Writes Elle Kelleher
In light of recent discourse around women’s place in the Irish music scene, I sat down with two of my favourite artists, Elaine Malone and Abbey Blake of Pretty Happy, to chat about women and music in Cork.
University Express: Do you feel as though being a woman in the scene is something of note?
Elaine Malone: It’s exhausting seeing the lack of intersectionality and the consistent bias in bookings/airplay. There’s still an element of tokenism and the fact that the question “Is being a woman an issue?” still gets asked signifies that there’s an issue. I see a lot of younger girls coming up that are excellent artists. I hope there’ll be less obstacles for them.
Abbey Blake: Of course. I think having more women in music is important. Even down to a few days ago with the podcast [a now-deleted episode of A Drummer In Dublin, where a guest made a number of sexist remarks on the musical ability of women], as much as everyone is so ‘woke’ now, you get [people] like that everywhere. That’s not just their view of women in music, it’s their view of women.
UE: Is the gender discussion something we should still be having in relation to the arts in 2020?
E: I think it’s a conversation that will not end. I think the terms need to change and the lack of equality is jarring. Plus, the denial of those in power of the gap is the most [messed] up thing. As though we imagine the disrespect and the insidious behaviour. The abuse varies from overt to subtle but the damage is huge. It stops people from feeling they can occupy spaces and express themselves fully in their art.
A: Of course, that just proves it. People have these deep-rooted views which are insane. There’s no place for that in Cork.
UE: Do you think experimental and alternative music is open to a more diverse range of people? Women, queer people, people of colour, etcetera.
E: Any countercultural or alternative art form whether it stems from an academic or grassroots origin have been spaces for marginalised people. However that’s not always the way. Alternative music is still dominated by white, middle-class boys, either displaying class tourism or pseudo-feminism to appear more diverse.
Almost any queer/female/non-binary/trans person will be tagged with that label in how they’re spoken of in music journalism. The music becomes secondary, as though one’s identity informs the art above all else. Thankfully there’s more of a spotlight on Black Irish artists now, but it’s taken far too long for the structural racism in Ireland’s music scene to be addressed. There’s so much further to go.
A: In my experience, yeah. Angry Mom [a collective Abbey co-founded to promote women and LGBTQ artists] was started because of college gigs and that culture. We started playing those Roundy gigs then and thought ‘Why haven’t we been here since the start?’ It’s a weirder crowd, but it’s such a nice crowd. If you’re gonna have people onstage drinking gin out of condoms, they’re not gonna look at you twice because you’re a girl.
UE: What makes a good gig for you?
E: Usually it’s the right level of being prepared and excited and present. Playing with other people, particularly with Soft Focus earlier this year was incredibly potent mentally. Feeling connection with others and having all of your senses heightened. Everything else fades away.
A: As a musician, going in practised and comfortable. I’ve been a lot more relaxed in the last year. I’m comfortable with my pedals and my playing, and we weren’t putting much pressure on ourselves. […] A good sound engineer makes a huge difference. At our last Kino gig, we had Fran, who’s such a good sound engineer, do a long soundcheck with us and really get our sound. As an audience member, seeing people have fun is huge. To go back to Plugd gigs [in The Roundy], there’s a relaxed atmosphere, the staff are nice, it’s the makings of a great gig.
UE: Who is the biggest influence on your work?
E: Probably Patti Smith. From a literary, musical and visual space she’s completely influenced me. I adored Just Kids when I read it in my teens and that feeling of earnest romanticism I had at that age floods back when I re-read it. The album Horses was extremely important. The William S. Burroughs-esque ‘Land’ and the rejection of religion at the start of ‘Gloria’. Her unshaven armpits on the cover of Easter. The affairs, the reverence for great artists and the uncompromising creative impulse. Reminds me why I bother trying to make anything at all.
A: My family. That includes Andy! I got work ethic and creativity from my parents — my dad is a musician and he always talked about the Cork scene growing up, and mom used to make us live off music, it was a huge thing in our house. They encouraged every artistic venture. Arann and Andy were huge then in how I conduct myself, that professionalism and just generally being sound.
UE: What’s next?
E: I’ve recently finished the second Mantua album and I’m working on another album right now. My friend 1000 Beasts is releasing a remix he did of my track ‘You’ from my first EP Land on November 6th.
A: Pretty Happy has an EP coming out next year, and should have some singles out. One of them we’re previewing at Spilt Milk Festival, you can watch ‘Sea Sea Sea’ on Twitch on Saturday evening, 28th of November. Myself and Arann wrote a web series called Jag, based on relationships in Cork. Andy produced it and was really hands-on onset. We’re in post-production now. It has queer characters, great female leads, everything I’d like to see in a series. I’m still working away on bits with the lads. I’m also excited for getting Angry Mom up and running, hopefully when the world returns to some degree of normalcy.