December 23, 2010

December 23rd, 2010 : Cause + Effect : Women in Music 2010 Edition

My obsession with women in music started in the late '80s with bands like L7, Babes in Toyland, The Lunachicks, Jawbox, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, MBV, Blake Babies, and Superchunk(although I grew up  worshiping Blondie, The Go-Gos,and Pat Benetar too). By 1990 I was spoiled to some degree because Riot Grrrl was starting to build steam and there were bands on the larger tour circuit with women in them so I had a distorted concept of how easy it would be to play music as a women. It was clearly possible, there were certainly girls making it happen, but when I actually joined a band and started playing shows, I discovered very quickly that in the bigger picture (meaning in the every day world of my community) there were actually very few ladies.

Most people wonder why I didn't become more involved in the Riot Grrrl community if I wanted to be surrounded by more women playing music but at the time it was a scene I wasn't attracted to or felt a deep connection with. I didn't want to be involved in something where the politics of being a women came first and the music came second. I didn't want to define my career with WOMAN in bold letters.I wanted to be making music I was proud of and have people like it without focusing on my gender. I wanted and still would prefer to be a human making music who just happens to be a girl.

In the early to mid '90s I daydreamed of  a time when at least one other women shared the same stage I played on that evening but the indie rock / post hardcore world I lived in was a sausage party. I felt like a fish out of water feeling all the time but it really reached its peak when I spent 6 weeks on the road with a band who was 4 band dudes and a male roadie. This was on top of the fact that the number of women I had a chance to interact with outside of our van was next to zero. Day in and day out, every show, every place we crashed, every record store we visited, every music gear shop was mostly guys. I am not the kind of person that HAS to be around other women all the time, but it would have been less lonely and more empowering  for me as a women in music had I known about or crossed paths with other women sharing the same kind of experiences and tribulations. It isn't to say there weren't amazing girls going out to these shows or involved with DIY shows but the scene was 95% made of dudes and the 5% of women out there I only discovered if other people told me about them, we happened to play a show with them, or a read a fanzine article about them.

The flipside to this strange situation was often when people told you about the other bands with girls in them, they either assumed we all magically knew each other as if we were a secret society or they talked about these groups as if they were my rivals and these other women probably hated me or that I should hate them. It created such confusion for me. Were these other women who I had never met kindred spirits or the enemy? Having not been fortunate enough to meet these other girls at the time, there was no way to break bread with these other ladies, talk shop, and help shake away the myths of their being tension between us all. And because we all played in non Riot Grrrl bands there was a whole second line of attack, that I don't know if everyone faced; but I know I did. With Riot Grrrl all over the press (a total media frenzy!) there was a sudden expectation and assumption that if you were a woman in an indie band, you were a Riot Grrrl and with this came a political agenda and potentially a lesser focus on the quality of music being executed. I was hated and judged by some members of the audience before I even sang a note or performed each night. And yet there was another group of people who called me a traitor for playing with men / on mostly male shows because if I was a good feminist, I wouldn't waste my time in that circle. Honestly, all I wanted to do was play in a band and make music with my friends that really excited me so it was a shocking experience to understand how a scene digests you and depending on the time and place, how you are ultimately viewed.

While I have made some music and played a handful of shows since the '90s, it hasn't been nearly as often but as a passionate music fan I still follow the indie music scene as closely as possible. Not just because I am a girl but because of my experiences as a woman in music over the years, I find myself particularly drawn to discovering new bands with women in it and for some reason, 2010 has struck me as a particularly incredible year for women in music. Perhaps it isn't that there are more ladies in music than there were 5 years ago but the internet has made it that much easier to uncover these bands. Whatever the reality, I am thrilled to have so much inspiring music to listen to.

When I decided to do a Cause and Effect highlighting some of the best new music featuring at least one female member I couldn't believe how many groups there were to pick from. I could spend a year playing two hours a week of just women and I still probably wouldn't be able to play them all. Considering how I felt just two decades before, this is an exciting, no, stellar phenomena.

Tonight from 7pm to 9pm on WRIR (97.3 FM for Richmond, VA locals / to stream live) I will be spending two hours spotlighting some of my favorite (as well as many listener picks) records of 2010 that feature at least one woman. I really couldn't be any more excited for this one!

* A podcast of the show is here.

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