Monday, 29 April 2013

RIP Chrissy Amphlett

Chrissy Amphlett, vocalist of The Divinyls, died last week after battling breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
The Divinyls were formed in 1980 and scored a worldwide deal with Chrysalis Records in 1981 after their debut single Boys in Town reached No. 8 on the ARIA chart. They went on to record five studio albums between 1982 and 1996, when they split up.

Without a doubt, the band are most known around the world for their 1991 song I Touch Myself, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, No 10. in the UK and No. 1 in Australia. Chrissy and the rest of the band were so much more than just that one hit though.

Chrissy was known for her onstage outfit of a schoolgirl uniform with fishnet stockings. Her image was "controversial", but only in the sense that she was a woman unafraid to express her sexuality or of appearing "ugly".

It was a rarity to see a woman fronting a band (let's face, it's still rare to see in the mainstream charts today) and Chrissie helped break down the male-dominated mold of what a rock band should look like. Through her lyrics, she talked about masturbation and women's sexuality, slut shaming and abusive relationships, subjects that we still don't talk about enough, and she did it without ever holding back.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Charli XCX - True Romance

Over the past few years, pop music has become "acceptable" again. The genre has been snatched back from The X Factor (disclaimer: it's also perfectly fine to like those bands/artists - I just don't think they should be all that's on offer!) and more diverse artists and intelligent lyrics have been sneaking their way up to the radar.

These days, it's not just acceptable, it's almost cool to enjoy a bit of pop with your uber-underground (uberground?) indie. And that's a good thing, because artists like Charli XCX deserve to be heard.

When I first listened to this album, the term "goth pop" seemed like an appropriate description of Charli's sound; poppy but with a darker edge. Some of the beats and sounds even remind me of some industrial bands I listen to.

Divisive rapper Brooke Candy makes an appearance on Cloud Aura, one of my favourite tracks on the album. It's interesting to hear auto-tune being used more for the sake of effect, rather than an as a necessity, during the chorus.

The industrial influence can particularly be heard on tracks like Black Roses (imagine a goth Marina and the Diamonds) and previous single You're the One. Even on the dreamier, almost shoegaze-like tracks, the pounding beats are still prominent, making for a really interesting and addictive sound.

Overall, a great debut album and definitely worth the wait for Charli XCX fans! It sounds like black glittery eyeliner, of neon daydreams in abandoned spaces. 

Rating: 4.5/5
Favourite Tracks: Set Me Free, You're the One, Black Roses
You Might Like It If You Like...: Marina and the Diamonds, Grimes, Sky Ferreira, Kerli, The Birthday Massacre 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kate Nash + The Tuts - Warehouse 34, Newcastle

If you've read my blog before, or been on my Tumblr, then you'll probably know I'm a huge fan of Kate Nash. This week I finally got to see her play live for the first time, and it was amazing! So here's my little review of the night...

This was my first time at Warehouse 34, and I really liked it as a venue. It literally is a warehouse, just the one room but the perfect size - I love smaller venues because the atmosphere is so much stronger.

It didn't take long for the room to fill up, luckily I managed to get right to the front. I have to say that the music played while we were waiting was great! Some Hole, Joan Jett, Peaches, Le Tigre, Destiny's Child...

The Tuts are supporting Kate on this part of the tour, and I'd already fell in love with their music last year after Kate posted one of their songs on her blog. It's always great when you're looking forward to seeing the support band almost as much as the headliner, and if I'm honest, I enjoyed their set just as much as Kate's.

The Tuts are an indie-punk band made up of three amazing girls, Nadia, Harriet and Beverley. They took to the stage and from the start, you could tell how much they enjoy being onstage and playing music.

They played all four songs from their EP as well as their recent single Tut Tut Tut (which you should all download by the way, links at the end!), plus some new songs which left me really hoping they release another EP soon! They came across as really fun, chatting to the audience between songs and getting people dancing.

It was also great to see Kate and her band dancing alone at the side of the stage, it's always great to see female musicians supporting each other!

After a pain-staking wait, the lights changed and a video of Kate Nash lip-syncing to Lesley Gore's classic You Don't Own Me was projected onto the backdrop, as well as playing on the old television sets dotted round the stage. This went into the opening scene of Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! before Kate and her band members took the stage and launched into one of my favourite tracks from the new album, Sister. It was a perfect way to start a set and really set the tone for Kate's sound of riot grrrl inspired punk mixed with 60's girl groups.

The setlist was great and featured songs from all three of her albums. It was fun to hear her earlier piano-centric songs with a more guitar driven sound, like Foundations and, one of my favourites, Mariella. I was so happy she played Mariella as I know she changes the setlist around quite a lot and, being from her first album, wasn't as likely to be played as her newer songs.

All of her songs have such a great energy when you hear them played live and you can see how much the lyrics mean to Kate. She also really engaged with the crowd between songs, and it was clear how much she appreciated her fans.

The Tuts had been jumping around in the crowd during her set and during Under-Estimate the Girl facilitated a mini stage invasion (until security got in the way!). I hope those girls who got onstage feel inspired and went home to start their own bands! 

Personal highlights for me were All Talk, Mariella, Do Wah Doo and OMYGOD.

After an encore of Meredith Brooks' Bitch and We Get On, I headed over to the merch table to see what was on offer. The Tuts were already there and were chatting to everyone - they were so friendly and signed my EP.

Kate came out after about five minutes - I can't count the number of times I've been to a gig where the headliner says they'll be around afterwards and take a ridiculously long time "getting ready", so this was a pleasant surprise!

She was lovely, so approachable and taking the time to talk to everyone - there was no rush, as you really got the sense that she would be sticking around until everyone had gone. I gave her a letter and two badges I'd made, a Hole one and a Buffy one. She seemed genuinely grateful, and gave me a hug before posing for a picture with me.

Overall, I can't say enough how great this gig was. There was such a great atmosphere, it just felt like such a positive and inspiring space. I hope she tours again soon - I'm greedy!

Kate Nash's Blog
The Tuts

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Kate Nash - Girl Talk

Kate Nash has never made a secret of the fact that she's inspired by the riot grrrl and foxcore bands of the 90's. While this particular influenced simmered just beneath the surface of her previous album, this time around it's very much at the forefront, and that's no bad thing.

Though some would disagree, to me this is still very much a Kate Nash album. Her trademark personal and confessional lyrics are still there, but now they're backed by guitars and catchy basslines.

Opening track Part Heart provides a mellow and emotive introduction, allowing Kate's vocals to shine. There's a vulnerability to the lyrics, but also a sense of strength as the music builds up toward the end of the song.

Throughout the rest of the album, Kate swings between loud, punky tracks reminiscent of Bikini Kill and Hole (Sister, All Talk) and sweeter, melodic numbers (Are You There Sweetheart, OMYGOD) with ease. It's not an album to listen to passively, in the background. It's for full-on immersion, losing yourself and soundtracking your own experiences.

A lot of the songs seems to be built around a bass line, which is something I appreciate as a bassist. I love it when you can actually hear the bass, when it's doing more than just playing along with the main guitar riff.

As a longtime Kate Nash fan, this album was well worth the wait. It will no doubt split opinions, but most interesting things do. To ditch a proven formula and follow your passions is always a brave move, and it's paid off here. Give it a listen.

Rating: 5/5
Favourite Tracks: Sister, OMYGOD!, All Talk
You Might Like It If You Like...: Hole, Babes in Toyland, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Le Tigre

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Girls' Portrayal of OCD

This week's episode of Girls, titled It's Back, took a slightly more serious direction with one its story lines - Hannah's returning OCD. Having had problems with OCD in the past (and still the occasional flare-up, though thankfully nowhere near as bad as it once was), I'm always interested to see it portrayed in the media. Unfortunately, accurate and respectful portrayals seem to be few and far between.
It seemed to come a little bit out of the blue - I don't remember Hannah's OCD being mentioned in the show before - but I recognised straight what was going on. Lena Dunham also spoke of her own experiences with OCD in an interview last month, so I'd hope a lot of regular viewers might have caught on quickly too.

Despite this, I was impressed with how Dunham portrayed Hannah's whole experience - from trying to deny that it's happening to feeling offended when you feel like someone is trying to minimise the distress it's causing you.

It's that distress that, I feel, gets left out a lot in media portrayals of OCD. I've spoken to so many people who didn't realise it was about more than a preference for being clean and tidy, having a dislike for germs. People who were genuinely surprised to hear that many people with OCD don't feel compelled to wash their hands repeatedly (this does seem to be the go-to compulsion for most TV shows). And very few people seem to realise just how upsetting it can be, what can be going on inside your head alongside these compulsions.

Hannah may not have went into detail about the thoughts in her head, but I do thin Dunham was able to get across the message that OCD isn't fun. At all. She was clearly unhappy and the conversation between her and the doctor hit so close to home for me, I definitely consider it a season highlight.

With this and My Mad Fat Diary recently being aired, I hope this isn't the last we see of mental illness being realistically shown on our screens.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Art Star: Shamsia Hassani

Shamsia Hassani, 24, is a graffiti artist in Afghanistan. In fact, she's the county's first female graffiti artist.
Hassani's introduction to graffiti came in 2010, when British artist Chu visited Afghanistan to hold a week-long course in street art. She embraced the art form, believing it to have more of an impact than traditional art.

Her main inspiration is highlighting the injustices against women; in one of her works, six women in blue burqas appear to have become ghosts as a result of there treatment by society. This blue burqas are a recurring feature in Hassani's work. The colour is a symbol of freedom.

She's also an associate professor of sculpture at Kabul University and a founding member of an art collective called ROSHD (or "growth"). Due to the risks involved, Hassani is currently the only woman in the group, although there were women when the group started.

As well as the street-harassment faced daily by women in Afghanistan, the government also has a zero-tolerance policy towards graffiti artists.

Graffiti is seen by many locals as being "un-Islamic", with artists like Hassani being too influenced by Western culture. For these reasons, Hassani's work is restricted to abandoned or unused buildings as opposed to the large, blank walls that exist in more public areas.

You can find out more about Hassani and see more of her artwork on her Facebook page

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Viva La Megababes

If, at the mention of "shampoo", your first thought is not of washing your hair but of these fabulous ladies, then congratulations - you have passed me "cool test" (I'm joking, washing your hair can be pretty fun too).
 I've loved Shampoo since my childhood self first saw their video for Trouble on The Chart Show. I saw two, older-than-me awesomely bratty girls who, if I'm completely honest, would have terrified me in real life (not so much now though, thankfully!).
I was about 7/8 at the time, too young to buy any music magazines or know how to check for TV appearances, so my Shampoo experiences were very few, and very far-between. Hearing them on the radio caused excitement that was only rivaled by a new episode of Animals of Farthing Wood and the release of The Lion King.

Thanks to the internet - especially this Tumblr - I've been able to catch up on a lot of that stuff.

Shampoo was made up of Jacqui Blake and Carrie Askew, two schoolgirls who were best friends and had their own Manic Street Preachers fanzine - they even appeared in MSP's video for Little Baby Nothing.
They decided to form a band, taking the name "Shampoo" from the playground nickname, "The Shampoo Girls", they'd been given after always turning down boys with the excuse of having to "wash their hair".

Their first single, Blisters and Bruises, was released on pink vinyl in 1993 and generally ignored by the (tasteless) public, despite receiving positive reviews from NME and Melody Maker
In 1994 though, they had huge success with their song Trouble, and album We Are Shampoo. They ticked the two boxes of 90's mainstream success in the UK - an appearance on Top of the Pops and a cover of Smash Hits magazine.
Trouble even went on to be featured on the soundtrack to the Power Rangers movie and, more excitingly, Foxfire.

The band seemed to have their biggest success in Japan, though they never really reached the levels of popularity they obviously deserved. Their follow-up albums Girl Power (1995) and Absolute Shampoo (2000) couldn't match the, albeit short-lived success of their debut release, and they eventually split-up in 2000.
I've read that a lot of teenage girls actually hated Jacqui and Carrie, which is a shame. I can't help but wonder if they'd have been more popular now or if they'd just come across as a weird attempt at selling 90's nostalgia through pop music.

Style-wise, the girls were a picture of pink, plastic kitsch (the artwork for We Are Shampoo also featured a collage of Barbie dolls and sweet wrappers). With their platinum blonde hair, cropped t-shirts and platform shoes, they were like what Baby Spice always wanted to be. But guess what, she wasn't (still my favourite Spice Girl though). An influence of mine? Of course!

I'll leave you with some of my favourite Jacqui and Carrie outfits...

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Beyoncé and, like, The Rules of Feminism

"You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don't make as much money as men do. I don't understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat? I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."
Chances are you've already read it, but the above quote comes from Beyoncé in her recent interview with GQ magazine.
From the moment the magazine hit the stands, Beyoncé's credibility has been questioned and debated, largely because this interview was accompanied by a photoshoot of her posing in her knickers. Many articles, mainly from white middle-class women, telling us that this just isn't feminist enough for their liking.

Despite this, I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing the brilliance of Beyoncé using an interview with a, for lack of a better term, "lad's mag" as a platform to discuss sexism and the patriarchy. Will everyone who looks at her pictures read what she said? Probably not. But even if it's just a minority, surely it's still relevant? It's easy to preach to the converted, to express those views to an audience that is, stereotypically speaking, more hostile toward them as a brave move.

Maybe some readers will read her feminist views and mock them. Maybe only one reader will even bother to look at the words. That's still one more person than if she hadn't done the interview. Everything has to start somewhere, and most beginnings are small. Maybe if these opinions are expressed more often in this way, they will become less laughable and more "normal".

What gives any of us the right to decide that Beyoncé isn't enough of a feminist to discuss the gender pay gap?  It's these very restrictions, these rules of what you can and can't do as a feminist, that scare people away from the movement.

The issue of intersectionality has been discussed a lot recently, yet some of us still insist of excluding some women from the conversation. There's no such thing as a perfectly molded feminist, so stop looking for one. 

Beyoncé has inspired many women, if I was a Mother, I would be more than happy for my child to see her as a role model.
A lot of the criticisms I've read about this feature seem all too similar to slut-shaming. Beyoncé's a successful woman, her career would hardly have struggled if she'd opted not to appear in GQ. When I saw the cover of that magazine, I didn't see someone who was being exploited, who'd been "reduced" to doing this sort of photoshoot. I saw someone who is very much in control of her image, of her career, embracing their sexuality. Society may be guilty over-sexualising women, in the spotlight or not, but that doesn't mean we, as women, have to respond by rejecting our sexuality. It's all about choice; if you're not comfortable with that kind of publicity, then you should absolutely have the choice of not taking part in it, without being judged. Similarly, if you're in a position where you're happy to do that and no one's forcing you into it, then you should be able to go for it, without having everything else about you invalidated.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Important Life Band: Jack Off Jill

My last Important Life Band post was back in September, when I wrote about my love of Hole, so I think I'm due to make another one. Who am I fangirling over this time? Why, Jack Off Jill!
Jack Off Jill had already broke up by the time I discovered them, when I was 15. I actually first heard of them through my love of another band, My Ruin - yes, I think we can assume I'll be talking about them on this blog at some point. At the time, My Ruin's vocalist Tairrie B was good friends with JOJ's vocalist Jessicka (I don't know what happened between them, I still love them both so *shrug*) and Tairrie had posted an interview she did with Jessicka on the My Ruin website. I can only imagine how many times I read it while it was still online, but I loved reading what they had to say.

I'd just started reading this interview for the first time when I realised, hey, this is the Jessicka who sings on the My Ruin song "Miss Anne Thrope"!. Quite proud of myself for connecting those dots, I read on.
That weekend, I was idly flicking through the unimpressive CD section in my local HMV when I saw the Sexless Demons and Scars album. It was the most excited I'd felt all day and, despite not having actually heard any JOJ songs, I bought it.
As soon as I got home, I put the album on while simultaneously falling in love with it and joining JOJ fan communities on LiveJournal (ah, the good old days!). It might sound a bit strange, but I quite liked the fact that Jessicka's voice is high-pitched. A lot of female-fronted bands I was listening to had more husky or aggressive vocals, which I loved singing (or shouting) along to, but also felt a bit silly while I did, because my voice is very much on the softer end of the spectrum. I guess it helped me to feel a bit more comfortable with my own singing voice.
Naturally, this album was on regular rotation for me... I'd often listen to it through my headphones at school while glaring at people :)

One of my friends got me the Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers album for my 16th birthday and, while it could be seen as a bit of a jump, sound-wise, from SSDAS, I loved it just as much. I actually quite like that these two albums have such different moods, I still go through phases of which one I play the most. On a side note, this also led to my liking of Mark Ryden's artwork!
I also started to play bass when I was 16, starting by learning mostly Hole and JOJ songs. It was quite a proud moment when I could say I'd learned to play every song on SSDAS.

I feel like JOJ were the exact sound that I wanted to hear in my angsty kinda-goth-mid-teens. "Angsty" usually has quite negative connotations, but I don't mean in that way at all. It gave me something to relate to and Jessicka's screams playing loudly was a nice way or purging some of my negative feelings - Angel's Fuck was particularly good for this.

These days, while I guess some might still call me "angsty" (though I'd hope they'd be more respectful with regards to my mental health problems), listening to JOJ tends to make me feel happy. Even though I listened to them a lot when I was feeling terrible, they also remind me of happier memories from that period.