FemRock Festival – Green Door Store, Brighton – 30th June 2018

Photo by Annie Roberts

So, it turns out the smoking area of Green Door Store has the capacity to be quite pleasant. Who knew? It helps that on this occasion (Saturday 30th June), it was populated largely with Brighton’s femme, queer (and otherwise) creatives. So, rather than stinking of Tuborg and cigarettes, the much more alluring smell of tacos filled the space, courtesy of Cactus Kitchen Girls.

To get in the swing of things, whilst waiting for the first act, I sat down at Cult Milk and began cutting ‘FUCK THE PATRIARCHY’, out of felt. Disclaimer: I only managed the F, at which point it was time for Quim Smashers.

The Quim Smashers’ performance had a distinctly personal aspect, as though exports from Hannah’s diary, reinterpreted in a riot grrl, DIY format. This was evident from their opening number, ‘Dirty Fuck Boy’, tickling and depressingly relatable. They executed femme-punk-shouty well, sometimes paralleling this with wistful, melodic and lullaby, such as in ‘Slut’. The subject matter of their performance focussed mainly on rejecting patriarchal expectations. From experience, these topics (upsettingly) don’t cease to be relevant. Casting these such topics in a playful way, by having pretty simple riffs and progressions, allowed more space for the lyrics to be reflected upon.

Endearingly, Suburban Death Twitch’s stripped-back set up, felt it wouldn’t be out of place in a town hall; although the content might be a bit heavy for such a venue, with lyrics detailing experiences of therapy, biscuits, age and body image. The heavy themes were neatly packaged in nursery rhyme-style compositions. Their amateurish endearments and absence of musical complexity is where lies their charm. Where some more professional, cynical music types may believe they fall short, their presence, politics and comedic style rush in to redeem their lack of a full drum kit.

For about ten seconds, I was pretty sure Gullsband’s opening track was a Darkness cover. Disappointingly, I was wrong. The shouty, spoken-word, rock-pop, reminded me of a pissed off version of The Ting Tings. This, combined with abundant tartan and leopard print, made everything feel very 2000s. They favoured a structure of spoken-word poetic verses, followed by classic rock choruses. It’s a formula that works, but they could do with some variation. To my dismay, they covered Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’, and further into the 2000s we sunk.

Hexmaze are a wall of femmes, with bleached hair and sugar sweet vocals. A carousel of guitar fuzz, cute harmonies, collective transient chanting, reminiscent of The Go! Team and Goat, all go into the creation of their own sound. This particular chanting is a very welcome antidote to the football chanting I’ve experienced in the street of late. In the face of technical difficulties, they remained composed – even when one of their mics lacked any sound at all, they resiliently persisted. The guitarists held the rhythm, allowing for layering and twangy sections, swerving away from pop and giving them an edge. Within one song, they weaved between timings, harmonies and genres. They had the least to say between songs but, then, it wasn’t really needed.

Charmpit serve up pop-punk, low-fi DIY, performed by queer, femme, best friends. All of the members had great stage presence, but I was most besotted with bassist and frontlady, Anne Marie. Skipping the hassle of effects pedals, they adorably echoed their own vocals. They created twinkly, shiny indie songs with a good amount of sing-shouting over the top. By smashing about on stage, any cracks were glossed over. Over the top was just enough. As Anne-Marie said, “You don’t have to sing the right notes as long as you’re having fun”. ‘Droolin’ 4 U’ is the queer coming-of-age love song that I really could have done with about ten years ago. ‘Wa Wa Westfield’, ‘Buckfast My Heart’, and ‘Misogynist Boss’, all had me falling for them from the titles and back stories alone. Charmpit succeed by taking pretty detrimental experiences, dismantling them, and still managing to laugh in their faces.

HUSSY juxtapose doom 90s grunge with sweet playful lullabies, like skipping between Warpaint and The Wytches. Layered guitar parts combine to create gloomy indie, combined with whimsical melodies. The combination of the two genres, when played out together, made dreamy pop sounds and hot fuzz. A couple of members from Hexmaze were supplementing the band, which made sense as the sounds were somewhat similar. A single, soft, female vocal and overt use of their tremolo pedals attributed to their eerie sound, contrasted with the fuzzy rhythm guitar. During instrumental moments, the lead guitarist and vocalist awkwardly interacting, was part of their charm and a definite highlight.

Bitch Theme are first and foremost politically femme, in the shape of grunge. At times the vocals were purposefully pitchy, but there’s obviously a strong voice there. Between songs, they were sweetly uncomfortable in their nervous chatting. They’re the kind of group I wish I’d met when I first moved to Brighton, being unapologetically political punk, with a sense of humour to boot – most evident in ‘Little Pickle’, that they themselves couldn’t help but giggle at. The bassist wore a FemRock T-shirt (that she’d bought that day) like a cape, held together by pins (I assume she’d also bought that day). Details like this made their otherwise pretty intimidating, moody vibe, completely approachable and loveable.

The three-piece from South East London, barmaids and best friends, draw similarities to bands like Mooseblood, though queerer and with actual substance. However, unlike Mooseblood, Militant Girlfriend aren’t infuriating. On the contrary, they’re actually very likeable. Alongside this, guitarist and vocalist Kaitlin also resembles most of the boys that broke my heart. Like all good bands, and people, they can take the piss out of themselves. They let us know almost straight away, “We tried to learn it – ‘Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) – but there were LOADS of chords”. Lack of chord knowledge will not get in this band’s way.

Siblings or best friends? I’m still not sure when it comes to Sit Down. I also don’t much care, as they were beyond gimmicks. It was really refreshing to experience a rock two-piece unlike any of late, being that they weren’t male-dominated in any sense. They would definitely show Black Keys up when getting their musical dicks out. So, male-heavy? No. Fuzz-heavy? Damn straight. The smallest group of the evening had, by miles, the fattest sound. They’re feisty, fuzzy and one half of the duo kind of looks like Brigitte Bardot, but a version that’s been practicing war cries for a while, and is incredible at playing drums.

Parody, DIY, and ‘empowerpop’. The Baby Seals were my favourite of the night. They consistently churned out songs that I responded to with, “Hey, that’s happened to me!” I’m thinking particularly of ‘Period Drama’, ‘Yawn Porn’, ‘Vibrator’, ‘Nipple Hair’, and ‘My Labia’s Lopsided, But I Don’t Mind’. Bands like this are so important, they fill a gap in a space full of self-indulgent nonsense churned out by male-dominated bands. Body positive and patriarchy smashing, they made me genuinely laugh, and also cry at the overwhelming feeling of solidarity amongst the crowd. They’re shameless, upbeat and on the nose girl rock. On top of this, they had a real good amount of Ba ba ba’s” within the lyrics – always and forever a huge plus for any band.

Finally, a massive shout out to the organisers, particularly Vicky, a sentiment echoed by basically all of the bands. She’s been doing this for five years, and it’s such a great thing she’s doing, creating this space for both the bands and those attending. As the organisers so poignantly pointed out, putting on female-fronted and queer bands is not hard.

Annie Roberts

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