BRITPOP – HAVE THE SCENE’S WOMEN LEFT A LASTING LEGACY?
Macho swagger, a shitload of beer, and the Union Jack. That’s the common image of Britpop. Even now, the contribution of women to the movement is criminally overlooked. Lush, Elastica, Echobelly and Sleeper were the major players, while Kenickie and Catatonia were sometimes allowed in the conversation. Compare that to the wealth of talent we have today, from Wolf Alice and Florence + the Machine to Dream Wife, Goat Girl and The Orielles – while Sleeper, and Berenyi of Lush, are still making music. Did the likes of Sleeper and Lush pave the way for this current wave of female indie artists?
We ask Berenyi, now in newly-formed indie foursome Piroshka alongside Justin Welch (Elastica), K.J. “Moose” McKillop (Moose) and Michael Conroy (Modern English) for her thoughts. She points out that “a more varied range of female artists writing autobiographies has made a difference.” Britpop retrospectives overwhelmingly focus on men – as Berenyi puts it, “women are lucky to get a subchapter or are completely written out of history in most music books”. Take Sleeper frontwoman Louise Wener and her book ‘Just For One Day: Adventures in Britpop’. “Far more galvanising to read women describing in their own words how they negotiate pitfalls and obstacles to become a musician”, explains Berenyi.
Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t changed hugely since then. Welch offers up a more optimistic vision, as he says “the industry is very different now”, while in contrast Berenyi argues “I worry that not much has changed”. She pulls no punches about being a woman in the male-dominated Britpop scene: “The number of pussy-grabbing/tit-staring/arse-biting dickhead blokes in bands I encountered was no more than previous, except suddenly this wasn’t the behaviour of a disgusting creep, but a massive fucking laugh and I should be flattered by the attention.”
This casual sexism and macho bravado seems to have been commonplace in Britpop. Would we have seen female artists gain more success if it wasn’t? Almost certainly. Even being male himself, Welch wasn’t overly enamoured with all-male bands: “There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me when I’m in that environment. There’s something about the way music sounds when a group of males are in a room together – I find the demographics of being in a band with women much more preferable.”
There have been numerous influential female artists, Welch name checking Patti Smith, Nina Simone and Siouxsie Sioux. From the folk-rock of the ‘60s, through punk, synthpop, riot grrrl, Britpop and to the present day, from Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks to St. Vincent, Ellie Rowsell and Lana Del Rey, there’s an abundance. The masculine lens through which we view Britpop does not exist in a vacuum; it’s a symptom of a much wider issue – the erasure of women (particularly women of colour and queer women, it has to be said) in the music industry. Look at festival lineups year on year; the dominance of male music journalists; the idea that if two female rappers have the temerity to be successful simultaneously, a rivalry is instantly manufactured by the media.
It’s not just Britpop. Something has got to change. And maybe it is slowly changing, in no small part down to the likes of Berenyi.