The patriarchy weaves a plethora of tall tales to keep its ego in check and the biggest of those is that women can’t stand each other. Even when we were pitted against each other by repugnant, morose men, we didn’t really want to tear each other’s eyes out.
In reality, you couldn’t find a better example of a deep bond than the one that exists in female friendships. Women are there for each other with a shoulder to cry on or a knowing piece of advice when you need it most. Nowhere is this seen more strikingly than in the music industry. We speak to some of the leading figures in the DIY U.K. punk scene to find out how their revolutionary girl gangs are tackling inequality in the scene and putting female friendships to the forefront of their work.
Under My Thumb is a collection of essays by female journalists writing about their favourite songs or artists who have problematic gender politics. The essays look at the contradictions and complex ways women love music.
The book features an my essay about Phil Spector and how his mistreatment of women around him played into his work.
The book is now available to pre-order. Under My Thumb will be published on 17th October in the US and 19th October in UK.
Did anyone really want to be popular as a teenager? I mean it would have been nice to experience life with perfect hair, teeth and skin, a natural disposition to do everything right, be loved by humans and animals alike and generally seem to have no worries. That might have been nice but, to be honest, it looked so boring when I was a teenager. As a chubby, awkward black girl growing up in the deepest, whitest area of Britain, I knew I was never going to be seen as normal enough to be popular so I never tried.
It’s a sunny Friday in June, and I’m struggling to make my way across a heaving room in Peckham’s DIY Space for London. I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with a bustling throng of people – a kaleidoscope of melanated shades – and the 20 steps it takes to reach a vantage point from which to see band the playing in the southeast London community centre’s main room feel like a thousand. Reader, I haven’t taken any mishmash of time-altering drugs. I just can’t make it more than a couple of paces at a time without being practically smacked in the face by everyone’s visible joy.
A woman thanks me for putting on the festival; another person says they’ve never felt comfortable in a punk space until now; someone else decides they wanted to see similar festivals happening across the UK. By the time I make it to watch Sacred Paws, guitarist Rachel Aggs is asking for “people of colour to come to the front” – a rejig of Kathleen Hanna’s Bikini Kill-era “girls to the front” demand. This is Decolonise Fest, and it’s the future of UK punk.
It’s a tired and outdated myth that women don’t look out for each other. The most negative assumptions of female behaviour would have you believe that we get jealous of our friend’s relationships, talk about them behind their backs or, worse, secretly desire to steal their partner.
The internet truly broke that woman-hating myth into tiny pieces when it was revealed that Rihanna, AKA the woman always living her best life at all times, was dating a new man.
Asked who the greatest storytellers in the world are, I’d be tempted to point in the direction of black women.
Why? Well we’re full of stories, passed down to us by our mothers and our mother’s mothers.
We can convey how we feel with a slight raise of an eyebrow. Our tongues tease around language to find the most delectable word or phrase. If a suitable word doesn’t exist, we’ll make one up, enriching the world around us with a new word to add to the lexicon.
Yes, we’re full of stories, yet we rarely hear black women’s stories in the media – and only very occasionally in the cinema.
Lead singer in Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna was the central figure in riot grrrl, a feminist punk movement born in the US in the early 1990s. She’s also known for inspiring Kurt Cobain to write one of Nirvana’s most famous songs after spray painting “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on his apartment wall.
Travelling through Hanna’s life up to the present day, The Punk Singer shows Hanna struggling with her diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease and the treatment she has to endure. While the film was made with Hanna’s fans in mind, treating them to unseen footage and candid interviews with contemporaries such as Kim Gordon and Lynn Breedlove, there’s an emotional honesty on display here that should prove affecting even to viewers with no understanding of Hanna’s work or influence. Sini Anderson’s film is a superb portrait of a once vibrant music icon looking back at her glory years with wonder.
When director Julie Dash created the groundbreaking Daughters of the Dust (1991), a multigenerational tale of black women from the Gullah sea islands struggling to hold on to their culture, little did she know that 25 years later her work would be held up on the world stage thanks to one of the music industry’s most influential artists: Beyoncé.
The singer’s breathtakingly lush visual album, Lemonade (2016), tackled issues of black womanhood, southern traditions, race and female rage. Although Lemonade was the artist’s second visual album, it stands out as the first time the artist seems to have created music to soundtrack a standalone film. Given the subject matter and the detail paid to the cinematography, Dash’s film provided an obvious touchstone to inspire Beyoncé’s vision.
As I write this the first ever UK punk festival created by and for people of colour looms on the horizon; Decolonise Fest is nearly here. Organised solely on the lofty dreams of forward-thinking punks and a whole lot of determination, the Decolonise Fest collective have created a festival that showcases the people of colour at the forefront of the UK DIY punk scene.
The idea for the festival came about when, enamoured with the creativity I saw sprouting in fellow punks of colour and frustrated with the DIY scene’s non-approach to tackling racism (punks can wax lyrical about veganism or anarchy but mention race and you can hear a pin drop), I posted on social media about potentially organising a festival by us and for us.
My post soon came to fruition and on 2nd to the 4th June at DIY Space for London, Decolonise Fest will showcase bands such as Divide and Dissolve, Sacred Paws and The Tuts alongside art exhibitions and workshops all weekend. After a year’s planning and a lifetime wondering why this event wasn’t already here for us to enjoy, the Decolonise Fest team is ecstatic to see our baby coming to life, but we know others may not feel the same way.
This really isn’t a question we should need to ask in 2017, is it? We shouldn’t get the feeling this could go either way, but as most of us know all too well, in our post-Brexit era every single hard-won social victory feels like it’s up in the air, so let’s get started on tackling this one.
The princess-in-waiting that the country just isn’t sure about is of course African-American actress Meghan Markle. Her relationship with Prince Harry was only confirmed by Kensington Palace in November 2016 when the Palace had to basically tell everyone to cool it on the racism and abuse she was receiving. It was a surprising move from the Palace to issue such a statement, showing just how severe the situation must have been for Markle and her family.
Forbes posed the question, does Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Meghan Markle, have what it takes to be a princess? The Daily Mail produced an article that was essentially a list of seemingly obvious facts that all linked to Meghan being black. It read like the writer had just discovered this new-found concept, blackness, about an hour before his deadline and wanted to let the world know what he’d found.
When I first heard Joseph Fiennes, aka the nice looking lad from Shakespeare in Love, was going to be playing Michael Jackson, aka the most iconic black singer of all time, in Sky Arts new comedy anthology series Urban Myths, I knew there was absolutely no way this was going to work out well.
I didn’t know what the premise was going to be, the context or the story but I resigned myself to the reality that, this probably wasn’t going to be the onscreen depiction that Michael deserves.
My reaction aligned with numerous others when Fiennes’ casting as MJ was announced during the #oscarssowhite debate. Terrible timing but the Urban Myths team carried on.
The first trailer for Urban Myths was released this week and sadly we got to see how right we were about Fiennes. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a cartoon-like depiction that could give you nightmares. It’s safe to say that Twitter reacted in the way that Twitter always does when something controversial happens; everyone had a laugh.
Since it became an institution of sorts, punk has become synonymous with grouchy coolness. Don’t wear the wrong uniform. Don’t say the wrong thing. Don’t like the wrong bands. The pretense can make bands seem unapproachable and bland. If they don’t look like they care about their own music, why should I care?
Thankfully, there are groups like West London girl gang The Tuts, the perfect antidote to this sometimes dreary (and terribly conservative!) side of the punk scene. The Tuts break all the rules; they love pop, wear matching outfits, and have big dreams for the band’s future. Discussing how open they are about their ambition, guitarist Nadia Javed says: “Other bands pretend like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna do little farts of success and we’ll just see where it goes,’ but deep down they fucking want it. But they think it’s not cool to want it. We can’t be fucking bothered; we ain’t got time to look cool.”