Carmella Gray-Cosgrove and Jess Barry on SPAAT and HERbourage
By Eva Crocker
SPAAT, Smash Patriarchy: an Action Team, is a new feminist organization in St.John's. We talked to members, Carmella Gray-Cosgrove and Jess Barry, about the feminist house show they put off this weekend.
SJIWFF: What is SPAAT and what motivated you to start it?
C: Kerri Claire approached me at a party and asked if I wanted to do feminist street art, like putting the word “rape” below the “STOP” on a stop sign. We met with other people to come up with ideas for feminist street art. There were so many people at the meeting with different ideas that it evolved into a much bigger thing and became SPAAT.
J: I got involved with SPAAT because I knew Kerri was interested in the representation of women at festivals and I had been thinking about how great it would be to have a series of feminist house shows. Other people had been talking about how male dominated Harbourage was this year and idea of having HERbourage as a response. I realized there was interest and now would be a great time to start the series of house shows.
C: Johanna Barker needs to be credited with coming up with the name “HERbourage”. Kerri wrote an article about the representation of women in music festivals in Newfoundland for Secret East. I posted Kerri’s article on the Facebook group for Harbourage because I noticed that the line up was very, heavily male-dominated. They responded by saying they reached out to a few female dominated bands but the scheduling didn’t work out.
SJIWFF: Why do you think that scheduling being a problem is an unsatisfying answer?
J: Nicole Collins was on the CBC Morning Show today talking about HERbourage. She made a really good point, she explained that in a couple of days SPAAT was able to arrange a line up that was almost all women fronted bands, every band had at least one woman in it. There were tons more women who wanted to play that we weren’t even able to include. That was just at the local level, there’s so much talent, it’s not difficult to find.
SJIWFF: How would you respond to people who say that female-fronted bands aren’t worth booking for a music festival because they don’t draw as much of an audience as bands fronted by men?
J: It’s a circular problem where male-dominated bands get more exposure so they get more popular, people get familiar with them and come to like them and then those bands get booked more because they’re liked. It’s a self-perpetuating problem. If you don’t make an intentional effort to break that cycle by showcasing female musicians, then the cycle will continue.
C: If organizers make a conscious choice to get women, non-binary people, non-conforming people and people of color on the stage then audiences will get familiar with those people and come to like them. Then those people will start to be represented more in the future.
J: Another reason women are under-represented in festivals is that they don’t have access to the same sort of spaces and resources as men. They don’t necessarily have a community that’s sharing gear and jam spaces and helping each other record albums. I want these feminist house shows to foster a community that shares skills and resources.
C: One of the great things about an event like HERbourage is that it gives women an opportunity to do things that are generally thought of as male skill sets like, setting up gear and doing sound.
SJIWFF: Can you talk a bit about the zine that you made to accompany HERbourage?
C: In addition to house shows and street art, SPAAT is planning to put out a series of zines that give marginalized people a space to express themselves. So we’ll choose a topic for a zine, invite people to submit to it and then put it together as a collective.
The first zine, coincided with HERbourage so we picked the topic ‘Women and Music”. A lot of people wrote about their experiences of being in bands and their experiences at shows. Zines are a great way to engage with the personal, you can include a lot of different voices. You can have very academic voices alongside very anecdotal ones.
J: The zine worked out really well in the context of HERbourage too because we were able to say, ‘it’s great that you’re all here, let’s talk, ALSO there’s thirty pages upstairs if you want to explore this issue further.
C: And we completely sold out, people were totally into it.
SJIWFF: It’s nice that you have a permanent reminder and reference too. The show was a great experience to have with other people in St. John’s but the zine is able to travel in a different way and have a lasting presence.
Illustration by Carmella Gray-Cosgrove in SPAAT! #1 Women and Music
SJIWFF: What is your response to people who say that we’ve achieved gender equality?
J: I think there are issues that are more pressing than the under-representation of women at festivals, for example violence against women. I think we can use music, where gender discrimination is a very real issue, to get people talking about those more pressing issues. It’s a good way to engage people who don’t think of themselves as feminists. If you throw an awesome female-focused show and get people to come out to it, then you generate conversations about feminism.
What’s next for SPAAT?
C: In one hour we have our first general meeting that will be open to the public. That’s going to be a jumping off point for what we’ll do next. The zine is something we’re going to keep doing, house shows are something we’re going to keep doing. We want to deal with lots of intersectional issues, not just women’s issues. We want to be a feminist group that’s involved in action that deals with race and gender on a broader scale.
J: I’m really excited about the music angle. One of the things we’re going to try is a model for getting people involved in music that's been tried in other places, like Montreal. We'll host a gathering for people who are interested in playing music and maybe don’t have a lot of experience. Everyone puts their name in a hat and are put into bands. The bands take two weeks to write two songs and a cover and then do a show all together. For someone like me who is interested in learning to play music in a band, that could be a great opportunity. We also want to start a Girl Rock Camp. So, just trying different ways of breaking down barriers that keep marginalized people from making music and art.