WOMEN IN MUSIC – FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. Pt.1
It may come as no surprise that the Indie/alternative music has for so long been dominated by male artists as a move away from pop culture that is often deemed as a feminine outlet for female musicians. And yet from the confines of social boundaries and restrictive gender norms break-free female musicians who refuse to be complicit with this paradigm of creative expression. Instead, they reclaim the genres and vernaculars that have been kept out of reach.
In honour of International Women’s Day, and their theme balance for better, Underground take a two-part look at the women who have made musical history and those who are making it. These are the women who have not only made waves in the music industry but are those who you should add to your rolodex of women who are balancing the gender books within this creative sphere.
Without further ado, we ask you is there a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 than revelling in music made by female mavericks?
Formed on the back of the new wave hard rock scene in the late 1970s, Girlschool (initially began as Painted Lady) were London’s answer to Motörhead and get this… were women. As heavy metal icons, Girlschool were pioneers of the male dominated hard rock music genre. Known for their riotous style which saw them coated in leather and studs and heavy-handed hooks, their notoriety saw them gain popularity in the press. Scoring the support slot of Motörhead, as well as their manager, after their first single, Girlschool kicked off their career with the same no-holding-back attitude that reigns through their tracks. Their performances quickly became sort after, encouraging fast-paced mayhem and rock ‘n roll rebellion. Despite a frequently changing line-up of members the band managed to maintain the attention of diehard fans, even to this day, paving the way for more recent heavy metal female bands to take the stage.
Essential track: ‘C’mon Let’s Go’
Who: BETTY DAVIS
Most often, and annoyingly so, known for her marriage to Miles Davis, Betty Davis is not to be considered as just the wife of the great male jazz composer. Instead, she was a musical trailblazer off her own back armed with a fearless sensuality, crude tongue and feral funk soul. Her style and musical talent were something of a phenomenon, something so psychedelically supernatural that it would seem she had sucked on the teat of The Mighty Boosh’s extra-terrestrial version of ‘the Funk’. Despite her recluse into hibernation – away from the public eye – in the late 70s, this “nasty gal” remains a feminist funk icon with a soul that was not only ahead of her time but prodigy of soul in sequined leotards and gogo-boots.
Essential track: ‘Nasty Gal’
Who: THE RUNAWAYS
Perhaps one of the most well-known girl-band, The Runaways were conceived during the mid-70s and when the members were in their teens. Lead by Joan Jett and Cherrie Curie, the Runaways were a five-piece not to be meddled with. Firing out punk-rock classics for only four years, these females refused to conform to outdated notions of womanhood and rather sang songs about sex and sisterhood while prancing around stage in skimpy fishnet and bodice combinations. Sticking a middle finger to the man, The Runaways show females and males alike that women can do whatever they put their mind to, which also meant that they could be sexual and use their sexuality in a powerful way too.
Essential track: ‘Queens of Noise’
Who: BIKINI KILL
If you don’t know Bikini Kill… what female artists have you heard of? This foursome, born out of the US, are cult leaders and founders of the “Riot Grrrl” movement of the 1990s. Made up of Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Billy Karren and Kathi Wilcox, these women formed Bikini Kill with the desire to claim the punk/grunge genre for themselves and encourage other women to do the same in order to take real action against hegemonic sexism. Attacking the patriarchy with punk motifs and “risqué” costumes, Bikini Kill fearlessly tackled issues on rape, abuse and oppressive gender boundaries while at the same time coining the term “girl power”. True innovators of punk music, Bikini Kill can only be thanked for their integration of third wave feminist concerns and musical
expression who’s “girls to the front” legacy has continued to reign on into the present day.
Essential track: ‘Rebel Girl’
*You can now catch Bikini Kill this summer at the O2 Academy Brixton, for their reunion tour:
Who: ARETHA FRANKLIN
Known, of course, as the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin
was a feminist and civil rights figurehead of the 20th century.
With an unreal set of vocal chords, Aretha usedher platform for good and not evil, producing tracks that saw her unapologetically demand for equality and celebrate her own femininity and blackness. Her rendition of ‘Respect’ epitomises her moral rhetoric: as a reworking of Otis Redding’s track produced to outlay the ways women should treat their men, Aretha’s version not only gained more popularity than the original but also saw her belting of ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ take on a whole new meaning and musical agenda. In her death, her heritage lives on through a long list of tracks that date back to the late 60s and as a feminist trailblazer.
Essential Track: ‘Respect’
Who: LIZZY MERCIER DESCLOUX
Lizzy Mercier, never heard of her? Well now’s your chance to get to the Parisian post-punk poet, painter and musician. Bounding in on trippy bongo rhythms, careless cowbells and disco vocals, Descloux was a musician almost from another dimension. Exuding free-flowing feminine funk, Descloux was making waves with her music since the age of 18, when she was running in the same circles as Patti Smith and Richard Hell. Rich and yet minimal, each one of her tracks are a sensually seductive exploration of the capabilities of guitar riffs, bass lines and repetitive lyricism in both English and French. Before her death in the early 00s Descloux had managed to dip her finger in every creative pie she could, nonetheless her Avant Garde rock remains to breakdown boundaries not only between genres but between gender norms in the music industry.
Essential track: ‘Fire’
Icelandic goddess from outer space, Bjork is no less a Master of Modern Music who manipulates technology and fashion in ways that no one has attempted before. Breaking the mould
with her style isn’t the only way she makes maverick music, rather she adds infinite layers of genius to her work with the integration of political, socio-economic and feminist concerns to work also (especially in
her most recent works). Casting a spell on listeners from far and wide, Bjork has been a legend in the avant-garde electronica
genre for over 20 years and has always been unreserved with her exploration of the self and sexual desires. Her uncompromising determination to make her vision a reality, no matter how outlandish, is a marvel and inspiration for an endless stream of creatives who too want to make their dreams into in tangible constructions. Through her success, and her more recent alignment with feminist issues, Bjork proves that women can too push the boundaries of electronic music by consistently staying light-years ahead of the game and transgressing those who have/do underrate her skills alongside male collaborators (who in the past have been known to discredit her . PHOTO CREDS: Maisie Cousins
mixes on their tracks).
Essential Track: ‘Big Time Sensuality’
Who: MARINE GIRLS
Formed in a small town in Hertfordshire in 1980, is the female fourpiece Marine Girls. Made up of Tracey Thorn, Gina Hartman, Alice Fox and Jane Fox, The Marine Girls were as DIY post-punk as you could get. They started off small and shy producing their own debut album A Day by the Sea on their own and selling the tapes to their acquaintances. Their second album was nonetheless a continuation of this determination and saw them record it in the garden shed. This album was released on In-Phaze records and then later re-released by Dan Treacy for this label Whaam! Records in ‘81. While they largely remain a band of the 80s, due to their short-lived formation, their songs are explorations of the everyday trials and tribulations of teenage femininity performed in a contemporary indie-punk style. While they’re fame may be minimal, their sound is far from a reflection of this – in its simplicity the band’s sound invites their listener to find solace in the relatability of the lyricism and relax into the gentle basslines.
Essential Track: ‘Love to Know’
ESG or Emerald Sapphire and Gold are New York dance-funk pioneers and not to be mistaken for E.S.G. the rapper. Breaking the mould with their Latin-tinged Avant-funk stylings, the Scroggins sisters and a frequently changed line-up are still the veterans of the punk-funk genre that they were in the 1980s. Mashing together a handful of musical motifs from hip-hop to neo-funk to salsa ESG made tracks that implore their listeners to wiggle their hips and join in tribalistic chants. Engulfing you in their trance, their melting pot of musical visions finds them to be them to female shamans of cool hypnotising anyone in the proximity to get their groove on. Supposedly unintentionally, the band managed to use their musical platform to “make some kind of point with the lyrics” (according to Renee Scroggins to The Quietus) as women dominating the underground music scene at the time.
Essential track: ‘Erase You’
Who: PATTI SMITH
Adding bohemian flair to the mix, Patti Smith is finally on our list of inspirational female artists. Using literary works and scholars such as Burroughs, Rimbaud and Baudelaire Smith make a home with her music for the violent poetry that she continuously shattered and remade with her tracks. Claimed to be the ‘punk poet laurate’, Smith is known for her album Horses both as one of the greatest punk rock albums of all time but also for its epic exploration of vulgar topics such as rape and piss. With this her style of punk was born unapologetically raw and bare-knuckled in every way while also maintaining a level of control which produced slow building punk tracks as opposed to break-neck-speed ones. Beating many of her male punk counterparts to milestones such as performing at the CBGB’S and scoring a record deal, no list of incredible female artists would be complete with out Smith’s name on it.
Essential track: ‘Gloria’ (duh!)
Lest we forget the GREATS:
This photo taken from The Rolling Stone is a time capsule, a moment of history captured that sees some of the most inspiring female artists together in the same room: Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Pauline Black (The Selecter), Debbie Harry (Blondie), Poly Styrene (X-Rey Spex), Viv Albertine (The Slits) and Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees).
Word by Aimee Williams-Maynard