Venus Zine; Bright, Bold and BACK!


Venus Zine, like my other US printed crushes BUST and Bitch, was a classic American Dream feminist publication; a true rags to riches tale. Starting out as a black and white photocopied zine in 1995, Amy Schroeder’s college creation went from strength to strength over the years to become a full colour, glossy, quarterly mag. Women were clearly thirsty for a publication that profiled and celebrated women in music, art, entertainment, literature, fashion and DIY culture… and Venus Zine delivered in a bold and visionary fashion.

Venus delivered right up until Autumn last year, but then something went awry. I’m not sure what that was, but I’m guessing (like many feminist leaning magazines, hell, ALL magazines in these harsh economic times) that the ‘riches’ in Venus’ rags to riches tale were a richness in female creativity rather than piles of US dollars.

But never fear! The women over a Venus towers have announced that they are bouncing back with a new issue in April and I can’t wait! It’s great to know that such a fabulous outlet for talented female writers covering exciting emerging culture has not fallen by the wayside. There’s been a bit of a shake-up at the mags offices, which could explain Venus’ re-emergence. Here’s what they have to say about their new family;

Venus Zine’s new owner and publisher, Sarah Beardsley, is thrilled to lead the magazine into its fifteenth year (can you believe it??). Meanwhile, editor in chief Jill Russell, music editor Selena Fragassi, fashion editor Andrea Kasprzak, and art director Denise Gibson are working hard to uncover the best new music, designers, film, books, visual artists, and more – along with fresh commentary and criticism.

Whilst you’re counting down the days to April, get your Venus fix on the updated daily Venuszine.com, with their Twitter feed, and by buying up a stack of back issues.

By: Sarah Barnes, 22.02.2010 | Comments (0)
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Vivian Girls at The Trinity Centre, Dalston, London

“Turn the guitars up!” yells an unknown man in a crowded community hall in Dalston.

“But, I can’t hear myself”, Cassie Ramone softly replies. The two girls standing and the girl sitting on stage with their instruments eye each other for a few seconds, before Ali Koehler shrugs her shoulders and starts drumming.

Dalston’s Trinity Centre is more accustomed to holding scout parties so, sorry for Mr Unknown, but sound quality was never going to be the stand out feature at the Vivian Girls Monday night show. Instead, we got a great show in an intimate setting. Whilst waiting around outside for the doors to open (and figuring out how to get into the unusual venue), the strains of various songs being sound checked floated into the cold evening, increasing my anticipation. Once in, we passed the VIP area; a small kitchen, entered through some double doors and in front was a raised stage lit by two lamps. Perfectly suited to a band who specialise in lo-fi noisy pop. Well done Upset the Rhythm for finding the venue.

Now on their second album, the Vivian Girls have a sizable song list at their disposal, and for this performance the laziest girl singers of recent months opted for a set heavy on newer material. Even in the darker moments of Everything Goes Wrong, the layers of fuzzy noise couldn’t hide the endearing lyrics and vocal harmonies of the girls. Listening to them makes me swoon, go weak at the knees and a little bit fuzzy wuzzy dreamy. I want to be a band, playing with my best friends. I’ve already got the bangs I just need the skills.

For all their low-fi sensibilities, the Vivian Girls can play their instruments with ease. Katy Kickball plucks the bass and grooves, the small lamps throw up her gigantic shadow on the wall behind, like a dancing spectre. Cassie’s head drops and nods at times, her fingers fretting quickly.

Despite there being nothing extra visually than the three girls, they made for a mesmerising set. The highlight of the show, saw the girls gather around one mic and perform an acapella version of The Chantels “He’s Gone”. Accompanied only by two tambourines, hand-claps and the silence of the crowd it was an unexpected treat which was pitch perfect and wouldn’t have been out of place in the bible belt on a Sunday.

(Polaroid image from The Vivian Girls’ website)

By: Dearbhaile Kitt, 03.02.2010 | Comments (0)
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New Feature: MEN heat up Soho

A week ago, some friends and I went along to Madame Jojo’s to catch the awesome MEN. Of course, we were all big fans of Le Tigre so were excited to see what JD Samson and her MEN could pull out of the bag. Let’s just say, we came away from Madame Jojo’s that night absolutely smitten!

Damn-fine illustrator and music writer, Thomas Leadbetter was part of out happy little gang that night – and he was super-eager to review the gig! Read his fantastic full review, and see pics of the performance, here.

My personal highlight of the night was Credit-Card Babie$, so I just thought I’d share this video I found of the band performing an acoustic version of that track. The pared down nature of this version really emphasises the sweetness of the song… despite all the ‘fuck’s and ‘cock’s flying around!

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.01.2010 | Comments (0)
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MTV worries me… part 3; Putting Women in Cages

What is it with women in cages? Seriously. Is this supposed to be sexy? Clearly it is, otherwise the media wouldn’t keep doing it. But why is it supposed to be sexy? What’s wrong with people!?

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By: Sarah Barnes, 03.12.2009 | Comments (1)
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Talent Spotlight – Stephanie Phillips of ‘Don’t Dance Her Down Boys’

After the demise of Plan B magazine you would be forgiven for thinking that, if you wanted to read a publication that takes female musicians seriously, Borders had little to offer you nowadays. But, never fear, blogs are here! And one blog in particular has recently given me hope for the future of female focused music journalism…

Dont Dance Her Down Boys

Don’t Dance Her Down Boys is ‘a blog run by one woman on a mission to share her love of female musicians and artists with the world’. That one woman is Stephanie Phillips, and her approach to music writing is warm, witty and, importantly, lady loving!

What I especially like about the blog is Stephanie’s totally individual and heart-felt take on music (check out her song of the month entries), a quality that is reminiscent of Riot Grrrl per-zines. She takes the time to dig up old gig and obscure interview footage so that we don’t have to and she also thoughtfully creates virtual mix tapes so that her readers can be aurally tickled whilst reading her words.

It’s obvious the passion and knowledge Stephanie has for her subject, so I couldn’t wait to chat with her more about her blog…

Stephanie Philips

So Stephanie, tell us a bit more about yourself…

I’m 21 and I just graduated from Kingston University where I studied Journalism & English literature. I still live in Kingston Upon Thames. My day job is constantly changing; I work as an administrator at my university careers department for extra cash but I also work part time at myvillage.com as the Events Editor. Ultimately I want to work as a music journalist, which is one of the reasons I made my blog, Don’t Dance Her Down Boys.

What inspired you to start the blog? What are you providing that other media outlets aren’t?

Since my first post I’ve known what I wanted to do with my blog. I’ve always felt that the internet and blogging can be used to show the reader a new way of looking at music; a way that isn’t defined by advertising and sales. With that view in mind I came to the conclusion that many bloggers weren’t using the opportunity and freedom that the internet has given them. They can, say, turn their backs on the status quo, deny their given idols and make their own history, or herstory, but they don’t. This is something I’ve been really interested in and want to examine more through my blog.

You are nearly at the end of your first year of ‘Don’t Dance Her Down Boys’. How has this last year been for you?

Well it’s gone very quickly. It started out pretty rocky. I found it hard to keep posting when it was pretty obvious that no one was reading, but after a while I got into the swing of it and more and more people started to read. It’s still pretty small compared to most blogs about women in music but it’s fine for me. Every comment makes me smile so I would be happy even if I had just one reader.

I guess the biggest thing I have learnt is to persevere even when there doesn’t seem to be anything to gain. Recently I’ve been getting offers from PRs to review CDs and promote events which makes me feel like more than just another blogger.

What has been your proudest moment?

This interview is probably one of my proudest moments and I will be telling everyone about it. My second proudest moment is when I received my first comment. Someone replied to my post about the new rise of women in pop music with a detailed, thoughtful response that made me want to write a thousand more posts.

Who are your favourite bands? Who have inspired you in the past and who are you following at the moment?

This could go on forever, there are so many bands that inspire me in so many ways but I’ll just list my top five.

My favourite artist of all time has to be PJ Harvey, she just makes the world seem a little brighter when she sings. I love Sleater-Kinney’s riffs, high kicks and Corin’s astounding voice. They are the only band where I have high respect for every member. I obviously love Bikini Kill because they were the band that led me to riot grrrl and showed me there was a different way to look, hear and live music. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were my first love. I didn’t care about boys when I was a teenager I just loved Karen’s antics. Last, but not least, I love The Pixies, I have no choice but to love them they inspired every band I loved from the 90s.

Except for one band there is a running theme with my favourite bands; I really love strong powerful women, it’s just my thing.

What are your thoughts on the apparent new upsurge in female fronted outfits at the moment (La Roux, Little Boots, Florence and The Machine…)The media is giving these women plenty of attention, what do you make of it all?

Well it’s interesting you asked this question because I wrote about this strange phenomenon on my blog. While I am proud of these girls individually for making money in a male dominated environment, for women in music as a whole it has not moved things forward at all. There is only so far you can go as a minority (black, female, gay etc.) on a major label in mainstream society. You reach a certain point where your thoughts, beliefs and originality become diluted. For me this is most obvious in the success of Florence and the Machine. She started out as a quirky indie songstress and has now developed to caricature of herself.

I compared this new movement to the Spice Girls and their watered down version of feminism. They would tell girls, myself included, about ‘Girl Power’ and then give them nothing to back it up with. It was all empty promises to sell us their well marketed junk.

My main problem with it is not the girls really but the media for over-hyping them and misconstruing them as the saviours of women in music.

How will you be celebrating the first year anniversary of ‘Don’t Dance Her Down Boys’? Have you got any exciting blog posts coming up for us?

I’m not sure how I would celebrate the first year anniversary. It would be great to have a blogger meet up of all the cool girls I’ve met since starting. In terms of posts there will be a lot more gig reviews, as I have decided I need to do more things I want to do. I love writing comment and analysis pieces, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more in depth features. There will be more pieces on new bands too! I love writing about the old girls but we’ve got to look to the future to show the world what girls can do.

What next for ‘Don’t Dance Her Down Boys’?

Well the next thing I definitely want to do is write a zine. I’m a bit strapped for cash at the moment but I’m just in love with the printed press. Hopefully in the next couple of months I can get started on it. For the blog I think I will just keep going and see how it develops. I have no exact plans for the future, just like I had no real plans when I started.

Lastly, what advice would you give to any women out there thinking of starting up their own blog?

Just do it. Even if it’s just scrambled thoughts or nonsensical stories, just do it. It is a brilliant way for women to express themselves. Outside of the blogging world I’m a very shy person but when I’m blogging nobody knows me and I can say and do what I want. It is also a great way to build up a community. I’ve met quite a few cool girls that I would have never met if it wasn’t for blogging.

Thanks for the inspiration, Stephanie!

Follow Stephanie Phillips on Twitter, and don’t forget to pay a visit (and leave a comment) at Don’t Dance Her Down Boys!

By: Sarah Barnes, 23.11.2009 | Comments (2)
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The (se)X Factor.

I’m not one of these television elitists who thinks the only things worth watching are David Attenborough documentaries and perhaps the news at ten.

Nor am I a music snob who bemoans the insurgence of tv talent show searching for the UK’S  next big pop star.

Okay, okay, I’ll just come right out and say it- I love The X Factor.

X-Factor-Judges-131108

I love the trashy song choices, I love the cheesy dance routines and, for me, the more confetti flying around the stage, the better. I can appreciate a good Leona warble as much as the next person but to be perfectly honest with you, it’s the fully blown novelty acts that usually appeal to my inner diva, and I’m afraid to say that’s Jedward inclusive!

I think one of my favourite aspects of the show, however,  is the judge interaction. I’m all for a bit of panto-banter between Simon and Louis and, heck, I even quite like Dannii  Minogue! I’ll admit to probably being a wee bit in love with Cheryl Cole, but I think the rest of the country are pretty much with me on that one, so no surprises there.

That’s right, I’ ve got love for our X Factor lady judges. However, I can’t help but notice that week by week their outfits are getting more and more ridiculous and also… semi pornographic.

cheryl-172x300

Case in point.

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By: Yasmin Eshref, 20.11.2009 | Comments (1)
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MTV worries me… Part 2; Guns and Sexual Power

Videophone Beyonce Lady Gaga

Two of my very favourite female pop musicians right now have come together to create (okay, okay remix) a dirty great slice of harsh, nasty, catchy hip-pop. Cause for celebration? Yes… and no. (Oh, come on! As if I could leave well alone!)

The song, Video Phone, has been around for a while on Beyonce’s I Am… Sasha Fierce album (of which I am a proud owner!) but it has had a re-vamp with new vocals from Lady Gaga for the album’s re-released Deluxe edition. Now, much as I LOVE Beyonce (and much as the song is sexy and catchy and all that), I’d always found the lyrics of this song hard to swallow.

The lyrics all point to a woman allowing a sexual partner to film her whilst they have sex – “What, you want me naked? If you liking this position you can tape it on your video phone” – so that he can remember her later whenever he watches it.

Beyonce is often portrayed as a powerful woman, which is probably the main reason I like her. But this song feels devoid of power… I mean, as Paris Hilton knows only too well, once you create amateur porn for a boyfriend (and the ‘male character’ in this song seems a lot less long-term, and trust-worthy, than that), your lack of control with the output leaves you in a rather powerless position.

With this song Beyonce (who is always said to have buckets of class) was basically saying that she would pull out some amateur dramatics in the bedroom for any old Tom, Dick or Harry to film on their phone and then wank over later. Before showing it to their friends, probably. And then leaking it onto the internet. Oh, Beyonce… that’s disappointing. (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 17.11.2009 | Comments (1)
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New Feature – Alesha Dixon; How We Came To Love Again

Alesha Dixon's Cinderella Story

As Alesha Dixon’s new single ‘To Love Again’ is released, Heather Kennedy examines Dixon’s modern day Cinderella story to discover how reality television remoulded a fresh, British garage MC to prime-time personality and pop princess;

As the embers cool from her Strictly Come Dancing backlash, Alesha Dixon is fast on her way to becoming a national hero. Her recent appearance on Fearne And… cemented our allegiance to Team Alesha. She exhibited an unassuming warmth which shines like gold dust in the pinched and neurotic world of celebrity. But if you’re hoping to find any of this inviolable charm in her new single To Love Again, it’ll be a quest in vain. The single, released today (Sunday 15th of November) is likely to do well, given its timely arrival at a point when our affection for Alesha is undergoing such an ascendance. And it’s in spite of this affection that I find grounds for lament; I’m of course talking about her transition from plucky garage MC, backbone of Mis Teeq to pedlar of the musically mundane.

Read the full article here.

(Illustration by Sarah Barnes)

By: Sarah Barnes, 15.11.2009 | Comments (0)
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