Friday, 18 January 2013

Musical Rant - "Is guitar music more sexist than electronic music?" by Roberta from Curxes

Have we got a treat for you today Session Bloggernists (sorry, I know that sounds shit, I will think of something better one day, when I can be arsed, I promise), we have a blog post written by the wonderful Roberta from the band Curxes.
A few days ago her bandmate Macaulay talked about his love of Sleigh Bells and now we have Roberta going on a musical rant about sexism in music and boy, are you lot in for a treat!  I am seriously thinking of jacking blogging in now as I just don't know how this post will ever be topped, it is an excellent read and Roberta has just become one of my favourite bloggers in the blogosphere, she is a natural.
Before I hand you over, if you haven't heard Curxes yet (they are as brilliant at music as they are blogging) I have posted a You Tube clip of their song 'Spectre' at the end of this post.
Anyway, without further ado, here's Roberta...

Guitar music is back! Well that’s great. If you need me at all, I’ll be in the kitchen eating fancy crisps and listening to Kraftwerk (“Tour de France” singalong, Monster Munch everywhere). It’s not that I have anything against guitar music at all. In fact, I used to be in a post-punk band with a horrendous Motley Crue-esque barnet, glitter make-up and the traditional guitars/bass/drums setup, but I’d just like to clear up a couple of things...
My first gripe is with you, ‘male guitar music elitist’ and that fun argument we always have about whether ‘synthesizers count as real instruments’ (further anger here) or that it’s ‘girl music’. You could ask someone at Moog perhaps what they’ve spent the last year doing arsing about with that fake piece of junk? But hold on, what’s that you’re running your guitar through? An effects pedal? Manufactured by Boss (part of the Roland group that builds synthesizers)? Which amplifies and manipulates the sound of your instrument?! And that kind of sounds like a Farfisa?! Shock horror! It’s electronic! You’re a fraud. It’s not real, man.
The second point I’d like to raise, which is more bothersome than anything but completely open for discussion, is the assumption that guitar music is ultimately a male-dominated game. In fact, my biggest trepidation about its ‘triumphant and imminent return’, comes in light of a few artful rants I saw online which protested against ‘fakers’ in the music industry. I read through what they had to say about 90s bandwagon-jumping (I like TLC but that’s as far as it goes), contrived US slang (when you’re from Surrey), the transient nature of cool (I listened to obscure jazz once, you know) and many other points which highlighted their disillusionment with a select few among their musical peers. I read their outpour in agreement for the most part, nodding along with the bit about smashing instruments in front of East London’s apathetic crowds (Unsureditch, as we like to call it), but then I felt a little uneasy...
There was a reference to girls in guitar bands, moreover, that the girls are only in those bands to boost things in the attractiveness stakes or to act as an ornament. This struck me as actually a little outdated and maybe even borderline offensive (see also: this ridiculous advert). I’m pleased to say that I’ve never received any unpleasant attention as a result of embracing circuitry fully and being a female electronic musician. True, I’ve had the odd snidey comment about the music as a whole, but then haven’t we all? You’ve got to ‘LOL’ with the punches. Or something. However, in my previous band, which was more guitar-orientated, I had to deal with constant grief for being a female in a guitar band. Inherently disrespectful comments ranged from “well, they’ve only got that far because they have a girl in the band” to the slightly more patronising remark whilst packing away equipment, “aww, and which band are you here to see sweetheart?” – in a little baby voice too? Ah, you really shouldn’t have! This then followed up with being pushed, jabbed at and harassed for the rest of the headline band’s set. On another occasion packing up gear, I was forcefully grabbed and pinned against the wall of a venue in soup-loving Covent Garden, because that’s standard if you’re the little girlio hanging out with the real musicians. It’s ok, he got thrown out. Arsehouse...
I have always written music as a way of articulating how I feel, maintaining it’s cheaper than counselling in the long run and provides an opportunity to be more eloquent than in real life, plus I have always been the primary songwriter. The notion that women in guitar bands are seen as no more than a visual commodity or novelty, without being recognized for their songwriting abilities/achievements, really effs me off and I bet there are hundreds like my old self dealing with this nonsense at every show they play (read all about it!). Sure, there are axe-wielding female musicians who are very visual or overtly sexual in their performance and media, but it is done so as an interpretation of their music which they write and comes from a place of empowerment. Moreover, the visual element is not present as a distraction from said music; it is an accompaniment to the “art”, or “choons” if you’re less pretentious. Take Polly Jean Harvey as an exemplar. She bares all lyrically, through dark wit and obviously sexual turns of phrase, only to get a reputation as a “man-hater” / psycho (as this satirical set of reviews highlights) but her dude-y equivalent gets to talk about his “no pussy blues” in a tongue-in-cheek way and is generally left to get on with it (hint: maybe you should get to know them properly first and form a meaningful connection? Haha, only joking Nick, you little rascal).
Maybe it’s my bad eyesight, but women in electronic music seem to be far more openly accepted and celebrated for their contributions to our life’s soundtrack in the last 50 years or so than women in the straight-up guitar music scene; Suzanne Ciani, Delia Derbyshire, Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, Gillian Gilbert, Grimes, Annie Lennox, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Laurie Spiegel, Daphne Oram, Leila, Alison Goldfrapp and so on (no sign of that changing this year either. Hi Chvrches & Polly Scattergood.). Their musical output is widely revered, respected and it would appear, more rapidly absorbed into the public consciousness than their guitar-wielding or guitar-backed contemporaries. Electronic music seems to give women the freedom to express themselves musically without their Top Trumps ‘prettiness’ ranking taking precedence (I think mine’s about 4 – still saving up for that boob job...). I struggle to reel off as many in the guitar realm who are solely known for their songwriting above their looks. Patti Smith? Suzi Quatro? What about The xx as a modern example (again, a Marmite choice for some of you)? There were some awful comments made after their Mercury Award win about Romy, their singer, primarily about her appearance rather than the musical merit of their minimal yet guitar-y first album. I always thought she looked more like Tracey Thorn, but there you go.
“Lipstick feminist!”, I hear you cry. Well, I just think it’s odd that there are so many differing standards between the two genres when they are both a valid part of the alternative music scene as a whole. As part of a male/female electronic duo, my bandmate Macca and I are treated with equal respect (and I thank him for his support in having read my venting). Is it because electronic music is more indebted to its female pioneers than guitar music? Is ‘sexist’ just the default nature of a corporate business which electronic/synthesizer music, somehow, is cleverly subverting? Is the whole “guitar music” thing just marketing bullxhit? Does it work both ways too, in that I can have naked bearded backing singers dangling freely (applicants should email a picture of themselves for consideration...)? Or perhaps I’m just looking at electronic music through Korg-tinted spectacles. In a recent post on her Tumblr blog, Pitchfork editor Laura Snapes called for a broader, more inclusive definition of the term “guitar music” and it’s certainly a welcome consideration. Maybe if that were the case, we wouldn’t hear about “token females” in bands and, perhaps, the other girl in my class at college would’ve stayed on and got her qualification instead of taking boisterous jibes to heart and leaving after only a year.
Out of interest, I Googled “female guitar music celebrated” & “female electronic music celebrated”. Not only was there a difference of 1,400,000 million results, but the top results for each were interesting too...
Guitar music:

Electronic music:

I also looked on Wikipedia for a tiny piece of credit for women with guitars:

P.S. If nothing else, we all stand together on Fanny, right?
P.P.S . Do Sleigh Bells count as guitar music or electronic music?
Over to you.

Thanks for contributing Roberta, if you and Macaulay ever want to write for Session Bloggers again you're always welcome to do so.  I'd love for you both to come back soon.

Before I go, as promised, here's a clip of the brilliant 'Spectre' by Curxes. Enjoy...

As always, thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon.

Loads of love

Simon S.


  1. "Maybe it’s my bad eyesight, but women in electronic music seem to be far more openly accepted and celebrated for their contributions to our life’s soundtrack in the last 50 years or so than women in the straight-up guitar music scene; Suzanne Ciani, Delia Derbyshire, Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, Gillian Gilbert, Grimes, Annie Lennox, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Laurie Spiegel, Daphne Oram, Leila, Alison Goldfrapp and so on (no sign of that changing this year either. Hi Chvrches & Polly Scattergood.)"

    Helen Marnie & Mira Aroyo from the well-respected band Ladytron deserve a mention.

    1. Good shout. I'm sure Roberta would agree. Thanks for commenting.

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