Planet Clair 

You've Come a Long Way, Beeatch

There was a point in the late '80s, after more and more women were showing up in bands, that the Bass Years began. You know, indie and punk bands that had women in them, but they all played bass: in the Screaming Trees, the Pixies, the Poster Children. Surely someone has written a think piece on the bass phenomenon ("gender-specific instrumentation as the result of a patriarchal hegemony of otherness ..."). It was a step in the right direction, but you couldn't help but hope in the back of your mind that chicks would break out of the bass shtick and pick up a guitar. Although, frankly, the bass is easier to learn, and very few young guys are gonna give up the coveted lead guitar position for some bleeder. Then some girl bands did play guitar and they sucked, like Babes in Toyland, setting us all back a few steps.

Supposedly this is all changing, with more and more females playing drums or guitar, which makes sense, since more and more females have role models as the years progress. Some local musicians are trying to keep this momentum through their Voice Is Venom, a site all about Bay Area bands that have women in them, even if it's just one member. "We were spittin' and fumin'," says cofounder Denise Mauro, a 31-year-old dot-com crash victim who devotes all her time and energy to VIV. "There really was no Bay Area promotional tool or magazine for women in rock, specifically. There's an emphasis on folk and classical and acoustic, but not really women in rock."

The Voice Is Venom site was officially launched in July of this year, complete with band bios (Fiction, Venus Bleeding, Fabulous Disaster, etc.), reviews, and columns.

"We came up with the word venom," says Mauro, "because it means so many different things. Then it evolved into Voice Is Venom, as in our voice as editors or writers in this e-zine, or Voice Is Venom meaning your music or lyrics. Or you as a woman, your voice in the community."

The plan is to be a hub for all local female rock musicians, then eventually for national musicians. The more the merrier.

"Unless there are role models in the mainstream -- who aren't necessarily gorgeous, by the way -- other girls coming up won't have role models to do it themselves," says Lisa Hayle, VIVs other cofounder. "Men in rock don't need role models; that's pretty much ninety percent of what we see."

The Riot Grrrl movement was the first balls-out (tits out?) females-in-rock-who-actually-rock thing that has ever happened on a larger scale, creating definite role models for young girls. One of the coolest things about this movement was that they pointed out the sexism in punk.

"I think subconsciously we think that anything modern must be more equal, but it's not necessarily true," says Hayle. The hippie free-love thang usually meant some chick got passed around, and though you could be right there in the pit at a Fugazi show, that doesn't mean you wouldn't get your booty grabbed or worse.

The pitfall that the e-zine might face is that writers can be too laudatory, too supportive of local female musicians in articles written to boost the scene. The real strength in the site lies in the straightforward band interviews where the musicians speak for themselves, or in the column by Venus Bleeding's Angelique X -- sort of an insider's take on being a female musician. If female musicians have a Web board of sorts where they can say stuff like, "Watch out for the sound guy at Coconut Teazer, he's all hands!" then surely women have reached some greater pinnacle in rock music.

"I'd love to be partly A&R and booking for female bands," says Mauro of the site. "I'd love to be the point in the Bay Area that labels would look up and say, 'I wonder what Voice Is Venom is doing?'"

A festival, Girl By Girl West (GXGW), is planned for May of next year, but for now they are building their roster of bands on the site and searching for a club to hold weekly Voice Is Venom nights (something they already did in October at the unfortunately named Mingles, in Jack London Square).

"If bands playing notice that there is a band on the bill with them that has a girl in it, then they can call us and ask to make it a Voice Is Venom show," Mauro added. "We'll post it on the Web site, send out an e-mail for it. If they want us to help promote with fliers, we can do that as well. Then we'll put a link to the band's Web site on ours, and hopefully vice versa."

You go grrrrls.


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