We talk with Venus about dismissing trite labels, the burgeoning Leeds’ scene, and their upcoming ‘Wicked Things’ EP…
In an age where a person is told ‘we are equal, we are one, we are free,’ how true do romantic sentiments echo in an era of cultural austerity and revolutionary idealism? Brought up in a society where the suffragettes and the struggles of Pussy Riot pay for the sins of the patriarchy, how close are we to achieving true equality in society? Moreover, how close are we to achieving this in the arts; in the photography of our lives, in the music of our daydreams and in the empathy we feel for those around us. Welcome, Venus.
A band worth more than the labels bestowed upon them in order to quantify how society segregates genre and motive. It’s no secret that the majority of music artists and bands are dominated by cis-male collectives, and so the notion of ‘female-fronted’ thus becomes an idea that females who’ve dedicated just as much blood, sweat and tears into their craft are only deserving of a title which references their gender. Venus are at their very core, the deities of female empowerment in wake of feminist icons such as L7, Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl movement, and they were gracious enough to share their message with us.
Dawsons: As an artist, our music can often be a strong source of catharsis and self-empowerment; songs like ‘Deranged’ serving as a canvas to express the words that can sometimes only be realized in hindsight.
How do you feel when your music acts as a tool to teach respect and self-love for others?
Venus: We understand that as musicians we do in fact uphold a sense of responsibility and that’s to ensure that our music acts as some sort of domain in which people can find solace in. Especially as young women, we want to make our own experiences known, but more importantly, want to use them to provide comfort to others.
Deranged is definitely a song about certain things realized in hindsight, as often when you’re in the firing line you don’t often say the things you wish you could’ve. There can be a variety of reasons for that, but what we’re saying in Deranged is that we get it. We hear all those things you never said to THAT person, we feel it too.
Dawsons: ‘Sour’ is one of the most refreshing songs I’ve heard in a while, reminiscent of new wave with the anger and chaos of modern punk, a hybrid of New Order and The Subways. Where do you draw influence for your music and lyrics from?
Venus: Thank you so much! It was actually the first song we ever wrote together as a band and hasn’t changed much from the point of creation. Lyrically it draws on pre-conceptually judging someone based on societal prejudices or projected insecurity, which is something we’ve regularly experienced as a band. More personally, GK wrote the lyrics based on her own experience of living with her Alopecia. She lost her hair at a young age and had to face the brutal thing we call society, not only as a woman but a bald woman.
As you can imagine, she became quite the target for certain comments and judgement, and wanted to write the words she’d say to her 12-year-old self, from the perspective of who she is today. With the music, as mentioned it was an early one for us, but set the tone for our sonic signature. We were all listening to a lot of Riot Grrrl at the time, but it turned into something slightly different sonically. We’re also quite heavily into Garbage, they’ve been a massive influence on our writing process, and a good reference for us, we admire their use of synth blended with roaring guitar. Rock with an astrological twist.
Dawsons: ‘Freaky Friday’ delves into some darker thought processes and motivations, do you feel that a part of your personality is given away to these songs as a sacrifice to its overall message?
Venus: ‘Freaky Friday’ I think is a tricky one, because it definitely has a variety of ways it can be interpreted. It actually revolves around a political landscape, and how despite austerity thriving at the moment, we always bite back. With homelessness being the worst it’s ever been, with the state of our NHS due to underfunding and plans of privatisation, it’s becoming very hard for people of minorities, or working-class citizens to have basic human rights, and I guess Freaky Friday gives a dark insight into how it might feel for those people who are having to survive in a political system that rejects them.
It could also be perceived from a romantic point of view; we liked the idea that the song is easy to interpret in different ways. It most definitely does feel like it’s much more personal and antagonistic if you like, and I guess in some ways it is, to a government that is failing us. The point of the song is empathy, and to provide some level of reassurance that even in dark times, we must stick together and know that there is liberation, but also acknowledge it isn’t as simple as ‘staying positive’.
Dawsons: What challenges have you faced and feel other female artists are presented within in the current industry? Do you have to work harder to create/be given the same opportunities as your counterparts and why?
Venus: A common challenge is that people always seem to think we don’t know what we’re talking about. We have simple things ‘explained’ to us quite often. Engineers have been shocked that Grace has plugged her synth into a D.I Box and have often had the basic concept of ‘sound bouncing off of walls’ explained to us. As if 5 women who all have degrees in music wouldn’t understand that. Not that you need a degree to know what you’re talking about by any means, nor does it dictate your ability in any shape or form, but you get the picture.
We’ve also received comments such as ‘If you play as good as you look, you’re onto a winner’, which is vividly concerning, and I can’t imagine a male musician getting questioned on their ability to play guitar. We’ve been very fortunate to have received the opportunities we have, and we’re keen to provide more opportunities for female-identifying/nonbinary creatives, as there most definitely is a micro-aggressional attitude or a tone of surprise pushed onto these creatives. I suppose a sort of, ‘Wow, you were actually really good’.
Dawsons: In a modern time when gender/sexual conformity in music should not be a deciding factor as to how an artist is presented, do you still feel that there is a divide between ‘traditional’ male-led band dynamics presented socially and bands being labelled as ‘female-fronted’ etc?
Bands like Artio proving that the music they make is more powerful and promotes a greater message than what ignorance may perceive of them at face value, how do you feel about this idea?
Venus: Most definitely agree there is more to us than face value. There’s a weird sort of grey area we’re trying to hit, the middle point of providing representation to young women who might want to be rock musicians which is a particularly male-dominated scene, but also not sensationalising ourselves. Women shouldn’t be given their own genre, that doesn’t really make much sense. You wouldn’t say ‘male-fronted’. Ps. We love Artio.
Dawsons: Although highlighting that a band led by women is positive, do you feel that this can be taken out of context socially to be used as a novelty element, whilst also succinctly using this USP to still categorize these artists separately to males, i.e. ‘best FEMALE’ artist and so on.
Venus: Absolutely, this leads on from the previous question. There is definitely a middle point where we can make a point of the fact that we’re women because it’s incredibly liberating to know you’re doing something positive. There has NEVER been a lack of female musicians, in any genre, the problem was the discrimination of the industry. And the women who did make it within Rock have often been marketed on sex appeal. This isn’t always the case, but a common one I can think of was The Runaways. They were all so young too, and the way they were marketed is incredibly problematic instead of marketing their exceptional musical talent.
Dawsons: The Leeds music and art scenes are flourishing with vibrant, exciting and often dangerously chaotic art becoming a foundation of cultural life and there’s a real DIY ethic pushing through in the mindset of the music community.
How important is it that we as a community support artists and artists support their fans in order to promote the greater ideal of diversity and using music as a way to sustain gender empowerment?
Venus: Something we’ve always advocated is supporting local artists, particularly in Leeds as it has such a strong DIY scene. We often collaborate with local artists, photographers and musicians and it’s so rewarding, because you make friends, too. You end up building yourself a little self-sufficient ‘team’ if you will. As well, the only way artists of any medium can grow is from the opportunity at the grassroots level. Community and collaboration is one of the most important characteristics and should be exercised as often as possible!
Dawsons: Your ethos as a band is of blooming self-love and empowerment for women, which is very much evident in the loyalty and tenacity of your fans; what inspires you to commit your music to the activism of female freedom?
Community groups such as Girl Gang and Yorkshire Sound Women Network serve as beacons for a brighter future for the arts and equality, where do you feel you fit into the grassroots movement for women of this era?
Venus: There are many collectives within Yorkshire at the moment that are doing brilliant things. Girl Gang and Venus have been trying to collaborate for the best part of the year, but our schedules have never seemed to align well. However, we do know them well, and we can say they are the most wonderful people. We very much hope to do something with them very soon! We’ve definitely seen growth in female representation on the Leeds music scene over the last two years, it was the one thing we felt was lacking on the rock scene amongst the Leeds scene when we got together. We can’t fully describe it, but it just feels like things are changing.
We feel Leeds is sometimes neglected on the musical map if that makes sense, when it’s surrounded by music giants such as Manchester/Liverpool.
Not to say there haven’t been incredible bands to come out of Leeds, there absolutely has but people still seem to sleep on it! But we firmly believe that because the scene is so DIY and niche that it’s going to be one to talk about in the same way we would talk about Manchester/Liverpool, one day in the future. We just hope to continue doing what we’re doing, and if we inspire anyone along the way, then that just reinforces us to keep going.
We’re releasing our debut EP, ‘Wicked Things’, on April 3rd. We’re also headlining The Key Club on the same day, to celebrate the launch. We’ve worked super hard on refining it, and wanted to make an EP about our every-day experiences, and explore themes such as Mental Health. We didn’t want to write a full EP talking strictly on Feminism, because we’re trying to normalise the gender imbalance and – instead of strictly writing a feminist-packed EP -, wanted it to have undertones of Feminism throughout.
You can do this with nearly everything you do, implement and demand your rights throughout all endeavours. And this is what we wanted to promote. We’ve already got more material planned after the EP, later on in the year and then delving into 2021, which we’re going to start demoing soon. Moreover, we’re just super excited to be releasing music. We’re all best mates and having so much fun and doing what you love with your best mates is the centrepiece of it all.
Dawsons: Venus are one of the most enchanting bands I’ve had the pleasure of discovering, imagine the razor-tongued guile of NIN and yearning lullabies of Lana Del Rey colliding with the unapologetic noise-punk of the Subways at their rock n roll peak.
Along with their label mates in Artio and Purple Thread (check out the Monomyth Records roster, thank us later), their unique brand of self-empowering space rock ignites the scene of their contemporaries in a way that hasn’t been seen for decades, since the battle cries of Heart, Blondie, Beth Gibbons and Kathleen Hanna first grabbed us by the neck and demanded the social recognition they had so often been denied by the patriarch; Venus are angry, Venus are real, Venus are true, Venus are Grrrls. But for Venus, these women are the centre of the universe and we revolve around them.
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Photo credit: Kayleigh Hinsley
Wicked Things artwork credit: Maya Hood
Jordan is a guitarist and songwriter that has toured the stages of Europe for the past decade and has absorbed everything he can to pass on to others! A proud Northerner, his passion is to open the door to the amazing music culture of Yorkshire for everyone to experience.