Saturday, 16 July 2016

Skinny Girl Diet "You're either a feminist or a masochist, choose your side"

Photo by Francesca Allen.
Attracting a headline proclaiming that you ‘..could be our generation’s Bikini Kill’(1) and having Viv Albertine comment “At last, real girls, young and believable, singing in their own voices.”(2) are pretty impressive achievements before you’ve even released your first album! Skinny Girl Diet is London based trio Delilah and Ursula Holliday and Amelia Cutler whose music is feminist, political punk that relays the experience of growing up as a young woman in 21st Century urban Britain. With a slot at this years Latitude Festival and an album, Heavy Flow, coming out in September I contacted them for an interview, they kindly agreed.

I'm in the middle of reading Kat Banyard's book 'The Equality Illusion' (3) which looks at the lived experience of women in the UK and elsewhere, it makes being a woman in a sexist, patriarchal culture sound tough. Objectification, sexualisation, harassment-are they issues you confront in your music?
Definitely. They're issues that you really can't avoid and become part of your life and experiences. In a way, it contributes to who you become as a person. No Cis man, who doesn't identify as a woman, will ever be as strong mentally as a woman due to all these factors we have to face in life. When making music you put so much of yourself into it, music is a way of putting all those experiences somewhere. We don't shy away from speaking out about our experiences with sexism because it's so important to use your voice when possible and not stand by idly or sit on the fence. You're either a feminist or a masochist, choose your side. Unfair things like objectification, sexualisation, cat- calling that every woman faces on a day to day basis, need to be confronted because otherwise, people will just think that it's just part of life as a woman.

Was that the reason you formed a band because you wanted to make women's invisible experiences visible? To confront society with uncomfortable truths?
That's a heavy weight to put on our shoulders. However everything we do we like to confront people with uncomfortable truths and we find people's reactions funny because it forces them to have an opinion. Although we've always been political, outspokenness and satirical jokes about our society come naturally to us, we don't really understand why people come to us for the answers, we are just musicians at the end of the day. I guess we all hoped that everyone was as politically involved as us. But interview after interview, we're slowly realising that no one else really cares about incorporating issues within their music or are too scared to voice their opinions. So we're getting all these questions a lot of other musicians probably wouldn't know where to begin answering. We started off with our name, not thinking it was shocking at all, It goes to show how women are treated and perceived in music when a political motive ends up being assumed when we want to play music. We all enjoy being in a band and making music together. Of course, there was a frustration of the lack of female representation and sexism against women, but our political views aren't the motive to make music, rather, a part of who we are.

How and when did Skinny Girl Diet form, did you have a clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the off or has it gradually taken shape or will it always be shifting? How would you describe your sound?
It's something that's evolved organically from just playing and jamming together for 6 years. We take influence from the music we listen to, raised by our parents on alternative and punk music but we never really wanted to sound like a particular band or anything. The sound will probably always shift as we grow and have new experiences.

You are a band that is described as feminist and political- how has your politics developed? What were the influences ? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
We are all really lucky to have politically vocal, left wing parents who would always talk to us about issues and not shy away from exposing us to politics from a young age. Taking us to political marches at an early age and also festivals like Rise Festival (an anti-racism festival 2006 - 2008) at an early age which has definitely shaped our outlook on life. We're probably as outspoken as we are thanks to our family and each other. We'll always be very left wing.

What writers and thinkers have you found helpful or influential?
Amelia: There are too many to name. I really love the writing of Angela Carter. Her books are so beautifully written, her approach to womanhood was really inspirational. It made me realise just how badly male writers are at creating believable women.
Ursula: Thinkers wise - Angela Davis, Guerrilla Girls and Jenny Holzer.
Delilah: Sylvia Plath will probably be my all time favourite writer I hold the bell jar very close to my heart, at one point in my life it was the only thing I could relate to. Margaret Atwood is one of my other favourite authors both have really shaped the way I view myself as woman and how I create art.

Capitalism tries to create a sense of insecurity and anxiety about appearance in women particularly, encouraging them to construct a sense of self-based on visually pleasing society. Do you think exploring your creativity and having a sense of community can help in resisting those pressures?
In the end, it's just realising that it means nothing and knowing that it's all a load of nonsense is what helps the most. Being creative and part of a community helps build self-confidence. Loving yourself is the best defence.

There seems to have been some positive role models for young women in mainstream culture over the last few years, I'm thinking of the Divergent films and The Hunger Games series, do you think that passive Twilight type character is being rejected by most younger women?
There is definitely something bubbling in regards to women speaking out about all kinds of injustices in the arts. In mainstream culture, feminism has now started become a normal word which is positive on the younger generation as hopefully, they won't feel the judgement on calling yourself one like most of the older generation did. The choices made in movies on female characters definitely has an effect so more female leads, more female directors, more outspoken females roles, more women of colour roles and equal pay to females actors in film would be a good start.

Originally Riot Grrrl was a reaction to the US punk scene being predominantly straight white male, with all the attendant problems that brings. How have you experienced the UK Lo Fi DIY/punk scene, is it an easier space to be a women than mainstream culture?
There are two sides to it. The LGBTQIA side of the scene is genuinely lovely and a great, accepting space to be in. It's where we started and we got so much support from bands like Shopping. Then you have the other side which is very machismo and saturated with rich white boys who think they're punk. That side would probably be pretty similar to mainstream culture in terms of how easy it is to be a part of if you look just like them. They can be really condescending and assume that we can't play or understand our instruments just because we're women.

In the book 'One Chord Wonders' Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (4). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have hegemonic gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?
The punk scene right now doesn't feel very punk. It's very white and male, and even the nostalgic look back hasn't given women in punk the recognition they deserve. The message of punk has been lost and punk as a movement has been commodified by rich, white capitalism. The so-called scene doesn't feel very genuine.

You have had a couple of releases out (the most recent being Girl Gang State of Mind) and you have an album out in September, Heavy Flow. The album artwork is really interesting, could you talk us through the ideas you're exploring on the cover photo. And what sort of subject matter are you engaging with on the album?
Another satirical joke from us. Periods are such a natural phenomena that are regarded with such disgust. Women are expected to hide and suppress completely natural things. Women are bleeding all over the world and we wanted to contrast that imagery against the ultra glamorous image the media sells. And it's funny as hell because that's what we call our genre Heavy Flow. The album is a body of 6 years of work, with Delilah writing all the songs, it's basically us as a band in its entirety.

Last question! What are your plans for the rest of the year, will you be touring the album in the autumn?
Depends, if we're still skint might have to ask a mate with a van to drop us off, next stop a pub near you.

Thanks to Skinny Girl Diet for their time and answers.

  1. Weinstock, T. (2014) ‘Punk Band Skinny Girl Diet could be Our Generation’s Bikini Kill’
  2. Press Release email via mutante inc.
  3. Banyard, K. (2010) The Equality Illusion, Faber and Faber, London.
  4. Laing, D. (2015) 'One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock', PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.


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