Weekend Interview – Petrol Girls

Petrol Girls are one of a small number of bands I have seen over the past couple of years that have made me think about music and my position as a consumer of songs. They wear their hearts firmly on the sleeves and spit out a message of distrust and distaste with a system that has let them down. They aren’t happy being consumers so why should we. I sent some questions off a long time ago and much like the spirit of Crass and such bands I got my reply, eventually. They get a lot of requests.

They have a new record out now and I would highly recommend not only that you get it but also that you get involved in whatever issue that is guiding you

1) How long have you been playing music? What bands were you listening to when you thought you might like to do this?

I fronted a metal band when I was a teenager, then did backing vocals for various projects and played acoustically for a while. For me it was seeing other women like Marcia from the Skints, Reb from Dirty Revolution and Laila from Sonic Boom Six that really inspired me to feel like I could do this too.

2) Why pick up a guitar or write a song and think yep somebody will listen to me?

I started Petrol Girls quite directly in reaction to the fact that no one was listening to me. I had (and still have) a lot of strong political convictions that a lot of the older men around me wrote off as naivety, as well as experiences of sexism that I needed to kick back against. I didn’t begin with any expectation of being taken seriously. I actually think its quite funny that I am taken seriously now, when my politics haven’t changed that much, the only difference is now I have a microphone.

3) Is being in petrol girls about playing music or getting a message across?

Both. The other three are all exceptionally talented musicians and we’re constantly striving to push ourselves musically. But of course there are also political points I’m trying to get across, as well as political ideas I want to provoke a conversation about. I’m not claiming to have answers to everything, but I don’t think any one person has to have answers to be able to say ‘hey this is fucked, what are we going to do about it?’

4) The set at Rebellion was probably the most powerful and relevant piece I’ve seen at the festival. It is strange to be saying that at a punk festival there are very few statements coming from the stage and none as vocal as yours? What has the reaction been like to it?

Ahh thanks. To be honest, aside from conversations I had with people afterwards, what I said at Rebellion has been pretty much forgotten about. I’ve written more about why I think we need to make more of an active effort to challenge the far right and any far right sympathising within punk, for the next issue of Lady Fuzz zine, but I guess the main point I want to make, is that the far right are currently posturing as a rebellion against the neoliberal establishment, and a lot of young people, as well as some that identify as punks, are being drawn to this rebellious positioning. What I think is important to do, is to keep pointing out that the politics of the far right are the opposite of rebellion – they’re authoritarian. So whilst they might be against the establishment as it exists now, what they seek to replace it with is far more terrifying. We need to keep pointing out that you can be anti-establishment without resorting to fascism, and that its completely ironic and stupid to do that anyway. And I think given the rise in fascism at the moment its more important than every to be active in our fight against it.

5) Where did the inspiration behind your project collecting vocal samples of people’s experiences of sexual assault/ harassment at festivals to play over the speakers come from?

That grew out of my art practice. A lot of the art that I make involves participatory projects. I like trying to make space for other voices to join a conversation, because for me talking-with is a fundamental basis for creating political change. I’m also aware that its not always safe or appropriate for people’s identity to be made public, which is why I’m interested in things like hand writing, and voice samples, as ways of demonstrating people’s individuality without revealing their identity. With the sexual assault vocal samples, I particularly wanted to create space for other voices besides my own, so that the crowd can start to get an understanding that each instance of sexual assault or harassment has a big impact on each individual person. I think hearing people explain it creates more empathy because our audible voice communicates so much more than just words; it carries emotion and indicates our uniqueness because all our voices sound different.

I also wanted to disrupt a certain power dynamic, and I think this was especially successful with the sample we were sent for 2000 trees festival. A woman had been sexually assaulted by a man in a band, right before he went on stage there the previous year. Then when we played, we were able to give volume and a literal platform to her voice speaking back against him and what he did to her. She was there in the crowd and we spoke about it after, and she felt like she’d taken some power back. Everything she said in that sample was so bang-on as well.

6) Is the punk scene a microcosm of rock scene wih misogyny and sexism never far away? Are gigs safe spaces?

I don’t believe anywhere’s a safe space, but I think there are steps we can take to make spaces safer or more welcoming and accessible to people. I think there are areas of the punk scene that really are pretty safe, thanks to a lot of hard work that various initiatives like Good Night Out campaign, Love Sex Hate Sexism, Safe Gigs For Women have put in to changing things.

I think what differentiates the punk scene from the rock scene is that it is much more politicised, but then this creates a weird dynamic sometimes when people are more concerned with appearing politically right on than with actually doing things, and especially challenging their own behaviour. And I think this is one way that sexual violence gets covered up in punk. Perpetrators are more concerned with appearing like “good guys” than being meaningfully accountable for their behaviour.

7) What is the reasoning behind the acoustic we were the sun? Is it an antidote to the raging electric sound?

We Were The Sun is a completely different band – it’s Joe and Liepa’s project. I guess it is in some way, or at least a way that they can explore different musical ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work with Petrol Girls.

8) Is the diy scene important to the band? Is the diy scene a microcosm of the music business with some good people and some not so good?

The DIY scene is fundamental to punk, I think its at the core of the political potential of punk. If you are empowered, through DIY culture, to create your own culture, then you can be empowered to build community and create a different society.

The DIY scene has totally different priorities to the music business. The DIY scene runs on passion for the culture that its creating whereas the music business is all about money.

9) You played a vegan connections gig last August with Propagandhi and Martha? How did that come about? Does veganism resonate with the band? Is it a lifestyle choice or just happens the be the food you choose or not choose?

That came about through our pals Boab and Kathrin. Also Propagandhi have been really sweet and super supportive of us. Some of the band are vegan, our drummer Zock in particular has been committed to it for a long time, and certainly veganism is something we support, but its not our number one priority.

10) The last album is called Talk of Violence, is this because you wish to talk about violence? Any specific type of violence in particular? Do you think the violence of austerity gets a proper airing in mainstream culture?

Yeah. The title comes from a specific lyric in the song Treading Water, where after listing various forms of violence enacted by the state I shout “They talk of violence.” Its about comparing the violence that is done by borders, binaries, bureaucracy ect compared to the protest actions that the media labels as violent. That record is about pushing a conversation about asking what is actually violent? No I don’t think the violence of austerity gets properly aired in mainstream culture, and I think its absurd that any fight back against it gets labelled violent as soon as someones voice is raised.

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