Sunday, July 21, 2019

Mothers of invention

If rock history seems suspiciously phallocentric, then that's because it is - and Leah Branstetter has set out to prove it. With her web project Women In Rock And Roll's First Wave, she highlights the numerous women who were at the vanguard of the new movement in the 1950s and 1960s - as key players in the record industry (musicians, writers, label owners, managers), rather than merely as fans, groupies or partners.

The project isn't merely about rediscovering forgotten artists or celebrating individual luminaries; it's more concerned with demonstrating the hugely significant cumulative contribution of women to the nascent art form - a contribution that has been largely airbrushed from history.

That had happened as early as the 1970s, when the mere concept of a woman strapping on a guitar seemed radical - as Viv Albertine emphasised in her episode of the Loud And Quiet's Midnight Chats podcast. Despite the efforts of The Slits, Poly Styrene and their contemporaries, however, little really changed with punk either. The title of Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon's memoir, Girl In A Band, underlines the extent to which she felt she stood out as an exception, even in the 1980s and 1990s, and the riot grrrl movement to which she was loosely connected railed against a status quo that remained predominantly and resolutely male.

On the evidence of this review by the Guardian's Fiona Sturges, Vivien Goldman's new book Revenge Of The She-Punks essentially picks up where Branstetter's project leaves off, paying tribute to women like Patti Smith and Kathleen Hanna who have fought the good fight from punk onwards.

Sturges has also reviewed Amy Raphael's A Seat At The Table, a follow-up to her 1995 book Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock. The latest book - which features interviews with artists including Kate Tempest, Nadine Shah and Tracey Thorn - suggests that the industry has become more receptive and welcoming to women, broadly speaking, in the last two and a half decades, but also that "misogyny and creative marginalisation remain rife".

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