Saturday, 29 September 2012

Witches Revenge

Sophie Badass used to drum for the (now disbanded) punk band Witches Revenge, and is currently hoping to find a new riot grrl band. 

As a female drummer, have you experienced much sexism?

There's so many levels that sexism happens on where to start?! Take a very basic everyday experience for example - When I go into music shops with a male bodied person, (say my boyfriend who plays guitar), the male staff almost without fail, speak exclusively to him. When I say 'I'm looking for drum equipment' they just look confused! So I don't go into music shops with him any more because of that experience. The assumption seems to be that only guys can be musicians.  Even if you go in with another woman, they won't talk to you immediately like a regular customer.

What about in the recording studio environment?

My only experience has been at the Forest Cafe (arts space in Edinburgh), so the people recording us were very open minded people. Theywere all men, but they were very supportive, and it was a really positive experience (especially as they did it for us for free!). But I imagine that if you go to a professional recording studio the experience would be very, very different. There is not much female representation in the technical side of the music industry in general. For example, when we're playing gigs, the sound engineer is almost always male. Once when we played a Riot Grrl night at the Forest, we specifically asked to have a female sound engineer. I guess that could sound like a strange request, but its about representation. They did have one female sound engineer, and although she was pretty new to it all, we got her to do the sound, and it was a really good night. You can't learn if you aren't even given the opportunity in the first place, right?

How do sound engineers usually treat you when you're setting up before a gig?

We used to get quite a lot of interesting looks, and you could tell they were a bit confused and sceptical, and not sure what we were gonna do.

Did you then have to put up with a lot of bullshit?

Not so much from sound engineers, but I noticed it with other drummers from other bands. They'd often set up the drums before the gig or take them down afterwards, not trusting me to be able to do it. But we played mostly with other all female bands so I didn't have to come into contact with this kind of bullshit too much! The main time I can remember is in Italy, and I tried to help unload the equipment (which I'd arranged to borrow from them) from this other bands van, and they didn't want me to - I got the impression that they thought I was some random fan that just wanted to get close to them or something! There was a language barrier, so I couldn't tell them I who I was, and it didn't enter their heads that I could be the drummer from one of the other bands because I was a woman.

So do you think there's a lot of barriers for young women who want to pick up an instrument and form a band?

Definitely. There just aren't that many role models for women who want to play and make their own music on their own terms... Mostly what we see and are told to aspire to are women prancing around on stage in skimpy clothes hanging off bodies mutilated by plastic surgery and eating disorders. Singing and looking pretty is accepted and supported, but generally speaking, female drummers are few and far between. It's not because women can't drum, of course they can! It's because it's too threatening to patriarchy to allow women to have that much control over making music. It isn't taken seriously. When I told my family I was the drummer in a punk band I think their first thought was that I'm a bit too old to be indulging in that kind of silly thing, but if you're a guy you can make a career out of drumming! I guess because of all this socialisation it would probably never have occurred to me that I could be a drummer in a band if other strong women hadn't said to me, hey, let's form a band! I owe much to my friend Scoutt (guitarist, Witches Revenge) who told me 'of course you can be in a band, why wouldn't we be able to form a band?'

Do you think its a strength thing?

It is pretty physical, but I've seen women of all different physiques drum awesomely. All female drummers aren't super muscley and ripped! I think you have to have a certain amount of endurance, but anyone can build that up over time. Drumming definitely makes you really sweaty and you have to eat well beforehand! And it looks powerful. Drums are used in a lot of cultures, for warfare, rituals, entertainment, fun etc. so it is a powerful instrument. But women (particularly in western culture) are taught that the ideal is to look like waifs, to be easy to dominate and physically weak. And I guess if you're pounding sticks, it looks like you could beat the shit out of someone rather than be beaten on.

Another drummer I spoke to said that she played marimba in a classical orchestra and had never experienced any problems with that, but as rock drummer she had to put up with lots of you think that its a genre thing?

Classical music has been around longer so perhaps women have been struggling to be involved in that for longer - punk has not been around for nearly as long. Mozart's sister Maria was a violinist and pianist, and was extremely talented, but she never got to become a professional musician like her brother, she had to get married. Over time, as a direct result of women fighting against this kind of social prejudice, there are now a lot more women involved in making classical music. Still, there are lots of sexist boundaries to demolish in all genres of music. Even in so called counter-cultures, a lot of bullshit sexist ideals are upheld. For example, when we went down to London to play a gig at a squat, there were lots of women at the gig who dressed according to a very gendered punk aesthetic. This to my mind is no different from the mainstream, in that women are still totally objectified and expected to dress up to appear sexy and appealing in revealing clothes and lots of make up.

I loved being in Witches Revenge because, although we liked to dress up to go on stage (and some of us were very glamorous indeed!) we come in all shapes and sizes and don't try to fit into some super restrictive idea of beauty. We don't diet or shave away our body hair and some of us are gender queer. I think because of that, our band was challenging not only to mainstream culture, but also to other supposedly alternative scenes. To be playing your own music, writing your own lyrics and having a normal body that you don't hate, is quite a radical thing to be doing. People aren't used to seeing that, and its an incredibly empowering experience to do that with people. But think that (the fear of it) and the lack of support is what holds women back. That's why we have to support each other!

Who are your inspirations?

I was exposed to Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and The Lunachicks, and also I watched a film about Riot Grrl called 'Don't Need You - the herstory of riot grrl', but mostly I'm inspired by the people, women, gender queers, feminist men around me that I've met in Edinburgh over the last few years or so, lots of my friends in the radical feminist environmental scene....and reading zines as well. So kind of a combination of all these things.

What do you think would help to lessen male domination in music?

Women need to take space. They need to wrestle it off the hands of men to a certain extent, because most people are usually reluctant to give up women have to take it for themselves. People can be quick to blame the status quo, and considering the fact that there aren't more women on stage - on women themselves. But this is ridiculous - All the odds are stacked against us, it's really challenging, and you have to have a lot of confidence. The thing that gave me confidence was to have other women and feminist people believe in me. So I think we have to be each other's role models. I always try and go to gigs that are organised by women and have women on stage, especially if they are organised on a small budget by people with big hearts. There should be more solidarity for women in bands, and it doesn't have to be just women supporting women, feminists of any gender should be there.

I reckon that one thing that could really help women, heck the world, is if we destroyed the whole money orientated, sexist, racist, women objectifying music industry in it's entirety. And if you managed that, then why stop there? It'd only make sense to keep going 'till capitalism and racism and patriarchy were abolished completely! And until this dream is realised, let's keep making songs about it!

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