Bella Caledonia

I recently had a piece published over at Bella, which can be found here. I talk about the potential for prison reform in Scotland, how independence could be the catalyst we need, and why we should be taking cues from Germany’s focus on rehabilitation. 

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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.

 

 

On Loss

It’s a weird time, this – the bleak limbo plunged into after graduation. Summer has always felt vast and hazy, the seasonal equivalent of mid-afternoon, but before now there was the comfort of a plan which would kick start once again in September. Some of us were prepared with full-time jobs ready to walk into the second we handed back the grad robes, while some of us haven’t been so lucky (or competent). The end of academia, for a lot of us, means the end of our time in a system in which it was always clear what would come next. It’s unfamiliar, and it’s difficult, and I still struggle not to sugarcoat when speaking of it – but it really, really sucks.

In all honesty, though, I seem to have taken it a lot harder than most of my peers. I realised something might’ve been off when instead of sharing in the overwhelming relief of my fellow worn out fourth years the morning we submitted our dissertations, I felt a twinge of sadness. It was the beginning of the end, and I knew it, and I felt it. I became pre-occupied with ‘lasts’; last seminar, last lecture, last Tuesday morning spent in the QMU between classes, last time in the library, last publications meeting as an undergrad, last times in certain buildings, last exam. I really knew something was off when I spent the evening before my final exam watching promotional videos put together by the university and weeping to myself instead of studying. It was like I was going through a painful break up and was torturing myself with sad songs. I was about to be handed a degree from an internationally respected institution, and I was grieving.

Thankfully, I don’t intend for this article to focus on the pain of graduating from a university you loved – quite frankly, I am nowhere near ‘over it’ enough for that. It was the realisation that despite the fact that nothing bad had happened (I still have to remind myself that it was actually an achievement on my part), I was mourning a loss: the loss of a lifestyle, a community, an identity and a purpose. Five years of my life all wrapped up within one campus, and moving on from it felt like a punishment. I had to ask why it was affecting me so deeply, and why my peers seemed to bear just a touch of sentimentality but were otherwise unfazed by the milestone.

***

There are some parts of the human experience which will always be around to humble us. We can send people into space, we can use 3D printing to produce affordable artificial limbs, we can buy a pair of headphones from Amazon and have them arrive the same day (the most sobering of all) – but no advancement is going to protect us from loss. From truly world-shattering losses like the death of a loved one, to less extreme yet still bitterly painful losses like that of a relationship, or a career, or anything else which could be of value to someone. Loss is a universal and eternal phenomenon because it is the byproduct of caring.

It’s fair to say that loss changes a person – nothing particularly insightful about that. But the way it affects our reaction to future losses, I believe, is of interest.

I don’t think we experience something painful, recover fully, and move on with no noticeable trace of ever having fought emotion from the trenches. Scars are left. Scars accumulate. If we break our ankle, that joint will always be a little more vulnerable even once healed. When we experience a loss, we develop a weakness.

And maybe have you a sentimental mess of a woman, years down the line, watching UofG on YouTube insist that world changers welcome. 

This shouldn’t be mistaken for some kind of defeatist attitude. A lot of us spend too much time trying to appear as though we are alien to weakness, like it makes us lesser. I reject that line of thinking, and would be the first to insist that the biggest challenges we face are usually the most valuable lessons. But there are some kinds of loss which don’t do much other than leave us more susceptible to emotional injury down the line. As time goes on, each loss is an echo of another, and wildly different experiences can ignite bizarrely similar feelings of helplessness. It’s not poetic or particularly helpful, but it’s real – and it certainly shouldn’t make us afraid.

If we want to live our fullest lives, we must do nothing but set ourselves up to lose something. That’s the essence of being a person – investing in the people around you, the opportunities you create, the pleasures of being around which aren’t gonna earn you any money but will enrich you in every other way. Not allowing yourself to truly care about things means that you’ve already lost before you had the pleasure of knowing what there was to have.

Loss can leave you feeling thrown on the floor of a cold, empty warehouse for weeks at a time; disorientated, hopeless and lonely. We’re all in there at some point, though, and most of us are forced to make returning visits. While in the grip of something painful, it’s tempting to believe that what we are feeling is unique. No one has ever felt this specific combination of negative emotions, and thus there’s no evidence that anyone has ever survived it. So why isn’t the sky caving in? 

Luckily – but also, at times, frustratingly – nothing we feel as a result of loss is special. The pain that circles our inner worlds connects us to other people, just like the things we once cared about and once lost. So yes, with each loss there’s a chance we’re also forced to deal with those which came before it. It also means that we can know, with increasing confidence, that things become more manageable with time – even if you have to write a blog post to remind yourself of that.

 

Male Feminists and the Safety Net of Cynicism

Like many women, as a teen I was internalised misogyny personified. I took great satisfaction in my guy friends telling me I “[wasn’t] like most girls”, that I was straightforward and low maintenance, that “most girls are just so much drama”. Looking back, I realise that what this really meant was that no one was particularly interested in winching me in the playpark across the road – my somewhat limited romantic interaction with my small-town peers meant that there was little opportunity for me to require much emotional investment. It wasn’t as necessary for us to navigate the emotional minefield that are relationships formed within the bubble of your local high school. But, regardless, I was proud that I stood out from “most” girls, the ones who dared to expect a certain level of respect and kindness from the boys who wanted a stake in their girlhood.

I grew up, of course, moved away, found a community at university, and was introduced to intersectional feminism (though I guess the internet deserves a bigger shout out for that one). Unfortunately, the role I had subconsciously identified for myself – a sounding board for men – followed me into adulthood, and it’s something I try to shake off even today.  I have to consciously remind myself that my value doesn’t lie in my ability to be a blank slate with ears and no voice, ready to listen to a man’s woes and coo softly until he feels validated. I’m often told that I’m appreciated for my understanding nature, but rarely for my opinions, and that’s a problem. How do I know when I’m offering a friend unconditional support, like I absolutely want to, or when I’m trying to prove my worth to a man by absorbing his issues as if they are my own?

It turns out that being surrounded by self-proclaimed male feminists doesn’t make this any easier. Many of them seem to consider themselves a sort of neutral observer, meaning they have a free pass to comment on whatever they wish without it holding the same weight as if it had come from, y’know, an actually misogynistic man. This has resulted in me (and lots of the women around me) having developed a new kind of wariness around our male feminist pals, particularly the most outspoken ones – the ones who are by saying they are, rather than by doing. The ones who will post feminist article upon feminist article, before turning to me at a party and calling a mutual friend a “slut”. The ones who admit that they “don’t really see the point” in body positivity. The ones who seem to project the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope onto every woman they get close to. Some men have a way of speaking to women which errs more on the side of lecturing regardless of conversation topic, and it tends to be those ones.

Bizarrely, recent pop culture shenanigans involving a Mr & Mrs West and a Ms Swift were what really brought this to the forefront of my mind. All three could (and have) inspire(d) thousands of think pieces in the name of intersectionality, but what really got me was the insinuation by more than one “male feminist” that any criticism directed towards Taylor Swift by a woman is a sure symptom of internalised misogyny. This is, at best, a lack of self awareness; or worse, an unsurprising but still disturbing example of how men use feminism as a tool, twisting it to suit their agenda and winning themselves brownie points in the process. It’s not even a necessarily inaccurate observation – Taylor Swift is pop’s ultimate sweetheart, with a career plagued by misogyny on a level astronomical enough to match her record sales. But she has also branded herself as the face of white feminism, has a willingness to throw others under the bus in order to advance herself which has been proven time and time again, and is the biggest pop star on the planet. Chances are, a lot of people are talking about her because she’s a topic – a piece of pop culture escapism – which transcends well beyond the edges of your familiar internet echo chamber, and incites an opinion from many more people than just about anything else.

So is she at the receiving end of a lot of gender-based malice? Absolutely. And I might be less insulted by men’s accusations of internalised misogyny if I believed for even one second that if Beyonce, or Rihanna, or any of the other countless women of colour in the spotlight were in the same position, that men would also be running to her defence in the name of feminism. But I don’t, and they wouldn’t, and as women we don’t spend years un-learning disdain for our gender and allowing men into our movements just to be told that they know best.

The reality is that they will never completely ‘get it’ – ‘it’ being experiences unique to being a woman, the mental gymnastics girls have to do to deconstruct everything we were ever taught about femininity, as well as the almost obsessive preoccupation with our own motivations as a result of this self analysis – which is fine as long as they don’t take it upon themselves to overlook that in a quest to be Twitter’s Next Top Feminist.

Plenty of people would respond to this by pointing out that at least they’re trying. Surely it’s better to be supporting feminism in a misguided way than to not do so at all? How do you expect to win people over as feminists if you can’t even be grateful when people try to back your cause up just because they’re not perfect? Well, that works on the assumption that we only have two options, and I won’t accept that. While once I treasured my outspokenly feminist guy friends like I had struck gold, I’ve grown cynical and suspicious. I’d now say that the most feminist men I know are some who have never actually uttered the F word to me – I know from our conversations, our relationships, my knowledge of their intelligence and respect for others that they are reliably feminist (or feminist allies), it just being a facet of their personality instead of something they’ve latched onto as a branding technique. I know many, many, many men in whose company I’d feel far too intimidated to voice any gender equality-based opinions, but these days I feel similar about a lot of these feminist men: I’m too uncomfortable to bring it up if I can help it, in case I’m spoken over or put in my place.

I remember being on a date with a man, and him mentioning something about misogyny in passing. I felt immediate relief, thinking oh thank god he knows that’s a thing. He spoke about it like it exists, like it’s not a joke. The bar is really too low, and yet we practically fall over ourselves to heap praise on any man who seems fairly liberal. He calls himself a feminist, we’re suddenly desperate for his approval. He tells us that even though he respects all women, we’re “not like most of them”. We’re suddenly fifteen again, and the cycle continues. I’m sure this could be construed as confusing, certainly contradictory, but it’s not women’s responsibility to make this easy. It’s not easy and it’s not for men, so if they want to be part of the movement then it’s up to them to find their place as a source of support and an educational voice within the male population, rather than attempting to become a leader.

Just, please, for the love of god, avoid any man with ‘feminist’ in his Tinder bio.

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.

In Defence of… Bisexuality

Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, April 2015.

I have one very specific memory of being a young teen, watching Skins, seeing Naomi and texting my older friend to ask when she knew she was a lesbian. I remember berating myself for being silly – I had never come close to being romantic with a girl – before realising that I wasn’t old enough to have been romantic with a boy either, yet no one questioned the posters of various successful men adorning my walls. In fact, no one told me I wasn’t old enough to know what I wanted when I was five years old and decided I wanted Ronan Keating to be my husband. (An offer which still stands.)
My question was not ‘how did you know?’ but came from a place of seeking validation – and wanting to know when I would be considered experienced enough to give myself that validation with total credibility. Nearly a decade later, it turns out that those studded belts and fingerless gloves really were just a phase, but this wasn’t – yet still any casual mention of my bisexuality catches in my throat.
The battle to be taken seriously is one that the bisexual community must confront on all sides, as they can often be marginalised just as severely in LGBT spaces – including, but certainly not limited to, accusations of straight-passing benefits directed at those in heterosexual relationships and the consequent implication that their sexuality is defined by who they are dating at that moment rather than by who they say they are. The LGBT community is permeated by the attitude that bi people just aren’t enough of one thing for their identity to be authentic, resulting in alienation and difficulties integrating with a population which should serve as a sphere of emotional refuge. If I had a pound for every time an outspokenly bisexual friend of mine in a relationship with another woman is referred to as a lesbian, I would have enough money to found a service dedicated to eradicating those worryingly high bisexual suicide rates. Research has shown that both in the UK and internationally, bi people are significantly more likely than other sexualities to suffer poor mental and physical health, live in poverty, or become victims of domestic violence. It’s important to note, however, that this is no case of competitive discrimination – what is crucial is that we understand that our struggles differ, affected by unique intersections of prejudice.
Stereotypes related to promiscuity fuel epidemic levels of hypersexualisation, plaguing bisexuality’s attempt to find its footing in a society which refuses to acknowledge it as anything beyond a grey area. Visibility in both the media and in legislation plays a vital role in the legitimisation of bisexuality, but also proves to be something of a catch-22; bisexual representation will increase as it finds greater society-wide acceptance, but that’s a tough thing to do without the helping hand of visibility along the way. The very definition of bisexuality faces controversy (in this column it assumes that of ‘attraction to ones own gender and other genders’), while there is pressure for all genders to fill equal percentages in a person’s attraction quota before they are entitled to the label. Even the process of ‘coming out’ can be an area of difficulty for bisexual people in a way that varies from the experiences of others: the lack of acceptance of bisexuality as a standalone orientation can lead to questions regarding whether it is something they should do at all. If someone does make the decision to announce themselves as bisexual, ensure they feel that they are enough no matter where they fall on any spectrum.

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.