Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Zorras make poetry-music-video-weirdness fusion. With megaphones.

photos by Evi Tsiligaridou

Sandra: poetry, video, weirdness

Y: singing, cajón, guitar, extra weirdness

Zorras also sometimes collaborate with other artists.

I've noticed that you always make sure that the sound engineer gets a shout-out, but have you experienced much sexist behaviour from them?

S: We do always acknowledge them, because I think stage technicians in general are the unsung heroes of, well, everything. We’ve worked with some stellar people – men, women, and genders in between and beyond. But yes, sadly there are quite a few sexist technicians out there. We don’t usually mention the ones who are jerks.

Y: Or we do, but subtly in the lyrics of a song, like ‘Turn up my mic you shithead.’

S: The main thing I get from guys is a reaction to the megaphone. They freak out, immediately assuming I’m going to put the volume on full and shout through it into their precious microphones. They treat me like it’s my first gig and I just decided to scream through a megaphone without thinking it through. I use the megaphone like most people who use one onstage – for its unique sound quality, not to scream.

Y: Yeah, like I have 20 years experience singing, but I don't know how to check a microphone. They treat you like it's the first time you've been on stage. They always need to tell you how it goes.

S: It's rarely something that's stated outright or blatantly in your face. It's more this unspoken vibe of ‘You don't know what you're doing.’ And I watch the men sound checking before and after us – often the way they’re treated is different.

Y: One time in London, there was this guy, he wouldn't let me speak. He kept cutting me off. And then he came over and reached over me to plug in the guitar, like touching me and pulling the cable all around my body. I was like “Hey, what are you doing?” (stands up and raises hands in mock defensive stance). I actually had to confront him and explain that he was crossing my boundaries because he just didn’t get that he was treating me like furniture.

S: They're not gonna come out and say 'You don't know what you're doing because you're a girl'... but they find other ways to make it clear. And there’s a race element when it comes to Y as well.

Y: It's the assumption that you have no clue and need to be taught how. In my case sometimes in very. Slow. And. LOUD. English. But in terms of sexism, in Manchester this guy said to me 'You play really good for a girl'. I've had that a few times. And this other guy, he said, 'You play so good… and you're a girl.'

S: Like a wet dream – talented and fuckable. Jaysus. It's also assumed she doesn't know how her instrument works. They'll stick the mic way inside the
cajon, even though she tells them it will work better if the mic is outside because of the reverberations inside the drum. But they're like, 'Let's just try it'. It's condescending bullshit.

Y: Now, I just let them. The last two, three times – I haven't said a word. I just let them put the fucking mic where they fucking want! We sit there for hours with me hitting the drum and them trying to figure out why we’re all covering our ears in pain.

Do they apologise?

Y: Never. Ever.

S: Another thing that happens is that our friend Jesus (not that Jesus) sometimes helps us carry gear, bless him. Almost without fail, the male sound techs will immediately ask him, 'What do you need today?' Like we’re not even there. Like of course he’s in charge.

Y: Every. Single. Time.

Do you get much sexist behaviour from the audience?

S: Not too often. At least not blatantly.

Y: Often it’s more obvious from organizers or staff. It's not just sexism, it could also be ableism if Sandra is using her cane. Or homo- or transphobia. During our sound check for a piece featuring a trans woman, these promoters were looking at each other with disgusted expressions, like 'What the hell is this?'

S: Or there’s those guy promoters who say they’re feminists but still treat women like children or sex objects. The ones who also like to pay you in beer instead of money, despite charging at the door. Or the ones who had to tick some PC boxes for their funding but are actually bigoted jerks. Mainstream gay festivals can be shit like that – really sexist, transphobic, racist and ableist.

Do guys approach you after gigs and say stuff?

Y: I guess boys approach me a lot. That’s when you get comments like, 'You're really good for a girl'. If you're gonna talk about my work, I don't see why my work has a gender. I’m always the female drummer. It's not a female drum. Actually, if you insist on gender, it’s a male drum, el cajón (laughs).

S: It's interesting, because I don't get that (the comments). Is poetry different from music? I've never had anyone come up to me and say, 'You're a good poet for a woman'. Though it’s sometimes inferred…

Y: As a singer, I was a singer. But suddenly as a drummer, I'm a woman. The drummer is always the female drummer. But the pianist is just the pianist.

S: The poetry community is sexist – but they express it differently. Maybe there have been women drummers for less time than there have been women poets, maybe drumming is seen as a more masculine profession. One thing that does happen to me is that men will compare me to one of two other poets. It’s either Laurie Anderson, maybe cos I wear ties and so does she? Or it’s Maryn Cadell, who has a Canadian accent like me. But that comparison is only to the old Maryn Cadell, before he transitioned. Because they only compare me to women, they never compare me to men.

Y: Even from women you can get that kind of sexism, I got compared to Sheila E by a female reviewer. Sheila E is awesome but she plays a kit. I do not play a kit. Or pop music for that matter… But Sheila E was the only woman drummer that popped into her head. 

Do you feel pressurised to sexualise yourselves on stage?
S and Y (in unison): No.

Y: I mean, we take showers. I took a shower before this interview.

S: When I first got here five years ago, I had very short hair and was treated notably differently from in Canada, for being ‘dykey’. I had a definite sense here that people were gonna pay more attention to me and my writing if I didn't look lesbionic or talk about queer issues. But I didn't give in to that pressure.

Y: Aye, it’s bad to see what some women poets deal with.

S: Most women I initially saw being promoted here were half-clad waifs, and it’s made me aware of the pressure on Scottish women, and particularly of what straight women have to put up with. In some ways I feel that my writing is respected more by men than straight women’s writing because I'm not considered shaggable... and no one automatically accuses me of blowing my way to the top.

Do you think that bands like Destiny's Child etc were empowering for young women? They sang that women could be independent...

Y: That bit about the ring ('if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it') – fuck off!

S: Independence is tied to money in this society. You do need to pay your rent. But you don't need to take it to the degree of blood diamonds and fancy cars – I'm successful as a capitalist, so therefore I must be an independent successful woman. That’s not feminism, to me it just reeks of the same old capitalist bullshit.

But they're reaching a wide audience. With zines and feminist events you can only reach so many people, but if you can get on the radio...

S: It's true that these things have an effect, and maybe its better if they do reach the average kid than if they don't. But there's ‘secondary’ famous people who say more awesome things, like Meshell Nedgeo'Cello. If you look at Billie Holiday or Etta James, they were talking about women's issues and race issues fifty fucking years ago. I think pop music mostly stinks. At the end of the day, I don't think empowerment is their goal.

Y: It's about marketing, and a product that will sell.

S: But yes, Madonna and other pop singers have an effect on people, I suppose – she and Cyndi Lauper had an effect on me when I was ten. I was like, ‘Look, there's women in music!’ I know that my reach is like 1000 people, but their reach is millions, so it is important what they say. It's unfortunate that they often don't give a shit. I don't like Lady Gaga, but a lot of people have supposedly opened up to accepting queerness and gender ambiguity because of her. So I guess I don't like them, but they serve a purpose. 

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