Peng Femme Jam

Peng Femme Jam was born as a reaction to a scene and stage dominated by white, male musicians. Knowing that jam sessions foster creative experimentation, develop musicianship and enhance confidence, PFJ wants to remove the intimidation felt by many women, queer and non-binary musicians on the London circuit. Their monthly jam sessions uphold a unique atmosphere of kindness, camaraderie, support and openness, encouraging first-timers as well as practised performers to come together and play.

"There's so many cool and creative people, and everyone's got so much to offer but if the stage is full of men, which nine times out of 10 it was, the women and the non-binary people in the audience are holding their instruments, and it's just hard to get involved in something when you can't see a version of yourself on the stage. So we wanted to create a space where those people in the audience would feel encouraged to go up, and have the freedom to express themselves and feel safe.”


A conversation with Peng Femme Jam founders, Laura and Winnie, and Jasmine Roberts, Research and Insights Director and Louise Millar, Seed Strategy Director*

What does community mean to you?

Rybes: I feel community is a group of people who have a shared desire to want to support each other, for a common goal or interest. The community of PFJ was formed through people having a common desire to creatively express themselves without so many barriers to do that.

Laura: I think I also like the idea of community for people who feel like they don’t belong, or haven't found their community. It's quite an empowering thing to be a part of a community.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of youth collectives. Why do you think that is, and how do you think it reflects the attitudes of your generation?

Rybes: It feels a bit like a radical response to what isn't available to us. In our instance, it felt like we just couldn't see a mainstream space that represented what we wanted to do. So it felt a bit like, “okay, we're just gonna take it into our own hands”.

Laura: I think that the internet has become such an empowering place. You can always find someone that's doing something similar to you or having similar thoughts on the internet.

How was Peng Femme Jam established and why?

Laura: I was running events and wanting to create a space where people were feeling represented by creating a femme-focused event. If the stage is full of men, which it was nine times out of ten at any jams I would go to, it's hard to get involved in something when you can't see a version of yourself on the stage. We wanted to create a space where those people in the audience would feel encouraged to go up and have the freedom to express themselves and feel safe.

Rybes: The lack of diversity in jams was just really apparent. Currently, in London, I would say probably… actually not even probably! All of the jams are male run aside from Peng Femme Jam.

What were the initial challenges that you faced when claiming the space?

Rybes: Funding is really difficult. A lot of funders don't really understand what the benefit of a jam is. They see it as something where there needs to be a solidified outcome.

Laura: I think one of the more abstract challenges that we found at the beginning, and we still find, is using language to make everyone feel included and represented. It feels like our generation has gone beyond the language that already exists.

What impact do you believe that PFJ has in the London music scene?

Laura: Our ultimate aim is to create this space where we have an event, but then people meet and inspire each other to then go on to create something that is separate from PFJ but has kind of flourished from it. I hope that's the impact that it’s starting to have in London, that’s what I would love it to have.

Rybes: I feel like the blend of different genres and styles and instruments has made people feel like they have a place that has no rules. And so that welcomes them into the space, like knowing that there's no expectation for them to sound a certain way or be a certain way.

What are the challenges of being both curators and musicians in these marginalised spaces, and what changes would you like to see in terms of support for collectives like Peng Femme Jam?

Rybes: We're seeing that we do need support from higher ups—whether it's the Arts Council or brands—to recognize that some spaces don’t fit into the status quo of what an organisation would be. Now, we’re kind of shifting our mindset and looking more at brands and people who are more focused on culture and community, as opposed to funders who think they know what they want to see but, actually, they kind of like forcing us to fit in a certain box that we don’t fit into.

Laura: It’s beneficial and cool to partner with us if you’re showing “hey, look, we’re partnering with people who are in a minority” and show a black woman or a non-binary person, but it’s about how that is actually benefiting those people. If we get funding or partnerships from people, we want them to think about how it’s going to benefit the people that we’re trying to carve a space for.

Looking to the future, what are some of your aspirations and dreams for Peng Femme Jam, both in terms of the music it creates and the impact it has on the broader cultural landscape?

Laura: For me, personally, it’s that people are able to have freedom of creative expression regardless of what they create—that’s number one. I just see PFJ as a space where people in their early twenties can find their own communities and create their own cultural landscape without feeling like they need to fit in.

Rybes: I always think about the aspirations of PFJ, which is to grow and to play more places and to include more people, but it’s cool thinking about the impact the music will have or could have.

What role do you believe collectives play in shaping the cultural conversation of today?

Laura: Grassroots projects like PFJ: we know what’s going on, we’re working with artists that aren’t given opportunities, that aren’t paid fairly.

Rybes: We definitely want our collective and other collectives that are doing similar things to be able to not only influence policy but also to be at the forefront of these discussions. Hopefully we’ll be able to, alongside other collectives, shape future laws and decision-making about culture, and the rights of minority groups and non-binary people as well.

You have done a few commercial projects. What was your experience with them?

Laura: It's not like we were treated really badly, but I think it was maybe one of the first opportunities for us where a big brand wanted to work with us. Nothing happened for us and then we thought maybe it's great for them to be partnering with us because their brand looks like they do what we do, but what have we got out of it?

What can brands do to support you, your goals, and your values?

Laura: Rather than doing one event, we would love a brand to support us long-term, understand our aim, and help us reach out to people, because our only way of reaching out to people is Instagram and word of mouth—that’s it. So I think one of the main things for me would be to help us reach more people, which would be on social media.

Rybes: We've got individuals that are super talented, but if we did have partnerships that were able to book artists beyond what we're doing or even just provide them with funding or advice, that's an actionable outcome.

What's the most important factor for your group when deciding which brands or projects to work with/on together?

Laura: The brand would definitely have to align with, not accepting, but celebrating and supporting diversity, sexual orientation, and gender fluidity.

Rybes: In a way that's not just having it on their website, but in their work. I think that would definitely be important. Also, to feel like we've got autonomy in the partnership, not just giving access to the community, but being able to have a sense of input and partnership.

*This conversation has been condensed and edited but has strived to remain as close to the original word for word version as possible.

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