Throwback: Feminist dance rock
Like most, I often find myself roaming down the dark, dark rabbit hole of Youtube suggestions. I head to Youtube to do a yoga video, and then it suggests that I listen to Janelle Monae, and then it guides me to Jidenna, and then I head over to a John Legend video that makes me weep, and then I find myself watching every Miguel video in existence, and so on.
A couple nights ago, I found myself tumbling down a nostalgia hole of my fave feminist dance rock tunes.
Now, before I go any further here, I'm going to say that I'm definitely not a music snob. I'm not a geek in the sense that I can give you an accurate lineage of this genre (or any genre, really) or weirdly specific and/or obscure information about these bands. All I know is what my ears and what my heart tell me, and they tell me that my heart/mind/soul are all deeply in love with this music. Does there really need to be more than that?
The year was 2008. Or maybe it was the summer of 2009. Maybe it was actually academic year 2009-2010? Anyway, I remember the bus line I took, and the stop I waited at to go home at the end of the day. I think it was definitely summer. Yeah, summer.
At any rate, this is the first song that comes to mind when I think about the first year or so that I lived in Indiana. I'm 99% sure I danced to this song at a bus stop. I still would, and I think you should try it.
Oh my god, you guys. How do you not fall in love with a lyric like, "From all the bitches, the one I want to be is music?"
And this one:
I love the talkiness and the sing-songiness of both C.S.S. and New Young Pony Club. I love C.S.S.'s playfulness and their raunchiness. I love that New Young Pony Club is dancy and riot-grrl-y. When I first heard these two bands, I thought, Thank god! Music I could dance to and not feel like I was participating in a misogynistic theater of dance floor objectification? SIGN ME UP.
I can't believe I almost forgot about Le Tigre and Kathleen Hanna. Jesus. They're only the ones who kickstarted my love of this entire genre in the first place. How almost-blasphemous I was.
I found Le Tigre when I was a DJ for my undergrad radio station. I co-hosted a show called Ninja Explosion with a friend, and some of my favorite memories are the times we had mini-dance parties in the tiny radio booth. We'd turn on the strobe light, pump up the jams, jump up onto the ancient puke green couch, and dance.
One of my favorite ice breaker questions is, "If you could be any rock star, who would you be?" My answer is nearly always, "Karen O." Fever To Tell, their first album, had all the grit I loved and all the harsh vocals I wished I could express at the time. I heard tales of her spitting her beer out onto stoic front row hipsters who refused to move to the music -- god, what I wouldn't have given to be able to do that to some of the people I came in contact with on a daily basis -- in undergrad AND in grad school. Listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs made me feel like I had been rolling around on a garage floor for an hour. That was my favorite and ideal thing to feel. It still is.
And then they came out with this?!
I was so fucking excited, and so certain that I was in a golden age of feminist dance music.
You might not be able to tell, but dancing and a song's dance-ability is important to me. These days, I know my stress levels are at their maximum when all I want to do is have a few cocktails and go dancing. Dancing is my way of reconnecting with my body, of clearing my mind of all the thought-shit that builds up, swirls around, and won't go away. Around the time Le Tigre came into my life, I went out dancing on the regular. I loved going dancing; I hated dealing with the men who danced with me without asking, who got angry when I told them I didn't want a drink and that I didn't really want to dance with them. I bought the gaudiest "engagement" ring I could find from Claire's and wore it when I went out because I thought that a) the ring would pass as a real ring, and b) that dudes would care.
When I talked about it to the person I was dating at the time, he shrugged and said, "You're cute. Just get used to it."
It still makes me angry to think of that logic. That because I'm a woman, I didn't deserve to move my body in public without being hit on or ogled or accosted. That I needed to "get used" to being harassed.
When I found Le Tigre, C.S.S., New Young Pony Club, Metric, it was like I could come up for air. I knew any place that played these songs would be a safe place for me to exist. And, in my area code, the only places that played these songs were my radio show and my dorm room.
Maybe that's why those small-scale dance parties I had with my friends (and on my own) are some of my favorite memories. Because I was safe to inhabit my body and move it in any way I desired without fearing the repercussions or feel like I was "asking" to be harassed.
I'll admit that I'm not as up-to-date on music as I used to be. My aesthetic is still dance rock, synthpop, music that either was made or sounds like it was made in the 80s or early to mid-90s. I have favorite feminist musicians/bands that are currently making music - Haim, MØ, Grimes, etc. I love them just as much, but in a different way. I love the grit and imperfection of the DIY music aesthetic (wait - is that just regular music? oh god). I'm not crazy about C.S.S. and New Young Pony Club's later music -- the charm of the earlier albums is replaced with polished, electronic beats. It feels too glossy in comparison to the albums and songs of theirs that are dear to me.
I don't go dancing as often as I used to or as I'd like to. My dream is to open a feminist dance club where everyone is welcome (except, of course, misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and generally shitty human beings), where the DJs actually DJ (not make Spotify playlists), the music is always good, and the drinks are always tasty and strong.
Until then, though...