introducing: war on women
by tim forster
Feminist polemicists War on Women
are a hardcore punk sonic assault on sexism. The band were formed in 2010 by Shawna Potter
and Brooks Harlan
in Baltimore and have had two releases: Improvised Weapons in 2012 and their eponymous album released in 2015 on Bridge Nine Records.
Singer Shawna's experience in drama means the lyrics are delivered within an unusually full spectrum of communication as she commands your attention with her stage presence. This is no more apparent than in ‘Broken Record’ when she subjects a male member of the crowd to the escalating aggression of street harassment normally experienced by women. Live she reminded me of a terrifying flamenco dancer I saw a few years ago in Seville; the same flashing eyes and controlled power. To be honest I don’t think I’ve seen a better front person.
how did war on women start, shawna?
Brooks Harlan and I had been in a band before this one. We’ve been writing music together for a long time and at some point that old band, which was called Avec
, kinda fizzled out. We knew we wanted to do something heavier and we wanted to talk about the political climate, which it seemed like no one was at the time. We had the midterm elections of 2010 coming up and we were thinking about songs and I was getting pissed [off]. We started talking to people asking ‘Hey do you want to join this band, by the way we are incredibly outwardly feminist, are you OK with that? Do you want to play this kind of music?’ It was very intentional that this is what the band is, this is what we’re doing, and that gives me these interesting parameters to what I write about. Can I talk about XYZ subjects from a feminist perspective? Or can I educate anyone on how this is a feminist issue when maybe it doesn’t seem like it is on the surface? It’s neat from a writing standpoint because I think when people give themselves some sort of parameters or restrictions you can actually really flourish.
i read that the phrase 'war on women' was first used by feminist author Andrea Dworkin and has become shorthand for Republican policies that disadvantage women. does the name ever cause confusion?
We’ve definitely got some looks in the airport for carrying our guitars with ‘War on Women’ on the side, I remember a woman in the airport looking at the guitar case and then looking at Brooks and saying ‘What does that mean?’ like you had better explain yourself! Which he did and then she was like ‘I don’t like that’. So I don’t know if she just didn’t like it from a man or if she was anti-feminist herself, you never know. The name seemed to fit with the style of music and we wanted people to think what does that mean, what is this? I’m OK with the fact that people have to check in with the name and make sure that we’re against the war on women and not for it, but I also think that people’s confusion comes from the fact that sometimes all-male bands decide to have fucked up names like Whores or Black Pussy or things like that. I don’t know if they’re are doing it to be funny or ironic but they are discounting people’s lives, they’re clueless and they think it’s OK. So of course someone is going to doubt War on Women
and assume it’s just a bunch of dudes that are actually sexist. I get that and so hopefully we can do away with that idea!
you're involved in 'hollaback baltimore'? tell us more
I actually founded the Baltimore Chapter but there are Chapters all over the world on almost every continent, many different languages, many different countries. It’s based out of New York but local people in their own towns can start their own Chapter, where they can organise and educate people around the issue of street harassment. It shows that street harassment and sexual harassment in general are not peculiar to one area or to one type of person or one language, it’s a worldwide problem. In general women are second class citizens and LGBTQ folks even worse. It is everywhere and the people that live in their own communities know best how to tackle it. I like that there is no white saviour coming in to tell everyone what to do. The people who actually live there are working on the issue, which I think is really beautiful. I founded the Chapter around the same time that I started War on Women
with Brooks. I was just feeling really inspired to do something in my late twenties, when I was realising that the world is bigger than me and that I need to do something about it! So I ran that for four years and I recently handed it off to someone else to run the day to day but I’m still involved in a general shaping of where they go and running training sessions. I train venues which could be a bar, a music venue, a store, a coffee shop, whatever, in how to become safer spaces, directly telling them how to deal with street harassment when it happens on site, patron to patron. When a customer comes in and has just experienced street harassment, how to help them through the moment, basically acknowledging that street harassment happens and that our response should be victim-centered. At least half of their clients deal with street harassment all the time so how do you help promote the wellbeing of your customers and let them know they can come into your place anytime and feel OK and really in the end feel OK enough to keep spending money in your place, that they know they can complain to you. Everyone that I train gets the same information and the more trainings I do the bigger the network of people in Baltimore that know these simple steps to create safer spaces.
do you think harassment and objectification of women is a problem to the same extent in the punk scene as the mainstream? or is it an easier, safer place to be a woman?
Sexism and harassment are absolutely everywhere. If you’re going to a punk, hardcore gig or space, where you’re surrounded by people who look like you, then it should be safer. In a way, walking down this street in public I expect street harassment more than when I’m in The Owl Sanctuary [in Norwich] and I drop my guard a little bit more walking into that space, ‘cos I’m home and I’m hopeful and it’s tiring to carry around that expectation of ‘attack’ and you want to let it go some time. So walking into this space I’m going to let that go, I’m going to relax, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen and when it does its profoundly disappointing but I’ve found some hope in that as the lead singer of a feminist band I can stand up for myself in those situations. So I live up to my own standard of how powerful I think I should be, especially if it’s our show and we’re playing I don’t let anything slide and that’s a really great feeling.
who is your song 'diana la cazador' about?
"The more shows we play the easier it is for me to feel empowered on the street. I deserve to take up space, I deserve respect, I deserve dignity. I don’t deserve to have you talk to me that way!"
Diana the Hunter. There is an amazing statue of her in Mexico City. Not many people know about this but in Juarez, Mexico for decades now there have been mass disappearances of Mexican women. Either never found or found in a mass grave. The political system there is very corrupt and it can be a scary place for your average hard working person. The cops do nothing – if anything they perpetuate it – and so I read a story about a woman who wrote into a local newspaper calling herself Diana the Hunter and claiming credit for the murder of a male bus driver, saying: ‘The bus drivers are in on it, the cops are in on it. The bus driver knows, he’s the one taking them back and forth and so he’s complicit in some way. Even if it isn’t the specific bus driver who died’. She was saying this is really fucked up and you can’t keep doing this to the women of Juarez without expecting retaliation. I thought that was a really powerful story of revenge in an environment where there is no justice. So that song is about the woman calling herself Diana the Hunter who claimed to have killed this bus driver. I still don’t know if they know if she did or not. But I definitely know that still women are dying and disappearing in Juarez today. People should look that story up and see if there are ways they can get involved.
who are you currently listening to?
We are playing with Clowns
tonight and a few days ago we happened to play in Vienna together, that was really fun, I actually like them. And Beyoncé.
I’ve been mostly revisiting the self titled album, watching the videos on my iPod! And I’ve also been revisiting a lot of my early Sonic Youth
records because I’ve just finished Kim Gordon
’s book and she was talking about specific songs and I was going ‘I got to listen to the song’ while I was reading about it!
War on Women
's eponymous album is available from their Bandcamp
Thanks AGAIN to Tim Forster
for letting us use this abridged version of his interview (and for not getting pissy that I've cut out so much, including all his clever footnotes ...). You can read the full version on his blog here
[jump back to the top]
20 recommended recents
by kris smith
Tracks of Wire
LP (May 2016)
Fight Rosa Fight /
Split EP (Aug 2016)
No Excuses, Baby!
EP (Aug 2016)
Ceramic Cat Traces
LP (Aug 2016)
Wipe Me Dry
EP (April 2016)
The Bitch Diaries
EP (April 2016)
LP (June 2016)
She Makes War
Direction of Travel
LP (April 2016)
Jilt the Jive
LP (April 2016)
Are the Winners Always Losers?
EP (July 2016)
Age of Indignation
LP (April 2016)
EP (May 2016)
EP (May 2016)
LP (July 2016)
LP (May 2016)
Don't Take My TV
LP (Feb 2016)
EP (Jan 2016)
All Strikes No Gutters
EP (Mar 2016)
The Big Fit
LP (Mar 2016)
LP (Mar 2016)
and look out for these ...
The Tuts Update Your Brain LP (Sept)
Skinny Girl Diet Heavy Flow LP (Sept)
NOTS Cosmetic LP (Sept)
Las Kellies Friends and Lovers LP (Oct)
Fight Rosa Fight!
The Wimmins' Institute
The Ethical Debating Society
Our first ever one-day festival is looking set to be the biggest and best women-led event this year! This all-ages event will take place at the 700-capacity T.Chances in Tottenham, with 25 acts performing across two stages.
interview: mx tyrants
by ngaire ruth
MX Tyrants' music is for wriggly-hip-dancing, raised, lilting arms and pouting, with confident stare. The guitar has the swagger of Roxy Music or Duran Duran but with TONS more energy, poise and playfulness. Go Charley Stone, guitarist, and Lolo Wood, keys.
ngaire: Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
lolo: You have seen Charley Stone in a million squillion bands, famous ones on the telly an’ all. You have seen the two of us together in Ye Nuns, who play the music of The Monks, and you have seen all of us in another certain all-female band [Joanne Joanne] who play the music of another certain all-male band [Duran Duran].
charley: You’ll also have seen me and Melanie Woods together in one or two other bands… and she’s been in a fair few herself (Knifeworld, Sidi Bou Said, loads of others) …
l: I have been in other bands but we mostly played to 2 people and half a dog.
c: Actually, Ngaire, I think you’ll find that you first saw me and Jo Gate-Eastley in the sensational Frantic Spiders back in the early 90s. You gave us our first Melody Maker write-up!
n: Why this type of melodic, traditional four-piece band?
c: Can’t help it.
l: We were all playing the same instruments in [Joanne Joanne], and it sounded so good that it was a natural step to start writing our own tunes in rehearsals.
c: There are 4 of us, we can’t help that.
n: What sort of bands do you see yourselves billed with?
l: Good ones! Ones we like! They can be similar, they can be contrasting, they can be chicks or blokes, or chicks and blokes.
c: Charley: Or persons who are neither, or persons who are both. Let’s not get all binary about it.
l: Our songs are good to dance to, so it would be nice to be on the bill with other acts who are good to dance to.
n: Since you are experts: How do you actually go about starting a band? Beyond getting the idea in the pub?
l: Decide the concept of the band. What will you sound like, who will do what? How will you fill any personnel gaps? Decide how you want to approach the writing – are you going to jam together, or bring along ideas/ fully formed songs you’ve already written? Then pick a date and a place to make noises in. Turn up and make noises.
c: “turn up and make noises” is the tl;dr version of this. That is basically it.
n: How much money do you need to get started?
l: You need instruments unless you’re going to be an acapella vocal band. But you can pick up cheap secondhand stuff or free things from Freecycle. Warning: some instruments need amplifiers, but these can also be cheap or free. Unless you have somewhere you can keep all your amps together and be as loud as you like, you’ll need to rent a rehearsal room. Tip: the more people in your band, the cheaper your share.
c: Back in the late 80s when I started, I began with a cheap “Axe” guitar, which I bought mail order from an ad in Smash Hits. It included: guitar, strap, lead, plectrum, carry case, really good practice amp (which I used for actual gigs for several years) AND a book and cassette teaching you How-To-Play. It was about £70 I think? I saved my allowance and got it. Didn’t bother paying for rehearsal space for years, just borrowed school halls and/or played quietly in our bedrooms. I recommend it.
n: Is this your art?
n: Is making art your political protest? e.g. even though you all work full time, for high rents and little relaxation time, you still belong in so many bands, and make new ones.
l: I guess so, but we would be still doing it if we were ladies of leisure. I have curtailed a lot of activities (cinema/ theatre-going, eating out, holidays, hairdressers) as a sacrifice to the London Rent Gods, but playing in bands is one of the main reasons I’m in London. So it may not be protest, more obstinate doggedness. And it is kind of relaxation time, even though it’s also work.
c: When everything is terrible, I always say “at least we’ve still got our #art”
n: Does your art always involve working with others, making music?
l: I work better collaborating with other people, but I still want to be a novelist when I grow up.
c: Personally I think bands work always better as collaboration rather than several musicians helping a lead song writer realise their #art, but I also like writing/recording on my own. But wouldn’t impose that on a band. The brilliant thing about a band is seeing what happens when other people put their ideas into the mix and change what you had to begin with.
n: Why then release a single?
l: It’s an easy way of getting people’s attention.
c: Assuming anyone bothers listening / watching, ho ho. BUT seriously, what else would we do? If you record a song you are pleased with, you must release it into the public, so that it can have a run around. No point keeping it cooped up in your room. No point at all.
n: Am I neglecting the obvious and most interesting question: Band name?
c: MX Tyrants, that’s the name, don’t wear it out. It’s MX, not Mx, incidentally. We are tyrannical about the fact that the MX bit of our name is pronounced MX not Mx. And therein lies the reason as well. It’s one of those answers that goes back on itself, like a Möbius strip, like the universe, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it can only be observed from within itself.
You’ll get nothing more sensible out of us.
MX Tyrant's single 'Mutual Lucid' is out now.
7 things girls in bands need to know
Whether you’re the lead singer in a militant feminist punk group, or play second fiddle in a folk collective, female musicians all need a helping hand from their sisters if they want to get ahead in the big boys’ club that is the music industry.
We at LOUD WOMEN Club know this all too well, which is why we've asked some of the bands who have played for us to share their top tips for being a girl in a band.
1 Ren Aldridge, vocalist in Petrol Girls
My top tip for women getting involved in music is that it's ok to suck. Seriously, there are plenty of men who play music that suck, and they are allowed to suck and it have nothing to do with their gender. It takes time to get good at what you do. So suck for a bit, and enjoy it. You'll get better without even realising.
2 Charley Stone, guitarist with MX Tyrants
Here's a technical tip for soundchecks: often when you're having problems hearing things on stage, the sound tech (often a guy) will shrug and tell you 'it will sound better when there's people in the room'. To an extent they're right - but that's not much help when you're trying to get a balance onstage so that you can all hear what you're doing. So when that happens, ask them to switch off the front of house PA so you can play a song or a bit of a song with just the monitors on, and see if you can hear yourselves then. That's my tip from the top! It's one of the things I wish I'd known when I started out, anyway.
3 Laura Kirsop, singer in Ex People
Don't be scared to say no. In my old bands, stylists wanted me to wear things I would never normally wear and I was too scared to put my foot down. As a result I was uncomfortable and gave a worse performance. Just say no!
4 Hannah, singer in GAYR
"Don't do yourself down until you've given everyone else the chance first!" That observation was from another female performer and it really resonated with me. I had, and still have, to get out of my own way, as a performer, writer or really anything else! My advice would be, just have a go. There's no magic formula or god-given talent or right involved. Hook yourself up with some enthusiastic and supportive people and do some work. Put on a wicked outfit, or don't, and have a ball. If you think you'll love it, you probably will.
5 Cassie Fox, bassist in The Wimmins’ Institute
When you’re a new band, you’ve got to shout from the rooftops about how awesome you are. Blow your own trumpet – no one’s going to do it for you! Bigging up yourself goes against everything we were taught as little girls about being ‘ladylike’. Which makes it doubly important that the next generation of little girls see us smashing that toxic stereotyping to bits. Be bold and confident (or, at least, feign confidence for long enough for it to start to feel natural!)
6 Becky Baldwin, bassist in IDestroy
Know when to stand up for yourself, ask questions and prove yourself. Online trolls can be ignored, but certain people in the industry can and will help you if you can calmly but fairly show why they are in the wrong. Most people don't know they're being sexist, and although it's unfair that we need to work extra hard to prove we belong here, I think it's the best way to push the industry forward. Use your knowledge and be proud!
7 Lilith Ai, singer songwriter
Kill with kindness. Nobody is perfect. Making music is hard and it's scary sometimes, showing all when you're on stage or people are checking out your MP3s. So don't diss your fellow artists, befriend them. They'll be your greatest allies.
Now That's What I Call
Vol.6, Video 3
Holly McNish: Embarrassed
lorna draws ... rebellion festival
Day 1 – Thursday
I caught an early train and came straight from the station to catch Werecats at 2pm on the Introducing Stage. I play in The Pukes with Cil, and in Rabies Babies with Mike and it is beautiful to watch them in Werecats. Cil and Pip play off each other’s harmonies and inter-song chat, and they play fun and fantastic mid-80’s pop-punk with fuzzy guitars, smiles and fuck-you attitude, like in the days when pop-punk was great.
I spent most of the afternoon hanging around The Pukes’ merch stall, and went back to the Introducing Stage at 6.30pm for The Svetlanas, a tsunami of hair and hardcore, and at 8pm to catch The Tuts. If I was 18 and in a band then I would definitely want to be in The Tuts. They are energy, humour and fantastic pop punk tunes.
Day 2 – Friday
On a sunny day Blackpool is a beautiful place.
I had midday drinks with friends in the bar at the end of North Pier. The organist entertained us with seaside hits and 80 year old couples waltzed.
I wished that I could waltz.
At 1.20pm Maid Of Ace played the new Tower Street Arena open-air stage. They rocked tough and fast. I bought both their albums afterwards.
I got sunburn after a while, so I headed back to the Winter Gardens and caught a few bits of bands, had a couple of beers, and then went to hear Brix Smith being interviewed by John Robb on the Opera House stage. I learned that Brix Smith wrote one of my favourite Fall songs, Hotel Blodel, and she told entertaining stories of music-obsession, Manchester & ‘merica. She returned to the Opera stage a while later to perform an awesome set with her band. Their performance was my favourite of the festival. I LOVED every second of it. I felt the nostalgia of being a teenager in my bedroom listening to Perverted By Language, and loved the new songs they played.
Ramones tribute band Ramonas played the Empress Ballroom at the end of the night. This room is enormous with a sprung dance floor. Very few bands can get away with playing the Empress. The Ramonas OWNED the place. They were easily the most professional, tight and deadly band of the weekend. They didn’t pause for breath. They pretty much did ‘It’s Alive’, as the Ramones did it, but better. They are Ramones-plus. I am still in awe of the musicianship of these women.
Day 3 – Saturday
The day begun with The Pukes’ Blow the Roof Off Rebellion – Biggest Band of the Festival workshop. It was as fun as ever with around 30 people taking part. Two people during the festival told us that they had done our ‘Here’s 3 Chords Now Form A Band’ workshops in previous years and had gone on to form their own bands. Total Punk.
Favourites bands of the day were oi-pin-ups Hard Skin and fab M.D.C on the Pavillion Stage, and on the Introducing Stage, Shot! a multi-nationality London US-style hardcore band, and Amsterdam squat band Cracked Up.
Day 4 – Sunday
Highlight of the day was listening to Dave Dictor being interviewed and read from his book: MDC: Memoir From A Damaged Civilisation.
When asked about sexism/equality in the punk scene, Dave tells that on their current 40+ date European tour they have only come across one band with a woman in (Svetlana). I love Dave Dictor for noticing and caring.
I had a good wander around the Punk Art, and met new favourite printmaker/artist, Zoe Girl Shit. (check out her stuff – it rocks).
My Rebellion was cut short to catch the 8pm train home, but before I left I had a couple of anarcho treats on the Arena Stage. Anthrax UK followed by the best finale imaginable – Hagar The Womb. I love this band so much. They are funnier than Hard Skin, more punk than anyone, and were possibly the only band who were drinking chocolate vodka on stage.
Lorna Tiefholz plays in Rabies Babies and Mountain of Fire and Miracles,
and she draws and blogs at 'Gigs and Pencils'
LOUD WOMEN gigs diary
Love Sex Hate Sexism is a small grassroots collective, that formed because of too many sexual assaults happening in the DIY-punk scene and a complete lack of accountability. They work to help raise awareness of sexism and sexual assaults within the alternative community, while also promoting healthy sexual attitudes. Working to fight prejudice, abuse and discrimination in any form to build a united and safer community, through intersectional understanding.
Check out their website for info and resources, including downloadable flyers.
Tune in too to their show on Reel Rebels radio - the 3rd September show features Cassie from LOUD WOMEN and Tegan from The Ethical Debating Society / Good Night Out, talking about positive steps forward to make the venues we use safe and accountable.
Now That's What I Call
Vol.6, Video 4
Vodun: Minos Army
do not miss
The weekend after our own LOUD WOMEN Fest, continue the festival vibe beside the seaside at Undercover. There are some of our favourites on the bill (not nearly enough of them, but still ...) check out The Selecter, The Tuts, Phoenix Chroi, Ray Gun, Sarah Pink, Sonic Boom Six, Pussycat & the Dirty Johnsons, Echo & the Beats and ARXX ... at least!
Put the date in your diary - this Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ) protest is set to be the biggest & boldest yet at Yarl's Wood racist detention centre.
Previous demos led by MFJ at Yarl's Wood and at Harmondsworth have
- provided a platform for detainees to show their resistance inside, build on it and spread their impact
- won victories including End Detained Fast Track, and the first reductions in the detention system (two centres shut down), and renewed the confidence of the movement against detention
- brought together people of all genders, sexualities and of all levels of immigration status, which is a basis of organisation that must continue.
- Yarl's Wood and detention is exposed to more people than ever, who are responding by getting involved in the movement.
MFJ inspired the first transnational protest that saw demos at EVERY detention centre in Britain, plus many across Europe on May 7th.
Coaches are available from several major cities - check the Facebook event for details.
LOUD WOMEN is proud to be fundraising for the cause through the raffle to be held at LOUD WOMEN Fest on 3rd Sept. A speaker from MFJ will attend to tell us more.