Happy International Women’s Day! Welcome to Queens of the Neighbourhood, a brand new SYS feature.
If there’s one thing that is obviously frustrating about alternative music, a scene that is meant to exude diversity and equality, it is the underrepresentation of women. It doesn’t take much to look through any alternative magazine or even looking at the latest festival line up announcements to realise that women are still shockingly underrepresented in alternative music. While the DIY scene may be more nurturing, it’s also a sad truth that little seems to be changing outside where festival line ups still have the same amount of women that they did 30 years ago, even though there appears to be more women than ever joining bands.
Honestly have you ever seen a girl in a band playing guitar and drums? It’s majestic as fuck and a sight we should all become more acquainted with. Girls make up a large majority of music fans so why aren’t we encouraging more girls to pick up instruments and giving them the confidence to join bands alongside their male counterparts?
There appears to be many obstacles to women creating music or joining bands, whether it’s institutionalised sexism, girls being encouraged to play more dainty instruments like the piano or violin at a young age, or terms like “fan girl” which label girls more as passive bystanders, latching on to a trend rather than genuinely appreciating music.
With so many incredible women who are doing great things in music, we thought we’d ask a few of them about what they’re up to and see what advice they have for any girls who want to be in bands or learn instruments but aren’t too sure where to start.
For our first post, we interviewed Ren and Liepa from feminist hardcore band Petrol Girls about how they formed, the obstacles that are preventing gender equality in music and any advice they might have for women wanting to start bands.
What made you want to pick up an instrument? Was there any defining moment you can remember when you decided to learn to play guitar or sing?
Liepa Kuraitė (bass/vocals): I was always friends with musicians, like people who had probably been playing music since two years old or something like that. I was always one of those people who really wanted to do music and by proxy knew about music, but just never did. Then, I was dating this guy and he had an acoustic guitar; he was like a multi-instrumentalist. When we moved in together I had access to his guitar and I just started picking it up every once in a while, but I never felt like I was really doing music or was a musician. So I was just playing about on the guitar on my own for a couple of years. Then Ren was like “let’s make a band, we need a bassist.” I was like “I like bass guitar, they’re not really different, are they?” It turns out they are. I was like “bass? That’s just strings and frets, I can handle that” and that’s how I began playing on stage and stuff.
Ren Aldridge (vocals/guitar): Now you’re an outrageously techy bassist who gets messages from people saying “oh my god, you’re so good on bass.” I started playing classical guitar when I was really young. I always wanted to play electric guitar but my parents were always like “first you need to learn how to play classical guitar.” So I did classical guitar lessons which were really, really boring. I got to grade four and it took me about ten years because I found it so boring. I played in a metal band for a long time when I was a kid. I started playing bass in that band and then the boys decided after two band practices with me, “I was never going to be any good on bass,” so I got moved to vocals. When that stopped I started doing backing vocals for different bands and through doing that I saw women playing acoustic music and thought I’ll have a crack at acoustic music, did that for years. I did a tour with Perkie and Katie Rain all with our acoustic stuff because I wanted to tour with other women and then we formed a band out of that and that was really fun and gave me the confidence to start Petrol Girls. I started the band with Liepa and another girl and we had an International Women’s Day show coming up and I had these songs that were too heavy for my other band. I realised that I do really like playing acoustic and I do like singing harmonies but I really love shouting.
Do you guys have any opinions as to why there is a lack of women in music?
Liepa: I feel like socialisation is an issue. It’s not like anyone’s openly preventing people from playing an instrument but I feel like sometimes if you’re not already good there’s less incentive to be a complete mess and try. All of the guys are always like “let’s start a band” but I think if you’re a girl you’re less likely to be invited to those kings of projects. It’s a mixture of cultural and patriarchal reasons, I guess.
Ren: The first couple of bands I was in, was definitely because the guys fancied me and that was it. There’s the other thing of, for years, I felt like I had this burden of I had to be really good because I was representing all of the girls. That’s just bullshit, you’re only representing yourself. You don’t have to “do it for the girls” every time. You don’t have the burden of your entire gender on your back. I still feel like that every time I approach a guitar amp to be honest. I think it’s just because of years and years of feeling so judged in really male dominated situations.
Liepa: If you don’t actually see many women on stage at these heavy shows, it’s kind of subconscious that you start being slightly wary of the whole scene.
Ren: That being said, there are shitloads more women doing it now. I think there’s been a proper explosion over the past three or four years, especially in London. I don’t know if it’s just our community that we’re part of or if it’s a more UK and Europe-wide thing. I feel like there used to be loads of shows where I was the only girl or I used to go to shows and I was the only girl and now that’s so rare.
Are there any musicians who particularly inspired/inspire you that you’ve seen on stage and thought “I want to be like that”?
Ren: Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy! I fucking love Angela Gossow!
Liepa: On tour we’ve met so many cool bands like War on Women and Army of Skanks.
Ren: We saw Army of Skanks the other day and it was so cool. When I was younger and getting into this scene and seeing Perkie with Resolution 242, Reb with Dirty Revolution, Laila with Sonic Boom Six and Marcia with The Skints and they were like the four I’d seen playing and thinking “yeah, I could have a go at that.” That gave me the confidence to have a craic doing backing vocals. Otherwise I think I would have played in that metal band when I was a teenager and that would have been it. I would never have the confidence to give it a try without seeing other women.
Do you guys have any advice for anyone who wants to start a band or just pick up an instrument?
Ren: Just enjoy sucking. Don’t feel bad about really sucking, that’s totally fine. Know that when guys in bands suck, they just suck. If you’re in a band you’re a girl that sucks and that’s stupid.
Liepa: It’s a lot to do with confidence. Lots of people who you might see on stage, you think they’re really good, it’s not necessarily that they’re technically really good, a lot of it is to do with confidence and that’s actually how you get good. If you have confidence in yourself, you will build up your skill alongside it. My second biggest piece of advice is, this is the only reason why I started making music, find people who aren’t arseholes and who will nurture and encourage you even though you’re making mistakes. Maybe you’re not perfect for the time being but they won’t be snobby about it. Basically just pick nice friends.
Ren: I’ve found that making music with other women or people who identify as queer or gender queer, people who aren’t straight white dudes. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, don’t do it with straight white guys, I swear it will be easier.
Lastly, tell us a bit about your new EP…
Ren: It’s out really soon. February 19th is the official release date. It’s been a long time coming. We started recording it this time last year.
Leipa: We accidentally leaked it ourselves for about half an hour yesterday. Hashtag professionals.
Ren: We’re really proud of the new EP, it will be good to finally get it out there. We’re getting ready to record an album really soon in March. The EP, the songs are so not new to us now and have been an established part of our set for a long time now, so it will be really nice to get it out there. It’s a good January release, we started recording it in January and those songs feel really bleak and wintery to me.
Liepa: It’s a very seasonal release.
Ren: Imagine if we released it in the summer. It would be so un-summery.
Photo credit: James Birtwhistle