Michael M. Koehler
STARTING FOUR: See-Through Girls — from left: Annie Mok, Zach Webber, Perry Genovesi and Alyssa San Valentin — play their first gig at the First Time’s the Charm showcase at PhilaMOCA on Saturday.
At the end of this summer’s Ladyfest, Grace Ambrose and other organizers challenged each other and their audience to build on what they’d created.
“We asked everyone to figure out ways to carry forward what we felt that weekend into our everyday lives, and into the punk and D.I.Y. communities at large,” says Ambrose, who also works with DIY PHL, an underground arts group/website. “I thought, what better way to do that than by giving an explicit mandate to make music to exactly the kind of people I want to see making noise and taking up space?”
The result is this Saturday’s First Time’s the Charm (FTTC) show at PhilaMOCA, wherein 16 never-before-seen bands will play super-fast sets. Furthermore, because this event aims to lure new faces and talents out of the woodwork, FTTC laid down some ground rules; all bands looking for a spot on the roster have to meet two of these requirements: (1) Some members must identify as female, queer, transsexual or a person of color. (2) At least one member must be playing in a band for the first time. (3) Somebody has to be playing an instrument they’ve never played before.
This has led to some otherwise unlikely creations, like the trumpet/guitar duo Proper Punctuation (!). Rookie trumpeter Liz Vaden, who is used to playing stringed instruments, is enjoying the challenge. “Remember learning ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on recorder? I was so proud to show [bandmate Amanda Schwartz] that I could play that [on trumpet] when she came over for practice,” she says.
“Music scenes can seem a bit exclusive from the outside. [FTTC] was a great way to be able to participate without having to have the ‘right’ connections,” says Schwartz. And having the gig circled on the calendar was a good motivator. “Hopefully they won’t mind that we might only have one song ready. Don’t worry — it’s not ‘Hot Cross Buns,’” says Vaden.
Post-punk outfit See-Through Girls were already playing together, but FTTC forced them to get their act together. “I’ve wanted to front a band since my cousin showed me Korn on MTV when I was 13,” says singer Annie Mok, who admits that’s not the ideal gateway to popular music. Also a writer and artist of indie comics, Mok identifies as a woman and trans. She sees See-Through Girls as a new outlet to express herself.
“I’m in the process of dealing with internalized transmisogyny, and a lifetime of abuse conditioning. These forces implanted the message that my body and personhood is monstrous and belonging to others,” says Mok. “Singing seems especially personal to me, since a trans woman’s voice can feel like a constant liability, if others decide to read it as ‘too deep for a woman.’ I cherish the opportunity to sing, yelp and scream about kink, insects, fear and libraries.”
Her See-Through Girls bandmate, guitarist Alyssa San Valentin, who identifies as Filipino-American and queer, says she could have used a role model or two growing up, a woman, a person of color [POC], someone like her. “When you look around at the world presented to you, and you don’t see someone like you having an active role in creating or decision-making, you get the message that you have no place in that world. You’re left with the impression that, because you’re different, your desire to create and collaborate are worth nothing. Now that I have the tools to be that active participant, I need to be that female POC musician that someone can look up to.”
Meredith Haines is arguably the bravest performer at FTTC; she’s the only one going solo. As a kid she wanted to be “the next Tony Iommi,” but her family pushed her toward dance. “I saw [First Time’s the Charm] as an opportunity to stop being afraid. I can’t remember ever truly wanting to be anything besides a musician,” she says. “It wasn’t until I got out of college with a B.F.A in choreography and dance that I realized I had wasted the first 23 years of my life cowering in a corner.” She’s been studying guitar and writing songs for about a year now and will play a quick acoustic set at FTTC. It’s all about finding out what matters to you. “Once you figure out what that is,” she says, “other people’s opinions begin to matter less and less.”
“It is our hope that these bands will last far beyond First Time’s the Charm,” says Ambrose, whose own band Heavy Bangs is also on the bill. “Heads up to the people who book shows in this town: There are about to be 16 amazing new bands to add to your gigs.”
First Time’s the Charm, Sat., Nov. 9, 7 p.m., $7-$10 (sliding scale), PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th St., philamoca.org, fttc2013.tumblr.com.
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