What female independent artists don’t say
By Maethelyiah Nash
The Pink Elephant is in the room, staring at the surrealityof 2020.
The independent music scene has been literally slaughtered by Covid, and who knows what Brexit is yet to do with what’s left.
Musicians (both amateur and professional) are using the media to keep the public entertained, from national magazines to international websites and blogs, as well as the thousands of playlists on sites like Mixcloud andawesome listening parties on Twitter or Facebook. Check the Listening Party by Tim Burgess from The Charlatans, it’s good!
On the other side, entire generations are mass face-palming, wondering whether they will ever set foot in a music venue again. Many venues are on the verge of closing forever, some music promoters rely on crowdfunding to keep their business alive, whilst others are doing their best to grab taxpayers money that the current government are doing their damnest not to release.
Above all, technology has everybody by the balls. We are becoming so dependent on the internet and its many facets that a world without it is inconceivable.
I wrote the lyrics of “Kill U Later”* one year before Covid made its entrance, and oh if it wasn’t a premonition. If you really want to kill us all, sod Covid, just unplug the electricity grid and we will all just fade away and die (if we don’t kill each other first!).
An Italian expression would define my introduction as “discovering warm water”. Yes, we all know this is happening, however in the middle of the aforementionedslaughterhouse, between blood and various body parts there’s still a rather big elephant nobody talks about, and it’s actually pink.
The Pink Elephant sits in the middle of the room, and has been still for years and years. There’s far too much blood on the floor, and blades, and guns, and hooks hanging from the ceiling. The Pink Elephant has been watching everybody blindly trudging along, sucked into the rat race of all the things we take for granted, and now that things are so hard, she decided it’s time to move a few steps. All in all, what could possibly go wrong? Worse case scenario she’ll stumble on some butcher. Not a bad thing after all, if like me eating meat appeals to you about as much as having sex with a cactus.
Have you ever wondered why most independent festival line-ups feature mostly male musicians? What about most independent music magazines? What’s on their covers? Not talking about mainstream pop magazines of course, that’s a completely different world I am no part of.
Can you see the Pink Elephant now?
And when you finally spot a female face, apart from the (awesome) Siouxsie and Debbie Harry, how many other female artists are there? If you are lucky enough you might get a peek of Dead Can Dance or Evanescence but they are conceivably mainstream and that’s an easy win.
Let me help you with some examples: Alexa De Strange are fronted by an amazing soprano over stunning quality metal; Bad Pollyanna has been working for years helping girls empower themselves through beautiful songs; Zeitgeist Zero’s frontwoman is also a brilliant film maker; Do you like cabaret goth? Look up CaudaPavonis. Oh by the way, have you seen how flexible Miss Blueberry from Two Witches is? I know there are many more! So why aren’t they out there alongside their male counterparts? Why do I only have social media to follow them on to know they exist?
Bjork has been possibly the loudest female artist so far to claim sexism has affected her musical career, and JK Rawlings appeared as Robert Galbraith when she proposed Harry Potter for publishing, to appeal to a broader range of readers. But what about the many other girls who work twice as much as male musicians and yet get silenced?
I had the luck (or curse) of being born indomitable. Ask me kindly and you might get almost everything, try to silence me and your ears will bleed.
I loved ballet when I was a kid, but I never played with dolls. I rather spent most of my time dismantling radios and watching autopsies with a family friend.
I never believed in male and female activities per se, even though I loved my heels and dresses from a very early age, somehow I perceived gendered playtime as a massive limitation to kid’s skills.
The first time I had to deal with sexism was when I submitted a music score into a theatrical show in Rome,when I was only 18. My score got ignored. I resubmittedit as a male applicant and it was chosen. I thought aboutmyself as Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh who wore a fake beard… just like all the other male pharaohs. So my first stage name was initially a male one. I used the name Max until my tits got too big and that was the end of that.
At the time I was with a Roman band whose bio displayed my male pseudonymous as well as an alternative name that was chosen for me without my approval. There is still a live video on tape where you can hear someone from the public asking “thought the singer was an ugly bloke?”. At some point I felt I was asked for more than I agreed to give to the band, however even though we were on national TV, both my nicknames were unceremoniously removed from the band bio when I left. Sure, the Pink Elephant was alreadythere, but things needed to be kept quiet somehow. I quickly learnt that as a woman you can give 99% and be taken for granted, but if you say no once you must be deleted, just like when people block you on Facebook. Fair enough, I was happy to move on too.
Since then, I noticed the more my appearance got voluptuous the more trouble somehow arose. The fact that I was the spitting image of famous Italian porn actress Jessica Rizzo didn’t help at the time.
However, things got even more complicated when I had a relationship with a band mate. You share so much with your band it becomes family and sometimes something more can happen. However 14 fractures and brain injury later that made me disabled I was forced to realise that specific relationship wasn’t going to last. Disagreements are ok, that’s what makes us grow up, but when you bump into a sexist guy you are seen as some sort of property. “Mine or nobody else’s” are the last words I remember. Second big lesson learnt: when you realise it’stime to leave your abusive partner, don’t give notice.
I picked up my bits and pieces after months of rehab and finally moved to the UK in 2001. I collaborated with a few bands since, in between my inactive times withBlooding Mask, my original project since 1992.
In 2009 I was touring Europe with a British band as guest on vocals singing as a soprano. I was approached by two of their previous singers warning me to be very careful. After a gig in Paris, one of the band members made the assumption I was going to share bed and room with him. Well of course it didn’t happen. I locked him out and had to improvise my own transport back homethe day after. Déjà vu. All my pictures quickly disappeared from their pages and everybody moved on. Nothing new learnt. Same old 99/1 story.
Fast-forwarding to 2010, I remember hearing that The Danse Society were reforming while I was watching a live video on YouTube. At the time I was working on an e-magazine that never happened because my life changed rather quickly and I wasn’t very well, however I contacted their Facebook page to interview them, just after I interviewed Wayne Hussey when he was working on rebuilding his career. I was quickly informed the reformation wasn’t going to happen because Steve Rawlings (the original singer) had broken off all forms of communication with the band after they recorded the music for a new album. I was offered a chance to listen to the instrumental tracks because my profile showed I was a singer and yes, why not? I was a long time fan, so I embraced the idea really happily.
And well, what a ride it has been since then!
A female singer replacing a male one was a very controversial idea back then, but facts show this concept has gathered pace in the long term. Besides, the recent incarnation of Jodie Whittaker as Dr Who shows even mainstream is taking the same leap of faith. I have seen males on pointes in ballet. 007 is echoing with the demolition of possibly the last “man only” role, so itmaybe wasn’t such a bad idea after all! In a moment of optimism I want to believe gender alignment is becoming a reality.
Going back to how I joined The Danse Society, as the whole band agreed at the time, no male singer could have equalled Steve’s style and we all went for a whole change of skin (cue title for the new album).
Change of Skin was well received by the critics, and so was the follow up Scarey Tales. Truth is, unlike any male singer I was never a competitor of Steve’s legacy, but rather a complement to what he left.
I co-wrote all the songs of Change of Skin and ScareyTales with the band. I have very lovely memories of them, especially when we shot the videos with very limited technology; I edited them with my old Imac. I was also running the website, the social media channels, I ran the mail order, and of course I was singing as well.It was a small team and we all put what we could in it, and that was part of our agreement I happily subscribed to.
Recently, however, it was brought to my attention that I was defined just as an anonymous girlfriend in stockingsdestroying the band in an article concerning my band’shistory in a national magazine.
There are so many bands whose singer replaced anoriginal one, like for example 1919, however mine was the only name missing in that whole issue. Just as with the band in Paris, here comes another attempt to erase me. Again, nothing new to learn here.
I have now been in the band for nearly 10 years, exactly three years longer than Steve, I co-wrote 4 albums and an EP. Just like me, Danse Society’s keyboard player David Whitaker was never a founder member, yet his socks aren’t exactly what he’s remembered for (bless him, he is a true gentleman and friend!).
Disagreements are ok. For more serious disputes the court is the right place for settlement. That’s what decent men do. Everything else following has nothing to do with decency and equality.
There are still interviews on line displaying childish objectifications of my ass from the same people who are now so desperately seeking approval for every abuse they share about me on social media. I was the oneaccused of sexualising the remake of a song called The Seduction, as if a title like that could possibly imply anything other than its literal meaning, however even when I wore a thick band T-shirt making sure I was fully covered up I was still told my tits were looking “too big”at a gig. Can’t win, can I?
I remember being approached by someone looking to join our band. He stalked me with rather exaggerated compliments that I wouldn’t have believed even after drinking a whole crate of wine. After I politely declinedhis offer he turned so bitter he still leaves dozens of unsolicited nasty comments on social media and Youtube, under the delusional thought his opinion has some relevance to my life.
I have seen statements claiming I must have been a slut when I was a child to be where I am today; I have been body shamed, I had racist and sexist comments shouted at me and I even received death threats when I first replaced Steve. At a London gig I was the only band member who didn’t get a hand shake from the headliner who preferred to give me a bad look and walk away when my turn came. I have even been accused of starting legal action when the registers clearly display who started what and when.
But… well… you know… “Yoko Ono broke the Beatles!” shouted someone from the back, and suddenly everybody turned into biography experts, a bit like when you Google “How to get rid of a cold” and your researchunleashes hundreds of types of cancers waiting to kill you in the next couple of days, unless you wrap your head in tinfoil.
As you probably noticed, the modern version of stakes for burning Witches are now Social media pages, their so called community standards let harassment and abuse flow freely like beer at Oktoberfest, and let all sorts of sociopathic vigilantes feel powerful from behind their sticky keyboards. All is ok until some targeted teenager loses her life, a few posts follow with a few crying faces, then the whole circus starts all over again.
Why is this happening? I have no idea, I am not a psychiatrist.
Thing is, nothing changes what I am and what I do unless I want to and not only because I am not a teenager anymore. I keep making music and loving it, however sometimes the Pink Elephant deserves some fresh air too, especially when things start to smell a bit too much, orher silence is taken as consent.
Can you deny that if a male musician that stands up to abuse is tough and if a woman does she’s just labelled as diva? When I do it, some have labelled me as a fat Italian biatch, hoping to silence me. As you can imagine, that didn’t work.
Luckily our supporters couldn’t care less about boundaries and routines or if I have a penis of a vagina, they follow us because we embrace all generations and are not afraid to try new sounds and evolve. In one of the first interviews after reforming Paul Nash (the onlyfounder member left) stated, nobody in the band is interested in making an impersonation of what things used to be in the 80s.
10 years later, we now celebrate the 40th anniversary of Danse Society music. Perhaps the best reason to follow us was given by a gentleman stated a few days ago on BBC Radio York, that he loves us because we embrace past present and future, apparently he saw us supportingToyah at the Scarborough Market Hall in February this year.
Of course my experience has been rather extreme and thankfully the majority of musicians are utterly awesome and I am still very good friend with most of my ex band mates.
So there, the Pink Elephant has now left the room on her bloody legs. She was finally noticed and called away with the promise of girls expressing themselves through their music.
I will always encourage younger female artists to focuson improving their own skills and choose musicians who are awesome to work with, the ones who aren’t afraid ofa vulva and that treat everyone equally without the need of hospitalisation or a lawyer.
*Track from The Danse Society’s 7th Studio album “Sailing Mirrors”.