FEATURE: FX Levels and Serious Gain: The Sensational Wave of Women Bringing Strings, Fresh Confidence and Electricity to the Scene



FX Levels and Serious Gain

IN THIS PHOTO: St. Vincent/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Forsythe  

The Sensational Wave of Women Bringing Strings, Fresh Confidence and Electricity to the Scene


THAT title might seem unwieldy...

but, f*ck it, I couldn’t think of anything more elegant and verbose to put in there. In any case, it detracts from my observation: the fact there is this exciting new buzz of female artists who are, in my view, showing greater intent, expression and excitement than male artists. This piece was provoked by a simple tweet from Christine and the Queens (or simply ‘Chris’ to give full accuracy). In it, she (Héloïse Letissier) simply expressed her desire for more guitars and that extra bit of oomph. Whether provoked by an observation that she, and many of her female peers, are adding fresh impetus into music or a casual remark...it got me thinking. What is the state of the band market these days?! Look around the mainstream; check all the cupboards and have a look under the bed and there are not as many great groups as once there was. I do not mean there is an absence of promising bands coming through: the mainstream is not stuffed with iconic acts that can rival the best bands of the past. I think the days of male bands ruling the scene are over and it will be hard to return to that state. I was just reminiscing, the other day, about the 1990s and a time when Blur, Pulp and Supergrass were all running alongside one another. There were female-led bands – such as Republica – but, for the most part, it was the male bands that won much attention.


 IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am not sure when that died out but it might have been at the turn of the last decade. There are some great male bands around now – including The 1975 and Queens of the Stone Age – but I do not think there is the swell and inspiring scene that we saw back then. If anything, the most interesting male bands are bringing Pop and other genres into the mix. Maybe the days of men riffing and penning the same kind of songs is getting a bit boring and harder to market. I feel there has been this shift of dominance from the male bands to female solo artists. Whether they are delivering confident jams and defiant songs or wielding an axe, there is this definite charge and revolution occurring.


IN THIS PHOTO: Christine and the Queens (Héloïse Letissier)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Morgan

Think back to Chris and what was being said, rather dreamily, about the need for (more guitars) and I think she represents what I am saying. Not only is she a fantastic musician but her live sets are thrilling. You cannot go to a Christine and the Queens gig and be unmoved. It is her physicality, dance and captivating delivery that means one experiencing something much hotter and physical than we find on the records. The current album, Chris, marked out Christine and the Queens as this leader and extraordinary explosion. Look at peers such as Anna Calvi and St. Vincent and, here, we have two artists who are among the finest guitar players in music. They, like Héloïse Letissier, have incredible power and songcraft but it is their shredding that really moves me.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Calvi/PHOTO CREDIT: Petr Klapper

We have great male shredders like Jack White but here we have two women who sort of remind me of Prince and his incredible range. Perhaps Calvi is the more accomplished player but both she and St. Vincent are helping to shift the narrative and tone of modern music. I am not slamming male bands and a lack of invention but I feel we have reached an impasse regarding revolution and revelation. The reason bands like Blur and Oasis were popular is because they channelled a spirit in the air and a desire that needed to be satisfied. I feel the demand for these types of bands are waning and we want to embrace something different. What these women – at the forefront; pushing forward – represent is all the fun, power and potential of the male bands but with a much deeper and eye-opening set of lyrics. Maybe it is the rather tired staples of Rock bands and their lyrics that has seen a comparative lack of demand. Listen to an album from Christine and the Queens or Anna Calvi and you get these incredible moments, stunning riffs and tough songs but there is heart, openness and important messages – everything from female empowerment and gender roles to expressing love or being vulnerable. Powerful female icons of the past – including Patti Smith and Debbie Harry – showed female-delivered music did not have to fit into formulas and could be as potent and popular as anything recorded by a man.

Late last year, it was reported that women/girls are responsible for half of all guitar sales. Artists like St. Vincent, who can be seen shredding it at her gigs and producing these amazing songs, has inspired girls and young women to pick up a guitar. A Taylor Swift phenomenon started this rise: girls wanting to idolise the Pop artist and the fact she plays guitar. There are articles out there celebrating the best female-fronted bands and how they are adding a much-needed sense of flair and colour. I have mentioned some of the best female solo artists showing their power but even today’s Pop artists, the finest of the breed, are overtaking their male peers. From Pop’s Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa to Country’s Kacey Musgraves and Hip-Hop’s Cardi B and Little Simz, I am seeing the changes.

There is still a commercial core in Pop but many women are breaking away from that pitfall and delivering music that is much more exciting, original and potent. In a recent piece, I noted how a few of this year’s boldest and most memorable albums have been created by women who are showing incredible strength and ambition – Little Simz’s GREY Area and Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow among the very best. I am not saying this has been this coup where male solo artists and bands have been usurped and replaced by women but, when you look at the most impactful and striking music right now, it is being made by women.

Whether there are electric strings attached or it is just a much more exhilarating and nuanced style of music, it is good to see. I think male bands will start to claim back some territory but we live at a time when music is starting to flag a bit; it is not as fun and memorable as it once was. Maybe that is a reaction to general malaise and strife but I think we are seeing a revival. There is still a tendency for a lot of artists be introspective and revealing without adding anything positive against the rather dour and sombre tones. That is something I am keen to see reduced but I feel there is a fresh Pop movement where we are spawning far less cliché artists. I love the fact more women are picking up guitars and there are these incredible players in the mainstream. Much more dynamic, confident and liberated artists like Christine and the Queens and Florence and the Machine are adding raw power to the mix and, projecting forward, I think the fact more women are picking up guitars means we will see more female bands and solo artists adding electricity and unique spark to music. Artists such as Sigrid are representing a fresh and more exciting brand of Pop that sparks with joy, freshness and thrills. Her debut album, Sucker Punch, has been long-anticipated and is already gaining big reviews.



There is a lot of change coming through and, from the guitar heroes to the new Pop expression, I am excited to see what happens next. Maybe it is an exaggeration to say women are totally ruling but I can detect this new movement and rumble that is much more exciting and diverse than we have seen in years. Of course, it is the festivals’ lack of diversity and adaptability that is holding back true explosion. Were there headline slots reserved for some of these terrific artists then that would help platform this evolution but, alas, the majority of headline slots are still going to male artists – many are largely-ignored, older bands who are not providing much modern-day relevance. I would like to think this will all change as we are seeing more female recognised and celebrated but that, sadly, is no guarantee. I come back to the rather brief and intriguing tweet from Christine and the Queen’s lead and the desire for a six-string thrill.

I am seeing a lot more women pick up guitars and female/female-led bands doing what all-male bands did years ago: provide these anthemic and epic tracks that lodge right into the brain. Pop’s most exhilarating and the big shakers from Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B are, in my view, women - and they are helping make modern music a very eclectic, dynamic and promising thing. There are, of course, plenty of men adding essential voice but I like the fact there has been a shift and a balance in power. If this can be acknowledged by festivals and those in a position of power – more women work in P.R. than men but most of the big labels and stations are run by men – then we can see real progression and quality. To round it off, have a search and look for all the powerful and inspiring women tearing it up – from the Pop elite to Jazz artists like Nubya Garcia – and revel in the brilliance. If you don’t mind, I will take inspiration from Christine and the Queen’s tweet and satisfy my guitar lust. Thinking about the perfect song and there is a wonderful St. Vincent track...

THAT springs to mind.