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December 2019 / January 2020
Best of 2019

Petrol Girls: "We have to start questioning the way we organise our society"

With their vital new album, and drive to make the world a better place, Petrol Girls have been one of the key bands for 2019.
Published: 10:00 am, December 04, 2019Words: Tyler Damara Kelly.
Petrol Girls: "We have to start questioning the way we organise our society"

"It was quite a conscious effort with this record to just be more vulnerable. Also, for me personally as the frontwoman of a band, I'm really sick of being treated like I'm some sort of anger machine. I felt like I wanted to display a different side of myself."

Where their debut album 'Talk of Violence' was a direct expression of rage towards political standpoints collected in of all the songs that they had recorded up to that point, Petrol Girls' subsequent release 'Cut & Stitch' saw them explore more of a contemplative and personal perspective on their observations of the world.

The candid nature of Ren Aldridge's lyricism and visceral delivery has been one of the core components of Petrol Girls since their inception in 2012. While these moments are still prominent in 'Cut & Stitch' there are ever more poignant aspects to be found in the interludes and spoken-word verses that are littered throughout the album. These serve as a respite from the intense anger that would pour out of Ren when she was at a point in life where it felt necessary to shout.

"The way that I view making music is often a kind of metaphor for political action, so I don't think shouting is always the best way of getting your point across. Sometimes it is more poignant to say things more quietly, and there's a gendered thing about that as well. It interests me that what I do on stage is something quite traditionally masculine, and quite a masculine energy – which I try to offset by wearing sparkly hot pants. But I think that having a quiet word, you could see it as a more traditionally feminine thing to do."

From the first interlude 'Q&A' with its lyrics: "We came with questions / they gave no answers" to the bold statement that "emotion is an enemy" in the final interlude 'They Say' – honesty is contemplated on all levels. This transformative honesty proved to be therapeutic for Ren, especially in the song 'Monstrous'.

"It was just so fucking satisfying for me to perform. It's like me literally saying to the audience 'this is not all of me and I choose the parts you see' and to be able to say that directly to a crowd is really liberating because I don't always like – this sounds really bad – but I don't like the expectation that people have of me."

Petrol Girls hit the nail on the head in 'Tangle of Lies' and 'No Love For a Nation' which highlight the many intersecting and defining issues of climate justice. While Ren has found that playing these songs for as many people as possible can help make waves on smaller scales and affect people enough for the messages to spread, she is well aware that there is a bigger picture that needs to be tackled. "What can I do about it? Just be someone singing in a punk band? I think we have to start fundamentally questioning the way we organise our society on the basis of nations and under capitalism.

"It's like all of these things are really huge, and it's hard to sort of work out where you begin to engage with them. If punk and culture cannot be a space where you can start attacking these big things, I don't know where is, and I think if lots of people start thinking about these things like nationality and gender binary, those ideas will start to wither away. We used to organise ourselves on the basis of Kings and Queens. That idea withered away and was replaced by nations. People think that the nation is going to be withered away and replaced by consumerism - let's try and work out how to replace it with something better."

As a band, Petrol Girls go to great lengths to create safe spaces for the marginalised, and Ren believes that there has been a difference in their live shows because of her call to encourage women and non-binary people to the front of the stage. In spite of her efforts, there is still a long way to go. She still gets threatened by men, and even recently broke her finger trying to intervene during a situation at a show.

"If I thought things were gonna be fine then I probably wouldn't bother, but the reality is that men hear a heavy band and they think that gives them license to smash into the people around them, regardless of what the band is saying, and I wanna fucking challenge that."

'Cut & Stitch' is a wholly progressive and eye-opening proclamation on sexual violence, patriarchy, colonialism, and the attack on our planet. Despite all of the negative subject matter, Petrol Girls provide a form of catharsis and are pioneering an effort in maintaining hope throughout the uncertainties of our future. "One of my fundamental political feelings is that we can't see what's going to happen next, and we have to use that as a reason to be hopeful, right? We can't see the future. The future is not crystal clear; therefore, there is the possibility of political change if we act."

Taken from the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Upset.

December 2019 / January 2020
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