When you go to a show, it’s more than likely you’ll see a bunch of guys singing songs about girls breaking their sensitive artsy hearts. It can be very daunting for anyone who doesn’t connect to what these people are saying, but wants to support local art and music. Luckily there are organizations like Not Just A Boys Club (NJABC) taking steps to change this. NJABC is an organization who’s purpose is to celebrate feminine-identifying people. On November 4th, they will be hosting their third annual event at Debonair Hall in Teaneck, New Jersey. John Cozz of N.J. Racket got the pleasure of sitting down with them to talk about their roots, beliefs, and the future of NJABC.
When and why was NJABC started?
Back in 2015 our founder – if we’re being official – booked a day-long benefit fest at the Warren American Legion in NJ. The idea was that all of the fifteen punk/hardcore/grind bands would have at least 1 member who wasn’t a CIS man. It was a way to celebrate people outside of the status quo of punk, and it was dubbed “Not Just A Boys Club.” There were vendors, a huge raffle, vegan food, and a vegan bake sale. All proceeds were donated to RAIN* and RAINN*.
After years of being a part of a community where it felt like nearly every band was comprised of solely CIS white men, our founder set out to showcase the underrepresented folks who play in amazing bands, create incredible art and educate folks on issues no one else was willing to talk about at shows.
The second NJABC was in August of 2016, also in Warren, which was the year we started doing an annual zine for the fest filled with submissions from people other than CIS men who are involved in DIY music.
For the first two years NJABC was a one-person operation. In the interest of expanding, NJABC became a collective of people in February 2017 and we quickly filed for incorporation and charity status. Not long after we became a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are excited to announce that NJABC III will be on November 4th 2017 at Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck, NJ!
Who runs NJABC and what are their roles?
There are a handful of people involved in day to day operations. Growing our team was fun because we all bring different strengths to the table, whether it be experience in booking, promo, graphic design, accounting. I’m sure our names are on some State of NJ website because we are recognized by the government as a non-profit, but as far as crediting any one person with “running” NJABC, we will pass. If you know us personally, you know who we are, and if you don’t, it isn’t our objective to be recognized by the masses. There are a lot of different roles involved in making NJABC happen, whether it be about the fest or operating the non-profit or our forthcoming tape label. It is a huge group effort. From the bands who play, to the vendors and artists who table, to the folks who design our flyers and promo stuff, there are a ton of people that contribute to make NJABC what it is.
What do you think is the cause of the lack of a femme/non-binary presence in the music/art scene?
As a kid, if you don’t see someone you identify with doing something you’re interested in, you’re a lot less likely to pursue that thing. The lack of diversified representation in the scene perpetuated itself in this way for a long time. We’d like to avoid the classic tangents about being called a merch girl or someone’s significant other while at a show. If you don’t know the discouragement and bias that people other than the status quo in the scene experience, you’re not paying attention.
It permeates everything, a lot of times without ill intent. Like, “female fronted”, as an example, shouldn’t be a thing. We see it used a lot, and while we understand the purpose and it’s not offensive per se, it illustrates the “othering” of people who aren’t CIS men. When was the last time you went to a show where there was only 1 man playing in 1 of the 4 bands on the bill? Literally never. Yes, there are definitely less musicians who are woman identified, nonbinary, queer/trans, but it’s our job to push promoters to book diversified shows, start bands with our friends, and book fucking fests celebrating all these people. It’s also our job to shout “dudes to the back” in the mic at shows. Just kidding. Nah, we’re not.
There is a huge presence in the community of people other than CIS men, it’s just a matter of how long some of us are willing to stick around being a part of it because the scene itself doesn’t always have our backs. We should point out that since NJABC began in 2015 there has been a huge shift in the DIY scene. We’re seeing similar events pop up across the country, way more accountability than there ever was, and six band bills where the show isn’t specifically setting out to showcase women, nonbinary folks, etc. but every band still happens to have members that aren’t cis men. We can’t wait to see where we’ll be in a couple more years.
What are some examples of things you have done to change that?
To be perfectly honest, we aren’t entirely sure if we have changed anything, but we certainly are working towards that.
What are some goals you would like to achieve in the future?
We plan on booking a fest every year until the rest of forever. Aside from that? We’re releasing our first tape on the NJABC label at the fest. It will be a comp with all the bands playing NJABC III. The label will be completely non-profit and we are starting to look for bands as soon as this year’s fest is done! We also plan to book smaller shows to raise money for community efforts throughout the year, which is something we haven’t done. We are also starting a zine distro, having only materials written by women identifying and non-binary folks.
In a larger sense, our goal is to have NJABC be so irrelevant we have to dissolve. For young kids who would at one time be the target demographic for this fest ask, “wow, was it ever that bad?” in response to our existence. For those same young people not to feel the way we’ve felt. For the NJABC fest not to make attendees emotional with the loving, welcoming tenor of the day, because going to shows is always like that for them.
Do you think the idea of “filling out a check box” or meeting a quota is viewed as tokenism or is that an active way for people to help?
If you consider ensuring that something you’re organizing includes marginalized people as having a “quota”, that is probably a good indicator that you’re tokenizing them. Using people because of how they identify is tokenizing. However, being conscious and trying to reverse decades of disservice to certain demographics is not tokenizing. We find it of the utmost importance to showcase a diversified cast of bands and vendors through our events. Giving a platform to people who have been chronically under represented is the reason NJABC exists.
If you weren’t doing this, who would be? Are there any past or present inspirations for this project?
There are a handful of other fests, labels or folks who book shows who do similar work. If we stopped doing this tomorrow, we would hope to have inspired more people to get involved and book shows with benefit purposes, for smaller scale organizations instead of nationally recognized ones. We just wanted to be more active participants in the community and work on changing what we saw as a problem in the scene. Like we touched on earlier, the scene is changing around us as NJABC grows and it’s super exciting to watch.
In terms of inspiration, seeing younger non-binary, q/t, and women identified folks at shows makes us want to continue doing what we do. To pull them in and give them a sense of community. Also seeing people having fun at fests like ours around the world makes us work even harder. Specifically, we remember when an image from Book Your Own Fest by Victoria Wong went viral earlier this year. It was six plus people who weren’t CIS men gathered around the mic during the Firewalker set and was originally posted with the caption “girls don’t really like hardcore tho.” It made our hearts so full! We ended up interviewing the organizers of that fest for our zine, both of which are front and center in the photo we’re referring to.
Where are some dedicated spaces with ideology linked to yours?
At this point in time, especially in NJ, there aren’t too many show spaces that are completely safe for all folks. Truly, there aren’t too many show spaces in NJ. Especially all ages venues.
Currently there are a couple of show houses/spots in New Brunswick that do a really amazing job at keeping folks who attend accountable. Other than that, issues with other show spaces often center around a lack of accountability and monitoring of who attends shows. We’re not suggesting it’s an easy thing to do, and we don’t expect every show spot to be like ABC, vetting lyrics and so forth. But as long as spaces do not or do not have the resources to run spaces that keep toxic people out, people, often marginalized folks, will stay away from those places. We don’t want that. We don’t want the scene to be a breeding ground for abusers, for apologists, homophobes or racists.
Cozz is a local musician, artist, and skater, who decided that he wasn’t doing enough cool shit and decided to join the N.J. Racket team.