Interview with PETROL GIRLS about sexism in hardcore-punk

Interview with the "Feminist Post-hardcore" band Petrol Girls about the band and sexism in the hardcore-punk scene.

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Petrol Girls is a punk band founded in London 2013, who have taken up the fight against sexism. According to the band, their beginnings stem in the own scene, which pretends to be tolerant and progressive, but often exactly the opposite is the case. We learned more about their drive and the problems within the scene in an interview with Petrol Girl.

Interview with Petrol Girls

Petrol Girls
Petrol Girls

Me getting told to shut up whilst talking about consent – the guy telling me to shut up got punched by a couple of women in the audience.

AFL: Hey how are you? Thank you for taking time! Could you please introduce PETROL GIRLS to everybody who don’t know you so far?

Joe: Hey! we’re great thanks. Petrol Girls are: Ren (vocals), Joe (guitar), Liepa (bass) and Zock (drums). We formed around 4 years ago in London but nowadays Liepa and Zock are living in Graz in Austria. We play fairly technical, high energy feminist punk music and we try to gig as much as possible. Although right now, living in different countries sometimes makes things a little tricky!

Punk rock should be  a safe community where all of us can build strength and be a base from which we can start to deal with all of the political shit being hurled at us at the moment – yet 90% of my energy right now, seems to be going into trying to make punk a safer place for everyone

AFL: You call yourself a “feminist post-hardcore band”. Why have you added the pretext “feminist”?

Ren: The band began for an International Women’s Day house show that I was putting on, and I needed that feminist context to feel confident enough to start it. We had 2 practices and played 2 songs. We were shit and it was great! And the whole things on youtube. As a band we’re musically unrecognisable from how we began, but feminism remains at the core of our politics. We’re also certainly not the first band to describe ourselves as some variety of feminist punk or hardcore. When we started I really needed to make aggressive music as a way of kicking back at the sexism within the scene I was part of.

First gig of the Petrol Girls

Joe: The punk community that often prides itself on being progressive and radical yet still has real problems regarding sexist behaviour, sexual assault and rape. Feminism is still a fairly contentious topic in that scene and by putting it as part of our description we are choosing to be unapologetic about it. There’s nothing challenging about singing songs against capitalism and against fascism when everyone in the crowd can just pat themselves on the back for agreeing. Sexism is something still deeply rooted in the scene – we’re all capable of sexist behaviour, often without even realising it! Lyrically a lot of our themes are feminist and Ren always takes time at every show to talk about the issue of consent…

Ren: Yep, and I’m so fucking bored of talking about it, but I feel like I have to keep talking about it because after nearly every show I end up speaking to people, mostly women, who’ve experienced abuse, assault or rape, often from someone within our community. I’m furious that I have to keep talking about it. Punk rock should be  a safe community where all of us can build strength and be a base from which we can start to deal with all of the political shit being hurled at us at the moment – yet 90% of my energy right now, seems to be going into trying to make punk a safer place for everyone, not only men.

AFL: There are a lot more men than women in the hardcore-punk scene. The scene is extremely male dominated with relatively less women who go to shows and are involved in the scene. In your opinion where lies cause for this fact?

Ren: Sure, its male dominated, but this is definitely changing. I also think its worth saying that women, trans and non-binary people have been part of punk since day one, our histories just haven’t always been recorded in the same way as that of men, if at all. There are endless reasons, not just one cause. I guess a big reason is that we need to be able to see ourselves on stage before we can imagine being there. I needed to see other women on stage before I thought I could front a band.

AFL: In your opinion what could be done to equalize the status quo?

Ren: I think it starts with men thinking about the space they take up, and listening to other people’s experiences.

AFL: Have you ever had negative incidents during a PETROL GIRLS show, because you are partly composed of women? Do you feel generally well received by the audience and do you feel differently treated?

Ren: Some of the more obvious things I guess would be Liepa getting creeped on by some weirdo with a camera (our mate Marcela stepped in, and we smashed his camera), me getting told to shut up whilst talking about consent (the guy telling me to shut up got punched by a couple of women in the audience), some dude shouting at me to get my knickers off (I was wearing skinny jeans man, its not that easy!)… Mostly though, its fine. Guys often come up to me and Liepa after shows like “woaoaaah” as if they didn’t have very high expectations of us.. which I just find funny to be honest. I think I end up doing a fuck load of emotional labour chatting to people after shows about sexual violence and mental health, which I’m not sure I’d get so much if I was a guy.. not sure.

AFL: What is the meaning of your band name PETROL GIRLS? How did you get the idea?

Ren: I went to a talk that the writer Laurie Penny was giving on Women and Protest, and her starting point was Les Petroleuses, mythical women from the paris commune that resisted traditional gender norms and allegedly set fire to private property with molotov cocktails. She loosely translated this to Petrol Girls – seemed like a solid band name to me.

AFL: You’ve released you last full-length “Talk Of Violence“ in November 2016 which got a lot of good feedback. What were your musical influences and how would you describe your music on the record?

Joe: I would describe the record as an incessant barrage of jagged riffs and angry shouting. It can be a little exhausting to listen to because it’s consistently quite intense the whole way through. I think that’s kind of cool in a way, and we just about get away with it because it’s only around 30 minutes long. Playing the songs live is also pretty tough on Ren’s voice because she never has time to breathe!

In terms of musical influence I would say we sound like we do because Ren and Zock listen to loads of punk music and Liepa and I listen to loads of music that isn’t punk. So the result is something that’s kind of punk, and kind of not!

AFL: Do you have plans to release a new record in 2017?

Joe: No unfortunately not! We just haven’t really got the material ready. we’re definitely planning on doing another album as soon as possible but living in different countries has made the writing process quite slow. The plan is to eventually all be living in Austria and then it should speed up but there’s no chance we’ll have a new  album in 2017. However we are hoping to get out another short EP by late 2017 or early 2018.

AFL: Between 26th and 28th April you will be on tour with STRIKE ANYWHERE in Germany. Not the first tour you play and for sure also not your last tour! What do you like being on tour and what do you like less?

Joe: Meeting new people and travelling to places we’ve never been to before is definitely a fun part of touring. playing shows that have a great energy to them or a big turnout is always exciting and can give you a massive buzz. It means a lot to us when the people we stay with look after us well, which particularly in central Europe is often the case. People there are generally so welcoming and hospitable and the food is great!

I suppose the worse parts are the long drives. It can really play with your mind getting such little exercise and missing most of the day’s sunlight.

Ren: Speak for yourself, I fucking love van time!

AFL: If you could choose a band you can play a tour together. Which band would you choose and where would you play the tour?

Joe: We were lucky enough to play with Refused last year in Vienna, and it was an amazing show. We’re big fans of their music so it would be awesome to do a tour with them. I’d love to tour somewhere like South America or Japan. I don’t know if Refused have many fans there though (we certainly don’t!).

AFL: Thanks for the interview. See you in April! Have you any last words or something to add?

Ren: DON’T TRY AND FUCK PEOPLE WHEN THEY’RE SLEEPING, OR TOO DRUNK OR FUCKED UP ON DRUGS. If someone says no, respect that. Get explicit consent – an enthusiastic YES – every fucking time.

Petrol Girls on Tour with Strike Anywhere

26.04.17 – Hamburg, Hafenklang (GER)
27.04.17 – Zwiesel, Jugendcafe (GER)
28.04.17 – Saarwellingen, Flexibel (GER)
05.05.17 – Dortmund, FZW (Visions Party)*

* without Strike Anywhere

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