Saturday, 29 September 2012

Doll Fight!

DIY punk band from Burlington, Vermont. Doll Fight! are building a Riot Grrrl sound and manifesto for the 21st century, melding righteous rage with febrile firepower and meticulous musicianship..

Jane, have you experienced much sexism for being a female drummer (from sound techs, recording engineers, record labels as well as drunk idiots at gigs!)?
Jane (drums): Yep, more so in the past than during my time with Doll Fight! Most often in a live-gig situation, and before people have heard me actually play. As I’m loading in, setting up or tuning drums, I’ll often get comments about how it’s “nice of me to carry my boyfriend’s drums for him”. Also pretty common are comments implying I don’t really know how to play drums, or that I don’t know my own gear – same as I often get in drum shops. At gigs, folk will stand in my way while I’m lugging a person's-weight of drum hardware, commenting on how strong I must be. Most of the low-level sexist comments come from bystanders or musicians in other bands. By and large, sound techs and recording engineers -- people who are paid to work with all kinds of drummers -- are just fine. In general, any sexist comments or expectations are reversed once I actually start playing, and people usually give genuine, gender-neutral compliments after the set. Outside of live gigs, I can be just a “drummer” rather than a “female drummer” – unless I’m also singing, nobody listening to a Doll Fight! record would know whether the drummer’s a girl, a bloke or – to quote Peepshow – “a chimpanzee after enough espressos”. Interestingly, in my career as a classical musician I have experienced close to zero sexism. As well as playing drumkit, I’m a solo marimba artist playing contemporary classical, experimental and jazz repertoire. There are loads of excellent female marimba players – Dame Evelyn Glennie, for one – and nobody has ever told me I play marimba well “for a girl”. When I’m playing that particular percussion instrument, it’s a total non-issue. But when I sit down and bash a drumkit, that seems to trigger the sexism switch. As for drunk idiots at gigs… ugh, we’ll get to them later.
Have the guitar and bass players experienced much sexism? Do you feel that there are some instruments that seem to be women are 'allowed' to play (i.e. get less hassle for it)?
Christine (guitar): Almost every time I tell someone I play in a band, their response is, "are you the singer?" I love correcting their assumption with the fact that I play guitar. Generally, women aren't expected to play any instrument in a rock band.
Kelly (bass): Short answer: yes and yes. Mostly it's not overt anti-woman sexism, but there is definitely a lot of subtle gender role policing and things like that. I get asked if I am the singer a lot, and one time was asked if I was the bassist's girlfriend. More regularly, men I don't know who are just showgowers (i.e. they have no affiliation with the club, us, or the other bands) offer to carry my gear for me (or tell me they will carry it). Regardless of the intent, it's not something I have ever seen happen to a male peer. I care a lot about my gear and I am not going to let some strange man who smells like beer touch it, let alone carry it - especially to my car. One time I almost ended up in a fistfight with a guy over this, but that's a longer story and was a one-off event.

Do you feel like Doll Fight! gets compared to other female bands too much?
Christine (guitar): Doll Fight! is compared almost exclusively to other female bands, as if it is a genre. It's kind of surreal. On one hand, I love being compared to bands like Sleater-Kinney and L7, and I think if I saw that comparison made in a review of another band I'd be more likely to check them out. On the other hand, it makes so little sense to gender music (except for vocals, perhaps), that you have to wonder what exactly the motives are for doing so.
Kelly (bass): While I do feel really flattered when we get compared to Sleater-Kinney, I think that nearly every all female punk band gets compared to them, just because they are women making music. I do think that the "females playing music!" angle is taken up by a lot of people who review/talk about us. Sometimes I feel like people view music in a binary and gender segregated fashion like we do with sports. There are women's sports, but they are funded less and watched less and talked about less and covered less in the media than men's sports, which are the 'real' sports for a lot of people. Women's teams are literally segregated into their own leagues - here it's more of a de facto thing, but it seems like a similar phenomenon.
Jane (drums): With identifiably female vocals, I think it’s hard to escape comparison to other bands with female singers. However, vocals are only one small part of Doll Fight!’s sound – I certainly don’t think any of us play our instruments “like girls” (whatever that means!) The majority, if not all, of our songwriting starts with the instruments – a guitar riff, a bassline – and then vocals are added later. So I feel like our songs, and our band, should be judged more on the core instrumental parts – which are naturally gender-neutral – than the vocals.
Over here the DIY punk/anarchist bands probably experience less sexism because the scene is so small and the guys that come to the gigs tend to be a bit more enlightened than your average drunk guy at an AC/DC gig....Is that the case where you are, or do you still gets loads of hassle?
Christine (guitar): Burlington is a great music scene, and personally I have not received much hassle, except for the occasional drunk hitting on me or buying me unsolicited drinks from the crowd. That hasn't happened very often. I have to say the other musicians in the community are extremely supportive and awesome here.
Kelly (bass): The Burlington music scene is vibrant and quite large for the size of the city, but it is still a relatively small scene, which I think contributes to an overall positive experience at shows and with fans. I could point to a few unfortunate comments and one nearly physical altercation with a drunk dude that I had, but it's a small number considering the number of gigs we've played (and compared to my pessimistic expectations). Notably, I've never experienced any sexist hassling from any of the other bands we've played with or the venues we've played at, or from anyone who I would identify as part of the punk scene around here.  
Jane (drums): Burlington, Vermont has been pretty good to Doll Fight! We really don’t get much hassle. Perhaps because we’re sufficiently terrifying? Seriously, I think we have a lot of allies against sexism (and racism, and ableism, and all the other “isms”) in the Burlington scene. In the year that Doll Fight! has been together, I’ve quite often witnessed gents in the scene taking issue with their own peers’ sexism. Whether that’s looking out for girls getting harassed at shows, refusing to book bands with sexist/racist/homophobic lyrics, calling out their bandmates for gross behaviour towards women… That’s not to say we’re living in a perfect sexism-free cocoon here, but the majority of people in the Burlington punk/rock scene are, in my opinion, actively trying to make things better for women and everyone else.

Have you had to put up with much sexism when you were playing in previous bands (or solo gigs, open mic nights, whatever)

Christine (guitar): When I was in high school, I had more than one male guitar player tell me, flat out, that girls cannot and should not play guitar, because their hands are too small and they just are not very good at it. It discouraged me for a long time. I felt like every time I got on stage and made a mistake, I was proving their theory right, and it was just too much pressure. Eventually, I realized music is too much fun to let comments like that get to me, and I don't have to shoulder the responsibility of representing my entire gender.

Kelly (bass): Not really. Most of my experience with gigging bands is from high school, which was shortly before I transitioned. I dealt with a lot of gender policing, femme shaming, and homophobia back then - but not sexism. I did a lot of solo folk-punk performing after high school and transition (but before Doll Fight!) but I stuck to mostly queer and queer-friendly and overtly feminist spaces and events, largely out of fear about transmisogyny and sexism. I was not playing the kind of folk that other women were and so I was nervous, probably overly so.  
Jane (drums): Yes, oh, yes! I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the lack of sexism Doll Fight! encounters, because of the crapload of sexism I experienced with previous bands. This blog post -- -- was partly a reaction to some of the gender-based issues that I think most female musicians run into at some point.Patronising comments or attitudes from the venue staff or sound crew, live reviews that say more about how we look than how we sound… aggressive sexual heckling from the crowd, unwanted physical contact from stage invaders, aggressive come-ons, groping, leering, rape threats, people trying to spike my drink, nick my gear, follow me to the car or follow me home. Stalkers. Having to provide security staff a do-not-admit list. Jealous boyfriends saying I shouldn’t perform in public, thinking that just by gigging with bands I’m somehow inviting this kind of crap… So, for a good few years I felt really pretty paranoid and embattled every time I went to play a rock or punk show. It can make you feel like you need to develop a thick skin, have your guard up, and always keep people at a distance during gigs. Which is a shame, because I feel live music is about shared experience and ideas – it should bring people closer together rather than further apart. Like I said, though, I really haven’t run into this stuff with Doll Fight! I don’t know whether that’s a geographical thing, a small-scene thing, or simply that the world has changed in the 20 years I’ve been gigging out. These days, I’m much better at shutting down sexist shit at gigs without punching anyone. Perhaps the best thing to come out of these experiences is the solidarity with other female (or gender-nonconforming/genderqueer) musicians who’ve dealt with similar sexist rubbish in the music scene. They get it, and we tend to have each other’s backs. As do a growing number of our male-identified allies.

Do you feel pressured to dress in any particular way when you're on stage?
Christine (guitar): I like to dress up when I perform. I don't think I feel pressure to do so - it's more like it's an excuse to wear short skirts and lots of makeup. I can be uber femme and I enjoy it. On colder, snowy days in Vermont, I don't bother so much with it, and it's not a big deal. The scene here is quite laid back and accepting.
Kelly (bass): Yes and no - I do feel the need to make sure that I look really good, and that I look appropriately femme and appropriately punk rock. I don't feel pressured to be a sexy high-femme babe like you see in the media, but I do feel pressured to look good, and to look hot.

Jane (drums): Like Kelly said, yes and no. During the Vermont winters, all bets are off, fashion-wise! For drumming, most of the pressures are practical – I need clothes that allow a full range of movement in all four limbs -- I’m quite short, and have a very physical, flail-heavy playing style. I’m also picky about my footwear for pedal work. When I first started gigging as a drummer, I used to dress very “male” – crewcut, muscle vest, jeans. I saw that the very femme-styled musicians weren’t taken seriously in terms of musicianship, so for a while being totally unfeminine in my stagewear was my way of staking territory as a serious musician. Now, I feel like – in the words of Morrissey – I can have both. I can thug out on the double kick or bust out some full-kit rudiments in sparkly makeup and a tutu. Who cares?!

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