The Scoop: Female Future – Women are Reclaiming and Reshaping Guitar Music

Female Future – Women are Reclaiming and Reshaping Guitar Music.

The past year bore witness to a phenomenal wave of female artists rising on the scene. There have always been women in guitar music, but the vast amount of talent and variety emerging in a relatively short period feels like the beginning of a significant movement. It is no coincidence, however, that this shift has also seen acts being subject to more scrutiny and debate than ever. From The Last Dinner Party to Picture Parlour, it feels like every exciting female fronted act of late has had their fair share of criticism, running risk of overshadowing their well-earned acclaim. Even Issue Thirty Six cover stars Wet Leg aren’t safe; despite distancing themselves from industry plant accusations in the form of multiple Brit and Grammy awards, they recently found themselves in the headlines following a petty personal takedown piece written by member Rhian Teasdale’s ex boyfriend. 

The reality is that these stories and debates gain so much traction because they signal a very real shift in the music industry. Increasingly female and non-binary acts are pushing their way into traditionally male dominated spaces, and the subsequent backlash is an insight into the insidious toxicity they have been forced to endure. Guitar music is very much central to this shift, and the debates and conversations caused by the controversy surrounding these acts is integral to exposing and challenging the changes that need to be made within the music industry. The issue is, however, that the conversation runs the risk of eclipsing the incredibly exciting and intriguing array of talent emerging right now. The sheer variety of music being made by female fronted bands is a pivotal moment in alternative music that is being overlooked due to the systematic issues it challenges. From the fantastic and humorous Sailor Honeymoon to the hauntingly ethereal The New Eves, even this issue provides a window into the sheer array and volume of talent emerging right now.  

Femininity, alongside being a force of resistance within alternative, is integral to understanding the movement that these bands belong to. Take one of the acts at the heart of the controversy; last issue’s cover stars The Last Dinner Party, as an example. Having performed in venues such as Brixton’s Windmill, The Finsbury and The George Tavern for over a year prior to the release of their killer debut single ‘Nothing Matters’, they were known as a somewhat open secret among London gig-goers. The immediate buzz and widespread coverage surrounding the track’s release saw the band subject to relentless online scrutiny, with industry plant accusations and critiques being heavily directed towards them. The band reflected in their interview for issue Forty-Four that they “knew 100% it was gonna happen, but it doesn’t make it hurt that much less. Because… you just don’t believe that women can do it, is essentially what they are saying.”

What these critiques often fail to take into account is just how interesting and monumental the music they are making is. The Last Dinner Party take traditionally feminine elements, from ornate clothing to virgin-suicide-inspired visuals and make them central to their identity as a band. The lyrics overtly explore female sexuality in an unruly and wry fashion, using evocative storytelling to communicate the often intangible and complex emotions that come with womanhood. Instead of moulding themselves towards the “acceptable” forms of femininity that women are often made to adhere to in order to succeed in music, they have arrived in the world of rock in an unabashedly and unshakeably female form. 

But The Last Dinner Party are not alone. Take a look at recent rising stars The New Eves, who are reigniting the flame of folk through the use of traditional instrumentation and vocal harmonies. Their debut tracks ‘Mother / Original Sin’ are ethereal, spooky, and deeply affecting, seething with feminine resilience. The New Eves draw upon a long and complex history of women in Folk culture and music, and their performances feel as informed by a long and tempestuous past as a defiant and vehement future. Similarly to The Last Dinner Party, their live shows feel diligently planned, with the band using them as an opportunity to expand upon their elaborate and mysterious world. Taking to the stage in victorian-esque white clothing, often altered to each member’s personal style, they use their instruments in unusual and experimental ways, making each performance a deeply emotional and psychedelic experience. They hold the captivating allure of a band that know something the audience do not, but who are willing to reveal snippets of the truth through stories and riddles. 

Storytelling is integral to this movement of female fronted alternative, with increasingly poetic and abstract imagery used by almost all of the bands discussed. Mary in the Junkyard, for example, intricately trawl through emotion, using vivid descriptions and enticing imagery. They have built up their reputation through a relentless live schedule, performing their tender and cathartic material multiple times per week at some of London’s greatest DIY venues. Their candid and enthusiastic approach to making and performing music, alongside the magnetic relationship seen between the band members, has led to them gaining a cult following despite not having a single release to their name. Balancing classical elements and abstract strings with more recognisably classic indie rock, their music is enthralling and exhilarating. The band even take to the stage adorned in knitwear, handmade by frontwoman Clari in her free time, further establishing the centrality of their friendship and amusement in the group’s identity. 

The enjoyment of making art and the centrality of the relationships of these bands is fundamental in understanding them. In fact, in the face of the backlash and criticism many of them have faced, they have come together in solidarity despite their often vastly different musical styles. Looking at Picture Parlour, for example, who feature elsewhere in this issue and recently had their fair share of controversy regarding their first NME cover. The lack of female representation in the scene was actually what initially drew them together, with guitarist Risi describing meeting frontwoman Parlour as being “so nice to be playing with another woman that really got me.” Being together enabled them to “just be our authentic selves around each other.” 

Online, a community has formed between these acts. When Picture Parlour found themselves subject to heated online debate surrounding their NME cover, The Last Dinner Party jumped to their defence writing that they are “the best band I’ve seen in years and deserve every accolade there is.” Acts such as Heartworms have opened up about the intense personal struggles and sacrifice that come with pursuing success in music, as seen in a recent instagram post in which Jojo Orme aka Heartworms described how a band’s success is often an indication “they worked fucking hard to get to where they are and I mean HARD – blood and battle, they have created this world for themselves to deal with things.” The post is a cry of defiance against narratives that these acts are getting handed opportunities easily, with Orme opening up with her financial struggles and the importance of a “circle of friends I can call family.” The solidarity seen in response to the post, with acts including The Last Dinner Party, Nuha Ruby Ra, and Genn leaving comments of encouragement, shows that beneath the controversy and struggles a network of support has begun to form.  

Meanwhile on twitter Picture Parlour recently shared a humorous moment with rising Brighton stars Lime Garden over having members that look alike. There is a warmth and friendship that is integral to the movement, a solidarity and desire to encourage one another as each act respectively faces the relentless challenges that come with being women in music. For Lime Garden, friendship is central to the band’s identity. The group entered the pandemic as a close-knit group of friends making music together and emerged with a hardcore fanbase. Recent singles such as ‘Nepotism (baby)’ see them translating universal experiences of friendship into critiques of class and social divides. Much like The Last Dinner Party’s ode to teenagerdom in the Virgin Suicide inspired imagery of the ‘Nothing Matters’ music video, or the isolation explored in lyrics such as Mary in the Junkyard’s “I feel like an alien here”, Lime Garden use the track to revisit “the feelings of being a teenager again”, and the relentless desire to fit in. “To be the it girl is to be it” the track confesses, pausing to reflect upon the demands and tribulations endured by girls as they become women. 

The movement isn’t isolated to London, although the close-knit community migrating between a handful of core venues makes it easier to notice there. Take a look at English Teacher, a Leeds based band echoing similar sentiments to that of Lime Garden in tracks such as R&B, singing “despite appearances I haven’t got the voice for R&B” as a call out to the racial and gender stereotypes projected onto frontwoman Lily Fontaine. Meanwhile in Dublin M(h)aol have made gender integral to their identity, with tracks such their latest single ‘Period Sex’ directly confronting taboos in a tongue in cheek but defiant fashion. In fact, the punk rooted rise of female talent emerging right now can be seen across the globe. From the rapid, energetic egg-punk of Snõõper and the grungy lo-fi brilliance of Horsegirl in the US, to the wry, and brilliantly original Sailor Honeymoon in Korea. But there is something special happening in the UK, a movement imbued with solidarity that inverts femininity and uses it as a tool of empowerment. There is an incredibly vast and alluring array of talent emerging, from the dream-pop of acts such as Oslo Twins to the dark, dance inspired indie of Gretel Hänlyn. There are so many acts emerging right now that it is impossible to discuss or credit them all. Crucially, however, despite all the hubbub and clamour in the foreground, there is a wave of female fronted talent on the horizon, and it feels set to impact alternative music in a real and lasting way. 

This article originally featured in the latest print edition of So Young. Order your copy here.

The new issue of So Young is out now. Buy your print copy here or read the digital edition below.