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How to start a fierce all-girl punk band

Dream Nails talk to us about the importance of punk as an outlet for women and share tips on how to start your own noisy feminist revolution

Ever dreamed of starting a punk band? That crazy, raw and radical look of freedom that rockers, such as Katharine Hanna and Patti Smith, embody is something to be envied. But, Dream Nails, also has a political push that’ll send any audience member reeling. Although, the power that comes from the song “DIY” is unsurprising when we find out that the affirmations towards the end were inspired by band member Janey’s experience working with survivors of sexual violence. According to her, “When I sing ‘DIY’, I’m singing for every woman and non-binary person who has lost their self-belief and needs to be reminded of how unstoppable they really are”. And, as her lyrical and passionate shouts come out, you certainly feel moved with the belief that you are good enough.

And, well, if you don’t end up feeling empowered by their strong message, you'll be pleased to know that they are also self-confessed witches! But, we found out, charms aren’t their only talent. Prior to launching their EP, which can now be found on Bandcamp, the band also went back to basics and made a print copy zine that gives us some tips on starting on our feminist punk group. After seeing how gorgeous it was, we wanted to find more (and show you some of it, too).

Can you describe your musical style.

Janey: Energetic riot grrl punk with creamy harmonies. If our music was a person you fancied they would always text you back, with inventive emoji sequences. 

Lucy: Bang it, crash it, smash it.

Anya: We don’t write songs, we write hexes... 

Emmett: ... instilled with the power of manon.

How did all of you get together and where can we find our own feminist musical crew?

Janey: Anya, Emmett and I met through our involvement in a feminist direct action group, which meant that we’re all pretty loud and share a lot of similar views, opinions and anger. We bonded through that, and decided to set up a band!

Lucy: I had been on the peripheries of that same group for a while, but our stars finally and blissfully aligned when I replied to their lonely hearts’ post on a really great Facebook group. 

Emmett: The internet’s a really good place to start! It’s amazing how easy it is to connect now with people who are into the same stuff as you these days.

Anya: Exactly, there are loads of Facebook community groups like Riot Grrrl UK and Loud Women, and also Gumtree is a really useful resource for finding musicians.  Also, if you’re totally new to playing in bands, there is an excellent project called First Timers, where you meet people to form bands with and all play your first gig together. Big Joanie started that way.

How did you all come up with the name Dream Nails?

Anya: We’d debated what our name should be for months. Then I was cycling home late and a nail salon called Dream Nails was all lit up on the dark street.

Lucy: I couldn’t top Dream Nails – it sounds like a creepy mistranslation and that’s why I love it. I think that corruptions of the kind of idealised language that clouds our perception of the female body is a fun place to start.

Emmett: To be honest, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer this as I genuinely wanted to call our band Pregnant. All so we could say ‘Hi, we’re pregnant!’ onstage. It was struck down pretty quickly. But if I ever get a side project going…

Janey: I would actually still like to be called Pregnant! Emmett and I were really pushing for Pregnant but we got veto’d!! Coming up with a name is really difficult, more difficult than writing the actual music!

What should be our first step in starting a feminist punk band?

Janey: Think about your message and focus on that. Don’t get distracted by fearful thoughts about what people will think of you. You have important things to say, and they’re bigger and more important than you are, so bite the bullet and go for it. 

Lucy: Don’t ever let a lack of belief in your technical ability stop you from starting a band. You’re better than you think you are, and you can make powerful music with whatever skill-level and resources you have available to you. I really believe this. I taught myself with YouTube drum tutorials and my own body parts before I managed to get a real kit.

Anya: Yeah, when you’re getting hold of an instrument and learning how to coax a few sounds out of it, there are some great resources around like Tom Tom Magazine (for female drummers), She Shreds Magazine (for female guitarists and bassists) and you can also use guitar tab websites to work out how your favourite songs are put together. In our zine that comes with the EP, there’s a how-to guide for starting a punk band, written by our first drummer Judith. It pretty much covers everything – from finding like-minded people to getting through the hellish ordeal that is your first soundcheck.  

What does punk mean to you?

Janey: As a woman, punk is a way to express anger about all the violence and bullshit you’re told to quietly swallow for your whole life, both on an individual and systemic level. We started this band because we needed a place to release our anger at the hostile world we live in, and we started playing gigs because we wanted to create spaces for other women to be angry in public. Instead of letting our anger and sadness destroy us from within, we channel it right back at a world that tries to crush us. Women’s anger is so powerful but is trampled on and shamed. When we’re not able to express it, we just end up turning in on ourselves. Being able to express anger, collectively, is a powerful and healing thing. Within the toxic minefield of feminine respectability that women are placed within, punk is a political act.

Emmett: Yeah, I think punk is just about being who you want to be and not giving a fuck about what other people want you to be. I mean it’s unrealistic to not give a fuck about other people’s opinions the whole time, cause naturally that’s just something we all do – but punk can be a kind of liberation from that, and a way to have fun, subvert bullshit norms, and as Janey said, reclaim some agency.

Anya: And, to be fair, playing punk lets me stand up there with the rest of Dream Nails, overdrive my guitar as far as it will go and play our songs really, really loud... 

Lucy: Playing the drums, and playing punk as an extension of this, continues to be one of the only occasions in my life whereby I feel confident making a really loud noise – unabashed and unapologetic. I want our confidence to energise the people in the space that we’re playing in.

“As a woman, punk is a way to express anger about all the violence and bullshit you’re told to quietly swallow for your whole life, both on an individual and systemic level” – Janey, Dream Nails

The idea of music as a form of protest isn’t something people speak about much. do you think music can be a form of resistance?

Janey: Resistance comes in all forms and on all scales - whether it’s a woman calling out sexual harassment, women barricading the doors of the Treasury to protest cuts to domestic violence services or a woman standing up and singing about her experience of sexual violence. Creative resistance, in particular, has an amazing power to build communities and shared spaces for people to come together, and music definitely does this.

Anya: Feminist resistance has such a rich relationship with music, with protest music, but this history is so often erased. In the 1970s My mum and her friends were in one of the first feminist rock bands called the Stepney Sisters. They played powerful feminist songs about having ownership over your own body, empowerment, and the sisterhood...they even had a zine, just like ours. I find it really inspiring. 

Lucy: There’s an Emma Goldman (early 20th century American radical and feminist) “quote” that’s something like: “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution”. Apparently this is a misquote or a paraphrase, but nonetheless, it really chimes with this belief that if acts of resistance don’t create a space for creativity and joyous abandon, they will never meaningfully gather momentum, or ever fully realise their revolutionary potential. Music energises us all, punk even more so. 

Where did you get the inspiration from for the songs on your EP?

Janey: The affirmations at the end of “DIY” (“you are good enough”, “you are strong enough”, “you are smart enough”) come from my time supporting survivors of domestic violence. Survivors of domestic violence have had their self-confidence completely smashed to pieces, and after leaving perpetrators there is still so much recovery to be done. I used to run group sessions with survivors, which was a space for them to meet while they were building their lives and families back up from scratch, and my favourite part of the course was near the end – after processing all the abuse, we focused on self-confidence (or at least removing self-doubt). After years of being told you’re stupid, weak and worthless, telling yourself “you are good enough” seems almost impossible, but was totally transformative. Affirmations are magical like that. When I sing DIY, I’m singing for every woman and non-binary person who has lost their self-belief and needs to be reminded of how unstoppable they really are.

Anya: “Bully Girl” is based on a girl I used to know at school who I got into fights with. She genuinely stabbed me in the head with a pair of scissors near the vending machines but I always was fascinated by her and our strange almost-friendship.

Emmett: “Deep Heat” was written after one of my friends got a case of ‘chilli dick’, where he was cooking with hot sauce and then went to piss. It played out in front of me and he was in excruciating pain. I didn’t want him to be in pain but I started thinking that it would be a great curse to place on enemies. “Deep Heat” is our curse song. If you get on the wrong side of any of us, it goes out to you… 

Janey: “Not About You’ is about unsolicited men's opinions on matters that don't concern them, and on matters where their input is neither welcome or useful. So this is basically a generic song about most men’s opinions. I think all women can relate to this song – I sing it in my head all the time, especially when men are commenting on feminist protest tactics (“have you tried being less angry? That would work better” SHUT UP!!!)

If you want to see these ladies in action and pick up a copy of their beautiful zine, head down to their gig this Saturday at London's Shacklewell Arms, details here