INTERVIEW: BIG JOANIE | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Big Joanie’s succinct raison d’être “we’re a black, feminist, punk band from London” encapsulates punk’s characteristic brevity. This is reflected in the stripped-back sonic approach showcased on the trio’s debut album Sistahs, released last year to widespread acclaim as part of Thurston Moore’s Daydream Library series. Since then, they’ve toured extensively, a highlight of which was supporting Bikini Kill on both of their UK shows at Brixton Academy in June. Singer and guitarist Steph Philips confesses: “They were a really big influence on me when I first got into punk at 15.” Acknowledging the importance of their Riot Grrrl foremothers in exposing her to feminism, she explains: “I didn’t really know anything about feminism at the time, but through listening to their musical references I’d find out about other bands, and it expanded my mind to the point that I didn’t even realise it would be weird to be a woman in a band.”

Taking inspiration from the band’s ‘manifesto-type songs’, Philips is blunt about the necessity of Big Joanie’s purpose; having initially formed the band to play at London’s First Timers (an inclusive music festival where all of the acts perform for the first time), she states “the reason Big Joanie started is to create a space for black women.” Contemplating the relationship between the band’s identity and their music, Philips says: “We can’t be a band and not be a black feminist band; that filters through in everything that we’re doing.” Yet, she affirms that ultimately Big Joanie’s sound is “about telling the truth about your life, beyond the context of what someone else knows of you.”

We can’t be a band and not be a black feminist band; that filters through in everything that we’re doing

Sistahs features a range of beguiling compositions, lyrically intimate and often humorous in tone, set against jangling, discordant post-punk grooves. Tracks like Fall Asleep and Used To Be Friends evoke both 60s girl groups and The Raincoats. As the band’s principal songwriter, Philips resists tendencies towards overtly ‘political’ music. “I don’t necessarily set out with any particular idea or topic that I want to explore,” she confesses, “it’s about the process rather than the end goal.” Having completed a songwriting residency at Sage Gateshead this summer as part of the annual Summer Studios programme, Philips enthuses that they’re keen to return to the region for their debut Newcastle show at The Cluny’s Brave Exhibitions festival, where they’ll perform on Friday 15th November.

Despite having emerged as one of the most singular and engaging of those operating under the punk moniker in recent years, Philips is aware that in staying true to the minimal ethos of punk (in employing a sparse Jesus & Mary Chain-inspired drum setup) the band’s sonic approach might challenge people’s idea of what a band should look like or sound like. Yet, as she rightly insists, “you can over-analyse things sometimes, or you can just do things because they’re good – that’s the main reason to do anything really.”

In the historically under-represented tradition of black punk music, Philips cites Poly Styrene as an inspiration. But in consideration of Big Joanie’s own significance, she says: “It’s out of our hands how people remember us and how people see the work we create. I think you always want your work to be remembered and you always want your work to be taken seriously,” she confidently concludes, “but if it was taken as seriously as those kinds of artists that we love and are inspired by that would be amazing.”

Big Joanie play Brave Exhibitions festival at The Cluny, Newcastle on Friday 15th November




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