The days of ‘cock rock’ are numbered
Words Oisin Lunny
Pale, male and stale: ‘cock rock’ feels like a sonic dinosaur in today’s increasingly egalitarian cultural landscape – a thrusting, dust-riddled relic of a bygone age. But as the powerful torrent of #MeToo hashtags continues to show us, we are still a shameful distance from anything approaching equality.
The disproportionate number of women working in rock is a symptom of a far wider problem – a reflection of a music industry which, in 2015, put forward line-ups at major festivals such as Field Day, Latitude and Bestival that were reportedly over 80 percent male. The problem extends beyond the stage, too – in 2010, Storme Whitby-Grubb, former tour manager for indie rock bands Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, We Are Scientists and Maxïmo Park and co-founder of tour management company Little Touring, told The Independent that of the 300 or more tour managers, production managers, guitar technicians, sound engineers and lighting designers she had worked with throughout her career, only 20 were women.
There is so much progress still to be made – in every sector, across all genres, at each level – but what we can do in the here and now is support and celebrate those female pioneers smashing glass ceilings in every area of our cultural industries. This month, PHOENIX salutes three raw female talents torching patriarchal rock.
There’s something about Fiona. Visually she combines echoes of rock royalty with the kind of 1950’s femme-fatale look that would drive James Ellroy to his writing desk at 2am. Her distinctive retro style is matched with a deep love of archetypal rock ‘n’ roll and a canny knack for capturing vignettes of American love and lust at its doomed best. “Foot on the pedal, wind in my hair, backseat lover did you think I don’t care,” snarls Fiona on her latest release Smoking Gun. Who is in the backseat? Where is Fiona taking him? Is her romantic life always this complicated? Based on her collection Little Thunder it would appear so. The steamy video for Smoking Gun was shot in 100-degree heat in Joshua Tree, the iconic visuals matching the road movie Fiona had in mind when writing the song.
Watch: Smoking Gun, Fiona Silver
Her next single Here Comes The Fall is released this month, produced by Roger Greenawalt, who also produced The Pierces. Fiona explains: “As an artist it’s important for me to keep exploring new genres and sounds. Here Comes The Fall ventures into a more vibe-heavy, cinematic, and electronic realm. After that I’ll be diving back into my blues-rock roots to record some new tracks down in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Fiona plans to spend the next few months in the studio, but you can catch her on the road again next spring.
LA’s Starcrawler caught our attention earlier this year with their debut release Ants. The video featured lead vocalist Arrow de Wilde coming on stage, wide eyed in a straight jacket, before ripping it off and delivering an explosion of “FUCK YOU!” that Iggy Pop would be proud of. A visceral blur of silk, rhinestones and fake blood, Arrow is undoubtedly a star.
The band formed last year when Arrow met guitarist Henri Cash at their Echo Park high school. Shortly thereafter, the streets of Hollywood brought them the rhythm section of Austin Smith (drums) and Tim Franco (bass). They dish out squalling riffs and thundering beats, and their incendiary performances, fronted by de Wilde’s otherworldly magnetism, are nothing less than a mash-up of the Cramps, the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls.
Watch: Let Her Be, Starcrawler
Their latest single Let Her Be is the first release from their debut album, produced by Ryan Adams, which is due for release next year. Let Her Be is an everyday tale of girl-meets-demonic-possession, with Arrow inhabiting the role with gusto; writhing within a magic circle, crab-crawling, spitting blood and summoning unmentionables from the depths of hell. We think Starcrawler live will be a life-changing experience, so book fast to see them at the Sebright Arms, London, Jugjaws @ the Crypt Below Bedfords, Norwich, or Actress & Bishop, Birmingham early this month.
I had the pleasure of catching Savages during NOS Alive this year and was blown away by their lead singer Jehnny Beth, who was a living masterclass in presence and connection with the audience. She channelled Siouxsie Sioux, Lux Interior and Iggy Pop all at once, surfing the crowd and generally kicking ass. Her complete artistic integrity was in sharp contrast to the cock rock dominating the headlines at too many music festivals. Watching Jehnny on stage, the future looked decidedly female.
Real name Camille Berthomier, Jehnny was born in the small city of Poitiers, France, to theater-director parents. Her career as a performer started early: she played the title role in Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and performed her first piano recital aged 10. Her parents raised her on the cinematic masterpieces of Hitchcock, Truffaut, and John Cassavetes, a sample of dialogue from the latter’s Opening Night later appearing on Savages Silence Yourself.
Watch: Adore, Savages
Jehnny is a prolific collaborator, working with a diverse range of artists from Trentemøller to the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. This year she added vocals to Gorillaz We Got The Power, joining them on their Humanz World Tour, and also guesting with The xx at the O2 Academy in Brixton. Somehow, she finds the time to host her own radio show Start Making Sense on Beats 1, where she compiles “playlist for skeptics who don’t believe in great new music”, and chats with guests like Damon Albarn, Kamasi Washington, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Mac DeMarco and PHOENIX favourite Aldous Harding.
A complex renaissance woman with many personal and political depths, Jehnny is one of the most interesting performers in music today. PHOENIX awaits the next chapter of her career with baited breath.
Oisin Lunny has been performing, producing and DJing since the early 90s, first with his band Marxman and then with his solo project Firstborn. Today he is a keynote speaker, composes music for film & TV, DJs globally, and sends out mixtapes to 12,000 friends via his website.
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