I’ve yet to visit Portland but know it by reputation. Many friends call it home, even if none of them currently claim it as residency. I’ve often taken the opportunity to razz them about their Pacific Northwestern biases, but I understand the affinity. As an Austin transplant, I’ve imagined Portland as this city’s wetter, more overcast fraternal twin. It’s the home to Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and Bitch and boasts establishments like Powell’s Books, Food Fight!, and Voodoo Donut. Like Austin, it’s got an independent music scene nurtured by DIY enthusiasts. Pass me one of your microbrew dogs and I’ll twist open a Shiner for you. Let’s hang.
One Portland band that’s been on my radar since early last year is Explode Into Colors. I missed them during the last SXSW but am fully prepared to catch them this time.
As if their sound wasn’t enough, word circulated that they’ll be accepting mixtapes as cover for their upcoming Holocene gig. When they come to Austin for SXSW, I hope they’ll be taking other fans’ mixes as a good will gesture.
I’m an ardent supporter and maker of mix CDs. I value them as an aural marker of someone’s history and treasure them as homemade gifts made and traded by friends. Each tracklist tells a story, as does the presence or absence of liner notes and album art. I believe my friend Kaleb of Karaoke Underground proposed the idea of a mix CD swap. I fully support this and would be happy to participate. Expect lots of cuts from Vince B.’s A Reference Of Female-Fronted Punk Rock: 1977-89 anthology, pulled directly from Kängnäve.
Tapes have been on people’s minds lately. Rob Sheffield used mixtapes to shape his autobiographical Love Is A Mix Tape. On 3o Rock, TGS star Tracy Jordan offered to make General Electric executive Jack Donaghy a Phil Collins mixtape as a token of their burgeoning friendship (Donaghy accepted because he has “two ears and a heart”). More recently, Simon Reynolds and Marc Hogan wrote some interesting essays outlining the wave of acts associated with glo-fi (or “chillwave” or “hypnagogic pop“) and the surge of upstart tape distros. With nostalgic fondness for “failed” technology and a desire to re-experience music as something less immediate and more holistic than an mp3 file, many people are returning (regressing?) to tapes. Perhaps Dennis Duffy was right. Technology is cyclical, at least for some.
I’m certainly intrigued by this deliberate move toward difficult and faulty antiquated technology. I’m also a bit of a cassette enthusiast. As a deejay, I recorded several of my shows on tape. It was around this time that I inherited my grandmother’s Mercury Grand Marquis, which I drove until it had to be traded in. As installing a CD player proved too costly, I often played my broadcasts in the car, along with holdovers from my youth, like The Pet Shop Boys’ Discography and The B-52s’ Cosmic Thing. I like that tapes forced me to listen to sequences rather than tracks. The tapes from my show are still in the glove compartment of my Mazda 626, waiting to be lodged into a tape deck.
I love most when a tape warps, changing the speed and sound of the recordings and making tracks at once familiar and foreign. Tapes may document a moment in time, but their vulnerability toward degradation makes them unreliable historians. To bend another 30 Rock character’s words, tapes (like Donaghy’s ceramic cookie jar collection) are alive. They change shape as they age. I hope Explode Into Colors keep the stacks of mixtapes they may be inheriting from their show at Holocene. Who knows what they’ll sound like or conjure up over time.
Alyx, seriously? Today’s post is about an album cover that features the women of Ladytron in bathing suits? Pin-ups for folks who wear cardigans, make library puns, and like skinny girls? Great. I’ll go back to poring over my Tegan and Sarah albums. They look similarly gamine and like streaky make-up but aren’t scantily clad in repose on the grass being shot from above like an American Apparel ad. You keep fighting that fight.
I bring up the cover of Ladytron’s 2003 mix CD entitled Softcore Jukebox for these reasons:
1) The cover is eye-catching, though obviously in a problematic way. It objectifies vocalists Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, respectively wearing a sky blue tank and shiny black skull string bikini that I hope came from their own closets (but probably didn’t — do people swim in Liverpool?). In addition, it doesn’t even show the rest of the band, which is also comprised of dudes Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt.
2) The title seems leering and provocative, but is also jibberish. What the eff is a “softcore jukebox”? Is it different from a “hardcore jukebox” in that it works with a crotch patch and doesn’t do penetration? Or would a cadre of queercore jukeboxes have to create a scene for themselves in response to the homophobic, homoerotic hardcore jukebox scene?
3) The cover is a modest revision of Roxy Music’s Country Life cover, which features Amazonian models in see-through underwear boasting serious 70s ladygarden. Country Life was so controversial upon its release that a revised cover had to be printed with the women taken out of the image.
4) Apparently a German artist named Pia Dehne reconfigured Country Life to address the gendered aspects of camouflage and mimicry.
5) Softcore Jukebox came out during a wave of mix CDs that featured dance songs with electronic instrumentation alongside rockier fare. Critics like citing Kings of Convenience leader Erlend Øye‘s DJ-Kicks compilation, but he was hardly the first to do this, as compilations like the Back to Mine series suggest. Hell, he wasn’t even the first person to make a DJ-Kicks compilation. I’d also like to put in a plug for Annie’s DJ-Kicks compilation, which features ESG’s “My Love For You.” Hot Chip’s gets my approval as well, along with any mix that has songs from both New Order and Positive K.
6) A cover that references an iconic album cover seems relevant, especially because the women in the band are the cover subjects and said band created a mix CD of pre-existing dance songs. Seems camouflage and mimicry may apply here, along with reference. This might be characteristic of the band. After all, Ladytron didn’t just swipe the cover of Country Life for their mix CD. They took their name from a Roxy Music song.
Much of my interest in Ladytron is in Marnie and Aroyo. I like how they try to sound like robots (or ladytrons), mimicking their coldness and just-out-of-date technological make-up while singing songs about the inherent datedness and fickleness of fashion, beauty, and youth (see: “Seventeen,” “Blue Jeans,” and “Beauty No. 2”). This juxtaposes nicely with the band’s reliance on electronic instrumentation.
In their later work — particularly the brooding Witching Hour — more traditionally rock instrumentation like electric guitars spike up their sound on songs like “amTV,” suggesting that Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees were as much of an influence on the band as Kraftwerk. Also, I can’t help but point out that TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” features a fuzzed-out bass line very similar to Ladytron’s “International Dateline,” though my hunch is that both bands probably got it from Bauhaus.
This brings me to the mix CD itself, which smashes dance music and rock music against one another, suggesting the band’s influences and approaches. It also unearths a long-obscured truth: dance music has always co-mingled with rock and, later, hip hop. And I’m not talking about The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” as their interrelation has a much deeper, storied history. I always hate it when detractors say things like “not another synth pop track” or “I hate disco,” as if rock music and its studied authenticity doesn’t rely on rhythm sections and repetitive passages of catchy melodies too. As if rock is about the truth and dance music is just piffle. C’mon now.
As for the album’s content? Meh. Some songs work better than others, and some of it is fairly forgettable. Oddly enough, the most effective offerings for me are the rock songs that I didn’t know you could dance to. I’ll stand by The Fall, Wire, Shocking Blue, and Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s classic “Some Velvet Morning,” which is the compilation’s haunting closer. I already knew you could dance to !!!, Fannypack, and Cristina, so they get a pass. You can kind of jig to My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon,” the intro from which Garbage stole for “My Lover’s Box.” I liked that I also like Ladytron’s cover of Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)” — an ode to masturbation, a premonition for me that Tweet and producer Missy Elliott might be more than friends, Missy’s first “ping!” on my gaydar, and a cherished memory as the “poem” one of my classmates read aloud with deadpan faux seriousness in a college English class. I like the original much more, but I appreciate the band’s effort to suggest that hip hop and R&B influence them. Let’s listen and compare, shall we?
Thus the cover, like song selection and reinterpretation, becomes a messy process for both band and listener that is guaranteed to leave grass stains.
So, I’ve been devouring Friday Night Lights recently. I’ve got four episodes left of season three, so don’t tell me what awaits the Dillon Panthers and their surrounding small-town Texas community.
I was pleasantly surprised this weekend while watching season three. I didn’t realize that Crucifictorious, a Christian death metal band formed by Dillon High’s Landry Clarke, was getting a new female bass player named Devin Corrigan. A good female bassist who proved a needed asset to the band, no less.
As an aside, I have now rewatched the season two episodes where my friend Brea played brainy, metal-fan music geek Jean Binnel. Now that I’ve watched almost the entire series thus far and know its larger context, I can say 1) I really like Jean and think I’d be her friend, 2) I want her to make me a power pop metal mix CD, 3) I think her small part might have been one of the best things about a sporadically brilliant but uneven season plagued by network tampering and the writer’s strike, and 4) Landry did her wrong, even if I like the girl with whom he briefly reunited.
I was also stoked that Devin was played by Stephanie Hunt, a back-up singer in T-Bird and the Breaks.
And I thought it was rad that the girl who seemed to be a too-perfect rebound girl for the recently spurned lead singer was actually a newly out lesbian teenager, as she reveals in “Keeping Up Appearances.” While she does kiss Landry before coming out to him, she does so to make sure of her orientation, perhaps suggesting that Landry is the first person to whom she has come out. I was impressed by a) her confidence in identifying herself as a lesbian, as I don’t imagine too many girls I grew up with felt comfortable owning their identity like that at that age in our small Texas town and b) Landry’s maturity about the situation. The episode ended with the band jamming to The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which Devin sang to Landry earlier to help him with a broken heart.
The next episode for me is “The Giving Tree,” which seems to focus on Crucifictorious’s first gig with Devin. I’m hoping for a good turn-out. I’d be there. My only hope is that we see more of her, hopefully with a girlfriend to boot. I don’t know if she will be appearing in season four, which premieres on DirecTV this Wednesday, much less the rest of season three, but I like her.
Think of this post as an extension of this one. Only it’s different, because this is a new group of girls with upbringings, influences, opinions, and dispositions.
1. Let girls talk, even if they might potentially be disruptive. They might just want you to pay attention to them. Rather than tell them to be quiet and fret that they aren’t listening, try and engage them and talk to them. This might make them listen, especially to their own words and those of their peers. You, the instructor, may learn something as well by asking a girl to share with the group what she’s telling a friend in the corner and having that girl drop some science on the class.
2. Make sure to intervene when a girl says “you’ve never heard of _______?” to another girl. Try and spin it like, “well, not everyone can hear everybody.” Be honest about the things you didn’t know and learned from your friend Kristen when you put this workshop together. Condoning that behavior may make loud girls quiet and quiet girls unable to participate. Correcting that behavior gently may help them all to listen and share.
3. Don’t forget how important Selena continues to be for many girls.
4. Don’t take credit for putting Selena in the PowerPoint (good contribution, Kristen).
5. Allow yourself to get really amped when girls yell out names at images of bands and musicians they recognize and love.
6. Let yourself dance with the younger girls when they do the wave during the Gossip/Sharon Jones mini-dance party at the end of the workshop.
7. Remember how exciting it is when a girl tells you she learned about a musician from her mom.
8. Be kind and respectful when some girls let you see their band perform during rehearsal (thanks, ladies from Chucky’s Unknown Children).
9. Some girls might read your blog. Be humble and grateful when they tell you this and remember them as you try and make this space more inclusive.
10. Not all girls like the same things from session to session. Overall, these girls had little use for Björk or riot grrrl. However, they did seem to like The Runaways, Erykah Badu, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.
11. Always highlight female musicians who play unconventional instruments. Don’t make a distinction between cool and uncool instruments. After all, X-Ray Spex’s Lora Logic played the saxophone.
12. Remember all the bands and artists you didn’t include that the girls mentioned in case you get to give this workshop next time.
13. Always make extra copies of the mix CD in case girls want to give a copy to a sibling/cousin/friend.
Last week, I was bestowed with a treasure. My friend Curran made me a two-volume mix CD, one of my favorite things to give and receive. I especially love Internal/External’s “Stepping Up to the Mic,” Yoko Ono and Cat Power’s “Revelations,” and Takaka Minekawa’s “Fantastic Cat,” which he selected specifically for my cat, Kozy. And he also reminded me that I should have been listening to Crass this whole time.
His mix came with a 20-page set of liner notes with lyrics, observations, and personal meanings for each song. Curran is a very thorough, thoughtful person who values homemade things and resistive, non-normative modes of expression. I had a dream that he wrote a 30-page essay on Shonen Knife for this blog’s “Records That Made Me a Feminist” section and have no doubt that he might. You should read it.
The week before that, I was bestowed with another treasure. My neighbor-friend Rosa-María left a clipping from Entertainment Weekly in my door, with the blurb for Lavinia Greenlaw’s The Importance of Music to Girls circled. So I picked up a copy (actually, Kristen got me a copy from the UT Library, as I hadn’t replaced my UT student ID yet). I had never heard of the author before and know very little about who she is as an author or what she means to her native England (I guess she’s a writer and teaches writing classes at the university level; thanks, Wikipedia). I wasn’t even sure what era this book was going to cover (luckily for me, she comes of age during the 1970s, a very interesting time for England and to me). Just as you do with a mix CD, you take your friend’s recommendations on faith and dive in.
Let me share with you now one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on the power of making mixes for people. Greenlaw’s words:
The greatest act of love was to make a tape for someone. It was the only way we could share music and it was also a way of advertising yourself. Selection, order, the lettering you used for the track list, how much technical detail you went into, whether or not you added artwork and no tracklist at all, these choices were as codified as a Victorian bouquet.
Yes, exactly. This quote has new resonance for me after making mix CDs for 50 GRCA campers. I hope they take the blank, one-color paper sleeves and make something completely their own out of them.
Now, the task of writing a review for the book poses a challenge. Its use-value is a little hard to determine. It’s a memoir. So, if you know about Greenlaw and care about her artfully written recollections of coming of age, then this is a good book. But if you don’t know Greenlaw, or have much invested in the place and time in which she comes of age, you might feel like you’re grasping for straws.
But I appreciated Greenlaw’s willingness to recollect events, political movements, personal activities, rituals, and practices as means of identification. She erects collages clipped and ripped and taped and pasted from magazines that constantly shift and mutate her bedroom’s landscape. She laquers her flipped hair and eyelids and straps on platform shoes to go to discos with girlfriends. She recounts the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the Sex Pistols antics from the safe distance of her neighborhood and television. She starts listening to “hippie” records (ex: Santana, Genesis) because of a boy, who later accidentally leaves a crate of records for her on the tube when they meet up again as adults (with her partner and child in tow). She goes to concerts with friends. She visits a friend in the hospital after a suicide attempt. She makes and unmakes girl friendships. She renounces punk for new wave because she thinks the subgenre mirrors her affinity for Russian literature and Gauloises. She loves reading and writing, but hates school. She roadtrips to Ohio because she loves Devo. She thinks about Thatcherism and the National Front alongside the Pop Group’s second album, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, though didn’t put them together at the time (which, seriously, a book that reminds me to throw that record on is a good book by my definition). She cuts her girlfriend’s hair at a party. She constantly dyes and cuts and grows out and re-dyes her own hair.
In short, she constantly changes and renegotiates who she is, configuring herself always in a state of becoming, even after she’s transitioned out of her teenage years.
Putting all of this into a broader context, she’s very easily the type of girl British cultural theorists like Angela McRobbie were later devoting books and articles to, helping to build girls studies programs in the process. McRobbie’s girls tended to be bookish, middle-class in an increasingly impoverished country, rebellious but well-behaved, mercurial and fidgety and looking for their place in music culture and their piece of the street. But this girl, Lavinia, wasn’t theoretical. She was real, and, as an adult, created a document as filled with history and reference and memory and meaning as any good homemade mix. Her book is worth a look and a listen.
One reason it’s really exciting to teach history is to let people know that it’s evolving and ongoing. One reason I was excited to teach music history to the campers at GRCA today is because it’s important to let girls know that, as musicians, (or fans or critics or label executives or deejays or producers or . . .) they are a continuation, a contribution to a female presence in popular music and, more broadly, public life.
And it’s nice to teach the class with a close girlfriend, so that you can show girls that it’s possible for women to work with one another and collaborate. That’s good too. Especially since the closest I’ve come to teaching pre-/pubescent girls was conducting sight-reading clinics for my mom’s junior high choirs. I was definitely out of my comfort zone teaching two music history classes (one ages 9-11, another 11-13).
But, as with education more broadly, it’s not really about the teachers. It’s about the students and it’s about creating a space to dialogue and learn from one another. So here now are the things I learned at GRCA today.
1. Don’t instinctively apologize. Women and girls say they’re sorry all the time, usually for things that are not their fault. Instead, say “you rock” or “I rock.”
2. Don’t compliment a student on their hair/dress/gear. It could be a class marker and not every girl is born of privilege. Not every girl can afford a mint-condition vintage Clash t-shirt and not every girl can afford a new Gibson guitar. Plus, we shouldn’t use things as markers of our societal worth anyway.
3. Ask what they think, what they know, what they like. Don’t lecture to them. Don’t make it feel like school. But some girls like lectures, as long as they can participate, so they can handle some science being dropped.
4. The older girls love Siouxsie Sioux.
5. Some of the younger girls like country. Some don’t. All opinions are valid. Let’s try and bring both sides together.
6. Some of the older girls didn’t know who Cibo Matto were, but wanted to know more.
7. Many of these girls remember and have a fan relationship with Selena.
8. Many girls want the Reactable shown in Björk’s performance “Declare Independence” on Jools Holland. It shows them that you can use any instrument to make the sound you want.
9. Some of the girls didn’t know who Marnie Stern was, but were excited to hear her name associated with “shredding.”
10. The older girls totes know about riot grrrl.
11. Everyone loves Beth Ditto and M.I.A.
12. Despite the ubiquity of mp3 players, everyone loves a mix CD. A pleasant surprise.
13. Girls wanna talk. It helps them learn. Thank you young ladies for letting me listen.