It’s just been reported that Slits’ frontwoman Ari Up died today following sustained ailing health. I literally gasped upon hearing this news and am tearing up a bit as I type this. For me, Ari Up’s legacy can’t be overstated, nor can the influence of her pioneering all-female punk-reggae band. The first song my college station played in its inaugural broadcast was “FM.” Here’s what she gave me.
The cover for the Slits’ debut record, Cut, which floored me the first time I saw it. I’ve refrained from writing a post on it because of its iconic status. But it always gets reactions when it’s brought up in the Girls Rock Camp Austin music history workshops I co-teach. Incidentally, I’m about to leave for a girls studies conference in New York where I’m co-moderating a panel on GRC, so this news has an additional layer of resonance.
The electricity of politically charged lyrics, cheek, and amateurish musicianship that’s all over her band’s early output. Why not start a band at fourteen even if we can’t play? Why not sing about shoplifting? Why not cover “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”? Why not piss on stage in the middle of a performance? Why not drop some dub in the tracks? British punk and post-punk took itself quite seriously, but the Slits always made rebellion look like fun. When I finally bought this album on vinyl in my early twenties after years of it being in and out of print and listening to other people’s copies and shitty mp3s, it was a damn miracle.
Her band’s cameo in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee shows them destroying a car. Far more interesting and cool than Malcolm McLaren’s idea to feature them as sex slaves in his idea for the female version of The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle that thankfully wasn’t made.
Let’s not forget Return of the Giant Slits either, as Everett True hasn’t. It featured “In the Beginning There Was Rhythm,” which I think was their best single. It was released as a split single with the Pop Group’s “Where There’s a Will.” I love the Pop Group as much as Lavinia Greenlaw. Up and the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart were later in the New Age Steppers. They were good too. And I certainly don’t think we’d get M.I.A. without them.
Ari Up introduced me to Sister Nancy. While I should probably call Ari on her bullshit as a German-British ex-pat Rastafarian who fetishizes the primitive to offset her publishing heiress roots, I think she believed in reggae and the guiding principles of her adopted ideology. She also never obscured her origins, but reconciled them with her mother’s bohemian tendencies and her need to keep herself open to embrace possibilities and conflicting impulses. Plus, few people could claim John Lydon as their stepfather without it seeming weird.
She was a hell of an interview. She may not have had much use for brevity, but her words were teeming with wit and brilliance. And if she was self-aggrandizing, well, I’d prefer my epic musical personae to acknowledge their own greatness than shrug it off.
Let’s not overlook 2006’s Revenge of the Killer Slits and their follow-up Trapped Animal either. I actually got to see a reunited version of the Slits that fall (sans Viv Albertine, who I’ve since caught as a solo act). I’ll always remember how energetic she was. She was also tremendously available. Even when she admonished a party girl fashionista who rushed the stage during “Typical Girls” for not getting its message, it was just gentle ribbing. And while the band got sharper, particularly bassist Tessa Pollitt and recruited drummer Anna Schultze, Up’s gleeful anarchic spirit remained at the center.
You were a strange, funny, brave, and inspired lady, Ari Up. You’ll be missed.
Greetings, everyone. I wish I could have attended tonight’s Girls Rock Camp Houston showcase, but Act Your Age‘s Kristen and I were fortunate enough to teach our music history workshop to the campers last Friday. We also got to meet the organization’s director and volunteer base, as well as see some of the girls rock in rehearsal. Here’s what I took from the experience.
1. Always trust your co-facilitator. Even if she’s going through some potentially major changes in her life, trust that it doesn’t mean your friendship or professional relationship is over. A door may close, but it doesn’t mean a window won’t open. Give her space. Believe in her. Believe in what you’ve accomplished together. Remember that you’re both invested in the radical potential of female friendships.
2. I know how to change a tire and put on a spare, even though it never came up on the trip. I’m a 27-year-old feminist. C’mon.
3. I learned how to navigate parts of Houston I’ve never been to before. I had a great co-pilot of course, but I’m incredibly proud of this as I never drove around in Houston growing up because I didn’t have a car and it’s a difficult city to navigate.
4. Always take your hostess up on the offer to meet the director and some of the volunteers at the local bar (in this case, Grand Prize). Do this even when you’re tired and nervous and a little smelly from the road. Bonding time with GRC ladies is always important. Doing it over shots while debating the merits of feminism and Kim Gordon’s musicianship, chatting about body hair, and discussing M*A*S*H‘s depictions of race relations make you forget the stink of a long drive.
5. Never underestimate moms. They may volunteer for the organization and, in your case, sit in on your workshop and provide feedback. They should be as much a part of this as the cranky third wave generation putting this together.
6. Holding the camp at a university has its advantages. Technology was not a problem, though a temporary blackout threatened to derail our plans.
7. Sometimes the girls can be a handful. This was actually our first workshop where we had problems keeping the girls focused and talking out of turn. Thus, don’t underestimate the value of having counselors interspersed within the aggregate and always request it if they don’t do it automatically, as younger girls may need another adult to monitor them. But don’t let minor disruptive behavior distract or discourage you. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and never ask to be taken seriously. Demand respect by embodying it, and hope that the girls are learning by your example. You rock.
8. Observe what other workshop facilitators do and how they conduct themselves around the girls. Pay particular attention to the ones who make their living as teachers, as you lack certification. Listen to what the girls say during those workshops as well. Always be receptive toward what you can learn.
9. Never let taste determine what you think a girl musician will do, as you will always be suprised. The girls may say declare unequivocal love for a variety of pop female vocalists, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be bands with two keyboardists and no guitarist that make spooky music that blows your mind. At each showcase I’ve been to in Austin, I’m reminded that the bands who perform have more ideas than about 95% of the local bands I’ve seen. This creativity amongst girls is without a geography. It exists everywhere.
Congrats, Girls Rock Houston. Thanks for letting us share your first session with you, good luck in the summers ahead, and feel free to call if you want us to rock out with you again.
The second session of GRCA 2010 comes to a close tomorrow with an amazing showcase. Likewise, Wednesday’s music history workshop commemorated the second year Kristen at Act Your Age and I have been involved with the organization. As is customary, I like to write down a few things I learn from each GRCA session. As honed as our workshop has become, it’s always open to modification. And each workshop is its own entity, based entirely on who the girls are. But there is one constant: I’m always challenged and surprised by what each group of girls brings to discussion.
1. Remember to include a section on metal, as many of these girls are fans. I’ve been given some great leads on who to include from blog commentary, friend recommendations, and a particularly informative lunch meeting with Erika Tandy. Thanks for helping out an admitted metal neophyte.
2. Sometimes a girl will come right out and tell you she doesn’t like any female artists. She may be a little smug about it like a pre-teen can be at times. When asked why she’s at GRCA, she may give this hilariously catty retort: “I’ve already gone over this — it’s summertime and I get bored and I need something to do.” Don’t let this throw you and don’t take it personally. Thank her for her honesty and hope that she participates anyway. Acknowledge her when she does.
3. Sometimes a girl will be related to a co-worker. Note the connection and make sure to incorporate her into the discussion while remaining impartial.
3A. You can be amused if she’s quite formal with you, as you were a pretty formal child yourself.
4. If a group of girls are talking amongst themselves, don’t let that bother you. Keep your ears open for a band or artist one of them mentions and bring it up. It’ll let them know you’re listening and also keep them on your toes. :)
5. Don’t worry about being cool. You’re probably an old lady to them. But even if they don’t think you’re cool for knowing about MGMT or that Ke$ha signs her name with a dollar sign, they might be amused if you drop song titles or mention that “a girl’s gotta get paid.”
6. Remember to include Lady Sovereign and Selena on next year’s mix CD, because there’s always at least one girl who is excited about each of them.
7. Bone up on your musical terminology and make sure to emphasize instrumentalists’ technique in some of the clips you provide.
8. Improvise and share with your co-facilitator. Technology may always be erratic, so don’t crutch on it. Clips may not always load. Take the lead from your co-facilitator and pop in a mix CD to illustrate your points. While you may not always have as wonderful an instructor to work with as Kristen, being aware of moments in which you can volley off one another are key.
8A. Make sure you extend this openness and trust to the counselors. They will save your ass every time. Hearts to Esme.
9. Don’t freak out if a girl disagrees with you or seems weirded out by something. You’ve been handed a teaching moment. Start a discussion. Ask some questions. Steer the conversation into something productive. And make sure you’re doing as much listening as talking.
10. Some girls may get hung up on Etta James’s fat knuckles. This will bother you, as sizeism has already taken hold. Let Kristen riff on how body types may differ across genres and that skinny ladies aren’t an ideal we should aspire to if that’s not who we are. Mentally clap for her as she drops an important message while keeping the girls on task.
11. It’s always okay to stop a workshop so you can clap in time to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” It’s also a good idea to end a workshop with a dance party.
12. Make sure you pay attention to every girl in the room and give each one a chance to contribute. Be especially cognizant of the girl who sits immediately behind you. That girl may seem disengaged or shy at first, but she is full of good ideas and smart opinions. She might tell you that her mother styled her hair like Salt-N-Pepa and that she grew up listening to The Supremes. She may also give you a hug after the workshop, which will make your day.
I’m also looking forward to what Kristen and I will learn when we take this workshop on the road. We’ll be helping out with Girls Rock Camp Houston on August 13th. As an ex-pat Houstonian, I have personal investment in GRC staking its claim there. While I love GRCA and am proud to be a part of it, Austin is already such a music-friendly city. While Houston has a considerable artistic community, the sprawl tends to swallow it up. Speaking as someone who grew up in a rural suburb equidistant between Houston and Galveston, it was pretty difficult to go to shows and get involved with a scene that was about 45 minutes away from you and scattered about a very large city that’s not always hospitable to girls. So I’m hopeful that GRCH will forge a much-needed communal space for grrrl musicians.
Recently, I put together my list of favorite albums and tracks from this year for another publication. In doing so, it occurred to me that some of my offerings were not discussed here. There are three reasons for this. For one, I don’t write about dudes’ music because I don’t need to be another outlet that tells you the new Flying Lotus record is great (though Scratched Vinyl wrote up a nice review). For another, I’ve never viewed this blog as a tastemaker. I don’t tend to follow trends, I like to take time to absorb things, and I often find myself defending or reconsidering obscured pop cultural artifacts. Finally, if I can’t figure out a way to discuss something from a feminist perspective, it often gets passing reference or entirely misses this site’s purview.
But some readers (primarily friends I consort with in my real life) tend to ask me what I’m listening to. I’ve mainly subsisted on a steady diet of Cocteau Twins this year, which I’ll elaborate on in a later post. However, I always try to keep up with new material. While I’ve mentioned some relevant artists (Janelle Monáe, Sleigh Bells, Dessa, Mountain Man) and avoided more obvious selections (you can assume that I like Björk and Dirty Projectors’ Mount Wittenberg Orca). There are also some artists I overlooked, which is why I’d recommend that you check out last year’s offerings from Grass Widow and Talk Normal, as well as encourage fans of The Knife to scale back two years to listen to The Nextdoor Neighbors’ Magic Vs. the Machine, which Kristen at Act Your Age clued me into after a clip for “Liars” was made at Reel Grrls’ music video workshop. The artists below may not come out of left field for some readers, but I thought I’d briefly outline some releases I’ve liked this year that you might also enjoy.
Georgia Anne Muldrow – Kings Ballad
You may not know it, but the prolific Muldrow is having quite a year. She’s already released a solo record and SomeOthaShip with rising star Declaime, the latter of which caught NPR’s attention. Kings Ballad has been on continuous repeat this summer, yet another smart, eclectic mix from Ms. Muldrow. While some people elected Katy Perry’s inane “California Gurls” as their seasonal anthem, I gotta go with Muldrow and Declaime’s “Summer Love.”
Nite Jewel – Am I Real?
Ramona Gonzalez has been on my radar since last year’s SXSW. Her new EP delivers the Xanadu on Xanax sound that’s become her trademark. It’s not a startling record, but it’s got a good groove that warms up an icy sound. I’m not sure if we’ll care about chillwave in five years, but I’m pretty sure I’ll pull this record out after a long night of partying transitions into early morning ruminations. Regardless of what wave it’s currently riding, it’s good music to chill out to.
No Mas Bodas – Erotic Stories From the Space Capsule
Austin pride. Member Sheila Scoville graciously invited me to this album’s CD release party earlier this year, which I regrettably could not attend. However, I read Audra Schroeder’s review of their album, gave it a listen, and became a fan of the group’s hypnotic fusion of synthesizers with cello (like Björk, I’m a big fan of music that pairs electronic and acoustic instrumentation). I caught them during a lunch performance at Girls Rock Camp Austin earlier this summer and while I think they have yet to master their live presentation, I still find this haunting record to be full of potential.
Noveller – Desert Fires
Sarah Lipstate is another Austin affiliate, though she’s making her name in New York and parts of Europe following a stint with Parts & Labor. I was certainly aware of her talent when she was one-half of One Umbrella and sat in with Glenn Branca during the time we shared as deejays at KVRX, and I’m impressed with the solo work she’s doing now. Wasting no time following up her debut full-length Red Rainbows, Lipstate continues to build and invent upon her abstract guitar work with her second album. While she also accompanies her performances with self-made films, I really appreciate that the sonic landscapes she creates can let your imagination wander.
White Mystery – (s/t)
I had the pleasure of catching Chicago sibling duo Alex and Frank White at the GRCA SXSW day show and they killed. They were also really nice and personed their merch table stocked full of self-made goods, including a pair of tie-dyed underwear. Ms. White actually teaches merch workshops, which is extra awesome. Their self-titled debut may especially appeal to rock purists looking for some new garage rock to blast in the car.
What albums have you liked this year? Who are your new favorite artists?
Today’s post is dedicated to Caitlin, a friend of mine from graduate school who runs the blog Dark Room. After living in College Station for a couple of years, she and her husband are moving back to the Pacific Northwest. Caitlin taught me quite a few things as a friend and colleague. Perhaps her largest contribution is my appreciation of horror film, which I didn’t have when we first met. Going into our master’s program, I was strongly of the mind that horror is resistant, if not entirely antithetical, toward feminism. But Caitlin, who is both a feminist and horror aficionado, taught me the power of looking and interpreting the genre from a feminist perspective. Like me, she’s a huge music fan and champions the work of independent female musicians. Thus, it seems fitting that the last time we’ll see each other for the immediate future is at the Girls Rock Camp Austin showcase (tomorrow at the HighBall — doors open at noon). In tribute, I thought I’d do a brief write-up on The 184.108.40.206s’ cameo in Kill Bill, Volume One. Grrrl rock and Quentin Tarantino? I can’t think of a better pairing to honor her.
The story goes that director Tarantino was introduced to the band while frequenting a Japanese clothing store and had to track them down. Eventually, he put them in the first installment of his two-part revenge epic about a bride (Uma Thurman) wronged by her groom (David Carradine), with whom she used to work for as a member of his crime syndicate, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. In order to seek justice, the bride must slaughter the entire organization. While the second volume is more meditative in its focus on the couple’s final showdown, the first half depicts her picking off her former work associates, employing a myriad of genres for each vignette. It culminates in a battle between the Bride and former DIVA O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who runs a criminal organization in Tokyo. But in order to battle O-Ren, the Bride must first take out her crew in a bar where The 220.127.116.11s are playing.
As you can tell from the band’s sound, cultural references, and performance of The Ikettes’ “I’m Blue,” the Japanese outfit is heavily influenced by 60s Americana, particularly girl groups and surf rock. As I’ve discussed in previous entries, similar interests are shared with Japanese characters in movies like Mystery Train and Linda Linda Linda. But I wonder about the feedback loop between Japan’s cultural fascination with American rock music and 20th century youth culture and Americans’ interest in some of their pop culture being appropriated and reinterpreted by members of an Eastern nation.
Obviously, this exchange can sometimes perpetuate Western assumptions of a cutesy, monolithic Japanese culture heavily rooted in American narcissism. So I feel a bit uneasy when interpreting the band’s appearance in the movie. It could easily be argued that they’re window-dressing, as well as means of authenticating an outsider’s conceptualization of what a “real” izakaya must be like. Yet I still feel that their sound is interpreting American rock music in a way analogous to Tarantino’s celebration of Japanese popular culture, particularly martial arts movies and anime. It may not be an easy pairing, but The 18.104.22.168s rock it out.
Yesterday, Kristen at Act Your Age and I did our music history workshop for Girls Rock Camp Austin. This is our second year to do it, and we’re proud to be facilitating the workshop for Girls Rock Camp Houston later this summer. This time, we slightly updated the version of the workshop we did for the Girls Now! conference last fall and organized it by genre. Happily, the girls respond well to images, clips, and mix CDs. I always like to recount what I learned (as you can read here and here), so here we go.
1. Be willing to improvise. Kristen and I had some interactive projects planned, but the technology required for such activities wasn’t available, so we had to adapt accordingly. This involved taking deep breaths and telling each other that the workshops were going to be fine and that we’re awesome.
2. Never underestimate the power of pooling together resources. Right before our first workshop, nothing was set up. But thanks to some awesome ladies pitching in and thinking on their feet, we got everything put together and put on two great workshops.
3. Some girls wonder if the female musicians we highlighted are alive. A few girls kept asking if each person was dead. Thus, it was a pleasure to tell them that folks like Wanda Jackson are very much alive.
4. Some girls are obsessed with wigs. I’m okay with this.
5. Allow room for girls to come back to a question you posed earlier when they have an answer. For example, our icebreaker for the older girls we taught was about the first album they remember really liking. One girl didn’t have an answer until we started talking about En Vogue. Her eyes lit up and remembered that she loved “Free Your Mind.” This is a very exciting moment.
6. Some girls know who the 5678s are, which is awesome.
7. Allow room to include the counselors sitting in. In addition to the personal insights they can offer, they may also be able to explain why Dolly Parton plays her guitar in open tuning.
8. There’s always at least one girl who knows almost every artist you’re talking about. She may get a little embarrassed that she’s monopolizing conversation. Let her know you appreciate her enthusiasm and encourage her to keep talking.
9. With little effort, girls can make astute connections between artists like Lady Gaga, Elton John, Janet Jackson, and David Bowie.
10. They also seem to respond if you tell them that some musicians change instruments, as Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon did when she switched from bass to guitar.
11. We should combine genres a bit more in terms of racial diversity. The first half of the workshop had greater emphasis on genres associated with women of color (blues, pop, jazz) than the second half (punk, riot grrrl). We could offset this by pairing seemingly dissimilar genres, like hip hop and country music.
12. It’s okay if the girls don’t like an artist or group or aren’t sure about what to do with them. They may find Mika Miko abrasive or aren’t sure what Lady Sovereign is saying. But by opening the door, they may walk through it.
Just got back from teaching music history workshops with Kristen at Act Your Age for Girls Rock Camp Austin, which “rocked.” I will post about what I learned from the experience tomorrow, but I kinda need to recover and eat some dinner. I happened to have a review of Helium’s 1997 album The Magic City in the pocket. I was obsessed with the album a couple of months ago after I snagged a used copy signed by leader Mary Timony during a rediscovery period prompted by the 120 Minutes Archive. So let’s talk about why Helium was an awesome band and why this album exemplifies that. Because, if indeed this decade will revive music from the 90s, I hope those who rediscover indie rock stalwarts like Pavement pay equal consideration to fellow Matador act Helium.
As a proper follow-up to their debut, The Dirt of Luck, and a sonic and conceptual expansion of their murky sound, 1997’s The Magic City tends to be overlooked despite being well-regarded in its time. However, the band’s prog-influenced sophomore (and final) effort is often cited as a fan favorite, perhaps prompting artists like Ben Gibbard to name-check singer/guitarist Timony in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Your Bruise.” The band’s legacy lives in contemporary acts like Austin’s YellowFever. Furthermore, Timony is still active. It may make more sense to revisit The Dirt of Luck, particularly for the inclusion of breakthrough single “Pat’s Trick” and its accompanying music video. But The Magic City is a clear artistic achievement that deserves further consideration.
Prog evokes ideations of the concept album. Yet it’s hard to ascertain what this sophomore effort is about. Some may think the album is about Timony’s then-boyfriend Ash Bowie. Others may consider her lyrics as evidence of Timony’s affinity toward hippie spiritualism, nature’s ephemera, space, Christian and Pagan iconography, and stoner poetry.
Having revisited Joanna Newsom’s auspicious sophomore full-length Ys, which is also heavily shrouded in symbolic language, it’s still a jolt when she makes mention of an “awfully real gun” amidst the romantic turmoil of “Only Skin.” Similarly, it’s shocking how often the real world intrudes in Timony’s lyrics. Opening track “Vibrations” opines about astrology while reminding the listener that she’s always available for a chat on the phone. Single “Leon’s Space Song” finds her telling an adversary that her Los Angeles friends like her better. “Aging Astronauts” includes weary mention of perennial air travel. “Ancient Crymes” reveals how Timony finds power in being rude and that she’s down for a party. That Timony is able to incorporate the spiritual realm into the mundane is no small feat. She conveys this in large part through the evasive yet surprisingly expressive qualities of her deadpan alto.
The Magic City also reveals itself to be a relic of the album’s cultural wane. Though some carry the mantle of the full-length, less care has been given to sequencing and cohesion. This cannot be said of this album. There’s a concerted effort to project grandeur, primarily through Timony’s virtuosic guitar playing on songs like the 8-minute opus “Revolution of Hearts Parts 1 and 2.” It repeats musical themes and returns to certain lyrical images while subtly suggesting variance with a diverse assemblage of instruments and compositional stylings, indicating the era’s interest in hybridity.
Instrumentals like “Medieval People” also suggests the band had more in common with agit-pop acts like Brainiac (another band in need of a revival) than Yes. However, I’d like to think one of Helium’s key contributions to indie rock in their brief career was that these acts could co-exist on one beguiling album.