Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern edited by Julia Downes

18th Apr 2013

women make noise

When I heard Women Make Noise was in the pipeline, I had my hand firmly placed in the air to read it. A book that would plot the history of ‘all-girl’ bands, from the country stylings of The Carter Sisters right through to the political miscreants of Pussy Riot? This was something I – and the industry – so desperately needed.

As a musician, I felt I was yet to find a book that spoke to me – one that would chart the history of the women who paved the way for me and my peers.

Growing up near the drab seaside town of Rhyl, in North Wales, I yearned for something bigger and better. I remember seeing Hole on television for the first time.

It was a revelation that a woman could behave like that, all while screeching and brandishing a guitar. There was a strength there that I would spend the rest of my life trying to harness.

For all that, my first reaction to this book was one that many a woman musician has raised: if you don’t want to be judged as a woman, then why draw attention to it at all?

It’s a question that’s tackled in Julia Downes’ preface. Women Make Noise is intended as an effort to plot a certain path for women in music. The danger of this approach remains, however, that as a woman you can find yourself wondering, “Who’s speaking for me?!”

I’ve lived out this contradiction: as a female musician, I put myself out there for all to see and judge, yet I am aware that I would like to be seen as a ‘musician’ first and foremost. Why does anyone need to know my gender, much less my sexual preference? Should I wear make-up and try to look good? Will that make me less ‘feminist’?

Women Make Noise tackles its subject in chronological order, through a series of essays by leading women in the music industry, each focusing on a scene or band.

It was tempting want to jump straight ahead to the riot grrrl period that I know and love, but I was captivated by the earlier beginnings, which I had so shamefully neglected in my collection.

Particularly thought-provoking was the idea that ‘family bands’ could be an emancipatory approach for women musicians. The move from 60s girls bands into the progressive rock of the 70s makes for an equally fascinating story.

if you're going to get up there, you may as well say something Out of this book emerges the message that banding together as a female-only group will incite political debate – whether you like it or not. Whatever your aims, the idea of what you represent will be pushed upon you. So if you’re going to get up there, you may as well say something.

It’s also a reminder to appreciate the efforts of those who went before me – and to never pick up my guitar or sing on a stage without thinking about what I want to say.

To be a female musician, it appears, you just have to be a woman with an instrument. But to be a musician in your own right, you have to be better than a man.

Women Make Noise is published by Supernova Books and is out now in paperback priced at £15.99, available from Foyles, Amazon or your local independent bookshop.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Everyone who loves music. Not just women, but men too.

Other recommended reading:  Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin HershThe Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, a graphic novel by Frank Young and David Lasky,
Women in Music: An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present by Carol Neuis-Bates, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

Sorrell Waldie