Palais de Boob and the Very Secret Garden Party

Meet our latest featured people: Palais de Boob.

(Stop giggling, it’s a fantastic name.)

Palais de Boob is launching at Secret Garden Party this year, building a 350-capacity pink amphitheatre.  This will host an array of comedians, artists and performers, throughout the 4-day festival.

They aim to:

  • re-frame preconceptions of feminism
  • showcase female talent
  • celebrate women in all their diversity

However, as well we know here at Just a Grrrl, this is not something that is easy to do unless you’ve got deep pockets or generous friends. Therefore Palais de Boob has launched a Kickstarter campaign and is asking you to be a generous friend.

What you’re supporting:

All money will go towards helping us make the most phenomenal space in which to showcase our women and reach our aims. This is the first of what we hope to be many Palais de Boob events and we want it to start with a bang!

We are a non-profit organisation.

We really need your help. Below is a list of ways in which your contribution will be used:

  • Production – Everyone in our production team is a volunteer. It would be great to be able to pay their expenses for food and travel.
  • Building Materials – Building an amphitheatre sustainable enough to tour the UK takes time, effort and crucially, money.
  • Craftsmen – To make our venue safe and secure we need to pay for the right people with the relevant skills and expertise.


Think you could lend a hand (or even a tenner or two)?  

Head over to the Palais de Boob Kickstarter page!

Illustration courtesy of Alice Skinner

You can find more information about Palais de Boob on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

MARCH!

Hello, hello!

We’ll get back to the drudgery of ranting about the Patriarchy and music in general, very soon, but first of all – here’s another pertinent protest song from a female-fronted band.  Enjoy!

KES’ CONSCIENCE:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Soundcloud
YouTube

I hate to break the news but it’s true
They’re coming for you
Their war-paint all red, white and blue
Stop running, running

They talk the all-american way
They’re coming, building
walls from Brighton to Morecambe Bay

CHORUS:
If you’re not frightened yet, you could be
If you’re not fighting yet, you should be
Come and meet me on the streets
Marching to the beat

Be wary of their cold gaslit truths
They’re coming for you
Demanding hate and fear you can prove
Stop running, running

Their bark might be louder than bite
They’re coming, don’t under-
estimate the hate they incite

CHORUS x2

So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights

CHORUS x3

 

KES’ CONSCIENCE:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Soundcloud
YouTube

 

 

The Erasure of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

 

This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was gospel singer and guitarist, born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Over her 35-year professional career as a musician she acquired much fame and fortune, toured the world, inspired many artists and was credited with bringing gospel to the mainstream – but when she died in 1973, aged 58, her funeral was sparsely attended and she was buried in an unmarked grave.

 

Tharpe was raised in the Pentecostal Church, travelling and preaching with her mother.  She was noticed for her musical talent young and gained significant popularity as a ‘swinger of spirituals’ in her mid-20s.  By 1940, she had a record deal with Decca and in February 1941, Tharpe signed a deal with Lucius ‘Lucky’ Millinder, agreeing to play spiritual songs with the Lucky Millinder Band. Over the course of the next year this collaboration began to bring her more popularity, with the new arrangements of her old songs being particular favourites. However, the partnership was not wholly positive. Within a year Tharpe was singing songs such as ‘Tall Skinny Papa’ – the opposite of spiritual in message. The church took a dim view of such lyrics as they displayed not only sexual desire but female sexual desire; a more-than- slightly taboo subject (especially amongst those of Christian faith).

Tharpe disliked these euphemistic songs. Her friend Roxie Moore claimed that Tharpe was bound by a clause in her contract to sing whatever material she was given. Irrespective of the morality of the song, ‘Tall Skinny Papa’ became a hit. Marie Knight, a singer and musician who would work with Tharpe during the 1940s and 1950s, described the Lucky Millinder deal as one in a series in which Tharpe allowed herself to be used to profit men. Whether this pattern was a product of socialisation – Tharpe, being a black woman in a white man’s world, may have felt it was not her place to question the terms of such contracts – or a consequence of inexperience or poor representation is unknown. Tharpe had a streak of rebelliousness in her and a love for the limelight, thus she may have signed these deals in full knowledge of the potential consequences.

By the end of 1943, Rosetta had left the Lucky Millinder Band, finalised her divorce from Tommy Tharpe, remarried and had been commissioned to record ‘V-disks’ for American troops fighting in the Second World War. In 1944, she released one of the most successful tracks of her career – ‘Strange Things Happenin’ Every Day’, which made history by crossing over from gospel” to reach number two in the ‘race records’ chart. It was the first gospel record ever to do so.

The song featured a ‘boogie-woogie’ piano line, courtesy of pianist Samuel ‘Sammy’ Price, and Tharpe on electric guitar, plus bass and drums. This pared-down instrumentation was an important precursor to that of rock and roll – the combination of electric guitar and boogie-woogie piano is thought not to have been recorded before ‘Strange Things’. It is also important to note that an electric guitar was a rare thing in 1944 and Sister Rosetta Tharpe liked to play loudly, letting the sound distort; something that would become a hallmark of the rock and roll guitar sound.  Seeing Tharpe play at the time would have been a shock even to secular audiences. Despite ‘Strange Things’ being African American and spiritual in origin, the openness of the title phrase allowed listeners to interpret the song as it applied to their own lives – undoubtedly this was a factor in its popularity.

 

In 1949, one Billboard writer estimated that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was grossing $200,000 per year; keeping at least $120,000 of that as her own earnings. For context, according to the 1949 US census, (published by the Bureau of Census in 1951) “the income of the average family was $3,100 in 1949” – Tharpe was earning almost forty times that. To get there, she overcame both the institutionalised and explicit racism and sexism that pervaded society and the music industry – she had to not only be phenomenally musically talented but clever and incredibly ambitious. Indeed, during the 1940s Tharpe was one of the USA’s hardest touring artists.

Today someone who showed such prowess on the electric guitar, such mastery of complex singing techniques, and such resulting fame and fortune would be labelled a rock star. Although Tharpe has been held up in recent years as the Godmother of rock and roll and in practice may well be considered the first rock and roll star, she certainly would not have been called it. The rock and roll genre did not come into its own until the mid-1950s, when Tharpe was already beginning to fade into obscurity, and the term ‘rock star’ has since become associated almost exclusively with white young men.

In 1950, Tharpe’s good fortune began to run out.  The singer Marie Knight, with whom she had been partnered very successfully for a number of years, stopped working with Tharpe after losing her mother and her two children in a house fire.  Additionally, rumour had it that Tharpe and Knight had been romantic as well as professional partners – the resulting scandal was taking chunks out of  Tharpe’s popularity.

To top it all off, the music media had begun to pit Tharpe against fellow gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Matters were only made worse when Decca had Tharpe record a version of ‘Move On Up a Little Higher’ in January 1949, a song with which Jackson had recently had a monumental hit. There was little difference between the two singers’ versions but Tharpe’s was seen as an attempt by fading star to piggyback on the fame of a rising one.

Jackson’s career was very much the antithesis of Tharpe’s – she had spurned the call of Broadway while Tharpe had accepted it; she sang to traditional piano or organ accompaniment whereas Tharpe accompanied herself on the electric guitar; she stuck to gospel while Tharpe ventured into blues; she was dubbed ‘Mother’ Mahalia while Tharpe remained ‘Sister’. While the music that Tharpe played in the late 1940s and early 1950s was no different – she continued to mostly play gospel songs – she was painted in the press as the more deviant of the two performers. Words like ‘flamboyant’ hinted at the rumours surrounding Tharpe’s sexuality as journalists compared her theatrical exuberance to Jackson’s modesty and propriety. It did not take long for Jackson to eclipse her and for an erasure of Tharpe and her music from popular history to begin to take place.

This media narrative is a well-known one and it has been repeated many times since in the entertainment world (in each case there are two women; a good and a bad). They were pitted against one another whether they liked it or not. This is an example of the media’s complicity in misogyny as it forces the question of what makes a good woman; in doing so it divides women by implying that some are more worthy than others – and in dividing women, it limits the momentum of women’s movements. In actual fact Tharpe and Jackson are thought to have been good friends, but their press-fabricated rivalry is the story that endures.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a great inspiration to the generation of performers that rose to fame in the mid-1950s. She was more than an inspiration to Little Richard, who, being a fan of hers, was given his first opportunity to perform before an audience by Tharpe at one of her concerts. The physicality of her performances was informed by the so-called ‘Holy Rollers’ of the Church of God in Christ – it was this that laid the foundations for the outrageous performances of rock and roll artists like Elvis Presley. Presley was a big fan of Tharpe’s, in part because they shared a religious and musical tradition in Pentecostalism. Little Richard also had a Pentecostal background and his singing-cum-shouting vocal style would closely mirror Tharpe’s in later years. Tharpe’s vocal phrasing was heavily influenced by that of Pentecostal preachers; she would string out the words she wanted her audience to pay attention to and speak certain sections of her lyrics, all the while with a bright smile in her voice. Other musicians she inspired include Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, to name but a few.

It was as these musicians began to gain popularity in the US that Sister Rosetta Tharpe really began to lose hers.  “[W]hen the rock revolution came it was divided on generational grounds. Rock’s troops were teenagers and the troops were looking for one of their own to lead the way—not a 47-year-old with strong ties to the church.”  Suddenly Tharpe found herself labelled too racy for the church and too old and prudish for a secular audience, as Mahalia Jackson redefined gospel and Elvis redefined guitar music.  Gayle Wald, Tharpe’s biographer, suggests that part of the reason for Tharpe’s relative obscurity is that she was too hard to categorise. In Tharpe’s defence, the rules of the game changed while she was still playing. She began in an America of big brass bands, where she could exhibit her unabashed love for performing and for her God, and ended up in one where gospel was humble and loud guitars were for young, white men. Particularly in an era filled with anxiety around the rightful place a woman and anger around the subjugation of black people, Sister Rosetta Tharpe did not fit the narrative. Wald argues that Tharpe’s very existence stood as a threat to the norms of society at the time and that this is the reason that she has been written out of the history of popular music.

During the 1950s, Tharpe entered into her third unhappy marriage – and did so as part of a musical event of unprecedented scale at Griffith Stadium in 1951 – and in the 1960s she began touring the UK and Europe where she could still sell out shows. She died in 1973 in Philadelphia, following a stroke.

 

Musically, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was phenomenally gifted and the direct influence she had on musicians of many genres – predominantly rock and roll but also soul, gospel and blues – is undeniable.

There is truth in the assertion that Tharpe was hard to categorise, but the fact that the grave of this veritable star had no headstone until 2008 remains barely fathomable. Tharpe’s story is an important one to tell because the concept of a black female guitar hero is one that Western society still struggles to understand. At the peak of her career there were a great number of barriers to any young black woman wishing to follow in Tharpe’s footsteps, whereas now, if she were remembered as Elvis Presley is remembered, young people of all genders and ethnicities might be galvanised to pick up a guitar and step into the breach, in spite of the prejudices that remain.

Unfortunately evidence of the direct cultural impact that Tharpe had is scarce due to the paucity of analytical writing around her life and music. The most tangible socio-political repercussions of her career are to be found in the impact of the musicians she inspired. Her enigmatic and exuberant performances paved the way for the culture shock that was Elvis Presley and rock’n’roll – and all the cultural change that came with them – but it is both telling and regrettable that Sister Rosetta Tharpe must be contextualised by the young white men that she inspired rather than being remembered for the black, female artist that she was.

 

For The Angry Young Women

I was going to write a blog post that was very historical and informative – about women in music and suchlike. Then I read an article on The Guardian about the furious, but not always righteous, women now appearing on our TVs and I changed my mind.

It’s not just that women aren’t usually ‘allowed’ to be angry – that they get patronised or dismissed and face social and professional sanctions – it’s that the Angry Young Man is so celebrated an archetype.  That’s what stings.

Of course, in ‘real life’ no one wants a boss, colleague, sibling, parent, etc., to be angry all the time; it would all get a bit ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ eventually. You may well sneer and sigh at your angry brother just as much you do at your angry female colleague. In the arts, on the other hand, oh how we love an angry young man!

It’s probably fair to say that John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter was our first Angry Young Man (although in some ways his tirades bear a resemblance to those of Shakespeare’s Hamlet). A cruel, bitter, openly misogynistic man; not truly anti-establishment – just anti-everything. John Osborne was making a statement; Jimmy Porter is just plain old angry.

In a lot of ways, the Angry Young Man, as a character, a trope, was an accidental by-product of this play. But it stuck.

Why ‘brooding’ or ‘angst-ridden’ are words that can be attached to music performed by men – and meant positively – whilst very similar music performed by women is labelled ‘confessional’ is confounding. Unless, of course, you consider that ‘confession’ is a word bound up with sin and guilt – kind of like being female has been since the Old Testament.

And music that would be described as angry? It’s not true to say that women aren’t there, making angry music, but there are problems

As part of a recent project, I extensively researched and wrote about the RIOT GRRRL movement (1990s, US). My God were these women angry. They raged about some of the worst things a woman can experience – incest, domestic abuse, rape. The punkiest punks in the movement didn’t sing; they screamed.

The media took them to pieces – to the point where the figurehead band of RIOT GRRRL, Bikini Kill, lead a media blackout and most of the rest of the movement followed. Because their lyrics addressed such themes, stories were concocted about band members having been, at the extreme end, abused or raped, and at the less extreme end, jilted by boys. Why else would they be so hysterical?

And this isn’t something that has gone away. If it had, The Guardian wouldn’t have run that piece about angry women – their appearance in mainstream popular culture is news.  


Here I, your humble writer, must declare an interest. I am the (electric) guitarist, lead songwriter and singer of rock duo KES’ CONSCIENCE. And I am angry. About almost everything. All the time. It’s not always a just anger, rational or well-directed. It’s not always eloquent, like Jimmy Porter’s, or righteous like some of the RIOT GRRRLs’.

And while I would like the right to be angry about everything all the time… well, I realise that that’s asking rather a lot. So, on behalf of myself and all the Angry Young Women, I’ll demand only this:

Listen first.

Feel free to then dismiss and sneer at us if you can honestly say you’d do the same to a man saying or singing the same things. It’s the very minimum we could ask.

In amongst the everyday frustrations there are valid, detailed political and social views that deserve to be listened to. Most of an angry man’s anger is paid attention to so when he expresses something political, subtle or intelligent, he is listened to. An angry woman’s anger is dismissed as though she is ranting about spilled nail polish or, worse, it’s her time of the month. Her valid, intelligent points go unheard.

And let’s not forget that, between the gender pay gap and FGM, women have a lot to be angry about.

In music, anger is a potent force. Why, as female musicians, are we only ‘allowed’ to create that soaring of heart and sinking of stomach, that vicious burst of adrenaline, when we are lamenting lost love or turning the listener on? At best, if it is acknowleged, our anger is attributed to having had a lover ‘stolen’ from us or a man reject us. That might make us angry but there’s far more to our anger than that.

The Angry Young Man in culture is a persona, a whole character, and an accepted one. An angry young woman is either just a singer who sometimes gets her knickers in a twist or a hysterical harpy. Why can’t we have Angry Young Women? Artistic, ‘misunderstood’, angry young women – whole personas accepted by popular culture; sometimes even loved.

Listened to.

We are sick of being dismissed before we are even heard – it’s only making us angrier.

The Music Biz Pay Gap

This week a new IFS report on the gender pay gap (UK) was published.  The key – and by now oft-quoted – statistics were: (a) women earn an average of 18% less per hour than men, and (b) by  the time a woman’s first child is 12 years old,  she will be earning an average  of 33% less per hour.

While the narrowing of the pay gap – 18%, down from 23% in 2003 – is positive, there is no doubt that the figures, on the face of it, are pretty shocking.  Putting an exact figure on the current pay gap in music is difficult (trust me, I’ve been Googling for hours) but with almost 50% of women in the industry earning less than £10,000 per annum – now less than the national minimum wage, let alone the living wage – and only 6% earning more than £29,000, there’s clearly a problem. Probably as a result of these wages, only 30% of London’s music industry personnel are female.

 

The numbers revealed in the new study do not necessarily mean that women are earning 18% less than men doing exactly the same jobs. Rather, they give an indication of how much a woman will earn over her lifetime, compared to a man.

 

The reasons given include:

There are fewer women ‘at the top’ than men and those who achieve directorships or CEO positions can expect to enjoy £16,500 less than their male counterparts.

73% of entry / junior roles are filled by women and women tend to take lower paid jobs; and almost 2/3 of those earning £7 per hour or less are female.

Male managers (of any variety – not just the musical kind) are 40% more like to be promoted than female managers.  After maternity leave, women tend to go back to work part-time; this does not necessarily result in a pay cut (per hour), but results instead in missed promotion opportunities. The pay gap therefore begins to widen as men climb the career ladder and women stay where they are.

 

A related stat from the music industry: Women working in the music business are likely to have higher qualifications than their male counterparts, but “women only have a 15% chance of owning a label”.

 

The assertion that women are simply choosing to take lower paid jobs is troubling.  It muddies the water somewhat – ‘Women aren’t being paid less than men?  They’re just choosing jobs that pay less?  So what’s the problem?’  Rather than women being paid less because they are taking low paid jobs, some jobs are low-paying because they are associated with women.

“According to the Fawcett Society, jobs traditionally done by women, such as cleaning, catering and caring, are “undervalued and paid less than jobs traditionally done by men, such as construction, transportation and skilled trades” meaning “men’s work” is generally given a higher value both socially and economically.”
Atkinson, 2016 (BBC)

 

Similarly, the way in which the pay gap for women widens after becoming mothers does not mean that women choose lower wages when they choose to start a family. It seems fair that someone working fewer hours will be not be promoted, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that women are doing a disproportionate amount of childcare.

“ Implying that childcare is firmly a woman’s responsibility permits the gender pay gap to continue. It allows women to take the burden of childcare and the lower wages it brings with it, rather than encourage men to help and employers to make better provisions for new parents.

It’s particularly telling that the report found male employment patterns are almost totally unresponsive to the arrival of children. While their hours do not decrease, women’s do.” 

Sanghani, 2016 (Telegraph)

Women are also expected to take on greater responsibilities when it comes to caring for sick or elderly relatives, which can lead to them working fewer hours.  This indicates that it is caring work in general that women are disproportionately burdened with, not just childcare.  This can be a particular problem in the entertainment industries as they often demand a lot of travel and long hours.

“[For Anna Harvey] being a single mother of two had impacted severely on her career “… It is not a matter of whether your kids mind or not, but whether you have enough money to pay for a nanny.” The 94% of women who earn less than £29,000 – and the nearly half who earn less than £10,000 – would most likely have difficulties affording childcare without a second breadwinner in the family.”

Lindvall, 2010 (Guardian)

 

There is a culture within the music industry that objectifies, demeans, and patronises women (and worse), which probably has a direct impact on the pay that women in the industry receive and is definitely responsible for the lack of women in the industry overall. This disparity leads to there being fewer women to put their heads above the parapet and challenge the gender inequality in the industry. All this while societal norms pull women back into the home and away from the music business.

The most crucial thing  is to enforce equal pay as far as possible, ensure provision for equal paternal leave, and equal opportunities for promotion and career advancement, across industries.

Why Aren’t Women Represented at Music Festivals?

It’s festival season! Last week, we had an article published on the Fawcett Society blog, discussing the representation of women at festivals.

You can read the article on their site (follow this link), or read the copy below.


We associate a lot of things with music: happiness, sadness, fame, glamour, festivals, friends, enemies, love, hate, and heartbreak – but, for most of us, not sexism.

However, in recent years many festivals have been called out for the lack of women of their line-ups. Last year’s Reading and Leeds line-up came under particular scrutiny after a poster appeared online showing only the acts that had at least one female member. It revealed that only 9 of the 96 announced acts met this criterion. Commentators on social media declared that female acts simply were not of a standard with male acts; in response, a writer for VICE magazine compiled a list of around 90 successful acts with at least one woman in them.

Part of the difficulty in getting more women onto festival line-ups is the pro-male bias of the rest of the music industry.  For example, in 2012 online feminist magazine The F Word reported that music magazines The Word, Classic Rock, Mojo, Q, and Kerrang! all identified their target demographics as male. As such, they are less likely to dedicate column inches to female artists. This means that emerging female rock, indie or metal artists have to find other ways of reaching and expanding their audiences. As a result, female acts find mainstream success harder to achieve through traditional means, and are therefore less likely to be booked to play festivals.

One excuse given for the male-dominated line-ups is that the traditional record industry has been in decline, so festivals are not taking the risk of booking less established bands. The most established rock acts are male. Another is that, while men tend to dominate the rock and indie scene, female artists dominate the pop world.

In light of the poor press coverage of female acts, plus the high fees festivals are paying artists and the fact that recorded music sales fell by 41% between 2000 and 2013, it would be greatly beneficial to female artists to be able to play major festivals. It would provide the income to supplement the poor press coverage with more marketing and PR, alongside directly providing exposure. This would allow the artists to grow their audiences, which would in turn lead to further festival bookings.

 

It is against this (frustratingly unequal) backdrop that various support networks for women in music have appeared.

This year’s Glastonbury festival will introduce a women-only venue called The Sisterhood, which has been simultaneously hailed by some as the ‘revolutionary clubhouse’ that its organisers want it to be, and mauled by critics and commentators. Some claim reverse sexism, others that women-only spaces are regressive and an unhealthy, unhelpful addition to the feminist cause. In reality, the need for female-only spaces at festivals is very real, and the chance for women to connect, network, share their stories, have fun and learn the best way to support each other” should not be passed up; not in a culture that prioritises maleness so extensively.

 

Away from Glastonbury, Sound Women is an organisation that supports and celebrates women working in radio, for example, and Girls Rock London sets up jam sessions and performance opportunities for women and girls to play music in London. TYCI is an artist-run collective “exploring and celebrating all things femme”. My recently-launched site – JUST A GRRRL – is all about connecting women in the industry with one another.

JUST A GRRRL has numerous information pages, including overviews of the Music Industry, Feminism, and the issues specific to women in the music industry, plus a chat forum where women in the industry can get advice, find mentors, and start coming up with solutions to the problems they encounter.  There is also a blog that anyone can contribute to (seriously, email us!).

We sincerely believe that an accessible, safe, online space like JUST A GRRRL can lay the foundations for greater gender equality in the music industry.

Please consider this your invitation to join the conversation.

 

Katherine Stewart 

Katherine is a student and musician (KES’ CONSCIENCE) and the administrator of www.justagrrrl.com.  For more information about JUST A GRRL email justagrrrl@mail.com, see the Facebook page, or follow @justgrrrls on Twitter.  

So, which band is your boyfriend in?

Last weekend we settled down for a chat with Suzy Harrison.

Suzy is in the process of putting together a documentary about women in music called So, which band is your boyfriend in?’. 

Take a look at the trailer below:


 

  • How’s the documentary-making process going?

It’s almost two years now since I started the project. I started off by interviewing about 8 people, just as a test to see how willing people would be to be involved… and work out the questions I wanted to ask etc. Then in December 2014 I decided to do a crowdfunder to raise money to fund the travel costs and so on to take the project a bit further afield and interview more people. I finished interviewing in March this year. I’ve done 31 interviews altogether. So now the editing process is just starting, following transcribing all the interviews. I’m doing it old school – printed interviews, with real life cut and paste.

Then I’ll start getting the clips I need and organising them on the computer. It’s a massive job!

 

  • Sounds it! So the documentary is about women in music – are you focusing on any particular scenes or particular issues?

It’s about women in music (but there’s also one gender-fluid individual included). I’ve tried to focus on UK DIY punk/reggae/indie pop type scenes mainly. I wanted to find out what it’s like in those scenes because they are rarely included in documentaries. I didn’t want to include anyone too well-known either because I felt it would detract from the story.

I didn’t want it to be “the music documentary with [insert well-known celebrity name here]”. I want to give real people who are working hard in music scenes a voice that they don’t usually have.

In terms of issues… I asked people whether they feel there is an imbalance in the scene in terms of gender and then explored their thoughts and the possible reasons for it, and also have tried to look at what could be done to change it. Sexism came up in the conversations, but I also wanted to ask about the positives of being involved in music – that’s something I think is really important to tell people.

 

PetrolGirls-SuzyHarrison-London, August 2015

 

  • Have you discovered anything particularly surprising in that respect? Any gender imbalances/ inequalities that you didn’t expect?

There have been some interesting stories from people about situations they have experienced, for sure. Sometimes the experiences are quite small instances of sexism like just not being acknowledged as being able to be in a band… but then there are other stories of people not being able to get into shows they are working, because ‘a woman couldn’t possibly be a sound engineer’ or similar attitudes.

Prior to starting this project I knew about some of the things people might speak about, because I saw elements of it first-hand both in a band and working as a photographer. So none of it was massively shocking to me, personally, but I think that people who aren’t as familiar with those experiences in the scene might be surprised.

 

  • What inspired you to make this documentary? Was there a eureka moment of inspiration?

It’s a bit of a long story… and a combination of things.

I’ve been playing music since I was 5 years old and over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of my female friends weren’t really into music like I was. I was often in a minority at shows and in the bands I played in – I was the only girl in an 8-piece ska punk band for some time at uni.From 2009I played in a ska punk reggae band called Copasetics for five years and before we got Toop on bass, I was the only female in the band. I’ve never been angry about it though, I just wondered “why?”, because I get so much out of music and I love it so much. I don’t have many close female friends who are obsessed with music as much as I am.

I’d been thinking for several years about doing a Masters or PhD to look into the subject. But it’s really hard to get funding for social research and having met with a few academics, I didn’t think I would be able to get money or explore it in the way I wanted. I was worried about having to come up with a research proposal that would end up constraining the topic too much. I didn’t want to apply theories to it, I just wanted to document it and let the people I spoke to, lead the direction of the research.

Shortly after I’d almost given up on the idea again, I was watching ‘The Other F Word’. It’s a documentary about dads in American punk bands.. It was interesting, but aspects of the film actually started to annoy me. I started thinking “what about mums in punk?” and “why is it always about Amercian punk? or punk from 1970s?” –  So I decided that if I didn’t like the documentaries out there, I should just make my own.

And  that’s what I started to do.

 

  • You mentioned feeling like a minority in music crowds – it definitely seems like girls are less likely to get into certain genres of music. Did you come across any interesting explanations for that trend while documentary-making? Do you have any possible explanations of your own?

It’s a lot of things I think. There are so many factors all working together… like the dominance of men in the scene already I think can just result in things just continuing that way – it’s harder to fight against something that’s already so ingrained into the scene. And role models are often harder to find – you have to dig a bit deeper if you want to have someone that’s doing what you want to do and is the same gender (but whether that’s important – same gender role models – is something that was discussed in the interviews). Then the idea that the scene is geared towards men in terms of behaviours at gigs like the aggression… and how women might not feel comfortable… but then again why does it have to be like that? And who says women don’t want to be in the mosh pit or crowd surf? There’s also the idea of things happening when you’re at school or growing up too – like encouragement to learn at instrument or being pushed towards certain scenes or instruments.

It’s pretty complicated and having started editing now, it all seems to interlink a lot.

 

  • Does the experience of women differ depending on the part of the industry?

I think it does. There seem to be differences in terms of genres with some scenes leaning more towards safe spaces and inclusivity. There are also differences in the roles people do in the music industry and the types of roles that they are expected to adopt just because of their gender. This can be anything from the type of instrument they play, to whether they choose to become a venue owner, promoter or tour manager. Having edited a webzine, I always thought there was more of a balance in terms of PR agency and journalism roles for men/women in music. I could be wrong though!

 

  • That’s really interesting. Do you think that, for example, a female pop singer might get less trouble than a female sound engineer?

I think we see more female pop singers out there so it’s easier to accept that as a norm. We don’t see as many sound engineers who are female so it’s not perceived in the same way – it seems more unusual (even though it shouldn’t be). However I do wonder whether these female pop singers are actually in control of what they’re doing entirely… they have a lot of people around them working with them.

 

School of Frock, Exeter - February 2015 (Suzy Harrison)

 

  • Given everything you’ve learned whilst making the documentary, what do you think needs to change?

Even over the past two years I’ve noticed things changing very gradually, which is positive, but I think there’s still some way to go. I think it all needs to start earlier – at school for example or at home – encouraging both girls and boys to get involved with music… all types, all instruments, all roles. Workshops like School of Frock in Exeter and rock camps in the UK and America are really good initiatives and more investment into those would be good. There’s also a need for more role models for young girls and women to relate to – in all areas of music. It’s about encouragement and empowerment.

But at the same time, we need to remember that we can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. And if you don’t want to play an instrument or be in the music scene, that’s ok too. I’ve thought a lot about the whole line-ups thing – like Leeds fest not having bands on the bill with women (or fewer) and I’m not sure where I am on that because I’m not sure about all-women stages or line ups just for the sake of it.

I can see the positives and negatives of them… which is probably the sign that I’m being objective in my documentary research!

 

  • Where can we find you?

You can find the documentary [information and trailer] on Facebook – search for “So, which band in your boyfriend in?”. The Indiegogo project is still online too and I’m posting updates when I remember to…  I don’t have a website yet for the documentary but the intention is to get one set up soon. I have loads of behind the scenes and other  photos I want to share at some point.

Oh and if anyone is interested in working with me on the edit… I’d love to hear from you! Or anyone who can fix  audio levels and stuff like that as I might need some help with it soon…

And always looking for awesome music I can include or extra general footage from gigs and festivals!

 

  • What’s your favourite thing right now?

I’ve been enjoying learning to use Ableton! I know that’s a geeky answer. I went to a talk the other night by Rob Tissera (DJ), and he was talking about remixing and making music using Ableton and it inspired me so much! I met him after the talk and he was so enthusiastic and encouraging. Last night I was working on a song using it and it was so much fun.


Suzy can usually be found taking photos of bands – of which there is evidence on her website, instagram (@suzyskaphotos) and Flickr – and making music of her own.

She is also in the process of putting together a website, which you will find HERE once it’s up.