“A boy-girl revolution,” as a riot grrrl lyric went, that allowed women to be sexually free and simultaneously open about harassment and sexual assault, that encouraged them in pursuits traditionally thought of as male, like dancing in the mosh pit or thrashing on guitar without having to give up their spirited girly-ness. That’s what the foremothers of the riot grrrl movement, Joan Jett and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, had in mind when the movement started.
When it took hold in the early and mid-nineties, driven by bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, it represented a new kind of youthful, DIY feminism, a grass-roots uprising aimed less at liberating women from the institutions that oppressed them than inviting women to create new ones. Bikini Kill’s, and later Le Tigre’s, Kathleen Hannah became the face of the movement.
Now, two decades after its heyday, a new branched-out version of the movement is on the rise. Although Riot grrrl brought with it loud protests concerning violence against women and sexual harassment in the music industry, the music scene is far from being equal in the possibilities to get airtime or stage time for female artists. Out of the ashes of original riot grrrl movement and building on its founding values, the modern wave of female artists raise their voices for equality on the scene and equal share of the spotlight for men and women in the music industry.
One of those bands in the forefront in Germany is Berlin based two-piece punk indie rockers Gurr smashing out an array of fast paced bangers that works great on record and translates into amazing live experiences. When Andreya Casablanca and Laura Lee passed by Hamburg to play Hafenklang, we caught them for a chat and talked about their latest EP, women in the music industry, weird videos and fan culture.
And we started in Laura’s ornitophobia and fear of pigeons, the reason to why they picked the name Gurr.
From ornitophobia to role models for young women
Little fun fact about your band name, Gurr. I know it comes from Laura’s fear of pigeons. Hilarious, I don’t like them either! Have you ever heard about the Bavarian or Austrian expression “Bissgurn”? It comes from “Biss” [bite] and “Gurre” [mare] which commonly means “shrewish woman”.
Laura: Some people also say “Gören” [brats]. Maybe that’s synonymous?
I find that really cool because it have that kind of riot and power in it but without losing the “gurr means girl” thing, which how often it’s interpreted. It fits very well.
Andreya: And it’s also kind of a more adult connotation in German.
Both of you come from the countryside, Laura from Northern Germany and Andreya from Bavaria, but now both of you live in Berlin. Do you think people in Berlin and other major cities are more open for your kind of art or have a better understanding for the content compared to people from where you come from?
Andreya: Not the way I grew up and got into music and bands; I feel that in a small village as where I come from, people were happy that you did it. We played every Juze [youth center] and people just loved it; they really like live music.
But I can imagine that we’re in a bubble just because of the scene we belong to, and that we’re in the “big city” and have all these great people around us. If I show our stuff to my cousin, who’s not that much into music, I think she would be like “Huh! Well, funny!?”. (laugh)
Is that one of the reasons to why you brought your “weformedaband” project into life because you did it like that? It’s a really cool idea.
Laura: Yes, and also because that was how we found our bassist in the past; we just put up an ad. I saw a similar ad at my place, showed it to Andreya and we thought that was super sweet and that it was how we began ourselves. And then we thought “Why isn’t there any option to do this online?” and we got this idea with the Instagram account “@weformedaband”.
With this project we try to speak up for everybody, especially trying to put up a network for LGTBQ’s and women. It’s important to point out that it’s not just a male/female thing but everything in between.
We just walk down the same road as the young generation who use a completely different language; they’re not looking for a woman or a man to play the guitar, they’re looking for someone to who can play guitar and who has an open mind about music.
You said something like that in another interview, Laura, about your tour with Kraftklub in 2017. It was almost only female fans in front of the stage who looked a bit confused because you’re two women on stage. Maybe they thought like “Well, maybe it’s possible to like this, maybe I can do it as well!”.
Laura: Yes of course! For us it’s a reason to do that kind of tours. It was sort of the same with AnnenMayKantereit; a really young female crowd who maybe haven’t seen that many women with guitars.
Like Andreya said, we’re in a bubble, but maybe they already understand that, or maybe we just underestimate it all. I don’t know what they are listening to. Maybe we scared them off with our sound. (laugh)
Pushing the boundaries of riot grrrl with “first wave gurrlcore”
Sometimes record labels become genre names, as with “industrial”, named after Throbbing Gristle’s imprint; the term and genre “jungle” came from a soundsystem yard tape from Jamaica that featured the chant “All the junglists”; and “Afrobeat” was the name coined in 1968 by Fela Kuti to describe the music he was inventing around that time. With Gurr we add another genre-bending term, “first wave gurrlcore”.
Although the Riot grrrl movement blasted feminism into the future via direct-action strategies, mantras and slogans such as “girl power” and “support grrrl love,” and became one of the most visible branches of what was dubbed third wave feminism, Andreya and Laura point out that Gurr is not intended to be forthrightly political, rather they play the role of role models and building networks for women in the music industry.
We also have to ask you about music and digitalization because it makes it easier to distribute music today and to make DIY work possible. On the other hand, there’s no money in it. How much DIY is behind what you do?
Laura: Hundred percent DIY! (laugh)
Andreya: Maybe we just grew up with our DIY stuff and have learned. I think for many DIY means being shabby, something not made perfect. But it’s also kind of weird because it implies that you need to get people to help you.
I think we did a good job. Above all, it’s DIY because we had to pay for it ourselves. Yes, we worked together with a producer but were very stubborn in what we wanted, and we released it ourselves with a label service. Less DIY, more like cloud rap style. (laugh)
What we find really awesome with you is that you basically created your own genre, “First wave gurrlcore”, after doing a survey among your fans – hats of for that – and brought it together with the modern wave of feminism, just like you are the new wave of it. What about Gurr, feminism and politics?
Laura: For me it just means that women can make music. People often ask like “Hey, what are you doing for kind of music?” or just talk about which sounds we use, what influences us to make music or the story of a song. They never talk about how it feels to be a woman in music or the role of women in music.
That was our first idea with “First wave gurrlcore” and something we stand for. We’re definitely not the first or the only women doing this, but it needs a push.
I’ve read a post in your Gurrzine that your new EP “She Says” is about that, to say what you think, getting people to listen and have people around you who believe in you.
Laura: Yeah, we already talked about that. The idea came after Andreya already had written the lyrics for the song. The title says it all, and we really liked that name for the EP.
In the current debate on rapes you very often hear the punch line “he says, she says”, and what she says is kind a true and powerful today.
At your last single “Fake News” you also talk about politics.
Laura: We’re not a super outright political band but of course all the stuff happening at the moment affects us.
We had the discussion about how to be political and what we want to say. That song did it in a more personal way because it’s not about moralizing, it tells a story from a journalist’s perspective. It’s about the struggle to reach out to people who feel neglected or forsaken and choose strange parties just to feel part of something. It’s not supposed to point fingers to people.
Probably something that’s not easy to solve. But if we step back to women in music. What do you think about networks for women in music? Do you know about the music women network? It started here in Hamburg with musicHHwomen and there’s one in Berlin. It’s a kind of a platform but also a database to find women who are working in the music industry.
Andreya: We’re also in the the Keychange Program** and it has really helped us to get in touch with other women in the music industry. It was really cool to work with other female artists, and to meet women in music. It kind of gets you out of your bubble because you often get the comment “There are no women doing this”.
Such networks and initiatives are great ways for finding women in the music industry and make them visible. Just take, for example, booking agencies which are completely made up of white men; then you understand comments like what Laura just told you, about female networks.
These networks are great to have to help women onto the stage, where you help each other and connect bands and venues like “What about this band?”. It can’t be nothing but good to manifest the presence of women in music.
What definitely make you stand out is your presence on stage. You have a huge self-confidence and don’t seem to give a shit about what is going on. Would you say that you have reach that point, performance-wise, through experience or have you always been this cool?
Andreya: I just started singing in my first band, some really screeching punk, and my role was to run around and entertain the crowd. But when I came off the stage I was very shy and introvert. That has changed and I think I found out who I am by being on stage and get more experience.
Sometimes I’m still an introvert, but in the past it used to be like “Oh my god, I’m so different off stage”. It’s kind of a change for me.
After all there’s an arty side on stage which may have translated into being part of your personality.
I already loved your “Hot Summer” video with that hamster and people putting food in its pockets. Also the one with Bela B for “Zu Spät” [“Too Late”] that banter with Domian. You put a phone number in the video and what I’ve heard is that you really got calls and gave away tickets! How did you approached Bela about the idea? Was it because of the title of the song “Zu Spät”?
Andreya: The name of the song was the last thing we thought about. We played Molotow at a Levi’s Music School event and Bela is a sponsor or a supporter or something like that, and saw us play. But he wanted to book us way before that for something with Viva con Agua. We had a chat and he said he’s a big fan of what we do and bought our records. We were like “Oh my god, don’t buy our records, we’ll give them to you!”. (laugh)
Laura: Bela B doesn’t buy records, he gets them! (laugh)
Andreya: And one thing led to another.
The songs are about being worried and we didn’t had much time to do the takes at all, so we made it easy, in one shot.
If I’m allowed to get really nerdy for a minute; the two sisters, well one [Kansas Bowling] actually, made the video for Drangsal’s “Magst Du Mich”, and she also made the one-take video for the Death Valley Girls’ where Iggy Pop is sitting for four minutes just eating a burger (laugh). I thought that was so cool!
With our video for “Hot Summer” it was like “let’s do this and that, and many different things”. All ideas for videos are always like “Oh, that’s way too boring”, and with “Zu Spät” we thought “Why don’t make it a one-take video where he reads the lyrics?”. It worked out great! Laura downloaded a tele-pointer app in her iPad and we made the text with that.
And Bela did a great job! He didn’t know the lyrics ahead of the video shoot but made it in like four hours.
Laura: Now he knows the text by heart. (laugh)
About gigs and your fans; we had this weird experience from Blood Red Shoes’ gig at the Molotow recently, where people in the front were just staring and filming all the time. Another one was at the Emma Ruth Rundle’s gig at the Hafenklang, where pretty much the same thing happened. Is that something you’ve also experienced?
Andreya: I think it’s a kind of fan culture and a certain type of fan who just have to film.
Laura: If they realize it’s a new song they just start filming and put it on YouTube. But I think that’s pretty cool too; then you can see how fans are up to date.
Andreya: We played a small festival where we were one of the few female bands. There was one guy who shouted at the female bassist of one band the whole time, things like “sweetie”, “baby” and other things. I was really pissed off about that. Who does he think who he is? If it would have been a male bassist he wouldn’t have done that. That is so disrespectful! At one point I just told him to shut up; I was just really pissed off. It’s just disgusting to stare and behave like that.
Regarding gender and staring; I think there are different dynamics. At our shows with AnnenMayKantereit there were lots of female fans in the first row filming. It kind a mixes up with the fan culture. Some people just don’t know limits and think public persons don’t have personal rights. We are not that famous, but sometimes when we chat with people, they just come over and take a photo. Just ask and then we’ll have that photo! (laugh)
We’re very excited about the show tonight. What can we expect from the tour? You’ll do some shows in Germany and then head over to the US. We’re used that you do wild shows, can we still count on that?
Andreya: We always go with the flow. Tonight we’ll be very euphoric and confused at the same time because it’s our first gig with new songs on stage. But things will still happen.
**Keychange is an international initiative which transforms the future of music whilst encouraging festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.
Photographer: ©Julia Schwendner