Imaginary Songs from the Feminist Future – Unlocking Creativity in Lockdown | Heather McKnight

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By Heather McKnight, University of Sussex

For those of us with a creative drive, it is part of our way of being and often part of maintaining our sanity.  In lockdown, something is missing. While it is small scale compared to other crisis situations, those of us in performative, particularly in collaborative projects have found ourselves in disarray.  We are robbed of our semi-sacred creative spaces; estranged from our usual ways of interacting, creating with and supporting each other.  Performances cancelled, rehearsal spaces and studios closed, access to creative equipment from musical instruments to print presses cut off, or scattered between disparate elements of bands and artists alike.

Artistic collaborations are not just about connections between those producing the work, but are part of political acts, and social contexts.  Our band was due to play a cancelled UCU strike fundraiser with poetry readings and other musicians.  At the time, the extent of the crisis was only just being realised.  As things escalated, in the days following moving towards lockdown, every hour or two a gig, exhibition, performance, or launch night popped up as cancelled on Facebook.  Little indicators of the up-coming isolation; and the unravelling of the normal socio-creative scene.

I should say, I’m not a performance-based researcher, my creative outlet is a feminist DIY riot grrrl indie-pop band called Fuck You and Your A-Sides.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, A-Sides are a capitalist patriarchal mode of musical privilege, or as Google Dictionary notes “the side of a pop single regarded as the main one.”  We started just over a year ago after the first CHASE Feminist Network Conference and have played just three gigs (only one of which was on a proper stage). This wasn’t started as a serious musical endeavour. Still, it is fair to say it’s escalated into something wholly nourishing, and it’s a glorious release to allow ourselves time to be subversively silly.

My other band member, Layla Hignell-Tully, and I work together in a spontaneous, somewhat therapeutic process.  Ridiculous ideas spark in the room across cups of tea and glasses of gin in the short time we grab out of our real lives of research, work and family commitments.  It’s our space to relish being emotionally unhinged, to lash out at injustices and sexism and, perhaps most importantly, to laugh. Layla works as an inclusive artist and has a young child, it can be challenging to carve out space and time; I’m working and researching round the clock.  During practices and writing sessions at my house, we made time for a whole evening of uninterrupted creative space each week.  In lockdown, this utopian creative breathing space is indefinitely no more…

… so we start from where we are.  We both feel guilty, about everything.  We both feel frustrated, about almost everything.  The fear and the internal screams, we just push that right down. Layla sends lyrics via email, I record without laughter into my laptop.  My ideas stutter out slowly, uncertainly, without bolstering of my partner in musical crimes.  Half of what we would have done in an hour takes me an afternoon, a further evening, and I am still unhappy when I send the files to her. Our first online writing session is a discussion on file types, strategies and technology.

By the second practice, we resolve that if we are to get through this without postponing our creativity and going slowly insane, we need to think bigger, we wanted a collective daydream to keep us going.  Unoriginally, we feel compelled to add to the inevitable deluge of the future lockdown musical lineage, we hatch a plan to record a four-track EP.  We share files for a couple of tracks, and try to work out how I can record Layla’s voice and percussion from Lewes while she’s not in our makeshift studio in Brighton. I can’t say we’ve fully cracked the new writing dynamic, but I’m not writing about the technical answers, not yet anyway…

… but by this time the two half(ish) written songs (Wank Woman Wank, about how womens’ masturbation is vastly under-discussed, and the possibilities if it was not, plus the untitled ‘isolation dream pop thing’) have taken on a life of their own.  The four-track EP is going to be called “B-Side Myself”, and a third theoretical track (about how The Tower tarot card is really about the fall of the patriarchy) is now part of this unrecorded imaginary.

I explain this drunkenly to my friend in Edinburgh over a distorting Facebook messenger call. He immediately offers to sign us and release the EP on his ‘Curiosity Kills’ record label.  Luckily, it turns out this label is b-side-inclusive and will tolerate our lack of a-sides, so we don’t have to record anything popular. When lockdown lifts, we might even be googleable and race to the heady heights of family and friends sympathetically downloading our tracks.

In this space we are reimagining our artistic relationships, the dynamics of which are imperative to collaborative art forms, and we can do this through the ridiculous and the imaginary, which can then become and overcome the real.  Where we should, in play as well as work, perhaps be slowing down, a process of re-encountering our art and each other.  However, we have still found joy in fast-forwarding and grasping at what is slipping away from us in abject panic (although I’m not sure if it’s a recommendation…)

We don’t know how we’re going to get there, but this EP has to happen now, and it gives us hope. With a record deal (and now also a video, maybe even a DIY documentary…) its futurity seems oppressively certain.  Amongst the guilt of taking a break from the apocalyptic narrative, and the horrors of the current crisis, we’re still saying fuck you to the structures of oppression in our own small ways, ways that help us cope, ways that help us keep going and supporting those around us.

We leave you with somes songs about being over-worked and pelvic floor exercises that won’t be on this EP (because they were already imagined before we started it) and an unfinished video from an unfinished song about trying to find normality and sanity in insolation, a process which in itself remains unfinished…

🎵 Woodstain – https://soundcloud.com/fuckyouandyourasides/woodstain

🎵 Pelvic Floor – https://soundcloud.com/fuckyouandyourasides/pelvic-floor

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Sending much love and inspiration to all from Fuck You and Your A-Sides

Heather and Layla xoxo

P.S. For other creatives looking for collaborative platforms and ideas, some great resources are building up on the Anti-University website, including a creatives toolkit doc! https://2020.antiuniversity.org/pages/resources-info

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Twitter: @heat_mcknight

Instagram: @fuck_u_and_yr_asides / @insipidsilks

Facebook: Fuck You and Your A-Sides

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This is the fourth in our Feminist Everyday Lockdown Blog Series. Lockdown is a feminist issue, and sharing stories is a feminist practice. We are calling for further contributions to the CHASE Feminist Network blog on everyday feminism and lockdown. This includes creative, political, and personal reflections!

Full details here

Read more on performance in lockdown with HOW ARE YOU? HOW ARE YOU FEELING RIGHT NOW? Wrestling with Wellbeing when All the World’s a Screen by @elly_clarke reinjecting meaning into asking ‘How are you?’

Catch up on other Feminist Everyday Lockdown Blogs: Flat, Flat, Flat by @marianasra who we thank for sharing her story of waiting, being and uncertainty in lockdown, and Finding Rest During Covid-19 Lockdown: Rejecting Capitalistic Productivity by @dr_ogbemudia good advice on “spending” time, and finding time to ‘be’!

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Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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