There are at least twenty people, many of whom are about to record a song for the first time, packed into Jake Nicoll’s small apartment / recording studio, on a warm September afternoon.
Local musician and activist, Jess Barry has a tight schedule in the Notes app on her phone that will make it possible for Nicoll to record one song by more than a dozen new bands over the course of the day.
The result will be a currently untitled compilation tape that will available in online in November, and in person at Fixed Coffee and Baking.
The apartment is a bright split level, so close to George Street that the noise from the bars makes it almost unhabitable from Thursday to Saturday night. People are trampling up and down the narrow stairs with guitar cases and snare drums.
On the first floor Nicoll is operating the soundboard. A bunch of people are sitting cross-legged on the ground around him, drinking beers and nodding along to Ribbon Tied who are playing in the next room. They do three takes of their song, one of just vocals, and then make room for the next band.
Barry has organized Record-A-Thon as a way of celebrating and archiving a new, more inclusive era in the St. John’s music scene.
INCLUDING MARGINALIZED VOICES
It has been a year since a local feminist group that Barry is a member of, Smash Patriarchy An Action Team (SPAAT), organized Herbourage, kicking off a series of initiatives that have aimed to include more marginalized voices in the St. John’s music scene.
Herbourage was a controversial house show organized on the same night as the annual Harbourage music festival. SPAAT’s show garnered a lot of media attention for choosing a line up of almost exclusively woman-fronted bands to call attention to the under-representation of women at the more established festival. Every band that played Herbourage had at least one woman musician.
In the lead up to Herbourage there were a flurry of newspaper articles, opinion pieces, and at least one-call in show debating whether there was a problem with the small number of women being represented at music festivals in Newfoundland.
That February Renee Sharpe organized the first Band Off in St. John’s, which was followed by a second Band Off in collaboration with Unpossible NL. Both events welcomed “…the queers, the femmes, the butches, the dudes, and the norms. An invitation for all the people who’ve never felt encouraged to pick up an instrument or play loud music to be in a punk band and play a real show.”
Since Herbourage two more organizations have formed with mandates that aim to get more women on stage in St. John’s. Girls Rock NL offers a week-long music camp for girls in St. John’s that culminates in a live show. Organizer and local musician, Joanna Barker found that whenever she mentioned Girls Rock NL, amongst the excitement about the camp was a lament that there wasn’t a similar organization for adult women.
“To me this really hammered home the reality that there was a tremendous lack of support for local women and women identifying members of the community,” Barker said.
So with the help of musician Kate Lahey (whose music will be featured on the Record-A-Thon compilation) Barker formed St. John’s Women In Music (SWIM). SWIM is a network for women musicians to share experiences and advice. SWIM organizes meetings as well as public panels and will soon be launching a weekly radio show on CHMR called nightSWIMming.
“…seeing more and more people playing music who aren’t dudes who’ve been at it for a really long time, it changes the culture and changes how you feel about your own place in it,” Barry said describing how successful the recent groundswell of support for women in music in St. John’s has been.
Barry’s band, Ribbon Tied, came together through Band Off and has played several shows at venues all over town in the past couple months. She is just one example of tons of women in St. John’s who have formed bands and played loud, live music for the first time this year.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Record-A-Thon will showcase some of those new bands and to help them take the next step. Learning to record is important for new musicians because it enables them to reach a wider audience and to develop creatively.
“Recording can be a big barrier, it’s expensive and a lot of people don’t have the technical know how. But if you don’t record, you don’t have something to put online and share with other people,” Barry said.
Barry says she is grateful that Nicoll, who records music professionally, gave his time to record all the bands for the compilation and did so with energetic, supportive enthusiasm.
“The whole process is really neat, it’s very self-reflective, you can hear yourself, it creates a different relationship with your music,” Barry said about recording for the first time earlier that day.
As Ribbon Tied filed out of the small recording room into a group of people offering high-fives and congratulations, Nicoll played back the track they had just recorded. They were not the first band that afternoon to ask, “Is this us?”
While there is still a lot of work to be done to make the St. John’s music scene more inclusive to women, other marginalized genders, people of colour and queer folks, it is exciting to be commemorating a year’s worth of huge steps in the right direction.