Though South Broadway was teeming with hundreds of fest-goers last Friday evening — it was day two of the sweet-sixteen edition of the Underground Music Showcase — it was still easy to spot my friends in Tacocat. Like shiny pastel buoys bobbing among a sea of beards and black clothes, the three women (three-fourths of the band; guitarist Eric Randall was probably hiding from the masses somewhere) skipped across Ellsworth Street in matching purple dresses and sporting various shades of Care Bear hair. Straggling behind them were three more women, following the Seattle band in its pursuit of a quiet place to drink before the commencement of its midnight set at the hi-dive.
As I caught up with the crew, I learned that the three women hanging with Tacocat were also a band — Denver's own Corner Girls (check out last week's feature on the Denver punk-ish trio.) We found refuge at the Compound, scattering ourselves in little groups across bar stools and tall tables. I struck up a conversation with Corner Girl Jessica Pulido; we talked about being bass players and our mutual admiration for our "Nth Wave" feminist pals Tacocat.
No more than five minutes into our chat, the conversation turned to the dark side of being a woman who plays music. Pulido began telling me about how earlier in the night, she'd been hassled by a door guy when trying to enter her own show (the Corner Girls had played a 7 p.m. slot at UMS). She also told me about a previous show, after which, in a written review, a music critic had dismissed the Corner Girls as a reincarnation of Girls Gone Wild, insinuating that the band's perceived intoxication was somehow inappropriate. We laughed together for a moment, reveling in the notion that many of modern rock's most adored acts have been dudes famous for being wasted in public — but somehow, when women exercise their right to present an outrageous stage persona, they get shamed.
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Hearing all of this made me furious. I get that the more things change, the more they stay the same, but really? Hadn't Denver come to a place where women could play music without being relegated to the "less serious" category of music or be treated like they were a fucking novelty?
When I started playing music in public more than a decade ago, I quickly learned how much more you have to do in order to be "legitimized" as a woman who plays music. Whether we want to be or not, when we decide to play music, on a stage, in front of people, we are spokespeople for our own credibility. You have to be an expert player, but not too good; you're supposed to present a "sexy but not too sexy" vibe, always risking being labeled icy or, alternately, "too much" on stage. You're supposed to be a master at hovering just outside the boys' club, making sure not to get too close while retaining your femininity behind an instrument. It's a very complicated and exhausting regimen of completely made-up rules that many of us have been ignoring for decades but still seem to be punished by.
After the work I had done with my own bands in the past and as the co-creator of Titwrench, a music festival started in 2009 to deal with the very issues Pulido was facing as a woman making art, I thought that we as a community had possibly moved past some of the same old sexist bullshit that has permeated art and life for centuries. But in those few moments I spent getting to know this musician, the more I saw how little had really changed. At 21, she was experiencing the exact same bullshit I went through at 17. And 21. And 31. It reminded me of time I overheard a guy trying to convince his friend to stick around for my band's set because "they're chicks, but they're chicks who rock the fuck out." Or the time a group of men at a bar decided to line the stage my band was about to play on, turning their backs to us to create a barrier and ensuring that the audience couldn't watch us perform even if they wanted to.
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As I looked around the Compound at the incredible group of musicians taking time to commiserate and share triumphs and challenges with each other, I was reminded that for me, rock and roll really will always be a girls' club. Sometimes, we really are the "girl band" label ascribed to us. But when I say "girl band," I mean it in the way that women in bands tend to take care of each other and look out for other women in bands (at least in my experience). On top of making incredible music and art, Tacocat excels at what is so often tossed aside as "feminist punk" with "girl power," but their power as girls is to be inclusive and accessible to other women. They are seasoned musicians who have always put forth the intention of sharing the stage with new and less-established acts that include women. The members of Tacocat aren't required to do it; they just do it.
Tacocat is also a great example of how the "girl band" moniker is so often a misnomer; after all, they do have a dude in the band. But if I've learned anything as a musician who is a girl, any band that isn't made up of strictly cis-het males is considered a "girl" band. I would know— I spent five years in a band that was one-third dude for most of that time, and yet we were still forever known as a "girl band."
So I'd like to flip the script. If you wanna call bands "girl bands," fine. Just know that "girl band" means the inclusion of women, the inclusion of folx who don't subscribe to an arbitrary gender binary, and the inclusion of queer folx. The "girl band," like rock and roll, is a club. Anyone who wants to be a part of something bigger than the archaic pantheon of misogynist rhetoric that modern rock and roll was built on is welcome. Just beware: You might find yourself in a "girl band" one day. If you're lucky.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies