Women’s rights are under attack across the world. Refugees are treated as subhumans. There has been worldwide patriarchal rule for thousands of years. The vast majority of powerful governing bodies of the planet are failing. Petrol Girls see all of these things happening and want to make change. Without second thought, they charge into social issues with Spartan force and use melody-driven punk to support every word. Talk of Violence is about violence – violence against vulnerable people and using necessary force to end mistreatment. We talked to vocalist Ren Aldridge about feminism, punk and the incredible new record.
There are very few prolonged soft spots on Talk of Violence. I think that when it comes to topics like government, feminism, war, justice, etc. there has to be a bold voice. Was there ever a time when you were hesitant to be outspoken about your views?
For sure and I still am sometimes. I doubt anyone can say that they’ve never remained silent when they should’ve spoken up. I’m more hesitant when I feel isolated. I gained confidence through being part of building a feminist community within the punk scene I was part of, and since moving away from London I’m really feeling the consequences of not having those people around me.
Where was the intro of “False Peace” recorded? It sounds like it was at a rally or protest of some sort.
It was on a Sisters Uncut demo near London Bridge protesting against cuts to domestic violence services. I’ve been recording sounds from demonstrations on my phone for a while because I want to make some kind of music or art thing with them, and I feel like capturing sound is safer than video in terms of protecting people’s identities. I wish I was able to be a more active part of Sisters Uncut, they’re fucking incredible. Their main focus is domestic violence services but they coherently and really effectively link with a lot of campaigns such as with Movement for Justice at the Yarls Wood demonstrations. They also really fucking look after each other: “We must love and support one another, we have nothing to lose but our chains.” – They always chant this quote from Black Panther Assata Shakur at demos, and it makes me tear up every time.
Are these songs more about personal experiences or universal observations?
The two are totally interchangeable. More and more of my lyrics come from a subconscious place because the way our writing process as a band has changed. This means that I often have to start with the rhythm of the words instead of being like “I want to write a song about this thing.” I find this process more challenging and the outcome more interesting because it means the songs are more open to interpretation: to my changing experiences and to other people’s ideas. I think music and art are more politically powerful when they provoke a conversation instead of just dictating a basic idea.
As a band, you always want to make a career in music, but, like G.L.O.S.S., is it more important that you deliver a message and make an impact?
I’ll come to this ‘delivering a message’ idea later in the interview, but for sure our bottom line is that we refuse to compromise our politics to make a ‘career’. That statement from G.L.O.S.S. in MRR about their reasons for breaking up hit me really hard. It points really honestly to many of the problems and contradictions faced by musicians, especially those making political music who are politically active people and/or struggle with mental health issues. To then experience the oppression that comes with queer and trans identities on top of that is unimaginable to me. I think there needs to be more discussion about the issues brought up in that statement. “There is constant stress, and traveling all the time is damaging our home lives, keeping us from personal growth and active involvement in our communities” – I identified with this SO HARD. Not being able to be properly part of a community and commit to political projects because of touring all the time is fucking me up. So I guess it’s less about making a career than figuring out a way to exist that can sustain the band and you as an individual. Can we also just take a moment to appreciate what a fucking incredible band G.L.O.S.S. were. It’s the only time I ever remember crying about a band breaking up.
Is there a way to make change in the world without violence? Or is it a necessary tool?
Realistically I think significant political change does require violence. But (before my face gets pulled off by a collective fluffy liberal inhale of horror) I think we should talk about how change is denied through violence: how power and control are kept through violence. Rape, domestic violence, borders, debt, gender binary, depression, racist violence, prisons… We should consider all this structural violence before dismissing tactics to fight back that are ‘violent.’ Also, so much of what the media describes as violence really isn’t. Smashing windows ect, damaging property isn’t violence. Violence is towards living things. Our society cares more about property than certain groups of people, it’s disgusting. We need to talk about what violence really is. There’s a great Issue of Strike magazine that we’ve been distributing at shows on this topic.
How did moving out of London affect the band’s sound, if it did at all?
It’s not something I’ve considered actually… I imagine our next record will maybe be slightly more melodic. We wrote 90% of Talk of Violence in London and there’s definitely something about that city that brings out an aggression and bleak feeling in me.
“I find this process more challenging and the outcome more interesting because it means the songs are more open to interpretation: to my changing experiences and to other people’s ideas. I think music and art are more politically powerful when they provoke a conversation instead of just dictating a basic idea.”
What do you think about the rise of feminism in the mainstream music/entertainment industries recently?
Overall, totally great. Culture/entertainment is a political battleground, and where we form so many of our beliefs. That’s part of what Phallocentric is about – the way a focus on male pleasure and the penis in art and culture reflects, but also produces, a focus on male pleasure in heterosexual sex. Feminism in the mainstream to me feels like a slow burning revolution which is changing attitudes towards gender on a massive scale. However, we are by no means done here, and I think the mainstream feminism we’re seeing is overwhelmingly white and middle class. I think about feminism as loads of different kinds of feminism under one word, and some kinds of feminism, such as radfems who deny the rights of trans people, are bullshit. Tory feminism doesn’t even make sense given the way their political policies overwhelmingly hurt women, but it’s apparently a thing, that is also bullshit. We need to keep pushing forward a meaningfully inclusive, intersectional form of feminism. And we will make mistakes and fuck up and that’s why we have to do it together and have difficult conversations. I think we have to work with the gains made by mainstream feminism without letting it dilute our more militant demands.
The punk scene is the home of the majority of bands with a feminist/anti-patriarchal/liberal theme. How did you discover it initially?
I guess the music taste of friends at school via their older siblings. I come from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere so we made our own music scene and formed bands, played covers and originals in teeny village halls with someones cool parent standing outside. I used to tape The Lock Up or Punk Show with Mike Davies every week – it was on so late, I’d be knackered at school the next day! I read Kerrang, listened to punkorama compilations and found bands on myspace. I guess that’s why I’m not that dismissive of more mainstream music media, because that’s how I initially found stuff when I was younger. Also, on a side note, I think we need to push beyond liberalism, and embrace radical politics – push for radical political change.
You are educated about what you write about and there is substance to your lyrics. Does having a “platform” make being a musician more difficult?
I’m definitely not educated enough about it, and my lyrics are an emotional response much more than an informed one. But I still think this can be a valuable part of a conversation. I think on the one hand I really appreciate the platform I have right now, because I spent years being told by older men that I didn’t know anything and should shut up. And I feel safer – because I’m more visible I feel like I’m less likely to be assaulted and abused. On the other hand, having a platform definitely gives me anxiety, and I want to emphasise that I’m still learning all the time and I fuck up all the time and just because I have a microphone and a stage sometimes doesn’t mean I’m right about stuff! We could really do with breaking some of the hierarchies that exist in this music community. Me and Liepa started interviewing people at shows we play who are not on stage because their opinions are obviously equal to ours. Hopefully we’ll get our shit together and make it into a zine or podcast soon!
What’s the main message you want listeners to take away from this record?
I want to provoke or contribute to a conversation about violence. I’m not into this idea of dictating a message to a passive listener, that’s not what the punk rock community is about. Like in asking me these questions now, you’re making me think loads and helping me to develop my political ideas. We all contribute. And I feel like a music community that everyone is an active participant in, is as strong a base as any for a political movement where we take politics into our own hands and don’t wait and hope some careerist politicians going to sort shit out.