New Indie trailblazers use modern tactic of social media to take on music scene.
From punks and rockers to pop queens and producers, a golden age for all-female bands has arrived on the New York music scene. Indie labels have given rise to acts such as rock trio Sharkmuffin, ukulele pop three-piece The Prettiots and Courtney Love’s favourite, Heliotropes – all part of a movement that began with Brooklyn’s Vivian Girls in 2007.
Women bands are playing at bars and clubs across the city, as well as major events such as the Museum of Modern Art’s carefully curated PS1 Warm Up, the annual outdoor summer concert series at the Long Island City art museum. Scores of blogs are documenting the phenomenon as well as publications such as New York Magazine and the Village Voice.
The current surge of female talent continues a long tradition of outstanding female musicians coming out of the city: Aaliyah was from Brooklyn, Alicia Keys from Manhattan, and Jennifer Lopez and Mary J Blige both from the Bronx.
Brittany Spanos, clubs editor at Village Voice and Rookie magazine staff writer, said: “NYC has a wonderful history of talented, trailblazing women who have been making music here for as long as the city has had a music scene. Punk gave us badasses like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry. There’s a real movement to see talented female artists get the type of exposure they deserve.”
While female-only bands now perform regularly at small festivals and venues in the city, the situation is very different in the field of electronic dance music, or EDM, which is big business in the US. In Las Vegas, for instance, a top DJ can earn $1m a night – but the DJ booth is still very much a male realm. In a reader-generated poll in DJ magazine of the top 100 DJs in 2013, there were only three female-led acts. In 2012, there was only one. “It’s disappointing to see the lineups for festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and see mostly white, male DJs taking up all the space,” said Spanos.
One of the possible reasons cited for why male headliners still dominate superclubs and major festivals is that it is an industry predominantly run by men. However, in New York this is now changing and venues are actively seeking to showcase local female talent.
At MoMA PS1’s Warm Up series, for example, a group of six music curators (male and female) from the music and performing arts industries have carefully selected a diverse and experimental lineup.
Margaret Knowles, curatorial assistant and Warm Up producer, said: “One of the missions of Warm Up is to present a very diverse musical and experimental sound programme across the summer’s lineup and we definitely think about presenting female artists in a field that is, as we all know, very male-dominated.”
So far, New York-based Japanese female duo, Cibo Matto, has been one of the most talked about acts in the series. “Seeing Cibo Matto – definitely one of my own formative and favourite ‘girl bands’ of all time – perform live is one of the things I’m most excited about over the course of the summer,” said Knowles. Other acclaimed acts performing over the summer are Ramona Lisa, a Brooklyn-based electronic band, and DJ UNiiQU3, a fixture of the New Jersey club scene.
One explanation for the success of female-only bands in New York is that social media have made it easier for them to get noticed for the merits of their music rather than the way they look. Music streaming sites such as Bandcamp and SoundCloud often feature artwork instead of photos of the artists and so the emphasis is on the product.
“In the past, it has always been tougher for women to earn respect in rock music. It takes being ‘one of the boys’ or showing their sexuality for them to get noticed,” said Spanos. “But that’s changing and the underground scene has become a breeding ground for female talent. There is a sea change happening in the DIY scene and women are at the forefront.”
Kay Kasperhauser, of the Prettiots, agreed, adding: “Being called a girl band is a label we wear with pride. New York has always been an epicentre for female action, and right now a new wave of it is building, young girls doing their thing and killing it.”
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