By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), formerly known as the Experience Museum Project, at the Seattle Center hosted a four-day conference (PopCon) in late April, focusing on gender and music.
The PopCon, since 2002, has been offhandedly recognized as a conference for the musically passionate — regularly attended by a roster of music critics, academics, and hyper-obsessive music lovers. The schedule for this year’s subject, “What Difference Does it Make? Music and Gender,” included topics as varied as “Joni Mitchell” to “Country Voices” to “Re-mixing Post-soul Black Masculinity.”
The introductory keynote panel was dedicated to the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp (Time’s Up) movements. #MeToo escalated into an undeniably powerful movement and social media avalanche due to the overwhelming number of accusations and reports of sexual harassment and assault by powerful Hollywood industry heads and celebrities. The very short-short list of offenders includes producer Harvey Weinstein, and celebrity figureheads like Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey (among numerous others). The Time’s Up movement, while similar to #MeToo, differs, but still works in the same conversation space. Time’s Up was created as an action-based initiative to empower women in their professional goals — women should be allowed to work without the fear of discrimination or sexual harassment. The key panel’s directive was to address and communicate both initiatives.
The title of 2018’s keynote panel was “The System Must Make Room for All That We Do: A Summit on Music, Activism, and the #MeToo #TimesUp Moment.”
Ann Powers, critic and correspondent for NPR Music, moderated. The panelists included Jackie Fuchs, Madame Gandhi, Megan Jasper, Paloma McLardy, and Francisca Valenzuela.
Jackie Fuchs (also known as Jackie Fox) was the bassist for the all-female rock band The Runaways, from 1975 to 1977. The Runaways were a groundbreaking punk band, which included Joan Jett and Lita Ford, that inspired legions of young girls (and arguably still do). Fuchs has been interviewed several times about being raped by her manager. The response was somewhat nil from associates and even band members (this was the early 1980s). After The Runaways, Fuchs became a records promotion executive and returned to school to earn a B.A. in Linguistics from UCLA and a law degree from Harvard.
“It is easier to stand up for others than to stand up for yourself,” Fuchs said when reflecting. “Now being a lawyer, and looking back at being an artist,” she stated, “I wish I realized how much power I did have.”
Fuchs also commented, “It would be nice one day when we wouldn’t have to acknowledge we are an all-female band.”
Paloma McLardy, aka “Palmolive,” reciprocated, “We were four fearless young women who came together and exploded as a cultural bomb, irritating a sensitive societal nerve. We were pretty unconscious of our potency…”
Palmolive was born and raised in Spain and rebelled against her living situation and found her way to England in her teens, and founded another pivotal punk band, The Slits, in the 1970s.
Palmolive’s boyfriend John Mellor would eventually rename himself Joe Strummer — of the infamous Clash — and introduced her to Sid Vicious — of the infamous Sex Pistols, who she would collaborate with. She said Sid Vicious’ aggressiveness made her decide she would prefer to work only with women.
“We were given opportunities by men, white men,” she said.
Megan Jasper, CEO of Sub Pop Records, has worked for Sup Pop for more than 25 years, starting from the position of receptionist. Jasper said that during her growth period at Sub Pop, there wasn’t necessarily a discussion about women — rather there was a disparity with identity with “women” and “musician.”
Jasper referenced prominent Sub Pop female bands L-7 and Sleater Kinney. She stated there was a difference between reviews for female and male musicians, but how ultimately punk rock, at the time, was a space she related with, and associated with home.
“Do you just want to work with girls, or do you want to work with me?” asked Madame Gandhi.
Gandhi is an electronic music artist and activist, and former drummer for artist M.I.A. She also studied mathematics at Georgetown University and worked as the data analyst at Interscope Records before going on to receive her MBA from Harvard — a strong representative of the Time’s Up voice.
“I think for me, what is really important is existing in spaces as an Asian American woman and coming as I am. … I think many people don’t even think I am Indian. I lived in Mumbai as a teen for three years, my entire extended family lives in India and I speak some Hindi … I like that my existence challenges people’s stereotypes of what it means to be South Asian American … who I am allows younger brown women to see me and feel they have a role model, especially those who are creative.”
Gandhi told the conference audience, in reference to gender, minority, and identity:
“We should all be allowed to create our own spaces.”
Peggy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.