There is a new initiative coming to Dublin this summer to encourage young girls (aged between eighteen and twenty-four) to find their voice and confidence through music. Girls Rock began in Portland, Oregon in 2001 and since its inception has held camps across the United States, notably in Tennessee and Brooklyn. The success of the programme was noticed outside of America and the model has been adapted in South America and Europe. This June, Girls Rock will hold its inaugural summer camp in Dublin and will have an incredible team of volunteers that have first hand experience with the music industry in Ireland. Throughout the week long programme, campers will be given the opportunity to experiment with instruments and genres that are most compatible to their innate musical sensibility, with no genre exclusivity.
We caught up with Karen Hammond, Niamh O’Connor and Rossella Bottone of the Girls Rock Dublin team ahead of their launch gig taking place tonight in The Grand Social.
How did you get involved in Girls Rock Dublin?
Karen: I had previously met Rossella at Sofar Sounds when I played with my band Old Moon. She was involved in organising the gig. I met her again at The Feminist Film Festival Fundraiser gig and mentioned I that teach singing lessons so she told me about Girls Rock and straight away I was very interested in coming onboard. I had previously been studying music production and looked to SoundGirls as a support while I was studying, so I was very excited when I heard there was something similar being organised in Dublin but with more of an emphasis on music and performing. I felt my experience in music and music production could be of use when running the camp.
Rossella: I found out about Girls Rock three years ago. I instantly fell in love with its ethos and mission. I became involved after I joined the conference of European camps and then volunteered at the London one. In early 2016, I started to work on launching a Dublin camp and invited people that I knew to form a team. Beyond myself, Niamh and Karen, there’s an extended team of coaches and volunteers that keeps growing as the word spreads, which is really exciting.
Can you tell me about what is involved in the camp? Do you need to have some kind of musical background to partake?
Karen: You don’t need any musical background to get involved, just a passion for music and and willingness to get involved. It’s exciting that someone with no musical experience can suddenly pick up a guitar and join a band and a week later perform live. All in a safe, supportive and encouraging space.
Niamh: The camp will be located in Dublin’s Sound Training College and Temple Lane Studios. The locations are comfortable and professional. It makes the experience feel real! On the first day every camper gets to try every instrument, as part of the “instrument carousel”. Campers might find they like an instrument they never thought of. As the week progresses and bands are formed, there is professional instrument coaching each morning, and workshops and band practice throughout the day. Campers get involved in lots of activities that complement the experience, even making badges and their own band art. Each day starts and ends with the full group together: campers, coaches and volunteers.
The week culminates in a live gig showcasing the new bands and their songs for friends and family. It’s often the lack of musical experience that leads to the best experience, as campers have a safe environment to explore instruments, songwriting and performance. There is a positive team spirit as everyone pushes comfort zones, surprising themselves and having fun.
You’re running Girls Rock Dublin in June, do you have plans to do more events throughout the year to maintain the momentum of encouraging young female songwriters and musicians?
Karen: Yes, hopefully this will be the first of many camps that are run in Dublin. Were also planning on putting on more gigs and fundraiser parties to build momentum.
Niamh: While the camps are the main events on the calendar with the most to organise, everyday is Girls Rock day! We promote our passion for celebrating gender balance in the arts through regular meet ups, social media, gigs and events. Our launch party on Friday 24th March in the Grand Social is an all girl effort, right down to acts, sound engineers, graphic designers and support team. We recently joined up with F Festival in Dublin to showcase Girls Rock, and are working on collaborations with Girls Rock School Northern Ireland and the global Girls Rock Alliance. We will be planning more gigs, pop-up workshops and events for different age groups. Keep an eye on our Facebook for the latest events.
What is it about music that you feel can give a girl the tools to feel empowered?
Karen: Music is very emotive and powerful but to someone watching from the outside it can feel a bit out of reach and intimidating for some young women, especially as it’s a very male dominated industry. Girls Rock aims to provide young women a passion for music the tools to make playing in a band accessible and can empower them to feel like they can accomplish much more than they thought was possible. Hopefully it will also create friendships and some kickass bands as well!
Have you noticed that in the Irish music scene and industry that the treatment of female artists and bands is significantly different to their male counterparts?
Karen: I think this is an issue in general so it sort of seeps into all parts of society including the music industry. I have definitely felt it personally as someone who has been in many bands. I feel like organisations like Girls Rock are very necessary right now and thanks to these projects the tide is changing.
Rossella: You’ll get the patronising treatment at some point, most likely at music festivals or events where the staff doesn’t know your band and by default will assume that you are clueless just because you’re a not a guy. I’m sure this doesn’t apply only to musicians but also to girls doing technical jobs in music. In fact, I haven’t really seen female sound engineers or stage managers working at music festivals here, although there are a few working in Dublin venues. Girls seem good enough for the box office, though!
It’s fair to say that the conversation around gender imbalance in music and in arts in general is happening in Ireland more than in other countries like Italy, where I’m from. So that is certainly a good start.
One of the aims of the camp is to instil confidence within the girls through songwriting. Writing about one’s insecurities – let alone putting them into a song – can be quite a daunting task especially when they then have to share these feelings with peers and strangers, how do you try to break down that barrier to show that music provides a sort of comfort to the musician?
Rossella: You’d be surprise to see how much difference a supportive environment can make. The programme is about removing limits that we put to ourselves because of social pressure or because of our own preconceptions around what we’re capable of or entitled to. Once you offer a different perspective and broaden up that view by offering inspiring role models and an encouraging environment, it’s easy to see those barriers that unnecessarily limit self-expression torn down.
Who are your standout female musicians in the Irish music scene at the moment?
Rossella: My personal favourite is Wallis Bird. She’s musically gifted in a way that I have rarely seen. Absolutely blessed with a natural musicality that she’s managed to explore, stretch and develop beautifully over the years, especially on stage.
Karen: Bad Bones produces amazing, dark electronic pop which is the type of music I gravitate towards, Jonii and Contour are also producing some exciting new electronic music. I love Radie Peat as a singer and what she is doing with both Rue and Lynched, the fact that Irish music has had so a huge resurgence in popularity is very heartening! Wyvern Lingo and Landless would be favourites as well, musically they are very different but the harmonies! I’m all about harmonies!
Who are your all time favourite female musicians of all time?
Karen: For me someone like Erykah Badu is a truly inspiring artist. She has been in the industry for over twenty years. This year is the anniversary of her breakthrough album, Baduizm. Throughout her career she has stayed completely individual and true to herself, only. This has meant harsh criticism and people not really understanding her as an artist but she was diligent in following her own path. Each album she has created is completely different from the one before. Her music continuously evolved as she grew as an artist and she is always extremely honest in her songwriting. She’s also evolved with new technologies and new genres of music. She has many names she’s a DJ, a singer, a producer, a songwriter an activist and even a doula!
Niamh: We do a #MondayMissus post every Monday on our Facebook in which we highlight an artist who, simply put, does their thing. The recent posts were by our fundraiser gig acts Susie Blue and Alien She. We are always surprised by the quality and wealth of inspiring female artists. To name a few recents ones that we have featured in these posts; Ani DiFranco, Orianthi, Tune-Yards, Amy Winehouse, MayKay, Fever Ray, Missy Elliott, Amanda Palmer, Kate Tempest, Wallis Bird, PJ Harvey, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Cate Le Bon, Joan Jett, Katy Goodman, Kim Gordon.
These women are all quite musically diverse, but they have a lot in common mainly that they have had long prolific careers, they’ve faced similar challenges and they continue to inspire young artists to be true to their passion. They show what is possible. And, they rock!
Rossella: Growing up I’ve looked up to Ani DiFranco a lot, and I still do. I first fell in love with her very personal, percussive guitar style and her fierce lyrics. Then, through her, I learned about feminism and how important it is to not have a passive attitude in life if you want to see a change happen. When she was nineteen she started her own record label to release her first album. I wonder if she knew that she would end up releasing twenty more albums, and producing as many records of others! I feel that every girl should jot down one of my favourite lyrics of DiFranco’s, “I will not be afraid to let my talent shine.” It’s a great reassuring source of motivation.
Girls Rock Dublin will take place on June 27th until July 1st. You can find out more information about the camp and its availability, here. The Girls Rock Dublin will take place in The Grand Social on Friday March 24th, tickets available, here.