When DJs Aleksandra Kamińska and Agata Wnuk found that the equipment they’d requested for their set at a film festival afterparty hadn’t been delivered, they at least expected an apology. Instead, the technician who finally brought their hardware to the stage spent most of his time blaming them instead. “When you go to a ball, you should at least have a dress,” he goaded, “what do you expect?”.
Similar incidents pushed Kamińska and Wnuk to create Girls to the Front, a Warsaw-based feminist collective pushing back against sexist and male-dominated club and music cultures, in 2015. Ultimately, their work began with a passion for DJing, inspired by Riot grrrl, a US underground feminist punk movement started in the 90s. “That’s where the name ‘Girls to the Front’ really comes from,” says Kamińska. “We just thought that we never had a moment in history where young women could openly share their music without the overriding image being of a single female musician with a recognisable face, and an all-male band playing behind her.”
But the pair wanted to do more. By organising their own gigs, they wanted to create a space for women and LGBTQ+ artists to showcase their music without judgment. Now, they’ve organised over 30 concerts featuring more than 50 artists, including the collective’s own member Kasia Szenajch aka DJ peploid V, and Latvian art pop and electronica performer Waterflower. They work to arrange parties, club nights, workshops, and a thriving community radio show on Radio Kapitał, all to give more space to marginalised communities.
These projects are also shifting the meaning of protest and resistance. Girls to the Front are turning to zines where marginalised and oppressed groups can not only express their anger but also heal and rest amid a tumultuous period of Polish politics. And while such projects may not have the in-your-face punch of a concert or a party, they are having a global reach. GTTF’s zines have already been exhibited in Barnard Zine Gallery in Colombia University, NYC.
“We also need a space where we can rest for a bit, because the reality is so exhausting. That’s why for our [Queer Erotica] issue last year, for once we didn’t publish essays or critical works,” says Wnuk. “It was purely focusing on pleasure and on just imagining a different reality.” The themes of pleasure and play were, in their own way, a form of resistance against Poland’s right-wing ruling Law and Justice party and their attempts to demonise queer joy — by banning inclusive sex education, same-sex marriage, and encouraging ‘LGBT-free ideology’.
Girls to the Front’s most recent zine brings together rage and discontent, culminating in the creative theme ‘conflict’. With the help of Magdalena Rzepecka, the collective’s illustrator, and artist Maja Demska, the zine is 160 pages of essays, artwork, creative writing, and design looking at political, social, and cultural themes relevant to Poland’s youth today. Wnuk hopes the zine can be a place where oppressed and marginalised groups can release their rage. “But then once you release [that anger], you have a safe and supportive community around you,” she says.
This communal aspect has become more important than ever as the Polish government clamps down on the arts. In one recent example, Jakub Żulczyk, a well-known Polish writer and journalist, was charged for committing an act of “public insult” for calling Polish president Andrzej Duda a “moron”.
But by hosting regular zine-making workshops and encouraging new artists and musicians to debut work to welcoming audiences, members are given a “space to fail”, says Kamińska, a space where they can thrive without looming pressure. Moving away from focusing purely on identity or policy change, the collective creates a space where everyone can have fun without needing to feel the pressure to fit in. While some collectives give the impression of being “very elitist and artsy”, says Kamińska, which can alienate new members, Girls to the Front strives to be approachable.
This is important because Girls to the Front want to move beyond just calling out sexism in the government. They want to hold activists and so-called ‘inclusive’ circles themselves accountable too. “Right now what I see as a problem in our bubble is soft sexism” says Wnuk, such as “mansplaining” or “gaslighting”. It’s hard to point out and limit this kind of sexism, because as Wnuk says it’s often from “friends” or “cis men who say they’re left-wing and they’re feminists, and so inclusive, open, and progressive.”
Ultimately, the team hope that one day, Girls to the Front won’t be needed. “[One day,] there’ll be more equality, and there won’t be such a need for this community in a way that’s political,” says Wnuk. In the meantime, Kamińska and Wnuk are itching to get back behind the DJ sets: where accordion acoustics blend into techno beats, the kick-drum pounds, and members sing and dance in a protest through pleasure.