such an impactful event, there is the looming perception of being a marginalized person involved in heavy music scenes whose media-face has been predominantly white. With that perception, and despite both the success of several bands, promoters, artists, and zine makers of color nationally and #Blkgrlswurld receiving some help via grants, the road to the festival has not been entirely stress-free.

“It is very hard to change institutions and organizations that never laid a groundwork for inclusive connectivity,” Christina says. “So many fields thrive on people hiring and networking with their friends and friends of friends. I actually heard an artist speaking on this proudly the other day- it never dawned on them how many amazing voices could be missing from their project because of this tactic. Of course, POC can’t wait around for invitations to trickle in, so POC must continue to create spaces to uplift each other. It’s a huge confidence booster to have someone acknowledge my creativity and tell me that my voice matters. Everyone should have that opportunity.”

With this festival, that opportunity seems to be arising. Taking place in the same neighborhoods that housed the ever growing Black and Brown punk festival Break Free Fest– whose organizer Scout Elena is a panelist at Friday’s Punks of Color talk–and the now legendary live series Rockers! curated by electro-punk genius Moor Mother for decades, #Blkgrlswurld adds to the milieu. The fest is anchored by bands like Philly’s no-wave/goth provocateurs The Ire and Husbandry, New York-based prog-rock noise metallists with twisted yet soulful vocals from singer Carina Zachary, and will feature presenters like Ola Ronke who runs the Free Black Women’s Library, a traveling collection of radical, liberating works written by Black women and catering to Black women.

“We are all about artists who aren’t afraid to get heavy,” Christina notes when asked about the line-up’s diversity.

“I’m a metalhead at heart, and while this fest isn’t strictly that genre, we did our best to find womxn who are pushing the boundaries of what extreme rock can be. I also love bands that give performances all of their energy and truly want to exchange a moment with listeners.”

#Blkgrlswurld Punk Fest and Zine Fair, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, and Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, ICA Philadelphia, 118 S. 36th St. FREE

Friday, September 27, 2019
6PM–8PM, Panel: Punks of Color

Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Zinemaking workshop, 11:30-1PM
#Blkgrlswurld Punk Fest and Zine Fair, 1PM-8PM