Presiding doyenne of Berlin’s thriving Ocean Club scene, Gudrun Gut’s status within the indie music tribe is an uncomfortable reminder of how little things have changed since the heady days of female emancipation in regard to a few fundamental social principles: she’s not only a fully-functioning post-punk-rock chick with a band of her own (Malaria!), a DJ, and a producer, but the owner of no less than two record labels. Outside the tribe-within-a-tribe of the lesbian and gay scene, that makes her as rare as a snowflake in June or a Coldplay album that doesn’t sound exactly like the one before.
Pshaw, sir, you ejaculate, tosh, piffle, tripe, and utter balderdash – look at all the amazing women artists out there, look at all the amazing releases by women, look at all the amazing women with high-ranking executive positions in the music industry.
A 2001 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in the US found that women have less than 3 percent of the top jobs in communications, and that they make up only 1 percent of top executives in entertainment and media companies. There is a percentage of top female executives at the top of the major label tree, at good old AOL/Time Warner. But that number is zero. Well – zero’s a number (old Simpsons joke). And I doubt that much has changed since 2001.
As long as the music industry continues, from boardroom to A&R and throughout the ancilliary media, to be predominantly y-chromosome weighted, there’s going to be an ongoing imbalance of representation of half the potential of the pool. Either you see this as a problem or you don’t. Either you see the hip hop bitch slappin kulcha as a disastrous regression or as a harmless Zeitgeist frolic. It’s a free market in a global economy, he says. You pays your money and you makes your choice (unless you happen to be female and being perceived as sexual bling is not your thing, she says).
Gut’s two labels – Moabit Musik and Monika Enterprise – have been prodding at the glass ceiling since 1985. Her continuing avowed intent has been to positively discriminate towards women artists, and 4 Women No Cry, Vol. 1 is the first of a proposed annual series of releases that will showcase artists who have won the Monika seal of approval (an imprecise standard, but, on this showing at least, a fair one).
It’s practically impossible, once you know all this, to avoid the Big Issue or the Fair Trade factor: as a record-buyer, one is still a consumer in an international market, and what’s more likely to happen – that I consume according to my taste in music or according to my taste in politics? Well, obviously, chacun à son propre goût, and mine, as an average kinda guy, leans to the former. So – cards on the table – if I were making an issue-based assessment of this album, I’d rank it 10/10 on principle, but, once I’ve doffed that greasy ole music critic’s fedora, I have to pretend to be disinterested. So farewell polemic, hello music.
At between four and six tracks apiece, this is actually four EP’s-worth – something of a bargain, if you think about it. And, although each of these four artists has some past or present connection with Berlin, none, curiously, is German: Rosario Bléfari is Argentinian, Tusia Beridze (aka Tba, which means ‘lake’ in Georgian) is from Tbilisi, Georgia, Èglantine Gouzy is Parisian, and Catarina Pratter, who sings in English and French, is Viennese.
Rosario Bléfari’s Spanish is so clear that even I can understand it – she barefoots a deceptively simple melodic track through a faintly hallucinatory jungle of background sounds whose frequent dissonances cut the sweetness of her voice like a well-judged splash of lime. The album’s opener, Partir y Renunciar, is timelessly melodic in a totally unabashed, totally hummable way, but played out against this curious sonic backdrop that cants the listening just a few degrees too far past comfortable balance. Similarly attenuated girl-and-guitar on these first three songs gives way, in Vidriera Chilena, to a soundscape collage that contextualises all of the songs retrospectively in a most intriguing way: there’s stuff going on here, she seems to be implying, that I’ve not even begun to touch on. Stay tuned.
Tusia Beridze strolls a more diffident path that straddles the traditional and the electronic in the slightly self-conscious style one would expect from an artist as engaged as she in the seismic processes of cultural redefinition that her homeland is currently experiencing. Her participation in the art group Goslab has been as much as a video and audiovisual artist as a musician, and this versatility invests her music with a particularly eclectic flavour. Whereas it’s hard for a non-Georgian to empathise with the seeming campfire-nationalistic sentimentality of a folksong sung almost straight (Gorod), there’s nothing backward-looking about the other five tracks here. The Cuet – Wound – Kursaa progression is seamless and quite magical: a largely instrumental, vividly imagistic animated triptych glittering with glitchy pulses and blurry ballroom flourishes. Björk serenades The Caretaker. And in Hextension – another no-vocals instrumental conclusion – she demonstrates an assured confidence in translating a platinum electro-pop beat into a lyrical swim in the clouds of a neo-kitsch keyboard and strings fantasy.
Èglantine Gouzy occupies the same trottoir-skipping territory as Amélie (the movie). Gamine, though, as in a Gallic Joanna Newsom (sans harp and/or arrested-development voice) – that’s to say, be prepared for some wickedly tangential lyrics. Self-assured, flirtatious, deceptively fragile, hers is the kind of voice that’s illegal in most mid-Western states and parts of Wales and Northern Ireland. In full understanding of its efficacy, she barely bothers to accompany it at all, and then only with the lightest film of eccentrically textured laptop silkiness. It’s as fresh and perky as a Gaultier corsage, and devastatingly sexy, and that’s all I can say about it (my French being utterly inadequate to the task). Listen and melt.
Catarina Pratter, in complete contrast, wears (or affects to wear) some heavy baggage on her sleeve, dude, and occupies her love-ya hate-ya anger, in Dreamin of Love, like a menacing gothic crab its fluorescent mohican-crested shell, all scuttling and snapping and scowling and Annie Lennox-like. Curiously, though, her Stronger Than Before, the album’s final track, if almost as threatening, is as downbeat as it’s dark – a battle-weary bass-heavy post-fifteen-rounds welterweight slog that peters out into a strangely transformative tabla coda.
The 4 Women No Cry series – and I do hope it does become an annual series, as promised – is never going to compete on the shelves with those dreary battery-farmed compilations of Best Of’s that have become such a label-marketing standby. That the four artists represented should be so diverse is both the album’s strength and its weakness: since no-one’s allotment of time and space is enough (not a bad thing) the progression from one artist to the next inevitably involves a jarring shift of attention (which is). If I had Monika’s ear, I’d recommend, in future volumes, a much longer gap between artists than the regular four-second track-gap, but maybe that’s technically prohibitive. These mere four introductions of Vol.1, meanwhile, are worth fifty of those supermarket shelf-filler compilations, and point to a healthy futures market in glass ceiling crack-repair-kits.