By Rachael Bohlander, Contributor, DC Music Live
DIY. Do It Yourself. Home improvement? Certainly. A self-catered party? Sure, with a little help from your friends and Martha Stewart.
But music? Absolutely. Especially if you’re talking about Shred Fest D.C.
Four bands and a solo singer ripped up the stage last Saturday at The Pinch, one of D.C.’s hottest, new small music venues, in a shredfest featuring some of the Metro area’s fiercest female guitarists and bassists. Blood. Yung Trynas. Big Mouth. Violent Vibes. All took the stage and made it their own. And then some.
Because playing hard isn’t just for the boys.
Shred Fest began to help combat the attitude that there is only one way a rock ‘n’ roll band should look or play, that screaming hard guitar riffs are best left to men, and that somehow you need to meet a set of “qualifications” to start making music. It is a way to encourage young women to pick up an instrument and play the way they want, and say what they feel, on stage. Where they belong.
As Katie Greer, musician, co-founder of Sister Polygon Records, and co-conspirator in Shred Fest, put it: Shred Fest is the “do it” in
The first band up is Blood: Katie, Laurie, Francy, Eva and Daniele. The band members switch instruments and places on stage as easily as they transition between one raucous song to the next. Swapping the guitar for the mic for the drums for the bass and back again. True musicians. They not only do it themselves, but they do it all. My head spins just watching them.
Women in music, particularly punk, garage and rock ‘n’ roll, are a small community. Many of the women involved in this Shred Fest D.C. play in more than one band. This event, they share a drum kit, swap instruments, shout out encouragement. The notion of catty or mean girls is just a myth here. So is the idea that chicks can’t handle a “man’s job.” They set up the sound system, adjust the drum kit, organize a rat’s nest of electrical cords, fix an uncooperative mic. DIY.
Yung Trynas is a two-woman crew. Taylor on guitar and handling the vocals. Emma on the drums. For aspiring musicians and bands, let this be a lesson to you: just because you don’t have a full contingency of instruments, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a band and that you won’t produce great music. All you have to do is, well, just do it. Which is exactly the point of Shred Fest.
Yet true to their ideals of an inclusive music industry, where everyone earns their respect based on their music, Shred Fest isn’t limited to just women. Violent Vibes has men on the guitar (G.L.) and the drums (Brandon). But they are all looking to Eva, who is commanding the stage, and the audience’s rapt attention, on vocals.
Katie’s co-conspirator is Fabiola Reyna of Portland, Oregon-based She Shreds Magazine, a magazine she founded last year as a tool to empower and inspire female musicians. The idea came to her after she had moved to Portland, while watching a band:
“I had been attending and volunteering at the Rock and Roll camp for girls for 6 years then, and when I moved to Portland from Austin, I really felt like I had immediately entered a community that was incredibly supportive and that encouraged me to play and be confident about it. Thanks to social media and the lack of respect for women in the music industry I believe that it is harder for women to be confident on stage when half of the audience is judging your looks before your talent. That’s half of what She Shreds is all about- to let the world know about confident talented women guitarists in hopes of inspiring the same out of other women and change how people view and respect these women in the music industry.”
Certainly, as Fabi points out, no one can tell her that women can’t play guitar. By the end of the year, She Shreds will have published its fourth issue and have three major Shred Fest shows behind it that prove otherwise.
Big Mouth isn’t just on stage. They take the stage. Their bassist, Emily, and guitarist, Esra, wear long flowing skirts. Angie, the lead singer, wears the LBD, “Robert Palmer girl” style. And she can wail. No vanilla commercial pop to be heard here. Whipping around like a dervish, it is pain, exuberance, and raw emotion, as she covers the dance floor at The Pinch. On stage, the guitar and bass are whirled around as fast as the riffs are played. And Esra’s doing it in high heels. Awesome. And inspiring. Fabi and Katie have accomplished their goal.
This Shred Fest is just a warm up.
The larger Shred Fest is happening later this fall. Shred Fest in D.C. will be the third Shred Fest. The inaugural event took place in Portland, Oregon. The festival made its home in Austin, Texas, the second year.
There is good reason for moving the Shred Fest to a new city each year. Fabi has discovered that after each Shred Fest, people are inspired to keep that community of DIY musicians together, building on the festival and continuing to reach out and encourage new musicians. And that “ultimately the purpose of Shred Fest is to inspire community and to educate the city about the rad women musicians that have been overlooked.”
Fabi and She Shreds are not nearly done yet. Starting in April, when the next issue is released, She Shreds magazine will expand to three issues a year. Fabi would like to continue with the larger Shred Fest events and add a series of smaller shows throughout the U.S., similar to the show this Saturday at The Pinch. She also sees expanding internationally, including a home base in Mexico City.
If her solo performance was any indication, no one can tell Fabi that she can’t play the guitar either. Perched on a stool, picking a borrowed guitar, Fabi’s hauntingly sweet voice and beautiful melodies rendered what had been a rowdy crowd virtually silent, enraptured by the music. Women in music can play as hard as the boys, but the boys have nothing on them when they choose to show a softer side.
After the show was over, the lights turned on, and the instruments safely packed away, people stayed on. They hung around, camped out on the couches, or gathered around the tables, downstairs at The Pinch. They were trading ideas for new songs and collaborations, and offering advice and suggestions, sharing their vision for the future of women and music in D.C. It looks to be a very bright one.