Wo-Month - Marlo Eggplant

Posted by vibrations on 03-11-13

Marlo Eggplant and Tom Bench talk about what they know best: noise.

This interview is part of the Vibrations ‘Wo-Month’; Do you think that is a good idea or does it risk coming across as too tokenistic?

I came from the Riot Grrrrl movement, so I was always very comfortable with talking about gender: it's ok to mention! It's the same thing that is happening in a lot of sociology and social sciences: people are afraid to talk about gender or race because they are fearful of being too essentialist. But I think it's weird for musicians and artists not to talk about their identity; I think that by being scared that it could be being derivative to discuss it... part of being a woman is part of who I am, and part of who I am is what I am on stage!

So do you feel that you consciously make an effort to apply your gender to your music, or is it inherently present?

I’ve been doing this kind of stuff for a long time, from back when it was really weird to be a woman doing this stuff, and now it's not really that big of a deal, or at least not in the same way. There are challenges, but challenges that are more like “oh isn’t that a bummer”, instead of impossibility. When I did my first U.S. tour, I would drive three hundred, maybe a thousand miles before I’d see another woman. And you would share experiences, ask if everything had been okay ... I’ve played basically every noise fest I could in the States; odds are you’ll get maybe two women to forty two people on the bill?

Did you ever experience much in the way of prejudice or abuse during that time?

Yeah, definitely. I remember playing noise gigs in the States where people would be amazed that there was ‘a chick’ on the stage, and guys would feel comfortable shouting ‘show us your tits’I’ve been urinated on at a show: ha ha ha, funny right? I don’t know if that was a personal affront or if that guy just couldn’t get to the bathroom...

I’d get hate email when I started curating, with people saying: “noise is supposed to be gender free, how dare you bring identity into it?”. Or women in the scene saying: “I don’t want to be recognised as a woman, why are you making it an issue that I have to address?”. To which I’m like: “People know! And maybe its more helpful to have a dialogue about it rather than stick your head in the sand?”. It actually really hurt my feelings that people were getting so angry about it, because in Riot Grrrl that was certainly not the case!

On a similar theme, some noise (though by no means all) uses self-consciously ‘extreme’ or ‘transgressive’ subject matter, sometimes including rape and aggressive, sexist attitudes towards women. Even if that is coming from behind several layers of irony (that's a debate for another day), does that sort of thing add to the sense of being unwelcome here as a woman?

Yes it does. I’ve played a lot of power electronics shows with a lot of that kind of stuff, and I think the important thing to do is to keep playing those shows, and saying you don’t like it, and insisting on being on those bills. That's the only way to do it. It makes it obvious that we are in this scene too, we buy records and come to shows and make music too, and make it harder to ignore. Because they need to know that more collages of naked ladies and mutilated women aren’t cool, that they have an impact beyond the level they are intended; that they alienate and exclude women. Because people don’t always realise that: lots of times you’ll see a dude performing in a black hood, working the aggressive testosterone thing, and then afterwards they’ll come up and say: “Dude Marlo thanks for playing, it's so great to see chicks come out!”.

And to a degree the tokenism thing does suck, but just being there makes a difference. I don’t know how many times I’ve played and had somebody’s girlfriend, or somebody’s sister, or even somebody’s mum has come up to me and started talking about noise and asking questions about what I do, which is awesome!

But you’re saying it isn’t so bad anymore? Was there a particular ‘turning point’, or has it just been a case of gradual improvement?

I think there's been gathering momentum, rather than ‘a moment’. In noise music there have been a lot of developments: there was ‘Pink Noises’ by Analog Tara, which is a book (formerly a website) about women in electronic music. And then ‘Women Take Back The Noise’ happened with Nina Pixie, who is part of Big City Orchestra, and that was really the first compilation which was ‘I’m just going to say it: I’m a woman, I’m doing this’. And that had Cosey Fanni Tutti and IOIOI... Ladyz in Noyz (a compilation of women noise musicians curated by Marlo) happened, which broke a little bit more ground because it actually got some blog attention! I don’t really know why... But it did and that's good! And then Titwrench Festival happened, which was the first international festival for women in experimental music and film. That's in its fifth year now, and this year was the first year that they’ve doing a satellite festival, Titwrench Stockholm. And Ladyz in Noyz has had an event in Australia for the last two years too. And the Ladyfests too, which is having more noise acts incorporated into it.

Going further back then there’s always been the iconic Mills College music programmes. Or there's the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. But those were a bit different, they weren’t called ‘noise’, even if they were very experimental, so they were received differently. There's the whole High Art / Low Art separation between the terms ‘Music’ and ‘Noise’...

That’s something I wanted to ask about. You have academic or ‘serious’ areas of music which can be very experimental and noisy, but then there is the kind of noise that happens in basements with no money. Your experience is from the latter, yes?

DIY basement contexts are very much my comfort zone. One of the reasons I still show up to gender orientated / curated events is that I want the women who don’t really know anyone else to see it and be inspired to put something else on, and the internet has helped with that. But I also need to think about what would benefit my career more: should I play in gallery spaces, and use my actual last name, rather than Marlo Eggplant? Sometimes if I’m trying to get grants or do things in an ‘official’ sphere, I’ll use the term ‘Sound Art’ instead of noise, because it has less militaristic connotations. But ultimately, I’m not a sound artist: I make noise!

So ultimately, despite the problems of tokenism, you believe that the way to do it is to just get out there and take part, and normalise the presence of women in noise?

Yes, and not to hide about it either. When you get asked to be on a female compilation, go for it: not being on it isn’t going to make it less of an issue. When I was curating Ladyz in Noyz there were some wonderful artists whose approach was “urm, well, I’m just making some stuff at home, do you think people really want to hear it?”. And of course yes, everyone wants to hear it!they put their shit out like crazy! Why shouldn’t you?

That’s what I’m saying, that I’m really proud of the impact that myself and a lot of other women have made with these various ‘Women in Noise/Sound Art’ projects, because women now have the opportunity to just release stuff, without it being an issue.

I’m not overtly political in the music that I make, because I have my academic self to let that out as well, so I have a voice, I’m not silenced in that respect. But there are some musicians who have so much to say politically, but really they just need to play out more. Everyone should play out more, not just the shouty aggressive guys, so that people see that there are women and kids and families and everybody making noise.

Well absolutely, because noise isn’t only the aggressive, ‘extreme’ stuff. There is a place for that, but what I like most about noise is interesting and exciting sound, and that sound can stand on its own.

That’s sort of the idea behind Plunderphonics: that once something is played it then exists in the air, irrespective of who made it. And that’s the same way I feel about noise music, that once you play it, and the sound has been erupted, all of these identity politics fall away.

So now we have more women taking part, has that also led to more women in the audience too?

Definitely! It's really wonderful how much of a change there has been. I even just get excited when women are standing right up in the front row; in the old days they’d be at the back of the room, behind the guys with the black t-shirts and trench coats and big beards (if they were even there at all). It isn’t just people’s girlfriends either! And the internet has been super helpful too, because you can talk to people in Indonesia or Eastern Europe, who don’t have audiences, and we can do Skype sets with them and stuff like that. It’s an exciting time!

Well certainly from my impressions of the scene around Leeds, the whole thing is very friendly and open now. It seems that anyone who shows an interest is immediately welcomed in, without elitism or intimidation.

Oh Leeds is amazing! I’m really lucky to have found Leeds, it is exceptional in terms of its openness. It isn’t the only place of course: Denver is great, Baltimore is great, Portland and Brooklyn and Austin are great… but plenty of not so great places in the States, those are like the highlights of a huge ass country! In the UK, Leeds stands out; Brighton is a bit like that, but I think that’s more a credit to the city in general than the scene specifically. Whereas in Leeds it is a credit to the scene in particular.

And the same from a mixed gender perspective too: for instance this show tonight has been put together by Rachel, and I think there are five men and five women performing? What’s more, it doesn’t feel tokenistic, it doesn’t feel like “a gig with lots of girls in it!”; it just feels like an exciting gig.

I don’t know why people here seem to be able to just like music, and not get caught up in everything else so much. When I first played here, at Pete’s Crater Lake festival, I expected it to be like “who the hell are you?”. But I was really shocked, people were so welcoming! I moved here because of how great this scene is!

Interview by Tom Bench

More info at www.facebook.com/marloeggplantmusic

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