On Saturday 9th March, the first of a two-day music event celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 came to the great City of Manchester, before descending on London for round two. The Girlz Rawk! Weekender showcased a selection of some of the best up and coming all-girl and female-fronted rock, indie, punk and metal bands around – and the iconic Factory Manchester, which was redeveloped on the premises of the renowned independent record label Factory Records, was an ideal choice of venue to host the revelry.
Just a stone’s throw from the recently unveiled statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – the Mancunian political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement – in nearby St Peter’s Square, it was on this very spot last year, standing at the stage between two acclaimed female photographers while reviewing a rock concert (that included a female-fronted band), that I commented on how much the music industry had moved on, and just how far things have come in terms of female participation, inclusion and equality – on-stage, in front of the stage, and behind the scenes.
The Manchester event boasted ten kickass female-oriented bands, and the daunting task of opening up the stage was bestowed upon ‘character metal’ outfit, Splintered Halo. If you can imagine a cross between The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West (think raven black pigtails tied with baby blue satin ribbons, sparkly ruby DM ‘slippers’ and leather Steampunk corsetry), then you’ve just pictured vocalist Evilyn Van Der Hyden. She intriguingly stepped out onto the stage in full costume, carrying a small wicker basket – and I couldn’t help but wonder what delights (or horrors) lay inside… Either way, Toto definitely wasn’t in there.
The rest of the band dressed all in black, wore menacing white masks, making an immediate and striking impression on the unsuspecting crowd. The Glasgow-based four-piece aptly launched into their gruesome set with ‘Dark Side of Oz’, which incorporated sinister but recognizable choruses from ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. When Elvilyn wasn’t razing hell with gut-wrenching screams, her voice was clean and sweetly angelic. The theatrical performance saw Evilyn change into a white Victorian nightgown – complete with teddy bear and crucifix – Exorcist-style! There was a delightful song about killing your mother, one about cheerleaders (‘Fearleader’) and another about the infamous Hungarian serial killer Elizabeth Bathory. It was a sensational start to a memorable event and the band made one hell of an impact. We never did get to see what was inside that basket though…
They had a lot to live up to, but local heavy rock quartet, Fear Me December, were next to grace the stage. As she stepped up to the mic, casually dressed in a grey T-shirt, black jeans and trainers and with a headful of long dreadlocks, Argentinian-born singer Victoria Cababellas shouted: “We’re celebrating International Women’s Day – make some noise for all the women here!” She gave a fierce, hard-hitting, nu-metal-edged performance, and wild moshing ensued both on and off the stage as she called “Let me see your beautiful hands in the air!” Despite a guitar lead becoming detached during the high-voltage set, the matter was soon rectified and the pace continued to gather momentum as the band showed everyone exactly what they were made of.
Third band IDestroy, who are currently busy making their debut album, were the only all-girl trio to feature at the event. This tight, well-oiled machine played a superb set, which included a fantastic brand new song, and their melodic punk-pop masterclass was met with rapturous approval from the thickening crowd. Among the band’s super catchy songs was an unusual one about lemons (called ‘Lemons’) and their show culminated in an incendiary finale.
An alt-rock four-piece that had been on my radar for some time but that I’d somehow never managed to see live were up next. Hailing from deepest Kent, Salvation Jayne, fronted by the charismatic Chess Smith, brought a gritty, fuzzy, groove-laden set to an appreciative audience, who were clearly lapping up the band’s distinctive blend of nu-wave and dirty rock – all deftly washed down with massive pop hooks. Their riffy, stomping rhythms led to widespread foot tapping and their funkiest song, ‘Whorehouse Down on the S.E.’, was deservedly saved for last. As it happened, Chess was celebrating a special birthday the following day, and as far as festivities go, she really couldn’t have been in better company.
The first thing that struck me about melodic metal merchants Eviltyde’s performance, was singer Hannah Delany’s insanely powerful vocals! With a heavier sound than most of the previous acts, the band combined components of diverse metal genres with hard-hitting, edgy guitar riffs, to create a unique soundscape, effortlessly demonstrating why they are currently considered to be one of London’s fastest rising metal acts. Weekend Recovery, the garage-grunge foursome from Leeds, who released their latest EP ‘In The Mourning’ six months ago, embodied an all-consuming, old-school, feisty rock ‘n’ roll magnetism – confident singer-guitarist Lori Janey resembling a young Joan Jett, with an impressively ferocious scream!
The remaining bands included the wonderfully dark sonic stylings of Bad Pollyanna, who erupted with explosive energy, encouraging lots of participation from the crowd. ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’, from the band’s forthcoming album, received a fantastic response, with people singing the words back to singer Olivia Hyde. After ‘Hollow’ there was another new song, about someone falling in love with only one side of you. ‘Define Me’, which was about being put in a metaphorical box or being given a label, got a big reaction, and Olivia got the audience to shout the words “Define me” back to her!
The progressive, tech metal quintet Mask of Judas, driven by the monstrous growling vocals of formidable frontwoman Jo Challen, played songs from their beast of a debut album, The Mesmerist, which is an observation of modern day society, provoking analysis of our beliefs and everything we think and feel without questioning. Meanwhile, Stockholm-based ‘70s-inspired groove maidens Thundermother (who, having kicked Sweden and most of Europe into submission, are reportedly on a quest to conquer the world) embraced a sound heavily influenced by the likes of AC/DC, and interacted well with the crowd, who enthusiastically sang along as fists punched the air. And just when we thought we’d seen it all, the band’s dexterous lead guitarist downed her beverage to play the guitar with the aid of an empty beer bottle!
And last but not least, headliners Kalidia – the Italian melodic power metal band inspired by classic metal influences – created a rib-rattling furor, expertly executed with a fresh, modern edge. Although they’d run over their allocated time, the band refused to let a curfew dampen their spirit and gave it 100%, with fans’ heads nodding in time to their forceful beats, way past their bedtime. Vocalist Nicoletta Rosellini encouraged hand clapping, and audience members were only too happy to oblige, keeping the energy flowing right ‘til the very last note.
The Girlz Rawk! Weekender was a pertinent way of recognizing the talents and accomplishments of the inspirational young women emerging in today’s rock scene, and the fact that this multi-city event exists at all is evidence that the female contribution to this industry is appreciated, valued and celebrated more than ever before. Just being a tiny part of this awesome day was a real pleasure and tremendous privilege – rock sisters are doing it for themselves, smashing it, and reshaping what has historically been a male-dominated landscape – gaining the exposure and plaudits they so rightly deserve.
Huge thanks go to the organisers of the Girlz Rawk! Weekender and all the staff at Factory Manchester for making this happen. Until next time!
Mask of Judas
Fear Me December
All photos by Shannon Landers Photography
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