Sunday, 8 November 2015

Grrls Don't Cry

I've been really lucky when it comes to seeing live music. Over years of going to gigs, I've ticked most of my favourite bands off, seeing most of them at least once but some up to 5 or 6 times. One band I never expected to see is Jack Off Jill. I was around 13 when a school friend introduced me to them and I instantly fell in love with singer Jessicka's baby-voiced high pitch vocals peppered with angry screams. Their lyrics were amongst the first insights I had to the fact that sometimes girls and women aren't treated as equals and that it isn't OK.

Jack Off Jill were at the height of their career in the early 90's and they broke up in 2000, 4 years before I'd go to my first gig but I'd read about their live shows, of how the band would throw candy into the audience and Jessicka would cover herself and then the crowd in her own blood. I was mortified I'd never get to experience it myself. Little did I know, that 12 years later I'd get to see them live with one of my best friends and also that very same friend who first got me listening to JOJ all those years ago.

In order to make the very most of this special day, we spent the day in London shopping on Oxford Street - one does not simply go to London and not visit the Lush flagship store, am I right? Then we headed over to Camden, stopping off at The World's End and The Diner for food and drinks.

I was really looking forward to seeing support act Skinny Girl Diet, so was gutted to find that we were too late and caught only their last song. SGD are a riot grrl trio hailing from London. Made up of sisters Delilah and Ursula and their cousin, Amelia, it's evident in their sound that they take inspiration from their pre-decessors of the same genre, L7 and Babes in Toyland. As they're from England, I hope to catch them again sometime.
On to the main event! Bassist Helen Storer and guitarist Michelle Inhell take to the stage, Tenni Ah-Cha-Cha sits at the drums whilst Jessicka is carried on stage in a body bag to the creepy intro of "When I Am Queen." On escaping her macabre sack, I note she is adorned in one of her signature baby doll dresses by Coco Fennell.

As they kick into the chorus of the song, I'm quickly relieved to see they've definitely still got it. Their performance is completely hypnotic to observe - Helen is super seductive with her sultry sways and hair flicks as she plays, Michelle looks as if she's just jamming in her bedroom, completely unphased by the sold out venue for the bands penultimate show, and Jessicka is giving it her all, the juxtaposition between the nursery rhyme-esque singing and viotriolic screaming still very much present. In-between songs she is coy and comical whilst using the time to tell any racists to get out and that the band doesn't want anybody who has a problem with same-sex relationships t be a fan of theirs.

JOJ went on to play a mix of songs spanning across their three album discography - Sexless Demons and Scars, Teenage Humid Mediocrity and Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers. Tracks included Author Unknown which is rumoured to be about ex-friend Marilyn Manson as well as in reference to the bible, Yellow Brick Road - the Wizard of Oz references are metaphorical for drug use and Girl Scout which Jessicka claimed she cannot sing without crying. Sticking with tradition, throughout the set she gradually covers her face with more and more of her own blood and band members throw candy into the crowd before playing "Lollirot". The initial set was 17 songs long but still over far too quickly.

For the encore, the band, minus Jessicka take to the stage with a toy phone and "call" Jessicka, saying the crowd want her to come back. She emerges in white underwear and a blonde wig, followed by a crew member who pours blood over her a la horror classic, Carrie.

In the bands heydey, Jessicka was notorious for speaking out against fat shaming, way before the movement had gained anywhere near the amount of momentum it has today. She takes the opportunity to explain she used to 240lbs but due to illness has lost weight before giving a heartfelt speech about beauty standards. They play their most popular song "Strawberry Gashes" and the band's personal favourite song to play a cover of The Cure's "Love Song."
The next day, I looked at my phone to find we'd done 13km worth of steps which made me feel less pathetic about feeling so tired I couldn't move, which was fine as I'd bought Jessicka's zine from the show and couldn't wait to read it. After Grrl is a collection of snippets either slamming sexism or celebrating being female with writers from the members of JOJ, Babes in Toyland and Hole to digital managers and cake makers, it's truly empowering to read.

The whole experience was incredible and I'm so glad I got to be a part of JOJ history. It was the best show I've ever attended, perhaps due to the fact I never thought it would happen or maybe because I was surrounded by riot grrls & goths reduced to tears because this band, what they stood for and their lyrics made them feel a part of something as much now as they did 10+ years ago. RIP Jack Off Jill, we will always love you.
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