One persistent, hydra-headed problem of warped gender perception is as deep as the internalization of the bias that perpetuates it. The media underrepresentation of women normalizes pre-existing prejudice. Half of the population is visible in disproportionately smaller measure, bolstering the invisible barriers that still crudely affect significant female contributions. Factually, the male to female ratio in the human species is approximately 1:1. Fisher’s principle explains this as evolutionary stable strategy, and no one would argue with nature’s egalitarian wisdom. Sadly, a lack of similar wisdom in the social sphere makes gender inequality, female marginalisation and invisibility persist as pressing issues in 2017. On the surface of the 21st century’s supposedly liberal art world everything seems fair, but scratch it with a simple fact check and the results are alarming. Collective Female: pressure recently offered a FACTS study reflecting this omnipresent issue in the electronic music scene and reopening a much needed debate.
Stats and facts are the swords that cut Hydra’s heads, but they grow again. And again. In this sense, Barbara Morgenstern‘s “Grow” is a disturbingly poignant opener for this all-female double album, which features ten supremely talented artists from the Monika Enterprise collective. The Berlin-based label, led by legendary sonic maverick and longtime feminist agitator Gudrun Gut, is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. What miraculously grows here is female consciousness as a group, making Monika Werkstatt a deeply positive psychological statement as much as a bleakly political one. Morgenstern’s intro serves as a poetic manifesto: “And the light will fall onto us / And the wind will blow for us / And we will grow with us / And the landscape will form us / And the night will wait for us / And the rain will sing with us / And we will grow for us / And we will grow with us“.
Improvisational in nature, within a free conceptual frame, this spontaneous workshop jam is a remarkably coherent and focused artistic statement. Not one sound seems arbitrary. The individual styles of the featured artists are profoundly eclectic: AGF, Beate Bartel, Lucrecia Dalt, Danielle De Picciotto, Islaja, Barbara Morgenstern, Sonae, Pilocka Krach and Natalie Beridze. Gudrun Gut’s ambitious project triumphs in uniting them on a deeper level. Great sonic variety, tastefully blended, tells a fascinating story of a secret new life germinating under the surface. Disembodied melodies and mysteriously hushed slogans, deep and twisted dub-techno grooves, industrial noises, experimental hypnotic meanderings, alluring natural drones, ambient expansiveness and a deeply infectious pop sensibility all combine in a magical way.
Werkstatt is a place of contemplation, providing a sort of communal desert meditation. The collective is a source of inner spiritual strength and inspiration, an oasis that allows for a deep recharging of the feminine spirit. This is a soul building workshop, unearthing internal mechanics through noises that echo from the bottom, as exemplified in Lucrecia Dalt’s industrial poetics “Blindholes”. The theme of empowerment is reflected in fierce, sharp, thoughtfully deconstructed and bewitchingly immersive, subterranean beats that dig deep into the senses, mindful not to overwhelm them. AGF’s dizzying glitch-based “Ninjaness” offers a powerful punch, uniting the gut and the mind. The deep staccato beats of the collaborative track “Workshop“, with Gut’s ingeniously repetitive vocal hiss calling “join us”, is a convincing enough battle cry to inspire anybody accountable to immediately grab the sword, the torch and whatever means available to fight the patriarchal Hydra and encourage marginalized female artists to join together, perfect their craft and claim their space.
Monika Werkstatt is infused with charm and humor, deeply entertaining without superficial excitement. Pilocka Krach’s track playfully asks “Who’s afraid of Justin Beiber?“ Not Gudrun and her squad, who cheekily play with the idea of pop, embracing it as meaningful entertainment without compromising identity, artistic vision or fun.
During three summer days of 2016., in the relaxed atmosphere of a countryside studio near Berlin, Gut and her collective created a sustainable utopia, allowing the magic of creative dialogue and free expression to unfold. Far from some reverse sexist getoisation, they autonomously claimed the margin as a place of new possibilities without waiting for the larger society to catch up with their vision. Hakim Bey once asked: “ Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?“ Monika Werkstatt answers by example, establishing a temporary creative autonomous zone, a celebration of independence, absolute freedom and the communal spirit inside a still unfair society. It serves to inspire, encourage, empower and chart new artistic territories.
This utopian idealism is juxtaposed with a stark acknowledgement of reality. Way too many female authors still face disdain, disregard and seeming invisibility. Such factors taint even inner freedom and newfound inspiration with claustrophobia and derealisation. The tension is masterfully captured in the album’s warped and enchanted sonic textures, and brought into the open on “Invisible”. This collaborative track features a soliloquy from Danielle De Picciotto that recognizes the inner freedom this marginal state brings. If I am invisible to you, then you cannot control me. The words are deeply burdened with the frustration of a mighty spirit negated. A poignant note follows: But I am there / larger than the tallest house / louder than the wildest storm /and you would have wished not to ignore me.
The future is female, and is not to be ignored. In Monika Werkstatt, this vibrant, fertile, ingenious force demonstrates its power without the need to dominate: everybody is free to join the Monika party. (Danijela Bočev)