Although women musicians and bands were a major part of the Women’s Liberation Movement, there has been scant permanent record of their ground-breaking activity during this era, and much of it is not widely known about. Many singers and groups did not make recordings and operated outside the commercial, mainstream or alternative circuits – or indeed were oppositional to them. They were self-funded and worked on a shoestring and thus unable to create lasting material. Despite being a significant and integral part of the movement, they are often omitted from or marginalised by media reportage and feminist histories.
Feminist music-making was not purely about providing great entertainment but embodied a world-changing commitment to putting politics into practice. Women sought to do things differently, not only in terms of performance but by providing practical skill-sharing workshops for women and girls, demystifying musicianship and challenging male supremacy, sexism, heterosexism and stereotyped gender roles in every way possible. Their work reflected the values of the movement. As Naomi Weisstein said of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band, our bands were about ‘conveying celebration and resistance … performances deliberately set up a politics of strong, defiant women, absolute democracy, and an intense desire for audience participation. Through the intensity of the medium, through our bad-ass revolutionary poetry, we shouted the news: we can have a new world, a just and generous world, a world without female suffering or degradation.’
The Women’s Liberation Music Archive exists to ensure that this vital part of women’s radical history is not lost, believing these achievements should be documented, valued and placed in the cultural and political context of the time, perhaps serving to inspire other women as we are inspired by pioneering women before us. In addition to musicians, bands and projects identified to date, the archive also seeks to include contemporaneous music-making by women who may not have identified themselves as feminists at the time but whose activity nonetheless both happened within, and contributed to, the context of the changes being brought about by feminist politics. And although the primary focus is on grassroots musicians who were part of the WLM, as they are the most likely to be lost to history, we’ve allowed leeway regarding criteria for who is included, because of the overlap between these and artists who achieved success with record deals and are more widely known.
Background to the archive: Around the turn of the century, women who had been involved in 1970s/80s feminist music-making and political activism began discussing the growing need to develop an archive to document this part of women’s history. In 2010, Frankie Green, who had played in feminist bands during that era, visited an exhibition marking the fortieth anniversary of the first national WLM conference and was struck by the minimal reference to the political/cultural work of musicians. Realising that ‘if our generation didn’t initiate the documenting of this aspect of the WLM it could be lost in the mists of time,’ she contacted other women she knew from that time and began writing about her experience. When a friend put her in touch with researcher Dr Debi Withers the two began working on making this project a reality; both are women involved in feminism and music-making who are committed to maintaining the visibility of feminist achievements. After much networking and a great deal of time spent collecting and digitising material, the Women’s Liberation Music Archive was launched online in May 2011. The archive met a positive reaction and grew steadily. Physical items which people donated were gathered and a permanent home for them sought. Following the curating of her touring exhibition, Music & Liberation http://music-and-liberation.tumblr.com/, Debi Withers left the WLMA at the end of March 2013. Frankie Green continues working on the archive as Administrator, with project support from a small steering committee of women who were also involved in the music-making of the era. Physical material that has been donated to the WLMA will be loaned to and housed by the Feminist Archive South and available for viewing and research at the University of Bristol by contacting the Special Collections Archivists at firstname.lastname@example.org Please let us know if you have material you would like to add to the collection or would like more information about it. We are keen to expand the Music Archive to cover wider areas both in terms of geography and genre – if you have ideas about this, please get in touch. We’re committed to making the archive as inclusive and accurate as possible – we welcome feedback and interaction.
The WLMA is an independent, not-for-profit voluntary project. Any donations are used solely to fund the running costs and development of the archive.
Again, a huge thank you to everyone who has made this archive possible by generously contributing their personal recollections and other material!
‘The truth is that feminism has changed the world and is changing the world. The Women’s Liberation Music Archive celebrates and restores its rightful place in culture. And it’s freaking cool …’ – Bidisha
All Rights Reserved. Material in the archive may only be reproduced with permission of the copyright-holder.