Since last Sunday 96 young aspiring musicians from all over Europe have been camping out at FEZ, the expansive family recreational centre on the south-eastern edge of Berlin. They’ve been practicing singing and playing instruments, forming bands and rehearsing their own songs, the result of which they will perform on stage this Saturday, July 28, from 15:00. A good excuse to escape the scorching heat of downtown Berlin for a day out in the leafy eastern vibe of Oberschöneweide!
Irish musician Maebh Murphy of Berlin host organisation Ruby Tuesday and Auður Viðarsdóttir of Icelandic partner organisation Stelpur Rokka give us the lowdown on MEME (Music Empowerment Mobility and Exchange).
What made you want to organise a rock camp for girls?
Maebh Murphy: About a year ago I decided that this was something I really wanted to do, because I think that the act of forming a band together and making music is really empowering, especially for young girls. That’s what I’ve been doing with Ruby Tuesday: organising music events and workshops with a focus on anti-discrimination. There are studies saying women and girls start music-making later in life than boys, so it’s really important for us to give them their first opportunity if that’s what it is. Personally, I remember wanting to start music when I was 11, but it took me nine years to actually do it.
Auður Viðarsdóttir: I also think that for people who have never touched an instrument before, it’s a powerful experience to see that they can actually write a song and perform it. It gives them a sense that they can do anything! It’s something they can carry with them to other destinations and spaces in their lives.
What skills do your participants need to already have and what are you teaching them?
MM: They don’t necessarily need to play an instrument beforehand. If they want to learn and make their own music, that’s enough to take part. We have people here who play acoustic guitar but they’ve never played e-guitar. Others may have learned the piano at school but never played a synthesizer. I have been a synthesizer instructor in other camps. Here they learn a lot about sound design.
AV: With synthesizers, you can do so much and you don’t really have to know how to play. You can experiment and improve pretty quickly. That’s very relevant when we talk about the gender gap in electronic music because it might look like there is a super steep learning curve, which is not necessarily true. As a consequence, girls step back and don’t think they can do it. I think the first experience you have with a synthesizer can really change your perspective.
Why have the camp in Berlin?
MM: Berlin is a good place for an international camp because it’s quite central in Europe and easily accessible by train or plane. We also have great resources here. Last night we had a concert of Berlin bands and it was easy to find musicians that could inspire our participants. Our sound engineer Olivia, who now works at Festsaal Kreuzberg, is really great at what she does. You don’t find such super cool and competent female sound engineers in every city! FEZ is also quite a particular and original venue, because it’s in the woods and a about 20 minutes away from the city. Next year we might take MEME to Reykjavík.
MEME claims to be about empowerement, mobility and a exchange. But it also focuses on social skills and cooperative learning, right?
MM: Yes, I think that’s a very strong focus of girls’ rock camps in general. It’s all about the “do it together method” that we use, rather than having an authority who is like: “I’m the teacher, I teach you, you do it like this, I shw you.” It’s more that you are in the room and you see what’s possible with the people around you and the instruments you have. The main thing is that you creatively come up with something together. When we were planning MEME, I was thinking to myself: “Why can’t the whole world be a rock camp? Why can’t every job I work at be a rock camp?”
Ruby Tuesday is a reference to the Rolling Stones. Why this focus on rock?
MM: The “girls rock” phrase is meant like “girls rock”, as in “girls are cool”. For this camp we are fitting out every practice room with drums, guitar, bass and keys. For sure, it’s a classic band formation, but in general with out network, we do a lot of different projects. For example, we would like to organise an electronic music camp maybe next year in Berlin.
AV: Stelpur Rokka literally means “girls rock” as well. For us, it’s not about the genre and even when we do talk about the genre it’s very broad. We have had electronic streams at camp and a hip hop camp before. In Sweden for example people have folk music and metal camps.
How would you describe a typical day at the camp ?
MM: We’ll have some vegan cheese and salami for breakfast (laughs) and then we’ll have an assembly where we do a few energizers and give some information. Then participants head to their track time. It’s important to mention that we also have a media and organising track on this project. There are three tracks of which music is the biggest.
AV: There are also participants who do the documentation and organise concerts like the one that will take place on Saturday.
The premise of the camp is that it is open to the gender queer and the financially disadvantaged. How are you doing this?
MM: We wanted to make it more open than traditional girls’ rock camps in terms of gender and especially focused on younger people with fewer opportunities. Thanks to the EU funding we were able to secure, the camp is free to all participants and all expenses are covered. That was really important to us, because for people who have fewer opportunities or different needs, money is a barrier we need to overcome.
What can we expect from the concert on Saturday?
AV: Quite a lot! There will be seven bands, playing two songs each. And the quality of their work is really good – which is amazing when you know that they came here and had nothing and finished their songs in just five days. You’ll also see that the bands are pretty diverse and include people with disabilities. Seeing and hearing them perform can be a great source of inspiration for people like you and me and an example for others.