by Brittany Neron and Sofia Shutenko—two girls who started a band together
Sof: Britt and I met when she was a TA in my first-year gender studies class. I started seeing her at shows later that year, and the two worlds merged when I interviewed her for some fieldwork research on women in punk. Her experiences in the Ottawa scene resonated with me as a fucked up punk baby pouring my energy into a genre that I mostly didn’t see myself in. What I’d heard from my interviewees was important and we both felt should be read by more than just my prof, so she suggested that I work the series of academic interviews I’d conducted into a more succinct and shareable zine.
Britt: During the interview, we bonded over the fact that we both wanted to be in bands, but weren’t for different reasons—not being asked, a lack of representations of queer femme women fronting angry bands, the different standards women and men are held to as musicians, and so on. Two years later, I’m currently in two bands, playing shows regularly, and in an amazing “things coming full circle” moment, Sof and I are in a band together (DOXX), and I recently joined her as co-host on the radio show PRISM.
Sof: Collaboration is so powerful, especially femme to femme: the same woman who inspired me to make my research more accessible back when we first met now inspires me to rock the fuck out on stage in our band. But just as academia is often exclusionary and inaccessible to marginalized folks, so too is musicianship and artistry, even in a local context. In spite of these barriers, though, I know school and music to be things that have been nurturing and validating to both Britt and I. The relationship we have to these outlets is both born of and results in some privilege, which interacts with our identities as cisgender white women. We realize and are concerned with the fact that two white girls in a band is not and should not be considered a zenith of progress in a community so diverse. This article is an attempt to bridge the gaps between audience and performance, knowledge creation and absorption and collaboration, in a way that demystifies the process and encourages anyone who loves anything and has ever thought they can’t be directly involved in its production.
HOW YOU CAN
By Brittany Neron
The following list seeks to break down some of the tangible and logistical aspects of being in a band. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Navigating music stores and buying gear. Music stores can be scary—I’ve been flat out ignored and treated as if I was clueless. But I’ve also had great experiences—check out Spaceman Music on Gladstone; be open and honest about your abilities and knowledge and they should be happy to help you. Or do what I did—find a cheap guitar off Kijiji, run into a stranger’s home with sweaty hands feeling far too nervous to try it out, and hope to god it works.
Jamming and songwriting. Songwriting is an awkward, sloppy, hilarious process, so give in to it, break the tension, and acknowledge and articulate your comforts and discomforts. When I write songs, I like to record ideas on voice memos on my phone. At band practice, I’ll play the few parts I came up with, and as a band, we add to or modify them. Once we’ve got a song in place, we record the full rough version on another phone voice memo, and I revisit it later and work out some vocal melodies and lyrics. Don’t worry about rhyming all the time, a clever song is better than one that perfectly rhymes.
Where can I jam? Chat with your friends in bands and see where they jam. Sometimes you can find a great jam space in someone’s basement, or rent some space. In Ottawa, Capital Rehearsal Studios (613-321-4745), run by friendly familiar faces in the Ottawa music scene, rents out jam spaces—you can split the cost with your band members and pay monthly or by the hour (bonus: drop by the Gabba Hey shop while you’re there to pick up some records and zines).
Getting and playing shows. If you’re already tapped into your local music community, start spreading the word about your band. If you aren’t, get out there and start chatting with people at shows, or send some promoters in your area some information on your band so they can keep you on their radar. Having some recorded music to share helps, even if it’s a silly video of a jam. In a smaller scene like Ottawa, promoters are always looking for new local bands to fit a bill—they need you! Casual Hex, Crucial Collective, Babely Shades, and Debaser are just some of the great promoters putting on excellent shows in our city. Alternatively, book your own show! Contact a local venue you like, ask other promoters for help and information if needed, and do it yourself!
Being nervous on stage is normal and fine and never totally goes away. I’m still learning to be more comfortable on stage, and every show I loosen up a little bit more. It’s alright to feel totally self-conscious being watched while doing something pretty darn brave and vulnerable. For many women and marginalized folks, you’ve likely already learned how to make yourself small and take up less space, often as a survival strategy. I like to challenge myself to take up more space, but I’m still working on this and have to remind myself I don’t owe it to anyone to perform a certain way. Find what works for you.
The most significant and overarching piece of advice I can give is to be kind to one another. Cut-throat, competitive, gatekeeping, and entitled behaviour will get you nowhere. If you are in a position to do so, share what you have and what you know. This might mean lending someone your spare guitar, teaching your friend to play a few power chords, or helping your friend without a vehicle drive their gear to their show. When giving advice or sharing knowledge, make sure you do it carefully so as to not be condescending or paternalistic, particularly where unequal power relationships exist. If you are a promoter, try to book new and diverse bands and encourage the involvement of younger folks in the scene. Support new and upcoming projects and bands in Ottawa, and give lots of supportive feedback. Most importantly, just be kind and the rest will follow.
WHY YOU SHOULD
By Sofia Shutenko
Notes on why you (young/femme/queer/POC/all of the above) should be in a band:
Short answer: because it’s fun and we deserve to have more fun.
Long answer: I’m a queer femme woman with a big personality. I’m blunt, opinionated, maybe too honest, and I cackle when I laugh. I used to leave social situations wondering, was I too loud? Did I talk too much? Do those people think I’m obnoxious? Even though I enjoy embodying my own distinct kind of femininity, I have always felt that the way I am is at odds with normative demure femininity. I have felt like maybe it would be better if I reigned in my personality, calmed down and talked less, spoke more softly and about less serious things. I never manage to make these changes, but sometimes I wonder if I would be happier if I did.
Britt invited me to front a hardcore band about six months ago, and it is the most fun I have ever had doing anything. It’s been validating to the way I navigate “womanhood” and has obliterated any lingering concerns about whether i’m too loud/brash/stoked/intimidating. As a frontwoman I’m supposed to be the angriest and the loudest. The process is affirming and cathartic because I’m mad about a lot of things, as many of us rightly are.
You who love music as much as I do and feel the heat of fear and anger that rises from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or other systems of hate deserve the blissful invigoration of screaming your fucking throat out into a crowded room. Y’all have important things to say and being in a punk band is such a fun way to say them and somehow, even though it’s a hobby that seems to run on the propagation of anger, it has made me a much happier person.
So this is our call to action to folks who have ever felt unwanted or unimportant in a subculture space because of some aspect of their identity. You have more right to be here than the white boys who’ve been shitting out bands since they were 14. Please get together and make a racket and I promise I’ll be front row, losing my mind. •