“So who’s the guitarist?”

“Jen”

“But that’s a girl’s name??”

Yes, women can play instruments other than keys and violins; the fact that they have boobs doesn’t make them any less talented when it comes to musical ability. Yet, this is the unfortunate problem the underground metal, rock and alternative scene in Cape Town is facing. While the scene is flourishing with female talent, vocalist mainly, it is still widely dominated by males. The idea of a chick guitarist in a metal band or a chick drummer in a punk band still seems foreign or wrong, like puzzle piece in the wrong place.  Considering the times we are living in, does it not make you wonder why Cape Townian female musicians are still being oppressed in the alternative genre.

If one takes a good look at the history of rock, which finds its origins in the patriarchal genres of blues and rock n roll with females generally playing supporting roles in music, it is understandable that rock, metal and all its sub-genres are dominated by men to a certain extent. Both internationally and nationally this has hugely changed as female artist become more and more popular. But even so female artist tend to be vocalist, or if they play an instrument it tends to be keys while in metal and the more hard-core genres it tends to be bass or in rock and indie, the acoustic guitar. The Cape Town scene mirrors this and it has come to my attention while doing an interview recently with a metal/deathcore band from Cape Town called The Impalement Theory. The Impalement Theory’s rhythm guitarist, Jen, is in fact at the moment the only gigging female guitarist on the metal scene and quite honestly I find this extremely ridiculous and a tad bit embarrassing on the part of female musicians. It is a huge responsibility on her part, not that she is doing this to make any sort of statement, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is one of the few women representing female musicians in the scene.

Jen of The Impalement Theory at Double Ds

Where are the rest of them? And why are they still in hiding? This is the 21st century after all, not the stone ages, yet there is still this perception that in the genres of metal, rock and alternative music the only place for women is the position of vocalists. We have amazing bands like Fire Fly; Lark, LA.VI and When Karma Sleeps that are fronted by women, however, it seems like the scene is satisfied with them just staying within those boundaries of a frontwomen and nothing more.  While I am in no way discrediting female vocalist in these genres I do believe it is about time we see more female musicians with instruments in hand.

LARK at The Assembly

For all my gig going I’ve only seen a handful of female musicians outside the role of vocals and only two local all-female bands within the alternative genres, one of which I was actively a part of as the rhythm guitarist. However, I’ve had both good and some bad experiences when it comes to female musicians and it seems like some of them are just giving a bad name to all the other female musicians who want to make a difference in the scene.  One such band that has gotten a lot of attention that they, quite frankly, have not earned, and mainly from the male audience may I add, is the all-chick sleazy-trash-punk band (apparently this is an actual sub-genre of punk) called Junkyard Lipstick. Skimpy clothing and vulgar language is what this band is all about. It is guaranteed that the words “fuck”, “whore”, “slut” and “bitch” can be heard throughout their set numerous times. Trash punk has a guaranteed audience and this band cleverly relies on that market and uses the novelty aspect of chicks playing this genre to their advantage. This with their emphasised “sex appeal” is a winning concept when targeting a male audience, however, this approach to the scene is not ideal in terms of gaining respect in a male dominated scene and because they are so few female musicians on the scene they are creating a certain perception towards women in the alternative scene, the perception that they are just pretty objects propped up on stage for the male audience’s viewing pleasure.

Having hand on experience as a rhythm guitarist of an all-female rock/alternative band I know what it’s like being the only female band playing the gig. Many times I’ve seen confused looks on the audience faces, many of them walking away before we’ve even started playing simply because they assume that the music is going to be horrendous, only to find their way back to the when they realise that we’re not just “pretty faces” and the music is actually substantial. The preconceived idea of a chick band is drenched in sugar pop and candy floss and all that nonsense that people associate with women and one cannot avoid the “novelty” concept no matter how hard you try. In order for that to change the mind-set of the audience and the way in which they judge a band, particularly women, before they’ve actually heard the music needs to change. More attention needs to be paid to the music rather than the fact that the musician or musicians are female.

However, there are musicians that truly represent and prove that women are just as capable as men in these genres. The guitar goddess herself, Natasha Meister is one of these musicians. Born in Canada yet South African in her own right, Natasha Meister is the only female guitarist in Cape Town that is proudly sponsored by Fender and that is more than most of the males in the alternative scene can say for themselves. Her soulful blues guitar along with her husky voice has attracted well deserved attention.

Natasha Meister at Kirstenbosch Gardens

Another band that has become popular is Peachy Keen who have recently been signed to Sheer Records . Vocals, guitar and keys, these girls hold nothing back. They have taken the scene by storm, refusing to go unnoticed and are perfect example of chicks that are making music for the love of music and are doing it well, thus gaining the respect of their fellow musicians. Relying on writing good music and not flashing their way to fame these women shape the way in which female musicians are seen today.

Peechy Keen at V8 Thunder

These are some of the up and coming bands (which have not been previously mentioned) in Cape Town on the underground scene that feature female musicians: The Inside Job; The Make-Overs; Chasing Friday; Enmity; Playing with Reason; CY.STR; Mister and Misread, Shot Gun Tori; The Red Robins; Rolling Thunder and Wolftown.

It is about time that more female musicians follow the lead of these women and break through the ideology of male dominance and to prove that they too should be taken seriously as musicians!

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