Suck My Culture // riot grrrl punk in Plymouth
Suck My Culture is a 5-woman punk band who are reigniting feminist discourse in Plymouth. Recently involved in a city-wide art exhibition, We The People Are The Work, and fundraising for domestic violence charities with their music, they have proven themselves to be not just cultured, but conscious and committed to the riot grrrl movement. Eve Jones chatted with them.
It was a few months ago, after a long shift at work that I first saw Suck My Culture at the Underground. I felt totally unprepared—I was knackered, in my work uniform and I didn’t know a single person there. I bumped into the members of SMC in the ladies toilets—always the most networkable space at a gig—and put on my most confident facade as I introduced myself.
The crowd was enthusiastic in the the dimly lit bar but, as a punk novice, I didn’t know what to expect from the music. So, when SMC came on stage and started shouting about Donald Trump and everyday misogyny, I couldn’t help but beam my motherfucking face off—I was pleasantly surprised. It’s only when you’re not hearing songs about broken hearts and ocean blue eyes that you realise how many female artists only sing about men. Instead, these five women were making music about consent, violence against women and how hilarious it was when their mate pet some wild beavers.
A month later, now in the short days of winter, I’m walking down a rainy back alley, excited to meet these women again. I duck under a garage door, met immediately with smiles from three of the coterie. As the remaining members filter in, they crack open beers with gloved hands and trail cables around one another—everyone conceding personal space in the tiny garage. They go through their set before we start moving energetically from song to song, the rain a natural percussion. By the time we get chatting, their interview nerves seem to have been warmed through.
The typical Suck My Culture set list contains songs titled You Slag, Casanova, and Authorised Beaver, so I was intrigued to learn how their songs came into being.
Laura (rhythmic guitarist): I guess with writing the songs, it just happens to be things that affect us, things that people say to us.
Georgia (drummer): Or things that piss us off! Sometimes, it’ll be a comment that's made—you’ll be having a laugh and then someone will come up with a one liner and we’ll be like ‘that's a song title’. It can happen naturally like that, but sometimes you’ll read the paper and come into band practice and be like ‘look at what the fuck’s been said here, have you read this! This is a song!
Lizz (lead guitarist): At the beginning we had a song called ‘Flip Flop Tragedy’, about our friend whose flip flop broke and she was still like a mile away from home. She had no other option and just had to limp home [laughs].
Amy (lead vocals): There’s an empowering message, underneath a really shitty song title. Like, okay, she broke her flip flop, it's hilarious, but the undertone to that is about not giving a shit about what people think, just be who you are, hold your head up.
V: So, did you take inspiration from other punk bands or feminist punk bands?
Georgia: Well, I think that naturally happens anyway, doesn’t it? Everyone is influenced by what they see and hear
Lucy (bassist): But, we’ve all got different tastes in music.
Georgia: I mean, sometimes, people have said on Youtube “oh, I love that cover”.
Amy: Yeah, they said it was a Bikini Kill cover! We were flattered, because that stuff is fucking amazing, but it was nothing like Bikini Kill, not in the slightest!
Lizz: I mean, you have to ask yourself if they’ve even listened to Bikini Kill, or was it just the only point of reference they had to this genre.
I guiltily confess that this is about as far as my punk horizon extends—that and watching The Punk Singer, a film about Kathleen Hanna, founder of band Bikini Kill and mother of Feminist Punk.
Lizz: Had you ever heard of Kathleen Hanna before [that movie]?!
V: No, I have been living under a rock.
Lizz: You have! Oh my God. I mean, my Roller Derby name is Kathleen Hammer, so that’s a homage to her. She’s so inspirational as a person and she was so young! To have that bravery and confidence at what, 19, 20? I’ve got to my 30s and I’m not like that, so props. Did you like Bikini Kill?
V: Yeah, I really did! Watching them perform and listening to Kathleen Hanna in the film reaffirmed all the reasons that I’m a feminist. There was one thing that she said at the end of the film, that I wanted to read to you:
‘There’s a certain assumption that when a man tells the truth, it’s the truth, and when, as a woman, I go to tell the truth, I have to negotiate the way I will be perceived—like there’s always the suspicion around a woman’s truth—the idea that you’re exaggerating.’
Which I thought was so perfect! And particularly thinking about the Hollywood sexual abuse scandal recently, this is just so resonant with that.
Amy: Yes! The discussion transforms into ‘What were you wearing?
Laura: Were you drinking?
Lucy: Did you lead him on?
Lizz: Even, the alleged victim, alleged sexual assault. It doesn’t necessarily get reported in the same way— men are just believed. But, one of the first ever gigs that I went to was a Le Tigre gig, which was Kathleen Hanna’s [second] band. In the middle of the show, she just gave this big speech calling out all the men in the audience: ‘You men, need to talk to your brothers and your friends, and your colleagues at work and your dads and your sons and you need to tell them sexual abuse and violence against women is not ok’ and I was standing there, 15, thinking holy fuck, this is amazing—she’s so badass, and so right. Men have to address this problem, otherwise it’s never going to change. It’s not in their interest to change it.
Georgia: It does happen the other way round though. I know loads of men and women who have been groped by women and I do think there's a problem with men not coming forward about it because of this ‘man up’ idea.
Amy: Toxic masculinity.
The rain comes down harder outside in mutual anger.
Amy: That’s the Patriarchy.
Lizz: It’s a power structure and women don't have that power structure over men. Men perpetuate this idea of masculinity, of being strong, not crying, being boisterous—that's a core issue of feminism: to deal with how boys are brought up—because that's perpetuating that problem.
Amy: It doesn’t only instill that men need to be strong, it’s that they need to specifically not be like a woman, because they are lesser.
Laura: It’s like with the gender pay gap. I read that women won’t ask for a pay rise, because they won’t feel like they’re worth it or that’s not what women do, whereas men, more confident, ask for more money than they really need because that’s how they’ve been brought up and that’s how they see themselves.
Anon: I’m the only girl that does my job role in my place of work. I know that every other man that does my job will be on more than me and you’re not allowed to talk about it. It’s company policy—you’re not allowed to talk about your wages because it's tiered and it’s skilled. We do all talk about it, so I know, but I wouldn’t be able to walk into the office and say anything because then we’re all in trouble.
Lizz: It’s not enough to just mention it in passing though. People just laugh, you need to literally go into the office and say, I have something to talk to you about.
Amy: I think there is a lot to shout about at the moment, there always has been.
All of us nod in agreement, each remembering events from a year that has entirely redirected our political landscape.
Lizz: There’s a proper resurgence of riot grrrl, at the moment though.
Lucy: It seems to be that when there is economic downturn, because it affects women quite badly when that happens, so then it seems like music is our way of shouting about it.
Georgia: We live in a very surreal state of time. It is batshit crazy, the world we live in right now.
Lizz: I mean, we’ve written songs about Theresa May. We should write one about Iain Duncan Smith. Political events definitely influence us.
Georgia: And day to day misogyny. The daily grind.
At this point that we all laugh, but not because it’s funny. We laugh because it’s the only reaction we can have to this kind of uncomfortable truth; catcalls, inappropriate comments at work, the fact that we all walk slightly quicker through the night streets than we would in daylight. The daily grind.
V: Do people generally react well to the fact that you’re in Suck My Culture?
Amy: Yeah, we generally get a positive response - ‘When are you playing? When can we come and see you?’
Laura: We actually went down better than we thought we would! The first time we played, we thought that people would get really angry.
Lizz: It was a bit of fake it til you make it. In that respect, you just can’t give a shit.
And I can confirm that on stage they don’t give a shit, using all the space on stage to move violently under neon pink illuminations, unapologetically both feminine and angry.
Laura: Even our last gig, which was in a bit of a random pub, which we thought we wouldn’t be too well received at, there was quite a few older men who really liked it.
Lizz: That being said, sometimes I’m not really sure if people actually listen to the lyrics. Once we played with a band, and the drummer came on to all of us. He was like ‘I’m really big in the Bristol scene, I can get you loads of gigs up there…’ and then when Amy told him to sod off he was like, ‘aah you’ll probably never get to play in Bristol’, like a threat. So, he had just watched us, claimed to love it and then did all the things we sing about!
They’re practising tonight for a gig in support of First Light and Plymouth Domestic Violence Services at the Junction—verifying their allegiance with riot grrrl values. There are two other punk bands playing.
V: Is there a lot of support within the Plymouth punk scene?
Lizz: The live music scene has been really kind to us which has been affirming in who we are and what we are trying to do, but in a wider sense there is a real community between bands in the local scene and the promoters—there's tonnes of gigs going on in Plymouth in small spaces which are awesome to play. Bands share equipment and ask each other to play shows which is great for playing to new audiences.
V: Where do you want to go now? What are your aims?
Amy: To make as much noise as possible! And more gigs in Plymouth and to start doing gigs outside of Plymouth.
Georgia: We did go on tour to Penzance! That was fun!
Amy: Yeah, and just fucking scraped in by the bare bones of our ass: out of the car, on to the stage!
Lizz: We arrived and they were like ‘you’re on right now’ and we were like ‘SHIIITTT’, but we played a really good gig.
And this does not surprise me. The group lean in to their humour, they don’t take themselves too seriously, to the benefit of their performances where their ease is infectious. The whole interview has just been a series of anecdotes with similar sentiment to the “Flip Flop Tragedy’ song title - hilarious one moment and a scalding address of social issues the next.
Amy: So, yeah aspirations, get an EP album out, get it sold, and write a few new songs as well, so watch out! If you piss us off next year, there might be a song about you!