• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Girls aloud and proud

Lauren Mayberry of Glasgow electro trio Chvrches is recalling her ideological awakening.

POWER OF POP: Honeyblood, above, and Chvrches, below, appear in the weekend of workshops and music.
POWER OF POP: Honeyblood, above, and Chvrches, below, appear in the weekend of workshops and music.

"People always have really awesome stories about how they discovered feminism, but I'm sure I found out about it through the film 10 Things I Hate About You," laughs the writer and vocalist. "There's a bit where someone talks about Bikini Kill, and it mentions The Bell Jar and The Feminine Mystique, and I was like, 'What are these things?' And I wrote them down."

Thirteen years later, Mayberry's femme-powered TYCI collective is part of a local uprising in women-dominated DIY pop. In the coming weeks alone it will host its fourth monthly club night at Glasgow's Bloc, headlined by delirious noiseniks Divorce; Edinburgh feminist night Pussy Whipped will bring Spread Eagle to the Wee Red Bar in the College of Art; and LadyFest Glasgow will take over the Kinning Park Complex with a weekend of workshops and music including Muscles of Joy, Sacred Paws, Hector Bizerk and Conquering Animal Sound's Anakanak. In general female-led acts, such as Palms, Body Parts, Honeyblood, Patricia Panther, MC Soom T, The Rosy Crucifixion, Aggi Doom and Golden Grrrls are to the fore in Scottish music in 2013.

Mayberry's celluloid enlightenment led her to feminist punk (Bikini Kill), literature (Sylvia Plath) and theory (Betty Friedan) and ventures like TYCI, Pussy Whipped and LadyFest share a purpose in using pop counter-culture's clout as a conduit for feminist action, which chimes with the 20th anniversary of Riot Grrrl, a messy, vociferous call-to-arms that was spearheaded by US bands Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. It urged women to shout out against misogyny and sexism via DIY music, fanzines and activism, fuelled by the slogan "Revolution, Girl Style, Now!"

Mayberry is wearing a Bikini Kill T-shirt when we meet. "Yeah, I'm a total poster child," she deadpans. TYCI has several Riot Grrrl hallmarks – the old-school 'zines (topics range from abortion in Ireland to pornography); the social activism (each club night raises money for a different women's charity); the identifying skin graffiti that merges punk sloganeering with 1960s and 1970s feminist body art (access to TYCI club nights is free if you pen the letters on your knuckles). But Mayberry's is a 21st-century reading of Riot Grrrl's chaotic doctrine. It embraces the internet and social media and cites journalist Caitlin Moran alongside Simone de Beauvoir. Its local community includes Halina Rifai of Glasgow Podcart and Olive Grove Records, club nights Milk and Laid and Hollaback in Edinburgh and is bolstered by a global outlook, sourcing artwork and ideas from Australia, Hawaii and Cardiff.

As Chvrches' vocalist, Mayberry is adamant that focus should be on the band as a songwriting unit (it is completed by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty) and not on her as a "front-woman". Little wonder, perhaps, when past experiences include being turned away from her own gig because "girlfriends aren't allowed" and a live review that equated having a girl in a group with having a saxophone. TYCI was born of a collective dismay at the male-governed music scene.

"We were in the pub one night talking about how there are so many women in bands – and so many women artists and photographers – yet you encounter people who still think that's niche."

This year's LadyFest Glasgow was a response to a similar disaffection, explains Emilia, a member of its organising committee.

LadyFest was launched in Olympia in 2000 as a global, post-Riot Grrrl not-for-profit festival, backed by acts like The Gossip and Sleater Kinney. Each city's event is autonomously run. "A friend emailed a few of us saying the line-up of a popular music festival in Glasgow was looking awfully male-dominated. She'd done some back-of-an-envelope maths, and out of 26 headlining artists, with each band member counting as one artist, only one was a lady. Of non-headlining artists, 10 out of 77 were women.

"A few days later we had the first meeting," Emilia recalls. "Ladyfest Glasgow was borne out of frustration that women musicians and artists are under-represented and routinely sidelined at music events."

'It was ever thus. Wire Media's Lee Beattie introduced LadyFest to Glasgow in 2001, after attending 2000's inaugural Olympia bash, and her original vision still rings true. "I think our mantra at the time was along the lines of, 'A festival by women, for women, showcasing the talents of women from around the UK and overseas,'" she recalls. "The key goal was provide a space for women to be creative. We felt there wasn't really one in the mainstream."

"Before starting Ladyfest, I wasn't particularly aware there was anything going on in Glasgow. I knew of a few bands like Pink Kross and Bis, but it wasn't until we put LadyFest out there I discovered there were a lot of women and girls making art, music and writing. I travelled quite a long way to discover a lot of this grassroots culture was available on my doorstep," she reflects.

Over a decade on, Mayberry is similarly encouraged by local reactions to TYCI, which underscores the need for such a platform. "We're really pleased with the response, because at first we thought, maybe no-one else wants this.

"I've only had two complaints," Mayberry adds. "One was someone saying they didn't understand why a feminist club night would admit men, but I don't know that it should be branded as a feminist club night – it's run by women, and I am a feminist, but not everybody in the group identifies as that. I can't personally get on board with something that excludes anybody. Someone else said they thought we should be more forthcoming about the fact our night is open to bi, gay and trans people, but everyone's welcome – it's friendly to anyone who anyone who wants to come in and support it."

LadyFest Glasgow is "committed to being an inclusive and intersectional event", says Emilia. "Everyone, of all identities or genders, is welcome. The bands have to be at least 50% women – we want to demonstrate it's possible to curate a line-up that represents women, but we also want to allow space for women who collaborate with men to perform on the bill.

"And by woman, we mean anyone who self-defines as a woman and it's important to us that this is real paid work for all those participating, not another instance where women's work goes undervalued and underpaid."

With such eclectic line-ups, these upcoming events look lots of fun but demonstrate pop's power to cast light and volume on wider issues. Beattie nods: "This is not just down to festival booking. It's about the space women have throughout society."

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

138373