With living in a society that is so focused on equal rights for women and those in the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn’t stop in the workforce or in academic spaces, it goes into everyday life, including the music scene.
Lack of representation and inclusion in the pop-punk and hardcore music scene isn’t only a problem locally, but all over the country. To really get behind these issues, we have to dive into a little bit of history.
In an article written by Darby Kendall, she goes to say that the precursor of punk music began in the late 1960s in Detroit with Iggy Pop, “the godfather of punk.” The Stooges had sold-out crowds and gained popularity by using common household objects such as blenders and vacuum cleaners to put a unique spin on their performances.
According to Kendall, the fascination of punk music soon caught the attention of people in New York City. The Velvet Underground who emerged in 1964 was all about being the complete opposite of The Beatles mania that was sweeping the world. The Velvet Underground laid the musical groundwork for the next decade, where punk began to push boundaries previous generations didn’t even know existed.
Punk started to gain a lot of popularity and became almost mainstream both in the United States and over in the UK, working-class kids were drawn to their lyrics about despair and disgust with the modern world, she mentions.
Julie White, the lead vocalist of a Buffalo band called The Elite, leans towards the heavier/hardcore side of punk and can relate to being the only woman on tour a lot of the time.
When White was around the age of 16, she had a friend show her old hardcore, like the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front.
“These bands had really similar roots to punk music so I got it immediately,” she said.
When it came to the topic of punk being a “boy’s run genre,” she talks about how in her hometown, Long Island, the music scene had an equal amount of girls to boys.
“It seems actually like from my own experience, in scenes that are really popular there’s plenty of girls and nonbinary folks. We can look at Long Island, Richmond, Santa Cruz, Dallas, and South Florida and it’s so vibrant and mixed. I couldn’t tell you if it’s the girls jumping on board that make the scene rich or it’s a good scene that makes it more inviting for girls. It’s a really interesting and complex issue I think that I could talk about all day long,” said White.
While looking at the big picture, like concerts all over the United States along with festivals, White talks about how she has been to events that won’t have a single woman on the bill. When she tours, she pretty much guarantees that she won’t be interacting with any woman promoters or band members.
When it comes to being the only woman in all of her musical endeavors, past, and present, she says that she doesn’t see the music scene as sexist necessarily, but does notice a gender gap at local shows.
“I am hyper-aware of girls in my scene and want to do everything in my power to make sure they feel comfortable and welcomed. It’s their scene just as much as it is anyone else’s,” said White.
Moving on to the LGBTQ+ representation in the local music scene also involves a bit of history. In an article by Catherine Chapman, queercore is the gay punk movement that emerged in the 1980s in Toronto. A scene that took notes from the sexually liberating roots of punk, queercore was a movement that refused the status quo of belonging, which other LGBTQ communities were striving for, embracing negative gay stereotypes in a spectacle of experimental film, alternative magazines and, of course, music.
Central New Yorker, Lexington Noens plays in the band 4th Curtis. Although they don’t fit into the strict pop-punk genre, Noens describes them as a balanced mix of pop and punk. When it comes to their music scene, Noens says sometimes they feel like they don’t fit in.
“It’s more about a difference in personalities and attitudes than anything else. The scene we’re in is pretty friendly towards gay and trans people since that’s what half of the artists here are,” said Noens.
Their trans identity finds itself into most of the songs they write, even though they rarely sit down to write a song about gender. Songwriting can be a chance to stretch the truth without holding onto it for longer than three minutes. It gives them a lot of freedom to perform gender in different ways.
Noens says that when it comes to bringing awareness to gender and sexuality through lyrics, they do it just by existing as a trans disabled person singing about their life and feelings. They also make it a point to bring their bandmates’ experiences to light, because there’s a lot of oppression Maddie and Ty face that isn’t targeted at Noens.
When it comes to the future, Noens says promoters can book bands with marginalized members, shout them out, support them, listen to their music and their thoughts as people.
“Keep privileged artists in check and kick them out of the scene if they refuse to move along with the times. When you find yourself in a space of only white, cis, able-bodied straight people, question how and why you’re there.”
Lux Arnold, the bassist in a surf-punk band, Velvet Bethany, based out of Fredonia, says she lives in a utopia she has created where the only people in her company are fellow queer people or close allies. Being Latinx, black, queer, and a woman, she says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where certain prejudices are coming from or if a person is belittling her because of plain misogyny, plain racism, or the mixture of both, misogynoir which is defined as misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias.
“Trans women are making amazing music in Buffalo and I can’t push them enough. It’s such a crucial time to be giving our undivided attention to those who’ve been silenced for so long. As far as venues, we play at a wide variety of places. Chances are that if a venue or a promoter disrespect anyone, whether it be harassment or misgendering, etc. the community will know about it, “ Arnold said.
As a band, Velvet Bethany is learning a lot about restorative justice and call-ins as opposed to call-outs. So when they experience sexism or harassment, they talk about what they can do to create the most positive outcome from the circumstances. Right now, they want to reboot an old feminist festival to be more inclusive because, in the face of all this sexism and racism and homophobia, there is a need for safe spaces for those affected by that oppression to create. Instead of yelling at brick walls, I’d rather build something that I can share with people like me. I want to start making the world I want to inhabit rather than be one of the people pointing fingers and complaining about the way things are. It’s an extremely important time for allies to step up and make room for people who are struggling.
When it comes to playing shows, Nicolle Maroulis, from the band Hit Like A Girl says they’d be lying if they said sometimes they didn’t feel like their band only gets asked to play specific shows so they have a token minority on the bill to make themselves appear inclusive.
Representation is extremely important. If people paid and played LGBTQ+ bands and more underrepresented musicians, there wouldn’t be a need to create separate worlds just to exist. It is important to remember who started punk, and where it came from. Art comes in so many forms and the scene could be so much more diverse compared to how it is currently run.