Grrls at Their Best
In her essay "Days of Celebration and Resistance," Naomi Weisstein--founder of the 1970s-era Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band (CWLRB)--argued against the merits of what she called "militant amateurism." In egomaniacal prose, Weisstein tried to dispel the feminist myth that "enthusiasm could replace expertise." Her venom flew in the face of the then-emerging DIY ethos, which held that any schmuck with a guitar and a shitty childhood could get onstage and make a mess in the name of good politics and righteous intentions.
"We owed it to our audiences to grow smarter with them, to become the best musicians that we could," Weisstein wrote. But the other members of CWLRB did not share her meritocratic impulse. Weisstein was ultimately kicked out of the band.
Some three decades later--years after the breakup of the seminal DIY femme-punks, the Raincoats, and the ascendance of the seminal DIY sellout, Courtney Love--singer Julie Beck and violinist Rachel Sitz, of the local punk band Mas Scara, have taken up an admirably pro-am grrl-power stance that would surely make Weisstein wince. Sitting at an East Bank coffee shop, the two University of Minnesota undergrads are accompanied by their band's less talkative noise guitarist, Jes Kuhn. A young anti-socialite with the body piercings to prove it, Kuhn quietly reads at a nearby table, posing as the women's sullen bodyguard. (The band's other members, bassist Russ and drummer The Anti, declined to be interviewed.)
"The boys in Mas Scara are supersupportive of women," says Beck, looking over at Kuhn. "They want us to do the interviews because they think men have already had their say." Although Mas Scara's gender makeup is predominantly male, the band thrives on a riot-grrl ethos as interpreted by Beck and Sitz, forging ahead despite the fact that many of their early-'90s predecessors have gone looking for credit in the straight world.
With her dyed-blond hair, powder-blue eye-shadow, and black Psychedelic Furs T-shirt, Beck (a.k.a. Mzz Mas Scara) brandishes the band's CD Jenny Green Tooth with the excitement of a punk entrepreneur. Yet the inserted lyric sheet has all the markings of that classic riot-grrl art form the fanzine, with its clip art, typewritten lyrics, and scribbled textual corrections. (Not surprisingly, Beck also publishes a sheet called Penny's Fanzine.)
Mas Scara's members first met while finishing high school in River Falls, Wis. But the band didn't gel until they escaped to the University of Minnesota and joined the student crowd that convenes at the Dinkytown Bon Appetit, where punks mix with hip hoppers and rave kids. True to her subculture of choice, Beck's lyric writing and delivery reflect the style of former Babe in Toyland Kat Bjelland, and Kathleen Hanna of the now-defunct Bikini Kill. Yet she's also a product of the late '90s--a Web hound who spends quality time on her all-time favorite site, anacam.com, the online home of quasi-controversial Minneapolis performance artist/singer Ana Voog.
"[Ana Voog] is just so tiny, and she has this transparent skin," Beck says with the excitement of a groupie. "I go to her page a couple of times a week, and watch her for, like, half an hour as I'm e-mailing people." Strangely, she finds no contradictions in hating Courtney Love for getting cosmetic surgery while loving the boob-jobbed Voog. Nor does Sitz, a classically trained violinist, who recently found inspiration in Voog's classically influenced, early-'90s art-band, the Blue Up?. "But my primary musical focus has been Julie," Sitz elaborates.
Admirable comradeship aside, Mas Scara's recent Homocore Mpls. show at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge was not a banner day for feminism. One round of instrumental soloing during the sound check spoke volumes. As Sitz played her violin into the microphone sans electric pickup, it soon became obvious that she would be no match for the volume coming from the overpowering Kuhn. The guitarist played through the amp of Fashion Sense's Abe Miner (better known for his work with Fagatron). And as anyone in attendance will tell you, Miner's amp could blow the arms off a windmill. As if Kuhn didn't provide enough noise, a last-minute casting change added a second guitarist, Joe Score.
Beck screamed over the din until her face turned red from exertion, but most of her lyrics were lost. As was Sitz's melancholic violin, which could be heard only when the band stopped to allow her and the bassist a duet. Adding insult to injury, drummer The Anti flashed the machismo of a metalhead--with his shirtless torso and whopping pair of bass drums--to decidedly uncool effect.
But occasionally--and then more frequently--things became less frenetic and more focused. The Ana Voog-inspired love song, "Girl with the See Through Skin," made for a melodious moment, and the noise freak-outs started sounding less like bad ideas and more like effectively contained sonic attacks.
Militant amateurism? You bet. There's something to be said for witnessing a band tap into its potential and begin finding itself. Where will they end up? Beck says they plan on recording sometime in the near future. But, Voog admiration aside, "there will be no Mas Scara-cam."
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