Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Pink Collar Ghetto

OK, this may be a rather incoherent and ill-formed rant, as a bunch of different stuff has been rattling around in my head for some time.

I guess part of it has been inspired by going to shoegazing clubs, and being slightly disappointed to see band after band of 4 boys with haircuts. Not that I've got anything against boys with haircuts, I mean, I appreciate a good hunk of manflesh as much as the next lady. But it just seems a bit... weird. It's always seemed odd to me to see only one gender on the stage.

One of the reasons that I think I was so attracted to the original, first wave of shoegazing was how free it was of that bullshit. I mean, not the only or even the main reason - that was the music, maaaan, the orgasmic, blissed-out, crystaline, sonic cathedral sea of sound. But still a reason. It was nice to look at the bands onstage and see some kind of equality. There were as many women onstage as men, and it was never a big deal.

I mean, look at My Bloody Valentine - half male, half female, part gay, part breeder couple. There was such a range of great female role models, not just your etherial girls like Rachel Goswell, but cool chicks you could imagine going down the pub with, like Miki and Emma from Lush, slightly dangerous and mysterious women like Toni Halliday, intellectual women like Laetitia Sadier, slightly scary bruisers like Leslie from Silverfish. And it wasn't treated as a novelty, or some kind of schtick, they just WERE. No fuss made about it.

And now I go down Shoegaze revival clubs, and what has happened? The occasional token girl keyboard player aside (I blame Zia McCabe) - it's bloke after bloke. With haircuts. And sometimes beards.

Is it me, or has music got *more* gender segregated in the past ten, fifteen years? Or am I just nostalgic for some golden age of my youth?

What do I blame? Britpop, Dadrock, Loaded Magazine? The Backlash and all that?

Is this what Riot Grrl fought for?

Well, therein lies some of the problem. I was a bit too old for Riot Grrl by the time it happened; I'd already been fighting my battles for a few years, been playing in bands and getting dismissed by soundmen and guitar salesmen (until they found out my dad was a major soundman in the folk scene) and trying to carve out my own band's place. I played with a lot of women, but I played with a lot of men, too. I played with anyone that would have me.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped believing in Riot Grrl. Or maybe I found it simplistic in the first place. Here's the thing - separate is NEVER equal. I understand *why* they had girls only gigs in the early days. But the problem is, that kind of thing sticks. Even once the gigs stop being women only, it's much harder to get men to go to a thing they perceive as being "for women". Even the open-minded ones, there's still that perception that "oh, it's for girls only, I won't be welcome."

And if you exclude men, you don't have equality, you have ghettoisation. And I absolutely refuse to be ghettoised - it's just another form of inequality.

But there's me, back at the shoegazer clubs, looking up at these boys with haircuts, and wondering why my band doesn't ever get to play. Feeling excluded, feeling like you can watch, but you will NEVER be allowed to participate. Because you're not a skinny boy with a haircut, you play GIRLS music.

I mean, this is always a problem with genre music. Anything that's a revival will be, by its very nature, conservative. (Trust me, I spent so much of my early 20s in the psych/garage scene, wondering why the boys were such troglodytes.) But the shoegazing revival... for fucks sake! It just feels like missing the point of what made it so GOOD the first time round.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Female Gaze

This was originally an article written for Plan B Magazine - just had a bit of a problem with the word count... so well, even if an edited down version does ever appear on their website, here is the original

It all started with that picture. You know - *that* picture, surreptitiously emailed around the female staff of Plan B like a virus. "I'm not sure if that's disgusting or totally erotic," gapes the normally unflappable Miss AMP. "Either way, I approve." "They're not just naked, they're naked in a *fjord*," enthuses Frances. "They're playing at Sonic Cathedral," I observe. "We're going. Purely out of professional interest, of course."

120 Days aren't just pretty. They're the sort of Scandinavian sex gods that make even married women turn and stare, all six foot tall, with coltish limbs and long blond hair like an orgasmic Herbal Essences advert, elven jaws and cheekbones like dinner plates. They are beautiful. And they're totally naked.

OK, they're clothed at the gig, elegantly wrapped in skin-tight jeans and leather jackets, but the other bands are nervous. Nothing unnerves men like Male beauty. Maybe it's their fear of latent homosexuality, maybe their egos are threatened. Women are used to competing for The Male Gaze; the beauty stakes start in adolescence. But when the Gaze is turned on men, they can't cope - to the point where they'll write endless Guardian columns about how shallow women are for fancying pretty boys! Feathers are ruffled.

I understand how they feel, though. There's a cluster of Japanese hipster girls gathered round the front of the stage. "I can't help it," I confess. "I know it's xenophobic, but I just think they're here to steal our men." "I know," teases Frances. "I feel the same way about American women." And that's the way our pale, pasty native English dronerock boys are eyeing these interloping Sex Vikings.

Local support boys, The Early Years, go on amid a haze of psychedelic feedback, and 120 Days come out to watch. Suddenly we're surrounded by a forest of implausibly good-looking Norwegian manflesh. We make faces at one another and mouth "Phwoar!" behind their backs. But something is going on, onstage, behind all the swirling strobe lights. It's like that scene in every WWII movie, where the plucky Brits band together and through sheer ingenuity and courage, the sprecky boffins, though massively outmanned and outgunned, cobble together a plot from tin foil and sticky tape, and manage to defeat the suspiciously immaculate Nazi hordes.

photos by Bob Stuart

Dronerock - *good* dronerock – is totally sexual. Yeah, I know what Stockhausen and LaMonte Young said about the transcendence of repetition and the disappearance of melody and all that, and yeah, it's great theory, but put Eno's Oblique Strategies away and listen to me. That relentless, four-on-the-floor 'Für Immer' motorik beat? It's Musik für Fucking. Klaus Dinger totally gives me the horn. And all those Machine metaphors? Come on, you don't have to be a Freudian analyst or a feminist theorist to realise that all those Kraftwerk robots and autos and pocket calculators are classic phallic symbols. A 20-minute krautrock epic? When it's right, it is the aural equivalent of being fucked within an inch of your life by a tantric sex robot from planet Dusseldorf.

TEY have got the motorik thing down perfectly, they've got the dirtiest drone going. David Malkinson's got his eyes closed, hair in his face, lips parted - in drug-induced haze or sexual ecstacy - who cares? Stroking his Korg with long, elegant fingers like he'd stroke a lover... we push our way up front, elbowing the Norwegians out of the way. We want more! There's Roger Mackin, skinny arse in tight-buttoned cardigan, lips pursed in concentration. No he can't be – oh yes, he is - dry humping his telecaster against his amp to get a wail of feedback, that jam-jar full of angry wasps guitar tone so beloved of obscure 60s freakbeat bands with names like Electric Treacle Well and the Marmalade Mine.

It's like the sexual satori moment of adolescence. Those local boys from the club, in the maelstrom of music, like the maelstrom of hormones, suddenly They. Are. Sex. I know how it works, the groupie magic. (Some cunt wrote a review of my own band, saying before the show, only two of us appeared remotely fit, but after a good gig, he'd shag all of us – even the mingers. Yeah, cheers.) But great music is magic, and that magic is as powerful as sex.

The frenzied My Bloody Valentine rave-ups, fucking like beasts in the hall because you can't wait to get up the stairs. The achingly pretty, drifting melodies where you just lie together, tracing your lover's nose and ears and hipbones with fingertips and lips, suspended in the perfect moment of those harmonic structures, your bodies fit close together like intertwined Spacemen 3 arpeggios. Those endless motorik spacejams with tangles of wah guitar, you just want to keep coming, again and again, every nerve throbbing like that tremolo.

Oh, god, the Norwegians don't stand a chance. After the aching, open-hearted sincerity of TEY, their beauty just seems like a cheesy chat-up line. Icy Teutonic cool just comes across like arrogance. They play in darkness, their backs turned to the audience, like trying to make love with the lights out. The music is svelte, sinuous, consciously sexy, their Moog drones mixed with a bit of Duran Duran bass, a bit of Eurotrance drumbeat. But after TEY, they just come off like the dronerock McFly. Their moves are too studied, a bit too Richard Ashcroft in the nasal vocals, a bit too much of the Bobby Gillespie School of Rock in the way they throw colt-like shapes with their bony limbs and toss their golden manes. But, like a boy who knows he's fit, somehow it's not sexy, in the way that TEY's slightly gawky charm and studious intensity is totally, undeniably hottttt with a million Ts.

120 Days passed like a dirty holiday fling, but The Early Years are in it for the long run. We came, wanting to fuck 120 Days, but we fell in love with TEY's music, and left, clutching them to our collective bosoms. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the sine-waves.

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In An Intastella Burst, I'm Back

Well, I knew I wouldn't stay away forever. The bug of blogging, once bitten, is just too strong.

I'm going to try not to talk so much about personal stuff. (It's pretty disconserting when people you barely know come up to you and start talking about personal stuff and you're all "whoa, how the fuck do you know THAT?!" and then realise they've read it on your blog.) And try to concentrate on music, art, cultcha, that sort of thing.

Of course one can't leave the personal entirely *out* of that kind of thing, so of course it will seep through. But it's only a filter to view the world through, not the topic of the blog.

p.s. oh yeah this is a moderated blog. Personal attacks will be deleted.