International Women’s Day 2017 – A Soundtrack

As each IWD comes to pass, I find myself more enamoured with the women in my life – friends, family, and acquaintances I admire from afar. They’re as reliable a support network as I could ever dream of having and my primary day to day inspiration. From friends who use their talents to promote the causes we share a passion for, to a mother who became my best friend in adulthood, my early 20s are proving to be happily woman-centric.

We are resilient, warm, and unapologetic (or working on it, if you’re me). We listen and we strive to cultivate an intersectional approach to not just our feminism but our lives – because really, they’re one and the same. We’re often too humble, admonishing our own instinctive lean towards modesty, but we are always learning to recognise our shortcomings and blind spots. To be emotional, and let that define us if we like, but also realise that it’s optional. We notice that as women we carry an innate hesitance to just say without disclaimer, to be perceived attaching authority to our opinions, and so we are driven to make a living from doing just that. Our arts and our sciences are essential, but they are not as effective a tool as our day to day solidarity.

***

I was raised by a woman, but I was also raised by music. My dad was very musical, and I’m sure I absorbed some of that, but it played a smaller role in my mum’s life. This meant that after his passing, while my mum had her favourites (The Monkees, Meatloaf, and Al Green off the top of my head) I was in the musical driver’s seat. From a very young age I sought out the sounds and thoughts of those worlds away from me, feasting on any genre I had access to. In terms of what I liked, the requirements were about as loose as they are now: whether it was a beat that facilitated the many hours I would spend self-choreographing round the living room (this also hasn’t changed), lyrics that made sense of my confused preteen feelings, or opinions that I had never been exposed to, I wanted it all.

And so, while I attempt to carve out a place for myself as a writer, the most precious form of expression to me will always be music. I’m competent in a couple of instruments, but I’ve never had the guts to put my words to them, so my respect for those who do – and who do so successfully – is boundless. It’s a privilege to be able to indulge in the arts but some genres were also borne out of necessity, an avenue for minorities and working class people to escape the confines of poverty and oppression, giving a voice to the experiences of themselves and others like them.

That’s why it seems fitting to recognise International Women’s Day with a compilation of my favourite tracks celebrating womanhood. Some I have loved my whole life, while some are more recent discoveries. Some are widely respected and critically acclaimed, while the inclusion of others could almost certainly be effectively torn apart in longform by VICE. No matter, because the flavours of womanhood are limitless.

Please do let me know if you have any tracks to add, for I’m always on the look out.

Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y.

 

Starting off with a classic. Queen Latifah defiantly touches on misogyny, cat calling, domestic violence and her experiences as a black woman at the hands of men in her community.

 

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

 

No feminist music collection can be complete without recognising the riot grrrl movement, particularly if you grew up on punk rock. ‘When she talks, I hear the revolution/In her hips, there’s revolutions/When she walks, the revolution’s coming/In her kiss, I taste the revolution.’

 

 

Christina Aguilera – Can’t Hold Us Down

 

This was, if my memory serves me, the very first song to put feminism on my radar. I adored Christina and remember using pocket money to buy a copy of Stripped, which I kept on rotation in our living room stereo for years. At such a young age I couldn’t fully comprehend the microaggressions being referred to on this track, on-the-nose as it is, but the overall message is one that stuck with me. ‘So what am I not supposed to have an opinion?/Should I be quiet just because I’m a woman?/Call me a bitch ’cause I speak what’s on my mind/Guess it’s easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled.’

 

 

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

 

From one of the most important punk rock albums of our time. Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as a trans woman didn’t transform the scene which likes to think of itself as more progressive than it is, but hell did she have an impact. As well as being a bloody great band, Laura’s activism for trans and feminist causes means that Against Me! is more punk than you could ever dream of being. Should be required listening for anyone claiming to be intersectional. ‘You’ve got no cunt in your strut/You’ve got no hips to shake/And you know it’s obvious/But we can’t choose how we’re made/.’

 

Jhené Aiko – Spotless Mind

 

I’m a huge fan of Jhené, and this track really speaks to me in terms of self acceptance and emotional growth. Combined with the video, it reassures me that as a woman I have the right to be whoever I want to be, in as many different ways as I like and in as many different ways as I can’t yet predict. ‘Shame on me for changing? Shame on you for staying the same.’

 

Kimya Dawson – I Like Giants

 

A voice and style immediately recognisable to those of us who went through a Moldy Peaches phase – or saw a few minutes of Juno – this is a typically lovely track about perspective and self worth. A reassuring rub on the shoulder in sonic form. ‘I like giants, especially girl giants/’Cause all girls feel too big sometimes, regardless of their size.’

 

 

Beyoncé – ***Flawless

 

Well obviously. With feminism woven into all of her output these days, I could really pick any Yoncé track from the last two albums – but this is certainly the most blatant, with an excerpt monologue from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in case you didn’t get the message the first thousand times. It’s Bey’s world and we’re living in it. (This is also why she won’t appear on the playlist I put together alongside this post – if it’s Tidal or bust, I’m out.)

 

Paramore – Ain’t It Fun

 

This track’s message might not be overtly feminist (check out Anklebiters which definitely fits the bill), but of this list it’s probably closest to my heart for how it continues to help me embrace emotional resilience. Its dry-witted musings never grow stale or irrelevant, and I dare say that my generation (specifically girls of the alt-music persuasion) would be very different had we not grown up in Hayley’s shadow, despite her missteps along the way. It’s unfortunate that she stands relatively alone as a woman of her level of success in the genre, but she is phenomenal. ‘Ain’t it fun living in the real world? Ain’t it good being all alone?’

 

 

Salt-N-Pepa – None of Your Business

 

Another early ’90s classic, this track calls out the double standards of perceived promiscuity before ‘slut shaming’ appeared in a single think piece. It even features a message of support for sex workers, even if lacking in nuance. ‘If I want to take a guy home with me tonight, it’s none of your business/And if she wants to be a freak and sell it on the weekend, it’s none of your business.’

 

Sleater-Kinney – #1 Must Have

 

Another band to grow out of the riot grrrl movement, this track sees Sleater-Kinney decry the watering down of feminism in the name of capitalism and marketing – a grievance which is no less relevant today, nearly two decades after its release. ‘And I think that I sometimes might have wished/For something more than to be a size six/But now my inspiration rests/In-between my beauty magazines and my credit card bills.’

 

Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)

 

A treasure of hip hop and neo-soul, it seems apt to end with Lauryn Hill and this anthem for female confidence. Detailing the difficulties of relationships and the additional burdens carried by women, Hill insists: ‘Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem, baby girl.’

 

 

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I Love Pop Punk, and That’s Why the Scene Needs to Die

slam dunk 2012 wristband

I have had a draft sitting on this account for months, decorated with half-formed thoughts on the Parker Cannon drop kick incident and where it stood within the culture of the scene. It lay unfinished primarily through anger – I rely on being able to write to express myself, yet in this instance I found myself in the grip of a frustration-based writer’s block. No matter how many rewrites and phrase alterations, I couldn’t articulate why I had grown to feel only contempt for a community which shaped my adolescence.

My first foray into pop punk, punk rock, or whatever you’d like to call it (by “the scene” I also refer to post-rock, emo, etc.: it’s the people who make a difference, not the niches) happened when I was around 9 or 10. My mum was childminding full-time, and the dad of one of the kids brought me a couple of burned CDs one evening when picking his daughter up. I have a lot to thank the man for (Jim Bailey, you’re a hero) – that introduction to music via Dookie and The Green Album defined the next decade of my life. In 2005 I discovered Fall Out Boy, and in 2015 I had some of their lyrics tattooed on my shoulder. I found friends, love, and a community through going to shows. I moved in with a guy whose band shirt collection looked like Jason Tate’s inbox. I spent days on trains, on buses, and in cars travelling up and down the country for gigs. Friends I made at my first Fall Out Boy show in 2007 are still good friends, and coming to stay with me for their set at Bellahouston Park this month. I saw The Wonder Years play to 20 or 30 people in Ivory Black’s in 2009, and had the time of my life seeing them at Stereo a couple of weeks ago. Slam Dunk North gave me some of the happiest memories I’ll ever have. I saw bands like Set Your Goals, Fireworks, and Four Year Strong on the same bills, and when they were actually in their prime – a notion which is very much a thing of the past. I made life-changing decisions during New Found Glory sets. I went to a Jacks Mannequin show and saw Andrew play Watch The Sky. My high school English folders were covered in Get Up Kids, The Movielife, American Football and Brand New lyrics. I was lucky enough to visit the States, and picked cities based on where the musicians I respected most had gleaned inspiration. I got to know Glasgow through its wealth of live music, and ultimately decided to get myself out of high school after fifth year and to university through there, which is the best choice I ever made. The music I grew up on really shaped everything.

And now, I hate it. The majority of the bands which were the fabric of the scene have disbanded or are dormant, and the ones which are left are either shadows of what they once were or are assaulting their fans. The scene discourse now centres almost exclusively on the inappropriate behaviour of men given power by their place in it. As a woman I feel wholly uncomfortable with the culture that exists within the genre, and am happy to be mostly removed from it.

This scene is one which has always boasted about itself as a champion of equality, but it’s really just a boy’s club like everything else. Straight white guys wear Hostage Calm ‘I support same sex marriage’ shirts and pat themselves on the back for it, pleased that they’ve done their bit. Parker Cannon can violently kick a fan off stage, with countless voices insisting that she deserved it and with The Story So Far remaining one of the biggest bands still around. Warped is the best representation of the scene we have, Kevin Lyman claiming that inclusivity and safety for (primarily female!) fans are priorities, while pro-life stalls are given a space on the tour. It took almost ten years of involvement for me to realise that the role I had perceived myself and other women to have in pop punk was entirely toxic. Women highlight the imbalance in genders represented on stage at shows, and men argue that girls just aren’t as interested in starting bands. And that might be the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of my relationship with the scene – I could count on one hand the number of guys I know who went so far as having an opinion when someone prominent in pop punk was shown to have been sexually inappropriate with a minor. If that had been different, I might have felt a fire in my belly and been obliged to stick around to make a change to the environment which I know so well – but most are silent. I usually interpret this to mean they want to defend the successful guy in question, but know better. If you don’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem in pop punk, know that it at least appears that you don’t care. Your privilege lies in your ability to distance yourself from this. For the rest of us, we’re not bringing this up because we enjoy a good discussion – we’re talking through our lived experiences. Pop punk is a microcosm of patriarchy to an extent which it absolutely does not have to be.

The scene is in a weird place these days, though, diluted and struggling for relevancy; in a way, it’s reminiscent of what was to be witnessed in the time between kids obsessing over Living Well Is The Best Revenge and kids getting The Upsides tattoos. The wind is changing direction, and today’s Kerrang! generation is more interested in the lo-fi sensibilities of Moose Blood, The Hotelier and Modern Baseball. There was a certain identity associated with the crop of bands which really exploded around 2009, though – pop punk branded itself very well at that point – and to me, that’s something which is missing now. It seems more like something happened when pop punk met The Wave, and now we’re left with the crumbs of whatever that created; free of any formula, and yet somehow still a little bland and unimaginative.

Maybe pop punk is dying, and maybe that’s okay. Big league legacy bands like New Found Glory have enough ground to stand on no matter what goes on around them, so we needn’t worry about losing the bands that are worth holding on to. Maybe what’s happening now is downtime for us to reassess our priorities, elevate our women, and educate the next generation of bands before we put them in a place of authority above crowds of impressionable fans. I think that’s what we need. The next Dan Campbell will be here before long.

 

 

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, June 2016.

Fresh from the buzz of his deeply revered ‘Ultralight Beam’ verse, Chance still knows how to play the game independently and cultivate his own success through a commitment to authenticity. While The Life of Pablo was tagged a gospel album by another of Chicago’s sons, Coloring Book really delivers on this front – with ubiquitous choir runs, organs, and wall-to-wall references to Christianity, this release sees Chance reach a notably more content and hopeful standing without sacrificing the introspection integral to his style of stream-of-consciousness hip hop. Dipping into elements of soul, r&b, house (‘All Night’) and the uncharacteristically straightforward, dozy strain of hip hop heard on ‘Mixtape’, Coloring Book is a vibrant kaleidoscope of sounds which is always changing but never confused. While showcasing a list of impressive features (e.g. Kanye, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Future), none have a particularly significant impact on Coloring Book’s dynamic; Chance’s strongest release to date finds its strength in his vision alone. It’s difficult to imagine that signing with any of the countless major labels desperate for Chance’s business would benefit his artistry much, and this release is part of a career built almost entirely on music released for free or streaming only. As Coloring Book reminds us from the outset – music’s all we got.

Frightened Rabbit (live review) – The Art School, Glasgow, 08/03/16

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, March 2016.

Having been given just a week or so’s notice, we are gathered in a full-to-capacity room in the Art School to bear witness to the least-secret secret show Glasgow has seen in a long time. It’s impressive, really, that entirely unknown act ‘FootShooters’ has managed to sell out the place with next to no promotion. What may have worked in their favour, however, is that everyone with a Twitter account (or the Winter of Mixed Drinks track list) is well aware that gracing the stage tonight is the folk-tinged indie rock outfit known as Frightened Rabbit.
Frabbit haven’t played a gig in two years, but it doesn’t show – consistently tight, they’re one of few bands who regularly pull off making their material sound even better live than it does on record. Frontman Scott Hutchison remains a notably sunny character between performing songs which are generally, well, pretty devastating – joking that “you’re Frightened Rabbit fans, you can’t have been that good” after asking the audience how they’d been during the absence. The new tracks sound incredibly promising, marking a growth in sound to the sleeker side of things.
The band gesture their gratitude before leaving the stage and it seems that everyone – this qmunicate reporter included – is adamant that the show isn’t over yet, standing around patiently while some hopefuls throw around ‘The Loneliness And The Scream’ whoa-ohs which would typically be carried down the stairs and out into the rainy evening following a Frabbit set. But the lights go up, stage techs begin to deconstruct the set and there is an air of genuine confusion. Clocking in at less than an hour on stage, it’s difficult not to be left feeling somewhat unsatisfied by tonight’s show, as excellent as it was; thankfully an upcoming album release means they’ll likely be back soon, and hopefully with a few more songs in tow.

The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (album review)

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, March 2016.

 

It would be very easy to write off The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of itThe 1975 as a product of the vacuous hype machine, a band victim to its own celebrity or, well, any of the accusations presented in the video for latest single ‘The Sound’ in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek package – but the indie-pop cool kids have delivered a record with merits enough to demand the cynics sit down and take them seriously. Building on the formula of their previous full-length release but improving in nearly every way, I Like It When You Sleep… is a realisation of the band’s layered, colourful potential. They get away with everything they almost certainly shouldn’t – 17 tracks, including interludes, which fly by; lyrics like “you look shit and you smell a bit”; and a noticeable lack of potential singles in comparison with previous efforts. Dripping with ‘80s synth licks and beautifully produced, there is an honesty and authenticity to the album which, while characteristic of The 1975, is particularly arresting here – there is a real sense of Healy holding a magnifying glass to himself, and the album benefits from it.  Ranging from the depths of electro-melancholy (‘Somebody Else’) to playful grooves (‘Love Me’), The 1975 have crafted their own world in order to take over ours.

Halsey [live review] – O2 Academy, Glasgow 19/02/16

  

With tonight’s show originally billed for the ABC before being upgraded due to phenomenal demand, the sticky floors of the Academy are full to absolute capacity for Halsey (otherwise known as Ashley Frangipane) to make her Scottish live debut. To describe Halsey as an artist coasting on hype, however, would be to do her a disservice; she very much owes the internet for her discovery and accelerated success, certainly, but the release of 2015’s Badlands (acknowledged by many as a defining pillar in the current wave of moody electropop) and the long list of impressive collaborations and tour spots under her belt confirm that her art has legs to stand on. Currently in the process of emerging as something of a cultural icon, too, Halsey embodies the values of today’s younger music consumer – outspoken, tuned into social issues and unapologetic in her expression of self, but with an advantage on many in the industry as, at just 21 years old, she speaks as part of the generation driving this shared conscience.

That sense of being simultaneously one-of-us and somewhat alien – ethereal, even – is most definitely present during her time on stage tonight, shaved head and thigh-high boots setting a striking silhouette against relentless backlighting. Gasoline serves as a fitting introduction to the set, Halsey’s distinctive timbre asking: ‘Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?’ in a way which would feel as personal as a whisper were it not for the audience’s volume overpowering her, suggesting that they believe they indeed are and have been. Barely stopping to breathe between tracks, Halsey launches through the majority of her album material with a stage presence that seems almost carnal, crouching and weaving and as desperate for connection as the swell of hands reaching towards her from feet below. A small backing band helps the songs pack more of a punch than their recorded counterparts, though the vocal track used through meatier sections can sometimes be enough to pull you out of the performance momentarily. Fortunately, there’s no risk of this raising questions regarding Halsey’s vocal competency as her voice remains solid throughout the rest of the show, guttural and dulcet all at once.

Where many pop acts struggle to find the balance between visuals which reach unnecessarily distracting levels and visuals which scream half-hearted afterthought, the production of tonight’s show is gloriously effective and stunning at points. A simple angled screen behind the band’s set up displays atmosphere-driven imagery throughout, dipping in and out of solar systems, animated Brooklyn Bridges and a plethora of beautiful colours perfectly timed to enhance the experience without overshadowing the performance. As the music is left to speak for itself, then, Halsey herself speaks considerably little, and keeps it almost exclusively to admissions of love and gratitude for her supporters, though stopping to remind her fans that they “don’t belong to anyone but [themselves]”.

Tonight’s set certainly feels short, but isn’t unreasonable considering her limited bank of material and the ultra-cohesiveness of the tracks. Impressively so considering her relatively short time as a touring artist, Halsey has perfected the art of establishing intimacy in circumstances which should be anything but, performing vulnerability and displaying the strength of doing so in one short hour of raw mid-tempo synthpop. It’s difficult to imagine her material would work particularly well otherwise, however – one can’t imagine that the scores of younger fans in the room tonight can always relate to her stories of sex, drugs, and complex relationships viewed through a 3am haze, but she makes herself accessible in a way that allows fans to see shades of themselves reflected in there anyway. And therein lies her greatest strength.

Despite the motif of honesty pushed through everything Halsey does, she appears at her most genuine as she engages in mutual adoration, gazing deep into the venue and asking: “Who could ever get sick of this?”

The Front Bottoms (live review) – The Garage, Glasgow, 07/02/16

Originally published in Qmunicate Magazine, Feb 2016.

The positive effect of The Front Bottoms’ signing to Fueled By Ramen in 2015 was made evident when tonight’s show at the Garage sold out well in advance, and the electricity moving through the crowd even before support Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band takes the stage is indisputable. Kevin, a musical veteran when considered alongside tonight’s headliners, brings his own brand of introspective folk rock to bassier levels in his full-band getup; a far cry from his regular solo performances, he bounces across the stage at any given chance throughout a set which is met with a more enthusiastic (though not undeserved) reception than one would necessarily expect from a crowd which seems largely unfamiliar with his material. The vocals are a little low in the mix tonight, which is a shame – though it seems likely that a few of tonight’s attendees will return home to discover for themselves that Kevin really shines lyrically.
As Glasgow welcomes New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms to the stage like heroes, an inflatable ‘TFB’ is haphazardly pushed up behind the drum riser in a manner fittingly unpretentious and fun for a band whose charm lies in the deliberately thrown-together feel laced through their songs. The band pauses in place before beginning their set in a way that suggests they know what they are about to unleash, and sure enough one opening note of older track ‘Flashlight’ is enough to ignite something wild in tonight’s venue. What follows is nearly an hour and a half of pure delight, stream-of-consciousness indie rock at a pace that barely gives the crowd time to rest as they dance and sweat and live out any cliché you can think of which embodies a gig which is just downright fun. As performers TFB are tight, delivering a sound with more body and punch than their recorded efforts. It’s a rare feeling at a show, and something that is the mark of a special one, when there’s an overwhelming sense that the band is the favourite of every single person in attendance – and as the audience’s volume overpowers frontman Brian Sella on almost every word, that certainly seems the case tonight.