Masonic Boom

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Music Is My Lover

I wish I could remember her exact words. A fellow music fan on a messageboard, talking about why she disliked the way I posted. It was something to the effect of "I hate it when you talk about sex, because that makes you sound like a groupie. And I've been fighting to be taken seriously as a music fan, when people always want to dismiss you, if you're a female music fan - oh, you just fancy the musicians. And obviously you are not a groupie, you know a 100x more about music than most of the men here, and I love it when you talk about music, but I hate it when you talk about boys."

She went on to say that she, herself, had never been given shit on the messageboard for being a woman - and then a couple of men expressed surprise that she was, indeed, a woman at all. They'd never had any clue.

Now there, indeed, is the whole crux of the problem.

There it is, isn't it? It may be dressed up in feminist language, but this "proper music fan / groupie" dichotomy - it's just the old Madonna/Whore complex dressed up in new terms, isn't it?

It's the easiest stick for male music fans to beat females with. The groupie stick.

Yes, you will be allowed on male ground, but only if you disguise all aspects of your femalehood. You can discuss music, but only clinically. If you bring your body, sexuality, emotions, romance, love into it - oh no, you're a groupie. In short, if you bring any aspect of your femaleness into the discussion, that's it, you lose any power and your authority and your right to have a critical opinion.

Fuck. That.

It's loading the dice against you from the very start. What is rock music and pop music about, but sex and love and romance and emotions? You're excluded from the discussion before it even starts.

But, of course, these rules don't apply to men. Read even the most sensitive of indie boys, talking about a female artist - even one they admire - Bat For Lashes or Little Boots or whoever the current indie pinup is. What's the discussion about? Her attractiveness, her sexuality, how the listener as a man responds to her as an object of attraction, as a woman.

Where did I learn the attitudes that I take in my writing about music? I was discussed *in* the music press for years before I ever joined it. I've been in a band since I was 17, I grew up reading male voices discussing my music - except wait, no. They didn't discuss the music first. They'd discuss my appearance, my attractiveness, my sexual appeal (or lack of it) and after several paragraphs of trying to decide whether they'd fuck me or not, then they might, maybe, get around to mentioning the music that I made.

Fair's fair, right? This is the way that artists are discussed, right? Is it really any wonder that I started writing about music the way that I did?

Well, here's a secret. I'd have been a groupie, if only I hadn't been so ugly. I love music, I love it more than life itself. It's my emotion, it's my heartbreak, it's my joy, it's my "I want to get up and dance" it's my "I want to lie down and die." I eat, sleep, breathe, drink music - I would fuck it, tongue kiss it, suck its cock, finger its pussy if I could, I love music so much. My experience of music is above all emotional, intensely sensual, yes, even sexual.

Music is emotion made flesh - or sound, as the case may be. Is it any wonder that women want to fuck the people who produce it, who write it, who make it? To me, it's a wonder that men don't. Oh wait, actually they do - oh, but they bury their sensual love under layers of weird repressive fandom rituals, dress it up and call it "music criticism." Does this extend to DJs in a music culture where the gatekeeper of music is raised above the creator? Sure it does. The desire to fuck a DJ, a "glorified jukebox" to borrow a term, is like desiring to fuck music itself. "You're not in love with Erol Alkan," my dear friend D tells me over dinner, listening to me listing obscure gems of a BTWS set like extolling a lover's charms. "You're in love with his record collection."

"What's wrong with that?" I shrug back. "It's a fantastic record collection."

But no, you're forced to choose. You can be a Serious Music Fan, or you can be a Groupie Slut Piece Of Meat. Because sex and music have no place together for a Nice Woman. (Despite the fact that the adulation of women is sold to men as one of the reasons to become a musician in the first place. This only reflects glory on the male, not on the women who respond to it.)

Want to be a woman in a male dominated field? You can either dress it up and play the sex card (so long as it's not in too threatening a way) or else you have to strip yourself of your sexuality, your sensuality, your gender.

It was Miss AMP who pointed it out to me, standing backstage at the Truck Festival 2006, watching the other bands play. We watched The Schla La Las, bouncing around in their matching cute dresses, then we watched The Organ, playing serious music in their serious jeans and their shapeless T-shirts. "Is that what you have to do, to be taken seriously?" Ampy wondered. Neuter yourself. Take out all the sex and the girly bits - even if it's sex and romance and pure girly glee that drive you to love - or even *make* music to start with?

No. I can't do it. I won't do it. I'm not a female eunuch. I will not neuter myself to make my fandom acceptable to anyone.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm Caught In A Trap

So I had to come clean about what I do for a living. I'm embarrassed to admit it. I mean, not *what* I do for a living - I'm quite proud of *what* I do, even though most of my friends don't entirely understand it - "some kind of mathematician" or "something to do with computers" is how I try to explain exactly what an "MI Analyst" actually does. But rather, *who* I work for.

But I can't ignore it any more. It's poisoning every aspect of my life at the moment, it's raised my baseline sensitivity to sexism and the double standard to such a high degree. It took me a while to work out what it was - it's not as if the world has suddenly got more sexist in the past three months or so. But what's changed is me. Something has opened up mine eyes and made me notice it more.

I work for a cosmetic surgery clinic. One of the big ones, one of the country-wide ones with ads in tube stations and Botox shops springing up like mushrooms in cities across the country. To the people who know me on any serious level, this comes as quite a shock - as my brother put it, "that's like a vegetarian working in a slaughterhouse."

I make my money from an organisation that mutilates women for a living. ("Mutilation is a pretty harsh word," mused one of my fellow Craft Guerrilla DJs. "I'm not sure I'd use it for anything less than, like, female circumcision." What on earth do you think cosmetic surgery is? We inject poisonous toxins into women's faces. We cut into healthy women's bodies.) Every working day of my life, I am enabling and even promoting something I believe to be intrinsically morally wrong.

The inherent sexism and double standard of this industry is in my face every day of my life - is it any wonder that I'm noticing it in every other aspect of my life?

I was desperate when I took this job - I couldn't find a permanent job for over a year after my redundancy. And yet the supreme irony is that the nature of this company partially helped me get the job in the first place. 80% of the staff - up to 100% in some of the clinics - is female. They *wanted* a female - someone who could understand them and communicate with them - in the IT Department, the only department in the company that was completely male.

And so here's me - this female who has rejected and fought against the straitjacket of gender roles, in order to make my way in the highly technical and male dominated world of IT - inside the belly of the beast I resent.

There's no way to escape it. I can't even bury myself in my IT cave and pretend that the numbers are numbers alone. The images follow me, haunt me - inflated silicone tits in the boardroom, liposuctioned abdomens in the marketing department. Run away to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and there's a branded mug with an expressionless botoxed face advertising "INSPIRING CONFIDENCE IN YOU!"

"Shut up, shut up, shut up," I want to scream at the mug. You want confidence? Learn a foreign language, climb a mountain, go skydiving, join a choir, take a class a class in water colour painting or car mechanics - or anything, except mutilate yourself. What did I do to inspire confidence in myself? I took up DJing again. I *like* making people dance - or rather, nod their heads and knit a little faster, which is what they do at Craft Guerrilla nights when they like what I play. Yesterday afternoon, I watched a beautiful, grey-haired, older woman nodding along as she painted at a corner table. What an amazing image, she seemed so powerful and so wise and creative, such a free spirit - I looked at her and wanted to be her. ("Mad as a loon" one of the organisers told me. I smirked and thought "My kind of lady!")

What can I do? The economy is too uncertain, my financial situation too perilous for me to quit. But I'm aware it's bloody money paying my mortgage and buying the very CDs I'm DJing with.

My female friends try to tell me it's OK. After all, "it's their choice, what foolish women do with their money and their bodies." But is it? I turn back to my sacred texts, my Holy Bibles, Naomi Wolf's "The Beauty Myth" and Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs." The vice, the trap that post-Sexual Revolution women are trapped in. You will be scrutinised and judged (in a perfectly legal way, according to the courts!) again and again, in every aspect of your lives - economic, cultural, sexual - on your appearance. Yet you will be dismissed as shallow, stupid, even the cause of your own oppression, if you care too much about it. Load the system against women in every way and yet blame them for the Catch 22 choices that they make.

I'm caught in a trap. I can't walk out. Because I love being financially independent and therefore liberated (by making money off an industry based on enslaving women to impossible and unattainable "Beauty" standards) too much, baby.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


A rather tangled blog post today, as I try to make sense of something. I was going to post something about this mediated vs. experienced, catholic vs. protestant, indie vs. DJ culture idea, but it's still not straight in my head. Instead, I started thinking about context. Perhaps it started with Alistair Fitchett's blog about twee yesterday, in which he railed on the way that C86 had had degenerated from a reaction against the "dominant culture, which was all about commerce and polish and a desperate rush into adulthood and responsibility" into this sort of wilfull infantilism based on lollipops and kittens.

I accused him of "moving the goalposts" in the way that he seemed to arbitrarily assign "indie-pop music he liked" as non-twee and "indie-pop music he didn't like" as twee. But that brought back the question of context - he's right, in 1986, no one used the term "C86" or "twee" - these things got codified later on, as canons only get defined later on, in retrospect.

But perhaps I have the same problem, when I come to address mine own personal music-of-childhood, shoegaze and its degeneration into "nu-gaze" I start to carp and groan like a cranky old woman myself.

I complain that nu-gaze takes all the kind of stylistic affectations and none of the substance of the original, completely ignoring everything I loved about it in the first place. (For instance, things that were so important to me at the time - the blurring of male and female - being supplanted by this trudging boring masculine display, bleurgh, but I've already talked about this before.)

But this always happens to genres when they become codified as such, doesn't it? When it stops being an exploration, a searching, an escape pod from the status quo that a few artists happen to be on together - and becomes just another blueprint. My same problem, again and again with the neo-psych scene. Irony of ironies. Neo-psych bands are always slavishly reproducing this retrofetishistic sound and complaining when things "aren't very 60s!" when the psych bands OF THE TIME were trying the latest technology and trying to go as far away from the present time as they could. The context has gone, and all we're left with is the artefact.

How much does art depend on its context? Is the hallmark of great art that it perfectly represents its context, or that it transcends it?

The great thing about this book I'm reading, Godel Escher Bach, is how many of the little allusions and allegories and metaphors end up sparking as much thought and mental intrigue as the thrust of the book itself. Almost in an aside, Hofstadter mentioned the idea of records being sent off on probes into space - would an alien recognise Bach as being a crafted piece of art designed to elicit an emotional response? Now how about John Cage's 4'33? So much of the meaning of Cage's work, he posited, only makes sense in the context of late 20th Century music, and its reaction to the hundreds of years of canon of "Classical Music" that went before. Context.

Kind of like Fitchett's thoughts on why the Pastels and the June Brides "WEREN'T" twee, right?

So I suppose that the nu-gazers of today are justified in just getting out their Shoegaze(tm) brand effects pedals and dialling up a certain specific *sound* rather than using and abusing equipment to break down boundaries, blend sounds, explore sonic textures - all those things that *I* associate with the concept of shoegaze. Because without the context, that's all that's left, a document, a template to be copied.

And I go elsewhere for my smeary textures and my drowned beats. Three guesses where I've gone...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Debate vs. Fight: FITE!

Here is a terrible secret. I love to argue. Well, it's not really a secret, is it? I enjoy a good debate with a well matched and respectful opponent the same way I enjoy a good game of ping-pong, in fact that's exactly what it is, a verbal game of ping pong. It's playful, challenging, and, in a really good game/debate, hopefully edifying.

However, I hate to fight. It makes me angry and tense and deeply unhappy and makes me want to curl up in a ball with my hedgehog spines out and never speak to anyone ever again.

What's the difference?

Well, therein lies the quandary. It's often very, very hard to tell the difference, especially on the internet. And the problem is, one's opponents may not even understand the difference between a debate and a fight, and launch from one to the other without a moment's notice.

Like many people of my class and education level, I was taught to debate at school - although I was never actually in a debating society, I was certainly part of a philosophy society that used to place some of our discussions in the terms of formal debate. Logic and Rhetoric, point, counterpoint, rebuttal, summation - they are ancient models from the Classical world and the legal system. It was kind of like learning a martial art without getting hurt.

I suppose therein lies the crux of the matter - that what separates a debate from a fight is when people get hurt. It was one of the first points taught, when I was learning how to debate - you debate the topic, not the person. Ad hominem attacks - that is, personal attacks on the participant, rather than the views expressed - are simply not allowed.

The problem is, real life doesn't always work this way. One tends to form a fairly wholistic view of a person, comprised of their past as well as their present behaviour, one's knowledge of their "character" - and all of this colours one's perception of whether their argument is valid or not.

Of course, there is the opposite end of the spectrum - those who view *any* conflict at all as disrespectful, wrong and something to be avoided. I have a real problem with this viewpoint. For a start, I was raised with was the idea that actually taking the time to debate with someone was a sign of respect, that you respect them enough to listen to their views and take them seriously. I was raised to constantly question things, to examine them, to take them to pieces and see how they work. Again, this is class and culture - the whole Protestant view of questioning and examining. What I took away from my religious education was that a belief which could not be examined, discussed, probed and maybe even contradicted was not a belief that was held very strongly at all.

Until, that is, someone starts treading on your most cherished beliefs. I suppose the answer, then, is never debate on the internet about anything you actually are emotionally engaged about? What kind of attitude is that? Self protection, or the short path to closed mindedness?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Disco 9000

OK, I admit, I wanted to hate them. It's funny how I've been accused of this before - people saying that I walk into a situation wanting to dislike something, because I've dared to diss some artist they love. (Usually what this means is that they've decided in advance to dislike my opinions because they've already made up their minds about *me*.)

But there's a 20 piece drum circle set up in the middle of the Coronet, with some dead-eyed hippie witch moaning in a microphone and yes, fuck me, but I *want* to hate them. The girl starts to shake, starts to stalk around the circle, her low guttural moaning turning to wailing as the drumming grows more intense, her whole body shaking with the sounds rising up from deep inside of her, as if she's channelling something older and more powerful and immensely more in pain than her tiny hipster frame suggests. It's spine-tingling and soul-rending, like the voice of Diamanda Galas emanating from a child. Who the fuck is this girl? The drum circle hang on her every word - she's not dancing to them, she CONTROLS them, with a flick her stick-like arms, a stare from her devil-eyes. Suddenly the drum circle stops being a cliche, and I realise the power of unaccompanied drums en masse - war drums, drums for dancing - oh. Not wardrums. Peacedrums. It's Wildbirds and Peacedrums. Just drums and voice, and it's shaking the building to its foundations - the crowd pull out their own percussion - housekeys being the instrument of choice, and it's like a weird invocation to the god of keys, something primitive and primal.

(And my dream of learning to play drums, abandoned in the lack of a rehearsal space, swells to life again.)

Chrome Hoof - christ, they take a long time to go on. I'm old and my back hurts and I can't stand for that long any more. Are they applying their spacesuits with airbrushes and waiting for them to dry. But as the silver costumes start to glint at the back of the stage, annoyance turns to anticipation. In their presence, I revert instantly to childlike wonder. How else can you respond to a 13-piece alien space orchestra in holographic robes and silver jumpsuits, with terrifying chrome fembot dancers? The music makes me insane, makes me leap about, punch the air, scream my head off, disbelief not just suspended but shredded, abandoned, as totally unnecessary.

Where to even start beginning to describe their music? Disco, heavy metal, funk, glam rock, prog, psychedelic-space-soul - oh, I give up. Equal parts Funkadalic and Metallica at their most classical wig-out with a good helping of Hawkwind and maybe even the glamdrogynous amazonia of Grace Jones? No, I fucking give up. Forget all those mawkish tube ads about "diversity" - this is London at its mixed-up mashed-up crazy best. They're not black or white, they're SILVER. They're not male or female, they're some kind of robot alien hybrid of priest and empress-queen-goddess.

The disco throb of Tonyte. The big, hulking, bad smelling doom metal of Death Is Certain. The swinging Carnival brass-stabbing scronk of Circus 9000 broken by swooping orchestral flourishes of violin, as a woman in an Egyptian cat headdress and a silver jumpsuit begs "Open, let me cut you!"

It's showy, it's shiny, it's ridiculous and pretentious and awe-inspiring all in equal measures. A circus atmosphere prevails, heightened when a man dressed as a pantomime white horse appears in the centre of the stage to spout bad poetry. This, however, is the only misstep of the night, performance artist Marcus Coates. Mostly he rolls around on the floor making guttural noises that seem to have more in common with the scary tramp at the top of Brixton Hill who shouts at busses than some kind of shamanistic ritual. Come on, this is Chrome Hoof. Try to "out-WEIRD" Chrome Hoof and you will only end up looking like a TWAT. I want the alien space queen in the shiny silver jumpsuit to come back out and EAT HIS SOUL.

So of course she does! And we're back to the happy madness. The metal Chrome Hoof monster makes a momentary appearance, as if he's stumbled into the wrong robot monster convention and then backs out, leaving his worshipers crying after him. They tease us and come back to play encore after encore, extended heavy drum and bass solos (and I mean the instruments, though I've no doubt they could swallow, digest and regurgitate the musical genre whole in their own inimitable style, should they choose to.)

And out we spill into the night, there's even a 333 waiting at my bus stop, and the driver lets me on early to get out of the rain. Did the Elephant and Castle need this ritual? Thank you, South London doesn't need anyone's patronisation or attempts at revival, it is its own thing, it moves to its own rhythms. It's a patchwork and a mess, it's always been unfashionable and slightly out of step, like the ugly stillborn twin of the City - as long ago as the Dark Ages, the South Bank was the province of thieves and actors, free from the legislation of the City. Do I see my city differently as my bus rumbles the familiar road from the Elephant to Brixton and home to Streatham? No. I've *always* seen my South London as different.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

A Very Long Post About Fandom, Feminism and Internet Communities

I've been going over this over and over in my head, so perhaps I just need to write it out, just to stop my brain from going back and forth over it like a stuck bit of machinery.

So I left another internet forum over the past few days. (Why is this a big deal? Oh come on, if you have to ask, just hit that little X in the upper left or right hand corner of your browser and go get off the internet and play in the sunshine or have a life or something. I don't have much of a life. I'm stuck in an office for 9 hours a day, and my little window on the outside world that passes for a social life is the internet, and messageboards play a big part in that interaction.)

I've always been quite melodramatic and a bit larger than life on the internet - perhaps in a tiny way it's like being onstage, it's like a version of yourself both more exaggerated/distorted and yet utterly more true to the internal life of the mind. I've become aware that this seems to have a polarising effect on the people around me - it makes some people fiercely devoted to me, hopefully as friends (but unfortunately, sometimes as weird stalkers) - but it equally makes some people loathe me. Them's the breaks.

Anyway, that said, I left the Erol Alkan forum over the past few days.

Obsessive fandom is a funny beast, I'm not sure I entirely understand it, though it's been one of my driving forces for most of my life and I've spent nearly 30 years studying it from inside and out. It's that potent combination of both idolising someone, of admiring them, identifying with them, wanting to make yourself more like the positive aspects of them - but also mixed in with heavy lashings of desire and quasi-romantic... love? (If you can actually love someone you have created in your own mind from bits of public image.) It's complicated.

I was out DJing at 93 Feet East on Tuesday night (DJing is something I used to do quite a bit when I was younger, and had forgotten how much I enjoyed it - I think it's a positive force of this fandom that has made me take it up again) - it was exciting, because I'd had my name and my photo in the paper, which was quite a shock, but immensely flattering. So I rocked home at 1 in the morning, slightly drunk and very hyped up (it's a form of performance in itself) - get online to find that this man, my idol's MySpace profile image has changed to an image of a teenage girl, with her tits out, and Erol's name scrawled across her chest.

My first reaction was one of revulsion - of disgust and disappointment.

I mean, maybe this is projection. One of the reasons that I've avoided getting into dance culture (despite being intrigued and attracted by the music, the textures, the production values) for so long, is that I find the whole culture that goes along with it, especially in the UK, utterly abhorrant - it's a hyper-masculinised world of Lads Magazine cliches - naked birds, loads of flesh, truckloads of drugs. SO not me.

One of the reasons that I respected Erol Alkan in the first place was because he seemed to be the absolute anthesis of all that - that he stood for integrity, for intelligence.

So to log on and see this man I'd admired, using this imagery as part of his promotion? I was furious. It made me want to totally reevaluate my fandom. Because let's face it, my fandom isn't the ordinary "ooh, I quite like this..." sort, it's of the writing about it, telling my friends about it, organising fan meetups and even making crowdsourced fan merchandise kind of obsessive fandom. And I was in the midst of trying to organise a run of custom t-shirts. (This involves a huge amount of work and time and coordination - commissioning the printing, picking up the order, posting it - it's worth it, when you go to a gig and see people wearing your shirts, but let's not pretend it's not a huge effort.)

So, looking at this image - and, more importantly, reading the responses of the lads on this forum - I just felt my heart sink. I left some drunken screeds on the messageboard, sent him an angry tweet, saying I thought he had more integrity than that (not really expecting to ever speak to him again) and cancelled the t-shirt order, refunding the money of everyone who had purchased one.

And then all hell broke loose.

Did I "overreact" as Erol suggested? (Though of course, being Sensitive Indie Male, he "understands" where I'm coming from.) I have poor impulse control, especially when slightly drunk or extremely emotionally triggered. I regret, perhaps, the way I expressed it, but I don't regret my actual actions.

Especially in the light of what happened afterwards - the internet forum started with stupid childish banter, and degenerated into more and more nasty and personal attacks, both on me, and on "Feminazism" in general, until finally Erol himself stepped in and told people to step off. I knew I was going to get shit for what I said - but I had no idea quite how personal it was going to get. (Why am I always shocked by how savage humans behave behind the quasi-anonymity of the internet?) I asked to be banned from the forum - mainly because I know what I'm like, when I get a bee in my bonnet about something, I find it very difficult to walk away from an argument I really believe in. And this argument, in this setting, was a losing battle from the start.

I know that Feminism isn't popular and it isn't fashionable - if anything, it's seen as a little outdated, a little "puritan" perhaps. Feminism has had a lot of bad press over the years, but it's still at the very core of my beliefs. I hold this truth to be self evident - that men and women are equals, that they deserve to be treated equally.

I don't have a problem with sex - for gods sake, anyone who knows me more than casually knows that I'm a lusty beast, and I honestly believe that looking at attractive members of your preferred gender is one of the most pleasurable experiences life has to offer. I don't know how anyone could read any of the 76 pages of the Gurl Thread that I started, and think I was, in any way, anti-sex, or a puritan.

What I have a problem with goes beyond "objectification" - it's the COMMODIFICATION of womens bodies (and it's always womens bodies). The reduction of females to their secondary sexual characteristics, and the use of those disempersoned body parts to sell products - especially when they advertise the personnas, the branding of A MALE artist.

(As I actually asked Erol - would *he* ever appear in promotional photos with a similar theme, half naked, with slogans daubed on his chest? Of course he wouldn't. The joke fell a bit flat, and that's when he started calling the suggestion "violent in design" but it was a genuine question, that pointed to the double standard nature of the whole discussion.)

Because this works on two levels - not just the reduction of women to de-personned objects - but also the reenforcement of the stereotype that THIS is the true role of the female in the music industry. An accessory - a commodity that the male buys through his enhanced social status as a performer. What message does it give to fans? You want The Idol's attention? If you're a man - record a mix, produce a record, come up with some music. If you're a woman? Get your tits out.

To his great credit, Erol did actually email me personally and we talked about it - the simple act of his having a dialogue about it reaffirmed my belief in his integrity.

However, as to the messageboard? I have no interest in returning there.

It's not the first time I've been in a row there - maybe I'm used to a different level of internet discourse about music, raise as I've been on the twin bitch of ILXor and the playful intellectualism of Careless Talk Costs Lives/Plan B. I can understand that people might have different interpretations of music, and argue over there - but that messageboard was the first place I was ever dissed for *thinking* about music on a more than superficial level in the first place.

I knew that whatever I said was going to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, that the double standard would come out again and again, that the innocent flirtations of the Gurl Thread would be used as a stick to beat me with. I've butted my head against the inherent sexism and double standards of that board, practically from day one (for the first month I posted there, because I hung out mainly on the technical production forum, people actually assumed that I was a gay male rather than face the idea that a girl could know anything about DJing, music production, or have an encyclopaedic knowledge of bands and artists.)

I didn't pick my battles wisely. I picked my battle pretty stupidly, and that I regret. But for my beliefs, and the principles behind what I did, I will not apologise.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Anger Is An Energy

I couldn't believe it. I rewrote that email twice, trying to soften it, trying to make it less angry, less strident, less... you know, shrill.

And yet the answer still comes back, calling it "violent in design."

You know what that means. The person may understand your points, may even agree with some of them, but the sheer fact of your anger (justifiable though it may be) means that they can totally justify not responding to them.

Classic marginalising tactic, isn't it?

I'm feeling a bit weepy today, have just burst into tears twice on the way to work - the first time, over that email, the second time over Frances May Morgan's article in the last Plan B about learning to box. Funny, there she is, talking about the unacceptability of female anger and aggression and competitiveness, relating it to the work of Marnie Stern and Bat For Lashes. One quote, about a Natasha Khan interview where she expressed a desire to box, leapt out at me: "The exchange is revealing of a musician who has the drive of a sportswoman but who cloaks it in a dressing-up-box aesthetic because an ethereal woman is more acceptable than a tough one."

I don't know why that passage made me burst into tears, but it did. Because I'm the archetypical tough girl, demanding girl, intellectual girl, ANGRY girl - and I've just had it rubbed in my face by my idol how unacceptable this is.

What's so wrong with anger?

Well, it's obvious, isn't it. Apart from the price paid in terms of social interactions and compromising your own authority, there's the physiological implications, the stress, the high blood pressure, the stomach ulcers. Not to mention the psychological effects - that long term anger turns inwards, turns to resentment and sullenness and depression.

But that ignores a very pressing and important fact - anger *IS* an energy, it's a spur to action, an incitement, sometimes even an inspiration.

Sometimes I say that anger is the only reason I'm even still alive. That I exist - or rather, carry on existing, rather than giving up to suicide or worse - simply to prove other people wrong. The very fact of my life is a continued FUCK YOU to the people who told me I couldn't. Tell me that I CAN not do something (or rather, may not, according to societal rules about what women may and may not do) and I'll fucking DO IT just to prove you wrong.

A story from my childhood that I had totally forgotten: When my mother was finally ordained to full priesthood (and finally given her own parish) the mother of one of my childhood friends got in touch to congratulate her. "I always thought it would be Kate that would be ordained, though," she mused. "Why?" my mother demanded, surprised at this knowledge, given my feelings on organised religion. This friend recounted a story about me, aged about 9, in our local church, being told by the vicar that I could not be an acolyte, as only boys could be acolytes. Apparently, I looked him straight in the eye, nodded, and informed him "Fine, in that case, when I grow up, *I'M* going to be a PRIEST."

Clearly, I didn't. I grew up to be a computer programmer, a musician, a producer, a DJ, a music journalist, a digital artist, and all these other things that women Aren't Supposed To Do. But that spirit of that defiant little girl has never left me - tell me that I can't do something, and my anger provides the necessary impetus to get up and get on and bloody well do it.

So this is why I don't let go of my anger, why instead, I try to channel it, divert it instead of repress it. And why, when someone tries to write me off as "angry, shrill bitch" or "violent in design" or whatever - my response is, fuck you. My anger is the reason I'm even here.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Green Beard Festival

So I briefly thought about breaking my tent-ban and going to a festival this summer. WHY?! my friends ask in shock disbelief. Because, you know, I'm a slave to my hormones and the current Object Of My Obsession aka Beyond The Wizards Sleeve only seem to be playing festivals this summer - and there was the promise of four hours of groovy psychedelia with proper psych lighting and projections and everything. Nobody's Prawn and Emsk said that they were both thinking of going, so I started to consider it.

So I start looking at the lineup. I even go on the website and start paging down through the little photos and descriptions of the other bands. First thing I notice - crikey, it's beardy. The Animal Collective - possibly the most beardy music of all time. It even sounds hairy. Jarvis Cocker, he's got a beard now, you know. Wilco. Beard City. Bon Iver, Roky Erikson, man, look at those beards. I keep paging. It's so fucking beardy I can start to feel my ovaries shrivelling and my tits drying up and falling off as I read, massive hairs sprouting from my chin.

And then it strikes me.

I start playing a game, counting the beards. I count 10 photos before I see a face that isn't WASPy white. 15 before I see an actual woman.

Is this an aberration? Is this a bit weird? I look at some other independent festivals for comparison, just reading the names in their ads. Field Day? 1. Mogwai - yeah, beardy, white, male 2. Santigold - WIN. Turn the page, an ad for the Loop Festival. 1. Squarepusher 2. Fever Ray - WIN

So WTF, Green Man? I guess the clue is in the name, isn't it?

Why do I even notice this? What strikes me as odd is that more people DON'T.

Am I weird, that when I walk into a situation, I kinda subconsciously seem to scan and notice whether the people I'm looking at - you know - resemble me. Yes, I know I'm already one up on the privilege loop, since I am white. (Though I've certainly had enough of the immigrant experience to understand what it is to be Other in a homogenous group.) If the genders were reversed, and there was a festival where the first 15 headline acts were ALL female, do you think that would go unnoticed, uncommented on? (Though I'm not sure such a festival would exist outside a Ladyfest.) Doesn't that strike you as, well... lopsided!

The irony being, I did actually have this exact argument with Richard from BTWS the night I met him. (Unfortunately rather too drunk to make much sense.) I complained that they were rather leaving the female side of the 60s out of their equations - play some Selda, play some Shocking Blue, the Rattles, Francois Hardy, Marianne Faithfull, Amon Duul II. He shrugged and said "I don't listen to gender, I just listen to music. It doesn't matter to me if it's a man or a woman." How are you supposed to respond to that? I drew a rather filthy comic and thrust it across the decks - a picture of a nude woman with Spacemen 3 logos for genitalia with the slogan "IF IT DOESN'T MATTER IF IT'S A MAN OR A WOMAN, WHY IS IT *ALWAYS* A MAN?"

He laughed, handed it to Erol - so I snatched it back and ran away before he could turn the page and find, erm, inappropriate drawings of himself - but they did start to make with the groovy girls.

OK, why do I notice this? Do I go looking for all male exclusivity? Or, in the case of this festival, was I just looking through the bands and wondering why none of the acts appealed enough to me to make it worthwhile camping in Wales. I prefer the sound of the female voice - that's merely an aethsetic judgement, not a political one.

Could I make mine own little indie festival, just to make me happy? Oh, who shall I have headlining? Electrik Red, M.I.A., Bat For Lashes, School of Seven Bells, Telepathe, Ebony Bones, Bishi, Micachu and the Shapes. Oh, whoops! I seem to have forgotten to book any men. Oh, let's get Erol Alkan down as a bit of eye candy for the ladies, but we'll make him do everything backwards and in heels - and make sure we're extra condescending as we ask "oh, do you need any help being shown how to use those decks, love?" and oh, we've got a man now, so you can't accuse me of being sexist! For the Mumrock contingent, oh, let's have a good nostalgic blast of... Madonna! Woot! And dust off Marianne Faithfull and Ronnie Spector for the grans.

Yes, I'm just being silly now. But what if. What if?

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