Ribbon Around A Bomb

Femme Avant-core

In the Mood For… Femme No Wave

There is something that I am genuinely curious about (maybe even troubled by) and I think the No Wave (anti-) movement can provide some insight.

Why were women so much more prominent in punk and experimental music 35 years ago compared to today? Some have suggested to me that aggressive and difficult music just doesn’t appeal to women, so they kind of avoid those scenes. (Um. Hi/WTF.)

One of my own possible theories is that women ARE still heavily involved in this type of music, often retaining that unpolished DIY sound that makes so many female musicians stylistically RAD. Only now, the DIY spirit of the original scenes, like No Wave, is not as valued or even as popular in most aggressive genres these days. I recently read an interview by Kim Gordon (yes, she was actually the interviewer) in which she considered the fact that there isn’t SCARY music anymore. If you listen to Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and other No Wave bands, that shit is legitimately creepy and violent. I agree with her in that I find a lot of the hardcore, metal, and punk bands of today to be downright corny, almost laughable. There is nothing scary about some long-haired fat dude singing about dragons and castles and shit. (Okay, there kind of is, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) I think the point I’m coming to is that I don’t prefer a lot of the highly technical aggressive or “scary” music of today. It loses some of that beautiful horror embodied in the raw, artless sounds of a lot of No Wave music, especially No Wave music made by women.

That said, the images below are to celebrate the bygone irreverence, intensity, and creative brilliance of the women of No Wave. Some of them are dead, some of them are still creating incredible music + words, and some of them have taken entirely unexpected paths in their lives since the ’70s. All of them deserve a second (and third, and fourth…) listen.

{From top to bottom: Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Nancy Arlen of Mars, Bush Tetras, Ut, Judy Nylon, Lydia Lunch x 2, Laura Kennedy, Ikue Mori.}

13 comments on “In the Mood For… Femme No Wave

  1. Gahl Shottan
    February 23, 2012

    Pretty fucking rad post yo! I’m gonna say my favorite thus far.

  2. ribbonaroundabomb
    February 23, 2012

    Gracias mi amiga!

  3. Patrick Burns
    February 23, 2012

    It’s a good point about women not being as involved in experimental or aggressive music. But music today isn’t scary? Come on, have you heard Converge or The Power and the Glory? It sounds like a lion biting someone’s head off.

  4. timoVERSION
    February 23, 2012

    Long time no wave fan (sporting both an X and a Y chromosome) with some random thoughts: It has been a long time since I thought ANYBODY was scary, and I’m wondering if because now I’m/we’re a bit more jaded…what, artistically, could possibly scare me now? In 1978 it seemed a lot more possible to ‘go beyond’, partially because the mainstream was so lame, and partially because so few had done so yet…Nowadays it seems like the ‘alternative’ to the mainstream is bigger than the mainstream itself was back then, and is so diverse as to make it almost unmanageable in tracking every band doing something somewhere.

    And yet, I understand the impulse to WANT something that will shake things up: for myself, I have always referred to it as a ‘surprise’ factor: what I look for in art is that I am surprised by it, but not necessarily scared by it. It seems by now also necessary to accept that we need to be able to recognize it in whatever form it may take…ie; without electric guitars, perhaps, and maybe not in English (or any language up-to-now associated with avant sounds).

    But no wave opened a door, and what followed MADE SENSE to me…so much that I, too, still seek that initial thrill, and long for the sense of wonder and realization and fire. We look to (say, 1978) to remind us that it happened before and therefore it might happen again, but we should keep focused on the present and the future. And one lesson I remember well, which still fuels my playing and recording, as well as going to shows and reading about music, is if we don’t hear what we’re looking for…maybe it will come down to US to make it.

    • ribbonaroundabomb
      February 24, 2012

      @Patrick- Although I do actually enjoy Converge, the idea that they sound like “a lion biting someone’s head off” is just the thing I’m talking about- it’s over-the-top and stylized that it’s corny.

      @timoVERSION- Thank you so much for your thoughts! While I want to avoid romanticizing the late ’70s scene, hell, I COMPLETELY agree that with media everywhere today and “alternative” being mainstream, not much music surprises me these days either. I haven’t heard rock music that I’d call “daring” in forever. (I swear I always end up feeling like an out-of-touch surly old punk in these conversations, even though I’m only 25.) Anyway, fucking CHEERS to your DIY spirit, sir. Knowing people still feel that way keeps me young.

  5. robin dunn
    February 24, 2012

    as an out-of-touch, surly old punk (44), i have found one recently exciting female-led band, from the dangerous or scary perspective: le butcherettes. between dragging raw meat onstage, iggy-type gymnastics, and spraying the audience with shattered glass, i’ve found their shows to feel just a little dangerous…and i absolutely love it. seeing them reminded me that music is almost never dangerous anymore…which was a lot of what made great bands great. le butcherettes stand out for me because they are so different in this way.

    otherwise, yeah, i can’t think of any danger lately. i miss it.

    • ribbonaroundabomb
      February 24, 2012

      @Robin- Sin, Sin, Sin downloaded. It sounds like live shows are the thing though, so I hope they come to SF soon! I NEED to investigate any stage antics that put reach Tribe 8 or Iggy status. Can’t wait. Thanks!

  6. johnny quest
    April 13, 2012

    Some might throw these bands into the post punk/HC bin but their sound, reminiscent of early 80’s No Wave outfits, was a much more raw and loose than many others in the noise rock genre that took off in the early 90’s. While they are not all female bands, women play in them. Or rather played, none of the bands remained intact. Perhaps your familiar, if not, then try Of Cabbages and Kings and Live Skull. Chicago based OC&K is (was) lead by guitarist and keyboardist Carolyn Master. She’s one of my favorite guitarists. Big and brutal noise rhythm riffs that have a real aesthetic about them; there’s sense that Master’s was finding a unique sound. For me, this is what Eva Hesse’s sculpture would sound like. A genuine sense of urgency in Master’s playing. My favorite cut, Sister ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5PHQBw-RY ). And the visceral, intimate doom of “I” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvip5EciSJw). Live Skull and Rat at Rat R came straight out of the NY noise no wave scene with the Swans, Sonic Youth and Band of Susans. Live Skull featured (at various times) the bass of Sonda Andersson formerly of Rat at Rat R, the vocals and bass guitar of Marine Greenholz (photo link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/franzwalsch/844894182/) and who I believe may have been singing on this track, “Sparky” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA-RmfCOApQ ), which I feel is their best work. Singer Thalia Zedek of Uzi joined the band in the late 80’s and went on to sing for Boston’s Come. A song from the more accessible ’87 LP Dusted, “Machete” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrcGcLghtvA) For more on Live Skull ( http://trickledown.wordpress.com/2007/08/18/best-noise-rock-post-punk-new-wave-no-wave-experimental-indie-emo-goth-album-ever-live-skull-bringing-home-the-bait/ ). And your in luck someone has been posting more Rat at Rat R on youtube. There wasn’t much Rat at Rat R uploaded a few a few months ago. “Wild P” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfxTk-76Kcs ) and one of their more noisy, experimental songs, “Asshole” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3nPkkAY_mI ).

    • ribbonaroundabomb
      April 14, 2012

      Live Skull and Of C and K are legit! I’ll have to check out Come and Rat at rat R- Thanks for the tip, sir.

  7. cybermaven
    April 21, 2012

    There are those of us women that were involved in the NYC No Wave scene that are still alive and kicking! And we’ve and never stopped making or finding fantastic music. Saddest thing I’ve recently heard about was the passing of Laura Kennedy of the Bush Tetras. She battled Hep C for a fairly long time. She was my first girl crush and bass playing inspiration.

  8. DivaODoom
    April 21, 2012

    There are those of us women that were involved in the NYC No Wave scene that are still alive and kicking! And we’ve and never stopped making or finding fantastic music. Saddest thing I’ve recently heard about was the passing of Laura Kennedy of the Bush Tetras. She battled Hep C for a fairly long time. She was my first girl crush and bass playing inspiration.

    • ribbonaroundabomb
      April 22, 2012

      Yes! That is awesome. I feel like someone needs to do a bunch of interviews and group convos of ALL WOMEN making cool shit in NYC in the ’70s and ’80s and make a book out of it, dammit. Can I ask how you were involved in the scene?

      I was so sad about Laura Kennedy too! I wanted to make it out for a benefit concert but couldn’t make it all the way across the country. I DID, however, get to interview Cynthia Sley a few years ago on my radio show back in college. Super amazing. 🙂

  9. timoVERSION
    April 23, 2012

    Why were women so much more prominent in punk and experimental music 35 years ago compared to today? Again, I’m not sure that is true to begin with. Punk in general and especially no wave were small-to-tiny microcosmos of the larger music scene. They’ve had an outsized impact since, to be sure, but back in the day they were (depending on where you lived) all but insignificant to the vast majority of music listeners in the world. It was extremely difficult to find…or perhaps I should say once you discovered the one or two places in which to get/hear about music it would trickle in, but there was, in the early days, just the one or two places. That was not only because there was no internet/network-of-zines, it was also because so few were actually engaged in the music. In terms of sheer numbers there HAS to be way more women (and people in general) involved in experimental/punk these days…and as for prominence in those genres, there were less women than you might imagine (depending on how you define punk…I’m talking 1976-1977, and then no wave 1978-1981), and more in no wave than punk itself. Perhaps, though, others had different experiences.

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