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Friday, September 17, 2021

Never Mind The Sexism: The women in punk who are calling out the music industry’s ever-growing gender gap.

main Riot Spears

With gender inequality being big news in Germany, Punktuation’s Teejay chats to Berlin’s Noise Punks, Riot Spears, and the founders of Ladies&Ladys – the world’s ‘first official sexist record label’, and asks, “are women at war with men?”

It all began mid-May when one of the largest German music festivals, Rock Am Ring, announced the preliminary line-up for 2022, consisting of 197 male and only 10 female musicians.

The German Music Women Initiative did some further digging and found out that 96% of ALL the artists who performed on stage in previous years were men. This created gender debates across social media and within the German music industry ranks.

Am Rock Ring

At the same time, there is an ongoing debate about sexism within the punk scene under the hashtag #punktoo on Instagram which spurred on the German Plastic Bomb Punk Fanzine to investigate just how many FLINTA* (Female/Lesbian/Intersex/Non-Binary/Trans/Agender) bands there are out there.

To dig deeper, Punktuation’s German correspondent Teejay had a chat with the two Johannas, founders of Ladies&Ladys – “the first officially sexist* music label in the world” and Berlin’s raging all-female grunge-pop trio Riot Spears: Martha (guitar/vocals), Svenja (bass/vocals) and Blanca (drums/vocals).

Riot Spears

Inspired by the sounds of the ’90s Seattle and Riot Grrrl scene, this raw and energetic band founded themselves at the end of 2018. Their music is influenced by punk, noise and grunge. ‘Post-post grunge’ or ‘angry pop’ can also be used as a label if required.

They have recently released their first album “Bad”.

Riot Spears Photo: Yelda Ceyda

Ladies&Ladys

Ladies&Ladys website admits that at first glance, calling themselves the world’s ‘first officially sexist record label’ may appear provocative. But it points out that 95% of the music industry is male-dominated, and sexism is an everyday experience. The board members of the three major labels in the world are exclusively male, and the proportion of women on the stages of the big festivals is often less than 10%.

Ladies&Ladys Label says they are a completely transparent music label that takes care of the promotion of women in the music industry.

In their company manifesto, they state: “Our management is 100% female. We promote women* but we do not reject cooperation with men. *We discriminate against discrimination.

Johanna B. and Johanna K. Founders of Ladies&Ladys Records

Teejay (Punktuation): So, are we at war with men?

Johanna K (Ladies&Ladys): We are at war with the structure and not with certain individuals. Patriarchy is not “just some dudes”, but the fossilised structures against which we are trying to do something.

Johanna B (Ladies&Ladys): I don’t want to wage a war. I find it exhausting. It comes down to the fact that some 95 percent of the music industry is run and dominated by men and there is not much room to talk about it. Fighting is the wrong thing to do and I would rather try to get us on board.

We are at war with the structure and not with certain individuals. Patriarchy is not “just some dudes”, but the fossilised structures against which we are trying to do something.” Johanna K. Ladies & Ladys

Svenja (Riot Spears): I agree. It is not a struggle against men but against the structures in general. Against what some CIS-men usually argue, there are all-female and FLINTA bands out there, so that’s not an excuse to say these bands don’t exist.

The problem is that these bands in general are not being acknowledged and not being appreciated for standing on a stage. And also because many FLINTA persons didn’t dare to take to the stage and there is still a lack of self-confidence about it. Society is like that. It’s sort of “natural” that the women somehow play the violin and not the drums… it’s so strange how deep-rooted that social conditioning is. And as FLINTA you are generally not encouraged in so many forms.

Johanna K: Sometimes it feels like a fight because we actually have better arguments – but they are often not heard and often not taken seriously. And that’s always the point where you feel like you’re fighting against the windmills.

Teejay: What is it like for you to be a woman in the scene? Which challenges are you facing while running a label or being a musician?

Johanna B: There are lots of good things: we’ve started this label, and we are working on the visibility of FLINTA bands. We get a lot of positive feedback, and we are pleased about the support, and we think that we are doing the right thing.

But the sexist crap in the music industry happens every day. It’s just becoming more and more visible now. For example, there was a sound engineer dude at a Riot Spears concert, and he was mansplaining your instrument to you just before the gig, and that’s not okay.

Some time ago I was booking a concert and was looking for a sound engineer, and I said that we’ve got an awareness concept and we’re going to do an hour-long awareness training before the concert.

His answer was: “If someone gives me shit, I’ll give you shit, no matter if it’s a man or a woman. I don’t care” – and then he walked out. I think the list is long and the examples are many.

riot spears
Photo Credit: Ole Kracht

Johanna K: I actually want to say something positive. I’m getting more and more FLINTA bands on my radar, that’s definitely increased exponentially, and that’s been a positive aspect in the last two years.

Blanca (Riot Spears): You can’t get around everyday sexism, even with indirect things, that you worry so much, like thinking, “Oh God, tomorrow is the gig like, what’s going to happen next”. It feels like you always have to prove yourself – it’s totally exhausting.

Even though you have mastered playing several instruments, you have to go in with a certain attitude because I can do it, and I won’t let anyone explain to me how to do it. Yet it happens all over again anyway, so that´s a constant burden.

Johanna B: What upsets me is when you address the topics and values nicely, and you are often stonewalled or that it turns into a fight – even though I did not want that at all.

Johanna K: The essence is that, as a band, you can’t do both – you can’t play a show and deal with mansplainers and educate people at the same time. Our intention as a label is to take that off the bands’ chest and do the education part. That’s why we’ve developed the awareness concept.

Teejay: So Germany is still conservative in that regard?

Svenja (Riot Spears): It is conservative in the sense that one sticks to what one already knows. However, Berlin’s subculture scene is definitely not like that. But with large-scale festivals, there are usually many weird business excuses like the audience, the profitability and so on, for not including FLINTA in the line-up.

And if there is no pressure from outside that, then there are not so many reasons to change something, unless you are really convinced that it is worth it that your booking becomes more diverse.

Some bookers will say, “if the women’s band is good or the FLINTA band is good, then they will somehow make a name for themselves, and then I’ll book them too,” and then you rely on the market, and that´s their argument.

But blaming it on the audience is the same as saying the consumers are to blame for capitalism. Like it’s the audience’s fault that there are no FLINTA bands that are not big enough for the stages or something.

riot spears

Johanna B: We are observing the latest trend that small-scale festivals and events are now getting more funding if they book FLINTA bands. I feel ambivalent about that, especially because it seems unfair for the newcomer all-male bands.

It is not their fault that Rock Am Ring, for example, has been booking men-only bands for the last hundreds of years. Another problem is, as a band, you cannot just apply to play at Rock Am Ring and similar big festivals. If they want you – they reach out to you.

That means you first have to get the opportunity to play all these small concerts so that the bookers of big festivals become aware of you. The good thing is there is now more funding for small events where FLINTA bands can play and, who knows, maybe in 10 years, or so FLINTA bands get their chance at Rock Am Ring, haha.

“We are observing the latest trend that small-scale festivals and events are now getting more funding if they book FLINTA bands. I feel ambivalent about that, especially because it seems unfair for the newcomer all-male bands.” Johanna B. Ladies&Ladys

Teejay: Let’s talk about the Riot Spears. What do Work Bitch by Britney Spears, Marxism and your music have in common?

Svenja: Actually, it was all a play on words initially, and then we have interpreted different things into it. One meaning is the connection to the Riot Grrrl scene, which is also anti-capitalist oriented.

We are against this whole attitude of, “if you want to be successful in music, sell a lot of records, have a lot of fans and play big stages, then you have to fulfil certain criteria”, to grind and to “Work Bitch”. We are saying that we don’t have an interest in the “work bitch” ethic. We just want to make music, and that’s all.

Riot Spears – Mermaid Bitch 2021

Teejay: Are your songs political? How would you describe your debut album? Classic early ’90s grunge with a punk touch, what else?

Martha: It is difficult to say what is political and what is not. Is it political to write about social grievances, or is it political to write about patriarchal structures or psychological problems like the feeling of being worthless and where these feelings might come from?

Especially in the capitalist society, there is often no space to report feelings in that way. Mainstream music is only about romantic love over and over again. I think it is political to write about women’s place in these structures and discover perhaps something strange in oneself and question where all of that actually comes from.

I also think it is political to have the freedom to say, look, I’ve started a band, we make music, we create something productive together, but not productive in the capitalist sense, but simply something human.

riot spears

We create the art together, against that notion that everything must be exploited. And our song lyrics are very different. There are very concrete political concerns – a lot about the reproduction of violence and sexual transgressions. It is a lot about how we experience things and always a little bit wrapped with irony to get another perspective.

Svenja: A lot of our songs have a political statement to some extent – like, that you don’t have to choose this or that. Mermaid Bitch is a political song. A mermaid is a pretty woman with a tail who wants a guy, like that Ariel character we’ve learned from fairy tales. This portrayal of a female character like that is an annoying generalised classification. This stereotypical thinking is super annoying, so we address that.

Martha: Our music has different levels, the emotional level, the socio-psychological level, the socio-critical level. We have a song, Pathetic, that can be interpreted as quite kitschy. It is about a love story, but the lyrics go like “it might be that he hates me”, and that could also be interpreted like ‘look, the patriarchy hates us’ yet we still somehow cry out to get the recognition of the men. It really depends on how one hears it, always.

Teejay: Do you have any influences and who would you like to share the stage with?

Blanca: I would definitely like to be on stage with Garbage. I loved them ever since I was 12.

Martha: I used to listen to Nirvana and Alice in Chains a lot and also Hole – we have a lot in common as a band. I also focused more on listening to music by women. Also, the bands that don’t directly have anything to do with what we do like System of a Down. The Coathangers, Courtney Barnett… would be some female bands that would be very cool to play with.

Svenja: It would be cool to play with Skunk Anansie and with Skin – she is a role model for me. She jumps into the audience and is one of the first black female persons who has made a career in an alternative spectrum, and I find her personality and music impressive. We all also love Skating Polly.

Teejay: Which all-female and/or FLINTA German bands would you recommend?

Blanca: Passionless Pointless from Berlin.

Martha: Wrackspurts, 24/7 Diva Heaven, Luminescent, Jens Ausderwäsche

Riot Spears live/ Credits: Ole Kracht

Teejay: What is punk for you? Are you punk?

Blanca: I don’t see myself as a punk at all, maybe because I grew up in Bavaria, and that didn’t exist there at all, haha. I am trying to live as anti-capitalist and as minimalist as possible. I try to have very little, but I can’t identify with being punk because I’ve missed the whole scene and subculture.

Martha: Punk is often a collective term for many people. One group of people can be punk – and they would distinguish themselves from each other – “you are not punk, but we are” – I find it very difficult, even if you are from the ’80s or ’90s or a contemporary. I think people understand different things under punk.

We as a band criticise power relations and inequalities in society and the structures that we ourselves are socialised under. For us, it’s a lot about getting into a conversation, communicating, but we also have our boundaries there.

Riot_Spears3

Svenja: For me, it is more important to be clearly positioned as anti-fascist than to be part of a scene. I have sympathies for the punk… However, rigid macho structures within the punk scene are not necessarily aware of women and FLINTA.

I wouldn’t say I like pigeonholes except to say being anti-fascist and anti-sexist is the most important to me. If that applies to punk, that’s great, but it is something beyond punk.

Johanna B: I grew up in a youth centre where there were punk bands on stage where only men were playing. Once, it happened that men stripped completely naked on stage, which was problematic because I was underage in a youth shelter, but that was “normal” back then.

Years later, I came to the idea to develop the awareness concept while I was doing some work with the Austrian SBÄM Records and Bad Cop Bad Cop. We have our own values as a label, and punk is way too big, so I can’t sign myself to belong to it completely.

Teejay: Is there anything you feel like sharing and I forgot to ask you?

Riot Spears and the Ladies: Yeah, we want to do a tour to Australia!


Riot Spear Socials

Ladies&Ladys Records


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