Petrol Girls are named after a group of molotov cocktail-throwing French Revolutionaries “Petroleuses” and they are just as politically charged and incendiary as you would expect. Fresh from a tour with The Exhausts, we caught up with vocalist Ren Aldridge to chat about cycle wear, feminism, and kitchen crowd surfing!
Who are Petrol Girls, and how would you describe your music?
Petrol Girls are Liepa (Kuraite), Joe (York), Me (Ren Aldridge) and then various drummers; including Zock Astpai, Jake from Doe/The Exhausts, and soon Micky Dey from Alt Track. We tend to be described as raging feminist hardcore, but genres are a tricky thing and we take influence from a lot of very different stuff – from Bikini Kill to System Of A Down to Refused. Personally I define us specifically as feminist because I feel there are a lot of feminist issues both within the punk rock community and in a wider sense that I want to challenge.
How easy did you find it starting up as a DIY band?
DIY was the only way we could do it really so it was just completely natural. We’ve been involved in that community for a long time so loads of people have helped us out with gear, shows etc which is what I love about this scene. We just came off a tour that we booked completely through mates, which was bloody magical – we were so well taken care of.
What does DIY mean to you firstly as an individual, and secondly as part of a band?
As an individual I guess it’s just an innate sense that if you want something done right then do it yourself or through people you know. I don’t really know how to do things differently! I guess it’s about having control over your own life especially creatively, within a society where that is often undermined. I don’t want to be spoonfed culture, I want to create my own and interact with that made by my friends. As part of a band or creative group, I see DIY as being firstly about support and collaboration. I don’t understand competitiveness especially within music – it’s so important to support each other. And also it’s about skill sharing as well… in Petrol Girls Liepa and Joe are really great at sound and techie stuff which I have no idea about!
You live in (infamous punk house and DIY venue) Astbury Castle. What are the pluses/minuses to house shows vs venues?
Right now I live in Hamburg but will be moving back to Astbury at the end of September. We’ve been running shows in the ‘Castle’ for coming up 3 years now. From an entirely selfish perspective it’s just lovely to be able to fall asleep/ pass out wherever after the house show ends.. But yeah it’s just a different environment which comes with its own challenges – finding gear, sorting sound and neighbour negotiations. Ester (Astbury resident and show booker) is running some brilliant shows at the moment – she’s so organised, and I think there’s a certain kind of intimacy to it as well… Plus kitchen surfaces/ fridges are good to crowd surf off!! However I sometimes worry house shows can become/ feel a bit exclusive – we try to keep Astbury as open as possible, and new people come all the time, but there’s still that vibe where you know you’re entering someone’s house. I guess a venue feels like a much more public space. Ester and Tommy have just set up Sicknote Promotions and run shows in the Montague Arms, a venue just up the road from Astbury, as well House shows. Venue shows do also mean you don’t have to spend half the next day cleaning up!
So who’s played in your kitchen?
Honestly I wish we’d kept a list because there have been so many house shows now I can’t remember every band! I’m sat in the kitchen now, so according to the posters on the walls: Doe, Perkie, ONSIND, Apologie,s I Have None, Crazy Arm, Lionface, Joe Tilston, Ducking Punches, Antillectual, Sweet Empire, Dead Buttons and Patients (who are from South Korea!!), The Exhausts, Jake and the Jellyfish, Lay it on the Line, The Darkies, Rivalries, Nathan Detroit, My Therapist Says Hot Damn, Southpaw, Janowski, Caves, Personal Best, the Tuts, Cat Bear Tree, St Spirit, Drones, Crywank, El Morgan, Kelly Kemp, Helen Chambers, Some Sort Of Threat, Olive Anne, Oh Boy (now Matagot), Cement Matters, Sound of the Sirens, The Dimensions, Pure Graft, Muncie Girls, Micky Dey, Alt Track, Sam Russo, James Choice – honestly so so many, and this is in no way an exclusive list. The main thing is we try to alway help out bands travelling from outside the UK and these days we refuse to run all-male line ups, there’s just no excuse for it. Ester’s on top of everything coming up! There’s always exciting things in the pipeline.
Some Astbury Residents have started a fashion line called House Of Astbury. How did that get start?
House of Astbury is a reflective, feminist, cyclewear brand started by Monika, Ester and me when all of us were living at Astbury – the names just a piss take of fashion house brands and also references the fact that we started off making everything in-house. Liepa,(bassist for Petrol Girls) has also just joined us. We run as a cooperative so all decisions are made together, then I guess loosely, Ester works on fashion, sewing, product design, trend forecasting, materials etc, Monika on marketing and business, and I’m on print design and screen printing. We all overlap a lot. We’re just aiming to make quality cyclewear, that’s reflective but also actually looks good and empowers women to feel safe on their bikes – whether that’s through being visible, through the anti-harassment slogans we print on the back of some of our products or by just looking AWESOME.
We do a lot of collaborations including one with Hollaback London who are an organisation set up to challenge the culture of harassment. We made “Thelma and Louise” t-shirts with reflective “You Watch Your Mouth Buddy” lower back prints. £5 from each sale goes to supporting Hollaback. We also ran a couple of Hollaback Riot Nights at the University of London Union to raise awareness of the Hollaback ULU element which looks specifically at the culture of harassment on campus, headed up by the unstoppable Susuana, who is now NUS women’s officer. I guess as a brand, House of Astbury comes very much from our own experiences, both good and bad – from being harassed on the street to being part of a DIY Punk Rock community. Check out our stuff online!
Punk rock, and particularly hardcore, are traditionally viewed as being “male dominated”. Do you think this is changing?
Whilst I completely agree that there has always been a history of male domination in punk and hardcore, I think its important to also note that there has always been a history of women challenging this right from the start. The Slits remain one of my biggest inspirations – reading their biography Typical Girls gave me the confidence to move from playing solo acoustic stuff to trying to start a band. For me they’re also the most musically interesting of that first wave of punk bands as well as indisputably the most bad ass. History however, is always “His-Story” and I think its important to remember that for every huge iconic male band there were probably teeny bands containing women pushing boundaries and refusing to be silenced. Of course then you have the riot grrrl movement and bands like Bikini Kill which are getting another wave of attention at the moment because of that rad film The Punk Singer that just came out about Kathleen Hanna. It’s vital as women that we document our own history/herstory/story or the women who paved the way will be forgotten. The Punk Singer blew my mind, I’ve never reacted to a film so physically – my heart was pounding and I was jittery with restless energy and a mess of anger and hope and inspiration. I know that sounds cheesy and mental but its the truth! I ended a relationship that was holding me back and started tour booking the next day.
I think we are socialised to feel like everything has to happen on men’s terms, and it doesn’t!! We can do absolutely everything ourselves, and with those men who are meaningfully supportive of us. I could write about this for hours but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I feel there’s a lot to be said for documentation – Women have always played music, they have not always been supported, recorded and encouraged to play music. Personally I needed to see other women doing it, and have a HerStory I could relate to in order to feel I could do it too. There are some incredible Women playing in our community at the moment, and I feel that through social media more Women see other Women doing it and it grows that way. I think The Tuts are incredible role models for younger women and they’re going to get massive!! Then you have raging talents like Perkie, Lande from Muncie Girls/The Heavy Hearted/Big Words, Lou from Caves/Personal Best/Grand Pop, Iona in Great Cynics, Skinny Girl Diet… In London there are great nights called Bloody Icecream and Girl Germs that run feminist/queer gigs… It’s all happening!!
At the same time though, I do think people try to put Women into particular categories – like they see all women as being the same, and only able to do the same things – NO! We’re all so different and that should be celebrated. I definitely felt a weird pressure to be a ‘vulnerable’ acoustic artist for a long time, just singing mainly about the men in my life – but that’s not all I am or can be. I think it’s absolutely vital that Women sing about their relationships, and the exposure of vulnerabilities is important and brave – that’s why I continue to be inspired to make acoustic music as well…the personal is so fucking political. But we can be a whole host of other things as well and for me that includes being an unhinged raging maniac. Women’s anger needs to be facilitated also. In short -FUCK GENDER ROLES! FUCK THE GENDER BINARY!
Speaking of gender roles, recently there have been some pretty horrible examples of misogyny from bands on punk labels. Have you experienced this sort of attitude yourself? How do you think it is best addressed?
That’s an incredibly difficult question because unfortunately the truth of the matter is if you call a man out on anything to do with sexism you are more than likely to be met with “but I’m not that kind of guy”/hashtag “not all men” at best, and violent misogynistic comments at worst. But sexism exists as a culture that we can all contribute to – myself completely included. I feel like if we can start understanding things like sexism, racism, homophobia etc as cultures we’re complicit in, then it gets rid of moral high grounds and opens a space for self-reflection. In terms of individual cases, I think its up to the people who wish to challenge them. Especially if they are the victim of misogyny, whether direct or “just because they’re a woman”. From recent experiences I do think there’s something to be said for giving the perpetrator an opportunity to admit that they’ve done or said something wrong and to apologise – obviously that doesn’t work in every case… “sorry” is probably not quite going to cut it where rape is concerned for example, but I think a lot of misogyny comes from ignorance.
Name three bands you think everyone should be listening to more.
Three bands everyone should be listening to more? That’s tough. I know I’m going to change my mind loads. I think RVIVR are essential for everyone’s emotional development. She’s not so much a band, but the rapper/poet Kate Tempest is SO WISE. Paint It Black. I wish more bands behaved like that band, they’re so cool.
Lastly, where’s your favourite place to play?
Our kitchen of course!!! Excuse me whilst I go right back in there…. and crowd surf off the fridge.