Along roads blocked by construction work and shaking lorries carrying concrete blocks, buildings partly obscured by scaffolding hint at this part of east London’s constant “regeneration.”
I’m in Hackney Wick, what was once an industrial area of manufacturing warehouses, and now seems to usher in new-build flats at every turn.
But look, this is a music site and not one about the history of London, so I’m here to try and explore the ripple effects of this new construction on the musicians and producers who once used to consider this area the epicentre of their creative work.
Published by Black Dog & Leventhal publishers, the book is a celebration of 106 musical artists covering a wide range of genres, showcasing the importance of women in music. Each essay includes a full colour illustration of the musical artist or group.
I wrote about Amy Winehouse, Aaliyah, Dusty Springfield, Erykah Badu, ESG, Poly Styrene, Ronnie Spector and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Kah-Lo knows her brand identity. The Nigerian dance artist was up into the wee hours of the night before speaking to me, dying a wig her trademark shade of luminous green. It’s a brand that works well, as paired with her rainbow coloured outfits and shimmering round sunglasses, Kah-Lo stands out. As she says herself, “I ain’t no basic bitch”.
Beyond the Kodak full colour image, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t torn it up to her breakthrough hit ‘Rinse & Repeat’, a thundering collaboration with UK house producer Riton, for which she received a Grammy nomination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Very few people have made such an impact on DIY punk music as guitarist and singer Rachel Aggs. She came to most people’s attention in 2009 as part of punk trio Trash Kit. Their sound is complex, channelling experiment bands like The Raincoats and Marnie Stern with melodic harmonies and polyrhythmic drum beats. She went on to form the ultimate post-punk party band Shopping whilst also playing in the pop duo Sacred Paws.
Loved by music nerds, punks and pop fans alike, she’s an under appreciated staple on the DIY punk scene and as a musician her melodic guitar has become as recognisable as her sung-spoken vocals and tumultuous hair do that always covers her face ever so slightly. Her fame is slowly starting to rise though; Aggs was recently named by i newspaper as one of the unsung heroes of British indie music and has gone on tour after tour with Shopping, the hardest working band in punk.
My parents always used to say that there’s no song that wouldn’t sound better as a reggae song. Now that could have been their overwhelming sense of Jamaican importance (we always think we are the biggest island in the Caribbean) influencing their pride in reggae music but it’s hard to deny the brilliance of Jamaica’s most well-travelled genre. That’s why it’s always powerful to hear new bands who take the best elements of reggae and recreate it for today.
Mangoseed collect strains of roots music from around the world to create their multi-faceted south London sound. Formed in 2008, their gigs are always a stage show of well-coordinated moves, frantic guitars and steady, cautious bass lines. The band released their debut album Basquiat, a nod to American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, in 2014 and have high hopes for the future. gal-dem spoke to Mangoseed to find out more about the band and their original sound.
I want to play a game. Close your eyes, relax your mind and trust me. There’s a star onstage. A rebellious star, a captivating star, a rock star. When your eyes meet, you’re so breath taken by their presence that it feels like a weight has been dropped on you from above.
They make you move, they make you want to be them and they make you want to be with them. A well of creativity and a fountain of unending charm; they have the life experience of being downtrodden and disrespected to draw their art on.
Open your eyes. Now if you didn’t visualise a proud defiant black woman on stage then you and I are clearly reading from widely different history books. Don’t be too hard on yourself though. It’s an easy conclusion to reach considering we rarely hear about the accomplishments and influence of black women in any area. We only recently found out that the scientists that helped get America to the moon were black women. Who knows which other sisters’ names have been forgotten or falsely remembered?
With the likes of Single Mothers, Black Girls and Asian Babes using gendered terms to mask their masculinity, Stephanie Phillips investigates the effect it is having on women in music.
There’s an unspoken problem that all male bands face; how to stand out from the billion and one other all male bands. When you think about it can you really tell one bunch of sad looking guys in a shoegaze band from another? Aren’t Alt-J just Foals with a different haircut? Why do Thom Yorke and Chris Martin have the same interchangeably dull looking face?
Let’s face it, men are dry and said dryness has led to a trend amongst the more progressive end of indie and punk that involves finding new ways to be more than just ‘white men’. Some bands seek out female members to make them look diverse, some try on a different culture or style; blending in a half-arsed attempt at bhangra after a particularly enthralling trip to India. There are many ways to not come across as too stale, male and pale while still enjoying the benefits of said maleness and paleness.
Recently, all male bands have solved this problem by feminising their band names. Each year, music fans have the unenviable job of deciphering the reasons bands chose name such as Single Mothers, Black Girls andAsian Babes (Asian Babes actually do have one female member but we included them because it’s still such an awful name).