When I started up Around The Sound a bit over two years ago there were a lot of things I didn’t consider. My main motivation was to bring back some quality music journalism, the sort of stuff I used to read in outlets like New Musical Express and Sounds when I was a kid.
For a confused teenager who was looking for a place to belong and looking within to try to figure out who they were, those publications gave me hope of another way of being. Listening to music, especially live music, helped me work my way through the confusion that, if not caused, certainly wasn’t helped, by a childhood growing up across multiple countries and schools in an abusive family that engendered female and male roles that made no sense to me.
I’m not going to go too deeply into my personal back story here, this is not the place. But if you’d ever like to know, before you make up your mind about who I am and what motivates me, please feel free to ask. I’m over hiding, but I don’t feel compelled to shout from rooftops, either.
The reason I’m writing this right now is because the other thing I didn’t anticipate when I became a journalist and publisher was that these roles come with responsibility and the opportunity to try to make a difference. If that sounds naïve, I guess that’s because it was. But it didn’t take long for me to begin to realise what those responsibilities are and I don’t believe I’ve ever shirked them. In fact, I’ve made my thoughts know on issues that are important to me on this platform before. I’ve encouraged others to do the same, and I will continue to do so.
I’ve also stuffed up. Mistakes are inevitable and it’s my belief that it’s how you deal with them that counts. I hope that, when I have made mistakes, I’ve dealt with them openly and honestly and with the intention of learning and being better next time. I guess that’s not entirely for me to judge, but I do like to think that we each need to take end-of-line responsibility for our own values and how they inform our actions.
Recently, I was asked to be part of a panel at an event taking place in Perth on International Women’s Day. I gladly accepted the invitation, as this is an event that promotes positive action to increase inclusivity and gender diversity in the music industry. Those are values and actions that I fully support. There’s no need for discussion about whether, it’s how we achieve this that is important.
So, I began to think about what I might say and where, from my point of view, we are up to.
It strikes me that there is a great deal of healing to be done, not only in the music industry, but in society as a whole. I don’t think we should underestimate or be in any way reductive about the need to work together to come to a common understanding of the harm that many generations of societal and institutional iniquity, discrimination and abuse have caused. Lives have been lost as a direct consequence of living in what is still a male dominated world. Lives continue to be lost. People are routinely denied opportunity, status and basic recognition of their value as individuals based on a faulty understanding of gender and how it shapes our potential as human beings. And the harm is more common and greater when you look at the minorities within the broader groupings, such as trans and non-binary people.
Gender is a social construct that plays to humans’ need to label things in order to try to understand them. But when you apply any generic label specifically, you lose sight of the individual. Things break down and meaning is lost every time we try to imprint broad labels on individuals without inquiring about who they are and how they identify.
I would have said something along those lines. I also would have said that I believe we need nothing less than a truth and reconciliation process to give people an opportunity to come together, hear first-hand about the impact of abuse and discrimination on the lives of individuals, and give us all an opportunity for understanding and healing. Something like the process that took place in South Africa post-apartheid. I’m not sure whether and how we can move on as a society without such a process.
I was also asked to put forward five or so songs by artists that are female or female-led. These were my choices:
‘Identity’ – X-Ray Spex
‘Jumpers’ – Sleater-Kinney
‘Skeletons’ – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
‘Elevator Operator’ – Courtney Barnett
‘Devil Gate Drive’ – Suzi Quatro
Reflecting on them while writing this, they’re not just songs from my own collection of music, songs that I like and that have stayed with me musically in some way; they also have great personal meaning for me.
In ‘Identity’ X-Ray Spex front woman, Poly Styrene, sings:
Identity is the crisis, can’t you see?/Identity, identity/When you look in the mirror, do you see yourself?
I bought the single when I was around 14 and the answer always was, ‘no’, and it still is. It’s a song that carries as much weight now as it did when it was first released. The music has endured, too. It sounds as fresh today as it did in the late ‘70s.
Sleater-Kinney are a band that I knew were important even before I’d had the chance to listen to their music. Somehow, some bands manage to assert their value without playing a single note.
The opening lines of ‘Jumpers’ have always struck me as being a lyric that only a woman could write:
I spend the afternoon in cars/I sit in traffic jams for hours/Don’t push me, I am not OK.
Carrie Brownstein’s ability to say straight out that the protagonist of the song is not OK is a particularly female trait. Stereotypically, males bottle up their feelings. Of course, neither stereotype holds true when you assess them at the individual level. To me, personally, those few words speak to my experience, past, present and future. There are times when I have simply not been OK, and those times will come again.
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Skeletons’ is a slow burn of a song with lyrics that strip the flesh from its subjects. In that sense, what Karen O also is singing is a song about identity. What is left when we strip away the flesh?
‘Elevator Operator’ is the opening track from Courtney Barnett’s first full length album, Sometimes I sit And Think And Sometimes I just Sit. The bit that never fails to make me cry is the lyric:
He said, I think you’re projecting the way that you’re feeling/I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly/I come up here for perception and clarity.
For me, it’s a cry for understanding. That’s why it gets me. Every time.
Suzi Quatro was my first rock star crush. It took me for ever to realise that there weren’t many women playing rock music. As a 12-year old maybe I could be forgiven for not being quite ready to assess the imbalance in the industry that I already was totally besotted with?
‘Devil Gate Drive’ is a song about danger, but it also was a song about wanting to be part of something:
Knock down the gates!/Let me in. Let me in.
Even in those formative years, I was looking for the place where I belonged.
I thought I’d just picked some songs by female artists that I liked. Of course, that was never going to be the case. Every action we take is informed by our consciousness, either knowingly or not. Nothing happens without a reason.
So, why am I sharing this here instead of at the event? Turns out, when my name was announced as part of the panel there were some objections to my involvement. I don’t know what those objections were or who made them.
People usually don’t act without a good reason. I’m not questioning the validity of the reaction to my involvement, but I still believe that my life experience and point of view are worth putting on the record. As a writer and a publisher, I understand that I will be judged by anyone who chooses to do so. It’s not personal. But it is.
Gender equity and a world that is free from the sort of damaging gender stereotypes that have informed our society from its very origins is something that is very important to me. So, I decided I’d take the liberty of sharing my views on the Around The Sound platform, and I will continue to do so, as well as encourage others to do the same.
Thank you for reading.