Today is International Day Of The Girl (11th October), a time to champion the achievements of girls on a global scale and to highlight and challenge the gender inequality that girls still face today.
Women Of The World Festival (WOW)’s research into gender disparity in music has found the following: “Recent studies show how underrepresented women are in the industry: a landmark US survey reported that from 2019 to 2020, female artists fell from 22.5% to 20.2%; female songwriters decreased from 14.4% to 12.9%; and female producers declined from 5% to just 2%. The research also took a representative sample of 600 songs between 2012 and 2020, of 23 individual women credited as producers just seven were women of colour, resulting in an overall ratio of one woman of colour to every 180 male producers.”
Determined to help change these statistics, WOW Festival created their WOW Sounds music programme to showcase and celebrate a range of girl bands from across the globe. This year, they’ve recorded performances with Nadia Javed, Breakup Haircut, Sri Lankan acoustic trio The Singing Potatoes, Roma girl band Pretty Loud and a project Naytive Mentorship led by Australian rapper and songwriter Naomi Wenitong. Each performance has been released as an exclusive short set with an introduction about the artist/band’s activism. The UK acts all filmed sets at EartH Hackney which you can watch via WOW’s IGTV and YouTube throughout today.
We caught up with Ishani, Ripley & Delphine – aka Breakup Haircut – who formed at First Timers Fest in 2019 to talk about their performance for WOW Sounds, how they think things have progressed in recent years for girls interested in music, their work with First Timers Fest and the work/life balance that accompanies being in a band that you love…
Hello Breakup Haircut! Talk to me about the pre-recorded set you played for WOW Sounds at EartH in Hackney…
Ishani: It was a really cool, fun experience. I thought our set was really chilled because we rehearse constantly, so it wasn’t too big a thing to play stuff from start to finish like that. Everyone was so nice. The sound engineer at EartH is called Luca and he was a very chill person to hang out with. I was also playing bass in Nadia Javed’s band too, so I was there for a bit longer.
Ripley: We played three of our tracks, ‘Why Can’t I Be Cool Enough To Move To Berlin?’, ‘Mum, I Wanna Be a Greaser’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend’.
Delphine: I’ve been to WOW as a punter and been to talks and shows before, but not as a direct contributor to the festival. It’s pretty nice to be on the other side of the stage!
I’m looking forward to watching your performance! As you all know, International Day Of The Girl is about highlighting the triumphs and the challenges that girls face. In terms of music, do you think things have improved for girls and young gender non-conforming people who are interested in joining bands and playing instruments since you were girls?
Ishani: I think there are more movements now than to help people to diversify the music scene and that’s a really good thing. When I was younger, the reason I didn’t start a band was more because of my location. I grew up in the northeast and it’s not great for people of colour up there. It wasn’t easy to find people who wanted to play music with me. I think being in a big city is one thing, but also having movements like First Timers Fest and WOW Sounds, they make it a much friendlier and nicer place. You don’t have to brunt quite as much hostility to get to the point of playing a show or playing music. I think there are people who champion and try really hard in that to make stuff happen. Two of us are on the committee for First Timers and we help out with that now. That’s something we think is very important and we want to champion people being able to play music.
Delphine: I didn’t grow up in this country, so I can’t really talk about the UK in general, and I have no idea what France is like at the moment because I’ve been here in the UK for 17 years. So I’m like: “I can’t talk about the UK as a kid, but I can’t talk about France as an adult.” But in France I come from a very rural area where because of distances it’s a challenge to access things.
I think music is a bit different in the sense that France is very serious. You either go to music school and you study music, or you don’t do music. In terms of representation, I come from a very white area. So if you were a person of colour, it probably would have been harder as well. It’s not a very diverse. So in terms of representation and challenging that, it just didn’t happen at the time. But it probably has changed a lot now and I’m glad it has, because we’re actually waking up to the fact that there is space for everybody. You have to allow people to be themselves and you have to allow people to express their art, because everybody’s happier that way. I think championing minorities and allowing more access and making effort to actually give access to more people is going to benefit everybody in the long term.
Ripley: I think it’s definitely better than when I grew up in terms of accessibility. I’m from a family where no one does music except for me. I grew up military and I moved around a lot and pretty much every school I went to, music was for kids who had money. Financially as a family we were comfortable, but music lessons were really expensive and I couldn’t have them. So I think stuff has got better because with initiatives like Girls Rock London and First Timers Fest where people are trying to eliminate the monetary barriers so you can actually have a go with an instrument, which is great.
Also, speaking as a queer person as well, there’s a lot more queer people in music which is really, really cool because I had zero role models when I was a kid. So over the last five years or so, there’s just been more and more queer representation. We’ve always got to keep pushing so that things keep moving forward and don’t go backwards, but I think it is on the way to being better.
You’ve listed some great organisations that we’re big fans of here at Get In Her Ears. I think if Girls Rock London and First Timers Fest had been around when I was a girl, I might have started to learn an instrument…
Ishani: We run adult camps too, so you can always come along to those!
Delphine: Come along it’ll be so much fun!
Maybe I will?! I really like the idea of being in a non-judgmental environment where people don’t care if you don’t know what a chord is and you’re allowed to just take your time and enjoy playing an instrument…
Ishani: That’s so true, actually. People can be so elitist about it and make you feel so shut out. Everyone starts somewhere, just because someone happened to start learning music when they were five doesn’t make someone else’s efforts to start a bit later in life any less valid. Music is such a joy. Everyone should be able to have the opportunity and access to it and it really sucks that people still don’t.
After forming at First Timers Fest in 2019, you released your debut EP, What did you expect? I got it off the internet. What are you most proud of about this record?
Ripley: I think at the time, it was just getting something out.
Ishani: Releasing that EP was actually incredibly stressful for all of us because we put an unrealistic time constraint on ourselves. We wouldn’t do it again like that, I’m quite proud of the fact that we did, but we never want to do it like that again. We recorded six songs live and the entire thing was pulled together in a month and then we released it two months later.
Delphine: I’m glad that we survived that, because that was a lot. But have we really learned that lesson of not doing too much at once?
Ripley: Partly? Thanks to lockdown, we’re in the mixing and mastering stage of our new album now. The album has taken over a year to record due to various lockdowns interrupting us, so partly due to world events, we have taken a much longer time on this record…
Delphine: Err…we recorded 10 songs in one week? So…
Ishani: Ripley has definitely taken me aside and said that we have been waiting for this album for literally years at this point. We don’t need to rush the output and we may as well do it right. I really forget that you don’t have to output consistently. So it’s really good to have people reminding me of that.
Ripley: Burnout is real in so many aspects of life. So many people I know are having trouble with it in regular work and for projects outside of work. I’ve burned out several times before. Trying to pace yourself and learn how to look after yourself is harder to do in the digital age where everyone’s expected to output on every front all the time. Getting that balance right is quite tricky.
Delphine: We just have to remind ourselves that we’re doing this for fun. That’s the main thing. This doesn’t pay our bills, it helps when we have gigs and stuff because then the band can sustain itself a bit by not having to worry too much about paying for rehearsal spaces and things, but it’s not something that pays for our day-to-day things.
Ripley: I’ve been in a previous project before where it was very much “the band is the main thing, screw your work” and it was a really unhealthy atmosphere, so unsurprisingly I left. We had an agreement upfront when we started Breakup Haircut that we were all going to try our best, but if any of this is impacting people’s work and their income, then as depressing as it is sometimes, people’s day jobs do have to come first. Although this is way more fun than a day job, you’ve got to be able to pay your rent and feed yourself. So we’re trying to make sure that we take care of ourselves. I’ve said to my mates that my day job makes it so I can pay the rent and then the keeps me sane.
It sounds like you’re all on the same page about the work/life music balance, so that in itself is encouraging to hear.
Finally, do you have any bands or artists who you’ve been listening to at the moment that you’d like to give a shout out to?
Ripley: I’ve been really enjoying Penelope Scott recently. She plays kind of lo-fi electronics with funky sounds and she does a song called ‘Rat’ which is a kind of “screw you” to tech billionaires like Elon Musk. It’s got really good lyrics and some nice sort of science-y burns. I like it. Also shout out to pinkshift, I’ve really got into pink shift recently as well.
Delphine: Since Loud Women Festival in September, I’ve been listening a lot of ARXX and Lilith Ai, because she’s just so beautiful.
Ishani: I’ve been listening to a friend of mine Kapil Seshasayee, he is part of the South Asian scene and it’s interesting to hear someone making music that’s very different from the output of that scene and he makes a lot of like interesting political points as well. So I’m really enjoying that right now.
Thanks to Breakup Haircut for the chat!