The Riot Grrl movement of the early 90’s inspired a reworking of feminism by introducing all girl punk-rock bands to an industry of male dominance and by making a political view associated with the likes of Germaine Greer accessible to youth culture. These femcore bands formed an alliance of scantily clad girls, cursing, standing up for their rights as young women and causing a riot along with it. However, sometimes music has to move on and subsequently Riot Grrl became firmly locked in the cupboard along with the fishnet tights and purple eyeliner. In 1998, Brighton, with its own diverse music scene, gave birth to an exciting new band set to revive their femcore roots with an innovative defiance from the femcore mannequin. The sonic chaos of improvisation with an eclectic instrumental dominance that eludes an unstructured and uncertain genius is at the core of neu-femcore, their self- defined scene.
This band is Electrelane, the brainchild of Verity Susman and Emma Gaze, who have been playing in bands together since 1996. Three bass players and two guitarists later, an all girl quartet set to take the world by storm was born. The additions to the feisty four being; Rachel Dalley, who joined in 1999 and Mia Clarke who joined in 2000 to complete the line up. In one year, the Electrelane buzz has become electric, if you want to be seen as a cool contemporary of the music scene, then look up the band that everyone is talking about. Parallel to this, I caught up with Electrelane to find out a little more about the band that is turning Britain’s musical faux pas on its head…
Sipping a watery blackcurrant herbal tea from a mug, Mia Clarke, is looking worn down but still manages a perky smile, which can only be described as cute. As I drink my courtesy hot chocolate I turn on my crappy little Dictaphone in anticipation…
To start with, can you all tell me what you love and hate about being in Electrelane?
Rachael: I love making music, the opportunity to be creative and to be recognized for it is a fantastic buzz. I like the feeling of being up-and-coming. I also love touring; getting to see the countryside; going abroad. I couldn’t hate anything about it or I wouldn’t be doing it.
Mia: I really love playing live and the recording process was really interesting as this was my first experience of being in the recording studio. It can get tiresome having to wait around all the time.
Emma: I love doing all of it and there’s nothing I hate.
Verity: I love writing music and playing gigs. It’s also really good to make music with people you really get on with. There’s nothing I really hate about it or I wouldn’t do it.
Are you all looking to make Electrelane a long-term thing or are you just out for a bit of fun, what are your other career interests despite being in a band?
Mia: We will carry on as long as everyone is passionate about what they’re doing. We definitely have plans to make more records and expand our sound and as far as other career interests go, we have our own record company, as you know, and I am interested in doing more writing and music journalism. Plus I would like to learn more about how to produce and record an album so that later on I can do that for other bands and record my own stuff as well. Everyone would definitely like to stay involved in music whether it is with Electrelane, the record company or some other area.
You have your own independent record label- Let’s Rock! Set up to help struggling female’s in the music industry. Is it tiring playing in a band and sorting out a record company as well? Are there any particular artists you are looking at, at the moment?
Mia: It can be tiring playing in a band but it’s really enjoyable. We haven’t really started looking at bands yet because it may be a year or so before we can actually start doing anything as we need to make money ourselves first to put back in. It hasn’t been so tiring setting it up because of the help we’ve received from 3MV/P.I.A.S, our record company. There is a post-Riot Grrl band from Manchester, called ‘Valerie’, who we are really interested in putting on our label and then there is another band called ‘Pariah’ from Scotland, who make really interesting music. We don’t care if they are guys or girls really, as long as they are making music that we like.
DIS: What do you think of Brighton bands like Lolita Storm who have very strong feminist views?
Mia: (looks hesitant…) I’m quite interested in what Lolita Storm are doing…erm…but they’re…
Mia: yeah, Shit!!! We don’t like them very much.
Do you think there is enough room in the music scene for independents, as many bands on independent labels find it hard to get recognized in the mainstream what with the big corporate companies taking over, do you see the success of Electrelane as a positive step forward for British music, as it is not everyday that an unconventional and innovative band get so much interest?
Rachel: Independent’s may not get much recognition in the mainstream commercially but they are recognized in their own special fields. Commercial success isn’t necessarily important to us in terms of our own music or the artists on our record label.
Mia: I think the success of Electrelane so far is a positive step forward and hopefully what we do will help to spread the word to people in band similar to us or just women in rock generally, that it is possible to do well despite not being accessible to a mainstream market.
Verity: I think it would be good to take all the pop bands and put them together somewhere else- I think when it’s all lumped together, the good stuff often gets pushed out, for example, on the radio, there is so little space for good bands to get noticed. We are fortunate because our label has really good distribution so we are not in the position of many independents who find it difficult to get noticed. I definitely see the success of Electrelane as a positive thing and I really think the music we are making is good. It was the same when Mogwai got a bit of success; it’s really exciting when innovative bands become big.
You clearly have very strong political views, esp. feminist views, but it seems strange that you don’t express them through your music, why have you decided not to incorporate them in some way in to your music?
Mia: Although we all have really strong feminist views that are incorporated in to our lives, our political views are very much personal and we don’t include them into our music because we’re not trying to make political music.
Verity: Music can be political without having an overtly political message through lyrics, anything that doesn’t follow a pattern, that is a different take on traditional rock music and that is interesting and different to the mainstream gives a political message. We all agreed that we didn’t want to have lyrics and we have so many other opportunities to talk about our political views.
Mia, as the most recent member to join Electrelane last year, and as a follower of the band for the last couple of years before joining, how did it feel to join a band who were already well on their way to fame?
Mia: It was totally amazing to do because I really respected the band before and I had bought some of their records.
DIS: Is it true you had only been playing guitar for a year?
Mia: Yeah, about 8 months actually! When I rang for an audition I didn’t even know it was for Electrelane, because in the ad it didn’t specify the band and when I found that it was Electrelane we just connected. Because they were already getting recognized I was really excited because I’d never even been in a band before or played live or anything. It was like they’d been working for it for the last three years and I just came in at the end of all their hard work!
DIS: You’re still at college doing you’re A levels, aren’t you... How has the band affected your college work?
Mia: It is hard being at college at the same time and there’s so much to do and I have missed loads of time but being in Electrelane is an opportunity too hard to pass up. I have taken books on tour with me before but when it’s a choice getting stoned and listening to music or reading Shakespeare, well, you can guess!
Who are you main feminist influences? Who are you favorite feminist writers/women in rock bands?
Rachel: I find all female traits and women as a unit inspiring and not one woman in particular.
Emma: Yoko Ono is a big influence of mine.
Mia: Oh, there’s so many: Kathleen Hanna is one of my main influences because I was really in to Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna inspired me to start playing, I was really interested in the whole Riot Grrl scene and I ended up buying tons of books about women in rock. Women have done amazing things in the music industry and I think it’s really inspired all women in bands to stand up for themselves. I love the writing of Helene Cixous and women like Patti Smith, Kim Gorden, Courtney Love, Bessie Smith, Kira from Black Flag, P.J Harvey, Bratmobile, The Slits, Le Tigre are all really inspiring to me, but I could go on forever. Listen to Le Tigre’s Hot Topic and that pretty much covers the rest.
Verity: At the moment I really like Judith Butler because she writes on so many different things from a feminist perspective. Simone d’beauvoir is a great feminist writer as she wrote one of the first pieces of feminist literature-‘Second Sex’ and was really groundbreaking. I usually read a lot of writers that I don’t necessarily agree with all of the time because it is interesting to look at different perspectives on feminism.
You played with Le Tigre recently in London, how did you get on with Kathleen and the girls, did you exchange feminist views over coffee or did you all remain pretty aloof?
Mia: All of Le Tigre were really nice, no one was particularly aloof but I was kicking myself afterwards because she’s a big idol of mine and when I met her I felt that I really wanted to say something to her and tell her how amazing she is and sort of kiss her ass but I couldn’t because I was really nervous as it was my first gig and also because I would’ve sounded like an idiot!
Does it all get a bit catty when you are around each other for too long? What really irritates you about each other?
Rachel: Everyone has their own bad habits but as well as being friends, we have a working relationship and accept each other’s flaws. Only small things piss each other off, but we always sort it out.
Have you ever been offered any contracts with record companies who wanted more artistic control than you were willing to give?
Mia: Definitely Skint, they wanted a deal with us and I don’t think we would’ve gotten much creative control at all. With the record label we’re on we have total control over the music.
Obviously getting your music out as far as it can reach is really important to you, but you must have had to turn down loads of offers to keep your artistic integrity, weren’t you ever tempted to sell out a little?
Mia: No, definitely not, having complete control is something that everyone has decided is really important. I don’t think we’d ever jeopardize our artistic integrity because the music is too important to us, and if someone offered us more money for less control, we definitely wouldn’t be up for that.
Verity: We were offered two deals before we signed to 3mv/P.I.A.S, which were not right for us. Partly because we wouldn’t of had total artistic control and partly because we may have ended up in a situation where we would’ve been under pressure to be molded in to something more commercially appealing. There are also a lot of other reasons why we turned down both deals and if the other conditions had been better and we could have negotiated artistic control, signing either of the deals wouldn’t of been selling out. I think the idea of selling out has become distorted, because unless you’re a millionaire, you need money form companies and hopefully you’ll be lucky in getting a good deal. You’re really selling out when you’re writing music and thinking about how successful it will be commercially and how much money it will make you.
You may read this and think that I am describing yet another band, who make pretentious arty music that they deem ‘experimental’, however this is not the case. Electrelane have the ability to rock harder than any hardfuck punk rocker and the potential to be elegantly moving at the same time. They are articulate young women, who see things, as they really are, a breath of fresh air in an industry full of fakers who all have their heads firmly lodged where the sun don’t shine.