Lou Mclean and Ashley Stein on DAREFest

We speak to the two women behind DAREFest – Lou Mclean and Ashley Stein – about the plans for their inaugural event, empowerment and the vital importance of safe spaces

Article by Megan Wallace | 13 Sep 2017
  • Lou Mclean

Anyone familiar with the music of Lou Mclean and Ashley Stein (of the band Fistymuffs) might not see what the two have in common. Stein’s raucous brand of riot grrrl punk certainly doesn't share much with Mclean’s confessional dream-pop. However, the two musicians share a passion for activism and feminism, and are committed to making music more inclusive for women and other oppressed genders. Having benefitted from the nurturing atmosphere at Girls Rock School, the Edinburgh music school for aspiring female musicians, they seek to create a space to learn and grow via DAREFest, a day of workshops for women and non-binary people, topped off by an evening of music from female musicians (open to all members of the public).

To kick off the day, a selection of wonderful charities including LGBT Scotland and The Young Women’s Movement will come together to show attendees the type of activism going on in and around Edinburgh. Soon after, Women’s Aid will be running a station for making feminist pin badges and later Stein will be heading up a workshop on DIY Tour Management. In the latter half of the day, Mclean will be harnessing her background in psychology to deliver a workshop entitled ‘How to be a badass: Verbal & emotional self-defence for women in music’. In the spirit of bad-assery the evening gig is set to feature some of the best female-fronted bands in Scotland such as the Violet Kind and, of course, Fistymuffs and Lou Mclean. The Skinny was lucky enough to speak to the two women behind the festival about their plans for DAREfest 2017, empowerment and the vital importance of safe spaces.

To get the ball rolling, Mclean explains the choice of name for the festival: "We settled on DAREfest because it’s about daring to do the things that you really deep down want to do but are too scared to do. I always wanted to do music but I was too scared until I just totally embraced the fear and went for it and we want to help other women [do the same]."

As she goes on to explain, the skills taught as part of DAREfest are fully transferrable and more geared towards general empowerment than music; "If you don’t want to be a musician that’s cool, there’s something you can take no matter what your skill set is. It’s totally about finding that thing you love, that you wanna be good at (or think you might be good at) and just fucking going for it!"

Stein and Mclean are aware that the festival’s focus on women and non-binary people might ruffle some feathers. However, they also know that such conditions are necessary in order to create a safe, encouraging environment to help oppressed groups find their voice. For Stein, safe spaces will always be necessary when we live in such a prejudiced society: "Unfortunately, If we don’t like something or we don’t agree with it we’re not able to just take a step back and not watch TV or not listen to music because it’s blasted at us. We can’t switch off from sexism and misogyny and racism because it’s there 24/7. So, we’re trying to do something which excludes all that and is a just nice space for everybody."

It’s unsurprising that she feels so strongly given the concerning numbers of sexual harassments and assaults taking place at live music events. However, women-run events can offer a different experience. Mclean has enjoyed this alternative type of environment by attending concerts facilitated by Girls Rock School: "Being at Girls Rock School gigs has been a total game-changer for me, because for the first time in my life I’ve been able to see a band that I love and go right to the front and fucking dance and not worry about someone harassing me or trying to feel me up."

Explaining how her workshop will help to spread similar female-organised events around the country, Stein says: "Going by yourself round the country is freaking scary, especially for women: going to places you don’t know, where there can be strange people. I have a lot of contacts of people that are cool and I’m just going to give those away at the end, because you need somewhere to start.

"Organising a tour is probably the next step for a lot of bands but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can insanely difficult! Having the confidence to do something like that is going to be lacking for a lot of people so we go through how to fund, budget and promote a UK tour."

Helping to teach women to handle difficult situations closer to home, Mclean describes the techniques which her workshop imparts: "When people are harassing you, there are techniques you can use to de-escalate the situation and come out positively. If someone’s going to be an arsehole it’s horrible, but there are techniques you can use to protect yourself. I wanted to make a workshop about that and about taking control of situations, being confident in yourself and different ways to improve that."

And these life-improving lessons aren’t only for the privileged few: DAREfest prides itself on being fully accessible to trans women, non-binary individuals, the differently abled and anyone experiencing financial issues. Stein elaborates: "We want it to be open to everybody; if someone can’t afford to come, they should just get in touch and we’ll sort something out, because we want everybody to have access to this."

As Mclean so perfectly sums it up: "We just want to help our sisters out, no matter what kind of sister they are!"

DAREFest takes place on 23 Sep from 12pm at The Wee Red Bar, Lauriston Pl – tickets here. If DAREFest sounds like your kind of thing, here are a selection of upcoming events and nights to check out across Scotland...


A regular club night run by women and showcasing the talent of female DJs. As well as their regular night at Bongo, catch the Hotline crew at the Woodland Dance Project on 30 September. Next event: Freshers Party, 15 Sep, The Bongo Club, 11pm-3am

Stepping into the shoes of long-running LGBTQI+ night Hey QT, this new queer club night at The Wee Red Bar promises that: ‘Nothing is too cheesy, nothing is too camp, nothing is too queer.’ Next event: 4 Nov, The Wee Red Bar, 11pm-3am


Scotland’s First Waacking and Vogue Festival
Organised by Dive Queer Party and Northern City Waackers, this festival serves as a celebration of waack and vogue, two dance genres emerging from queer subculture. The festival will comprise of workshops, discussion sessions, training sessions, pre-parties, after parties, The No Shade Ball 2017 and a Dive Queer Party. When: 3-5 Nov, various times and venues

Sycophantasy at The Flying Duck
Scotland’s most in-demand alternative DJ happens to be the very fabulous Sycophantasy aka Catriona Reilly who plays at underground venue The Flying Duck the third Saturday of every month. Next event: 15 Sep, The Flying Duck, 11pm-3am

Formerly an Edinburgh institution, this alternative LGBT+ club night prides itself on great music as well as an inclusive vibe. With regular evenings at The Poetry Club, in the past year it’s also branched out for an evening at Edinburgh’s Sneaky Petes. Next event: tbc


Reckless Kettle at The Reading Rooms
DJ duo Reckless Kettle comprises Fergus Tibbs and Mikey Rodger. Recent nights ‘Drag Night’ and ‘Hot Leather’ have provided a space for the city’s club-goers to experiment with drag and fetish-wear over a soundtrack of italo and techno, and we have it on good authority that they’ll be coming back for more. We expect nothing less from The Reading Rooms, a venue which has been bringing stellar talent like Bicep, Craig Charles and Honey Dijon to Dundee since 2002. Next event: 28 Sep, Reading Rooms