Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Lady-powered Party Punk edition

Perhaps predictably, today's hump day treat is presented in honor of Mika Miko and their unsung achievements.

Yesterday I came up with the description 'lady-powered party punk' for MM's music kind of on the fly. But 'party punk' describes the band's attitude better than its style. Their music has a beach-y surf kind of feel, and the group has this funny teenagers who sleep in, eat lots of junk food, and play music sort of image. This sort of carefree slacker attitude strikes me as rare in a genre (punk, that is) that prides itself on action and hyperawareness. It's also surprisingly appealing, and dare I say it, there's something refreshing about a group of young people who seem more intent on saving themselves than on railing against the world.

But, it has to be seen rather and heard to be understood, or even believed, so have some Mika Miko on yet another rainy, dreary (in NY, at least) hump day.

First up: the official video for "Business Cats", a song that makes you want to dance, have a seizure, or both. Also, it's one of my favorite videos of all time.

Next: the official video for "I Got a Lot (New New New)"

BONUS: live video from 2004. Thank you, youtube! Also, Michelle Suarez's guitar sounds amazingly foxy here. Just saying.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Mika Miko.

Dear Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer and Michelle,

So you're breaking up. Bummer.
Mika Miko did some fine work, and made a real contribution to music with your arty, spazzy, lady-powered party punk. And even though I'm not completely familiar with everything you've done, I was sad to read on girlfriendisahomo that you're hanging it up.

But break ups aren't the end of the world; sometimes they're even necessary. I'm a musician, I've played with other people, I get it. If you need to move on to new things, I can accept that and be supportive. I read in the L.A. Times music blog that you kids will be occupied with "returns to school, new projects, jobs, and relationships".

Hmmm. Returns to school. Maybe I've been at this whole university thing for too long, but this worries me. It's a bit ironic that I'm concerned that some of you might be going back to school, and here's why: when I was in junior high, a girl at school tried to get me into Bikini Kill, but I just wasn't having it (don't worry, I came around a few years later), partly because of Tobi Vail's ideas about "school". On some ancient website that I can't find now, Tobi encouraged her young female readers to drop out of school and start bands because college can wait and you should do what you want. I was kind of horrified by this, and I even wrote her an e-mail, asking if it was maybe irresponsible for her to say something like that. Never got a reply.

Tobi's advice bothered me because it struck me as real Anglo middle class bullshit. Such people can afford to go to college, and they can also afford not to go. Frequently, they can get by on privilege where the rest of us need real credentials. I come from a large family of working class Italian Americans and Puerto Rican migrants, a family that saw an education as the most important means of upward mobility. Tobi Vail's suggestion that I abandon that vehicle, and disappoint my family, was unthinkable to me.

All these years later, I stand by my assessment of Tobi's ideas. But now I've been in university for almost a decade, and I understand what she meant. It might have sounded color (and class) blind, but Tobi was asking us to drop out of The Establishment, because that's what school is. School is the lay term for Academia, and Academia, I've come to realize, is pretty much patriarchy in its undiluted form. The way it's organized, the way it's run, the way it's funded: all of it is based on serving the needs of the mens. And that means hard times not only for the ladies but for people of color, people from lower tax brackets, people who sleep with people of the same sex, and pretty much anyone else who deviates from 'the norm'.

I could be wrong, but I don't think any of that could possibly appeal to any of you. You're too good for that! To be succinct, I'm afraid you kids might just be too cool for school.

But you know what? I had to figure out school and what it's really about on my own, and you probably do too. It was part of my 'process', and if some of you need to take this academic journey, to a bachelor's degree or beyond, well, who am I to try and stop you? Because it's not that I want to keep you from going to school. Really, for all my bitching, a lot of my experiences at grad school have been really rewarding.

What I want is to spare you the pain of realizing how brutal and disappointing school can be. Learning stuff and meeting new people, that's great, but there's a lot more to school than that. School usually also comes with arbitrary and ridiculous policies, useless administrators, reams of paperwork, and overwhelming expenses. It can be rough, and it can batter your belief system, and your understanding of yourself.

So I guess what I'm really saying, Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer, and Michelle, is this: go to school, but don't forget who you are. Don't forget what you learned together, as a band, and what you produced as Mika Miko, or the kids you reached at the shows you played, because that's real and meaningful in way that all the papers and exams and degrees in the world will never be. Go to school, but don't let it break you.

Your homegirl,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musicians speak out against violence and sexism

In the past month, I've been to three musical performances, and at each one, I got to witness performers taking a stand against sexual violence, sexist language, and hate crimes. Allow me to take a moment to publicly commend each artist and band for doing so:

1) On September 18, I saw Zombie Dogs and Slingshot Dakota play at the Glass Door in Brooklyn. I was surprised when drummer Tom Patterson interrupted Slingshot Dakota's set to speak at length about sexual assault within Brooklyn's punk and underground music 'scene'/community. When I say at length, I mean at length. He spoke for at least ten minutes about how important it is to address these issues, not only for individual survivors, but also for the health and well-being of the entire community. I'd never seen anything like it before at a show, and it was kind of amazing. Props to Tom for saying what so many people can't or won't.

2) On October 9 I was lucky enough to see The Gossip at Terminal 5. In the middle of the band's set, there was some kind of skefuffle up in the front, and from where I was standing on the side, I couldn't really see or hear what was going on. Vocalist Beth Ditto interrupted the show in order to take charge of the situation and mediate. After a few minutes of quiet, wherein Beth spoke to some people in the audience, out of nowhere we all heard her say, "Why would you call her a cunt? I wouldn't call you a faggot, I don't know you!"

It seems that there was some friction and shoving between some guys at the show and the girls who were standing behind them. Beth took a few minutes to explain why it is never appropriate to call a woman a cunt, "unless it's like your best friend, and then sometimes it's funny." It became a running theme for the rest of the evening, as Beth reminded the audience every few songs how un-friendly and un-neighborly namecalling is, not to mention hurtful.

3) On October 17 I went to see Death First and Zombie Dogs at ABC No Rio in Manhattan. On the very same day, a march and rally were scheduled in the College Point area of Queens, where Jack Price, an openly gay man, was recently harassed and then brutally beaten.

Death First vocalist Jessy took some time to talk about the march and rally. She briefly explained what had happened, and why the march and rally had been organized. And she told the audience that Death First might not have any songs specifically about gay bashing, but that she thinks it's really important to approach everything she does "with non-violence".

In case it isn't clear, I dig this trend. I like when the musicians I see and listen to are brave enough to speak out against injustice, and I like when the music I listen to has a political and/or social message. Is there really a point to music that doesn't contain a message of some sort?

I didn't experience revelations or epiphanies or anything like that at any of these events. I'm already aware of these issues of sexism, violence, and, gay bashing, and I already denounce the perpetrators of these crimes, as well as the systems that support and perpetuate these crimes and that allow the perpetrators to go unpunished.

But it still struck me what a huge difference musicians can make when they talk about these issues. If these moments were meaningful to me, what could they have meant to other people in the audience? What could it mean for a kid who's been assaulted or harassed, but can't articulate what she or he has experienced? What could it mean for a young person who wants to talk about these problems, doesn't know how or where to start?

As Tom Patterson of Slingshot Dakota said, the only way to deal with these problems is to talk about them and keep talking about them. If musicians are able to start these conversations and help to keep them going, well, that could only be a good thing for those of us who are struggling every day against violence, sexism, and other types of oppression and discrimination.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Educational Listening edition

This week, Carrie Brownstein posted a fantastic piece over at Monitor Mix about last Friday night's Raincoats show in Brooklyn. Mary Timony and Softpower also performed, as well as Viv Albertine, on whom Carrie focuses in the review. (Head over there ASAP, there's a great video, which will no doubt make it onto this very blog at some time in the near future.)

I must confess, dear readers, that though I've read a great deal about them, I am basically unfamiliar with the work of The Slits. Which is kind of shameful for an individual who writes, in any capacity, about women in punk. But rather than lament this travesty further, I'm kicking off my own personal Slits education program with their iconic "Typical Girls".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hump Day Treat, "So pumped for this weekend!" Edition

The only thing better than a hump day treat is a hump day treat from a band you (...sort of) know. This week I'm pleased to share a video of a band from the New York City feminist punk and hardcore scene that I've been gushing about for so long now. This week, Rock and the Single Girl presents Brooklyn's own Death First!

Fronted by Jessy (formerly of the sorely missed Carnal Knowledge), Death First is kind of like Kieran Culkin's skeletal comic book character alter-ego in the movie adaptation of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys: dark, brutal, bone hard, and stripped down. That might not sound very feminist, but pay attention to the lyrics if you want to soak in the socially aware, politically charged goodness on this hump day.

Want to hear the studio version? Stream it at their myspace, where you can also download it for *free* (that's right, POR GRATIS!) along with the rest of their demo!

And for those of you in the New York City area who want to experience the magic for yourself: catch them this Saturday at ABC No Rio!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons learned after 379 days in.

While I'm not what you'd call a 'quitter', I'm still sort of surprised that this blog is a year old. I've spent the last few days thinking about what a year of blogging has meant for me.

As one might expect, I've learned a lot about writing: I've learned how to be nice without being sappy, how to be critical without being snarky, how to draw comparisons and make references without sounding like a name-dropping douchebag. (I hope.) And all of this is important, because writing about something non-verbal, like the sound and movement in a performance, is actually quite difficult.

But I think what I've learned about women and their standing in music culture(s) is kind of more important:

1. There are tons of women in punk and rock's other less accessible genres. Not so long ago, I found myself telling a close friend, "Sometimes I'm worried that there aren't other girls out there. Who play music and care about good bands, and punk, and playing music. 'Cause if they aren't out there, I might as well just end it now." This concern? Totally unfounded. If you look for it, you will find amazing work being done by female musicians. This might be hard to believe, but trust me: it's an issue of visibility, not presence. Which sort of brings me to my next point...

2. There don't seem to be anywhere near enough feminist or even female-friendly writers out there to cover all these artists. There are probably many reasons for this. I think one reason is that the need is going unrecognized. If women and feminist musicians suffer from such low visibility, why would anyone, male or female, think that columns, blogs, articles, and other literature devoted to such artists are necessary? The same goes for so-called 'women's issues'. If sexism itself and inequality are ignored, why would any one believe that attention to women and 'women's issues', in any area of culture or society is necessary?

3. Despite what you hear, dialogues on music (and art in general) and 'women's issues' are totally necessary. This blog started out as a way for me to cope with not being able to really play music or even talk about it while in grad school. And I was insecure about it in a lot of ways. On top of feeling guilty for not being happy with grad school, I worried that music and feminism weren't as important as I thought they were.

But now there are people who actually read my blog, and they've responded positively to some of my ideas. And so I had to accept the possibility that I might be doing something right, here. I've realized that in speaking openly about music and especially feminism, I say things that some people can't say. I have the opportunity to articulate problems that someone out there might be facing. There's nothing more gratifying than having the power to validate someone else's experience, and having your own validated in return by a reader.

So, thank you, everyone for reading! And thank you for playing, for writing, and for putting yourselves out there. To a year of Rock and the Single Girl, and many more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hump Day Treat: More Sweet Gossip Edition

My love and appreciation of (the) Gossip is well-established, I know. But I'm in the mood to celebrate: not only did the tangible, non-digital, cd version of The Gossip's newest release, Music for Men finally hit stores yesterday, but the disco euro punk power trio themselves just hit the road! So today let's give it up for the band's newest single on this sort of dreary, sort of not day!

The Gossip will be touring both the U.S. and Europe in the next two months! Get the dates here at their myspace. After watching the video I'd say it's worth checking out just to see if they have an actual keytar onstage, wouldn't you?

"Dresses and pointy boots and stuff": Sara Quin Fights The System!

A facebook friend who likes to express her love for Tegan and Sara by posting numerous links to T&S-related articles, videos, and photos recently shared the following:

Here's the obvious soundbite from this interview: "...we showed up at this big photo shoot in New York and I get in there and I look at the rack of clothes, and it's like, dresses, and pointy boots and stuff and I was like -- I said to the photographer, the guy that was running the shoot, I said -- 'I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes, but I do not want to wear these clothes myself.' And they didn't think that was funny."

I will admit to watching this video three times in rapid succession. I watched it a second time both to laugh at Sara's story again, and to make sure that she had, in fact said "I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes...." I watched it a third time because I noticed the first half of the story, and couldn't believe that either:

"...recently, Tegan and I decided, we're not gonna be forced to wear clothes that we don't feel comfortable in."

I find it surprising, and a little depressing, that Tegan and Sara have this problem. Haven't they been touring and working for a while now? Aren't they kind of really famous? Don't they make a fair amount of money, and thus have the power to decide what they want to wear?

Of course, there's more than one interpretation of this story. Sara doesn't specify what parties have pressured her and her sister to dress 'more feminine', and it sounds like Sara could be referencing some sort of personal issue. Maybe the pressure she's talking about is some sort of internal pressure.

But that's not my instinct. I get the impression from what Sara says in the video that there's some history of coercion in her career, some on-going arm twisting regarding the way she and Tegan present themselves. That even Tegan and Sara have to deal with this veiled sexism and heterosexism is kind of crazy to me, but I guess the male gaze falls upon all of us at one point or another.

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me truly appreciative of the local and independent bands I have access to. I'm really lucky, I get to to go local shows put on and attended by girl bands and their sometimes male friends and supporters, and it's an autonomous operation. Women and girls at these shows, both performers and spectators, are free to dress the way they want, because they don't have to dress to fit any sort of male gaze. The male gaze is a key feature of The System. These bands, and also the community-based and feminist organizations that work with them, appear to be dedicated to working outside of The System.

As cool as that might sound, it breaks down into a troubling dichotomy: comfort, or 'success'? Are those really the options? Must we choose between dressing as casually or comfortably or, gasp, un-femininely as we like, or attaining the level of recognition that bands like Tegan and Sara have worked so hard for?

But that's one of the many things I really respect about the local bands I get to see regularly: they don't labor under the traditional definition of success. I can't tell you how any of these bands actually define success because I haven't exactly asked them. But from what I've seen, it's kind of apparent that 'success' isn't about multi-million dollar record contracts or private jets or fashion magazines. In this context, success has more to do with creating a space and time, however brief, where you can make art and music with awareness and integrity both with and for your friends. Success is the act of resistance that is simply being outside The System, and existing in opposition to it. This is a type of success that I can happily get behind.

And what about those of us like Tegan and Sara who are in The System? Heinous and sexist as the music industry is, maybe it's not as bad as it seems. I mean, when was the last time you saw either Tegan or Sara in a dress? Or pointy boots? Maybe a video of Sara cracking jokes about her sartorial 'butchness' is representative of the progress women and gays are making. Maybe it's proof that The System is changing.

***Thanks to Kirie for posting the aforementioned video!