INTERVIEW: How Team Dresch is Living the Dream

Team Dresch pulls a fan on stage to sing “Hate The Christian Right” at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Before Team Dresch performs their 1995 anthem “Hate the Christian Right” at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer last week, singer and guitarist Jody Bleyle pulls a longtime fan from the crowd on stage. 

As the queercore legends get ready to rip into the next song on their long-awaited reunion tour, the fan – Marlene – yells into the microphone, breathless: “I want you all to know… Dreams do come true.” Seconds later, she’s dancing on stage, playing air guitar back-to-back with Kaia Wilson, screaming the decades-old (yet still relevant) anti-authoritarian lyrics: “You never wanted to care/You kill, you kill, you kill!”

Reunion is in the air these days  – there was Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, and now, Team Dresch. As someone who spent the Riot Grrrl movement in diapers, I sometimes feel like the significance of these “triumphant returns” is lost on me. In the crowd, I listen to queer punks wax poetic about how it felt to discover Team Dresch – an all-lesbian punk band – in the ’90s, and how surreal it is to see them perform so many years later (only this time, they had to pay for babysitters). Whether you’re an old fan or a newbie, Team Dresch shreds – but now, a week after the show, I’m most affected by how it felt to watch Marlene’s “dream” come true – to see someone derive so much pure joy from the love of music.

Team Dresch plays Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

I find myself feeling jaded these days, which is worrisome, because I’m only as old as Team Dresch’s second record, Captain My Captain (1996). I work at an art museum – something I’ve dreamed of for all of my life – yet, something feels off when I listen to my coworker tell me about her exciting visit to another gallery last weekend. 

“Do you ever get tired of going to museums?” I ask her. “Since, you know, we spend so much time in one?”

“Oh, god no,” she says. 

It’s not that I’ve lost my passion (just recently, a Bruce Naumann sculpture made me openly weep). It’s just that the older I get, I find myself less excited about the things that I love so fiercely. I’m terrified. I used to line up outside of concert venues hours early, yet now, going to shows can feel like a chore, no matter how much I still do – and always will – love music. 

This is on my mind when Des Ark opens the show, reluctantly coming out of a sort-of-retirement as an homage to Team Dresch, a band that frontperson Aimée Argote credits with “saving [her] life.”

After years of touring – pushing through the physical and mental toll of being a full-time punk musician – Argote woke up one day in 2016 and realized she was burnt out. She tells IndyWeek, “I sat up and was like, it’s gone. It’s gone. It’s gone. That thing that you have inside of you that says, go to work, make music, do your thing. There’s nothing there.” Despite leaving the precarious, unrewarding lifestyle of punk rock behind, Argote’s appreciation for her longtime idols was still enough to get back on stage for one last mini-tour before she quits music for good.

Des Ark performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

What must it be like to achieve “the dream” – to “make it” in music, develop a fan base, and perform night after night – only to discover that in this dream, something indiscernible feels wrong, and it’s kind of a relief to wake up in the morning? What does it mean that, for Marlene, the dream is to get on stage just once, yet for Aimée, living the same dream night after night isn’t as glorious as it seems? Is our collective dream – of spending day after day surrounded by our passions – one that deteriorates as you approach it, like when you get to the best part of your dream, only to wake up suddenly? 

During Des Ark’s set, Aimée Argote takes a moment to preface “Ashley’s Song,” a song about processing a sexual assault. The crowd is silent as Argote explains the pain of telling people what happened. Then, a voice shouts from the back of the room: “We believe you.” 

What’s so special about the bands who played that night – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – is that, if you’re a fan, you’re probably not an asshole. So, if you showed up to their gig, you’re probably not an asshole. And maybe “the dream” isn’t so much about the music itself, but rather, the dream is to spend as much time as we can with people who aren’t assholes. 

Jody Bleyle says: “Every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show.” 

It’s tempting to view Des Ark’s farewell and Team Dresch’s reunion in contrast with one another, but they aren’t. Maybe the dream, like any progress, is not linear, nor is it static – I sympathize with Argote’s decision to leave music, especially given the misogyny that still infects even the most “alternative” of spaces. Even Bleyle openly admits: “Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock.” Yet at the same time, even decades after their emergence, I feel immensely relieved to have a band like Team Dresch back on the road and recording a new album. We need more bands like Team Dresch (and Screaming Females, and Des Ark) in our lives to remind us of why we fell in love with music in the first place, and why every once in a while – even if you’re exhausted from the 9-to-5 grind – it’s worth it to get yourself out to a show.

When Marlene tells us, her fellow fans, that dreams come true, maybe she doesn’t mean that all of us will one day get to perform on stage with our favorite bands. Maybe the dream is more simple: to merely surround ourselves with the right people. And thank god that some bands have a knack for bringing the right people together.

Team Dresch performing at Union Transfer. All photos by Amanda Silberling.

Find the rest of Audiofemme’s chat with Jody Bleyle and Donna Dresch below

AF: What was your dream when Team Dresch began, and how has that changed after deciding to record another album after 23 years?

JB: I feel like, to me, the dream is similar to what it was when we started the band when we were younger, which was just… the need to find similar people, the need to find dykes to play music with, and not just any music, but the kind of music that I love. I think we all felt like we needed to find people that really, we could relate to, in terms of loving the same bands, in the way that you have that burning desire, but also dykes. It really felt like life or death. Like, “I don’t know how I’m going to move forward into life if I don’t find this.” And it doesn’t feel like that anymore, but it feels like the dream is the same in terms of just wanting to be with these people – wanting to play music with these people, having that be such a big part of being able to be happy, and feel good about yourself in the world. It’s definitely not about anything more than just wanting to connect with people, and being able to play shows, and being able to connect with everybody who comes to the show. 

AF: Each band on the lineup – Team Dresch, Screaming Females, and Des Ark – really did seem to have a knack for connecting with the audience. It was such an emotional moment when Des Ark introduced “Ashley’s Song,” and she was talking about coming to terms with an assault, and someone shouted, “We believe you.”

JB: Let’s assume that most people in that room have people at this point in our lives who believe us, but to have that next level where you’re in a room with some people that you know, but mostly strangers, who you can have that same feeling of intimacy and connection with – it’s just so deeply powerful and comforting. I don’t know, every night I feel like I get more inspiration to just continue… being alive, but also just doing the work of being a person in the world that is on the left, and a freak, and fighting fascism, and having to live in this world that we’re living in right now, going into the streets, fighting climate change… All the shit we have to do day to day when you’re not at a show. It’s hard! It’s crazy! 

AF: It’s tempting to say that all these bands from the Riot Grrrl era are reuniting because of who is President now, but I think they would have reunited either way, because there is always something to fight for. 

JB: It’s all the same river, and we’re all in it together. It never ends. Sometimes, people will talk to us and be like, “Can you believe that we’re still fighting the Christian right?” but you know, it never ends – the struggles to be seen, and help other people… It’s been going on for thousands of years, and it will keep going on. It’s in the river. 

AF: Is it weird to go between a day job and punk rock?

DD: I like my day job! I go there every day! 

JB: I like my day job too. I don’t mind the balance, like… your life might not be exactly as you planned that it would be or whatever, I don’t know. As I got older, I personally started to really feel like I really needed and appreciated having balance in my life, of different things. It’s always a question of figuring out how much I need at a minimum of which different things, and to just kind of keep it all in balance, you know? Like, I don’t have to play music with Team Dresch every day of the year, but if I didn’t play at all, I’d be really sad. But I like having my day job too, because, I don’t know, when I was only playing rock, it drove me over the edge. I’d already had two surgeries from rock music by the time I was 26, and I was like, “Whoa, I’m not going to make it!” And I have kids, and I really appreciate being home with them. I think it would be really hard. Even in my other job, I don’t choose to travel, so I feel like I have a good balance going, and I think a lot of people as they get older appreciate that balance, because there’s always going to be more than one thing in your life. Although, at that age, I do remember being like… You just give your life to music and nothing else matters. Your health doesn’t matter, your girlfriend doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter whether you have kids… It doesn’t matter if you die by the time you’re 29. Nothing matters but writing the next song. But then you’re like, you know what else is fun? Buying a down comforter and having a really cozy bed. 

AF: Full-time rock is hard!

JB: Mental health issues drove me away from full-time rock. 

AF: Was it difficult to bring the band back together?

DD: We hang out all the time anyway. This is my family. If I need to talk to my best friend, I call Jody. We get together, like, one of us has an idea like, “I want to play in Brazil,” and once a year, every other year, we learn the songs again and play them.

AF: Now that you’re recording a new album, what have you learned since the last record you released? 

JB: We learned a lot of things that you just learn as you get older. We have to be patient with each other, we have to practice with each other and understand who we are and respect each other. We have to be better with our communicating, we have to be better with our boundaries, and we have to learn things that lucky people learn when they’re 14, but we learn when we’re in our mid-to-late 30s, possibly 40s. Of course, taking a break, you appreciate it more – because we don’t play full time, we don’t take it for granted. It’s so special to get to play these shows with people. It’s so incredible to hear people sing songs you wrote, to have people give you the love they say you’ve given them… It’s incredible. We’re really lucky.


When Push Comes to Shove: Etiquette in the Mosh Pit

The live music experience is a major part of music fandom, and anyone who attends concerts regularly can attest that there’s an unspoken sense in the air of how to behave and interact with one another at most shows. In venues of any size, hosting any band, of any genre, there is simple etiquette that one makes a contract to uphold as soon as they enter the venue’s doors. Sometimes though, for whatever reason, folks in the audience just don’t get the message, ignoring body language, personal space, and common decency, which can make for an unpleasant experience for everyone around. Here, we lay out the do’s and don’ts of show-going, explicitly stating that unspoken language once and for all.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

First, let’s go through some of the people you may encounter at shows. This does not go for all shows or all genres, but as a photographer and writer who covers live music often, I’ve become familiar with certain types of folks I often share space with. It’s important to identify these people so you know how to deal with them at your next show.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

Here With Friends

This person is typically just along for the ride, more than likely traveling in a pack and sticking with them through the entirety of the show. These people are generally harmless – just be on the lookout if they start to hype each other up a bit too much throughout the band’s set. But even that is better than a big clump of people only there to shmooze, who talk throughout the show about things unrelated to music – especially if the set is quiet. Though they may not talk to anybody else in the crowd, random conversations can be distracting; if it seems like this is going to be the case, seek refuge away from the group.

Die-Hard Fan

If the show is at a larger venue or is a really noted act, you might get those die-hard fans who will go early and wait in long lines to see their favorite band from a prime position. They will be at the front of the stage, screaming every lyric of every song, their unconditional love for whatever act they’re seeing undoubtedly noted by the freshly-purchased merchandise they’re wearing or some attempt to drop random facts about the act between songs. They may get wild, but it’s all for love of the music – generally you can count on this person to promote positive vibes in the folks around them, whether they’re alone or with a friend.

Wacky Flailing Arm Inflatable Tube Man

You will probably see this person in the middle of the venue, as they are often a part of the pit – maybe even the pit starter. Common at hardcore, punk, and even certain types of hip-hop shows, they flail their arms and legs all over the place to build a circle around them and are not to be reckoned or reasoned with. If they’re getting a pit started that you don’t want to be involved in, try and stay safe while giving them space to do their thing. It’s a little more awkward when someone’s just flailing for no apparent reason, but oftentimes these are the people who will be most offended when confronted, so subtle glaring or switching up your spot is all you can really do.

IPA Dude

Outside of shows, you’ll see this person at bars, at coffee shops, at Whole Foods, or walking across the street with their fixed-gear bike. They hold on to their beer like it’s their lifeline and probably won’t stray far from the bar of the venue so they’re able to order again quickly. If they’re not already friends with the bartender, they will be by night’s end, and will hopefully remain chill even if they have one or two too many. They might be very vocal with their opinions on beer, coffee, or even the music, but they can be cool to hang around with if you just want to enjoy your time by the bar, removed from the crowd.

Arms on Lockdown

Similar to IPA Dude, this person is very chill. Usually coming by themselves, they keep their arms and legs to themselves and inside of the ride at all times. They’re just there to enjoy the music, and not be bothered. Just like a bee, if you leave them alone, they’ll be harmless, but it’s likely they take things very seriously – seriously enough that if they’re standing next to Wacky Flailing Arm Inflatable Tube Man or a group of loud talkers there might be a showdown.

Surf’s Up!

We all know those who crowd surf. It is a sport and a gift to those who are comfortable enough to be lifted up by complete strangers and passed along sweaty palms to prove their love and joy of the band. Sometimes they barrel to the front to jump off the stage and into the crowd; other times, they’ll get bystanders to hoist them up and surf toward the stage. They may not appear so before the opening song, but those first few riffs transform them into a thrill-seeker. Once they’re up, it’s hard for them to control where they go or what they’re doing with their own limbs, so if you’re anywhere in their path, stay alert! Doc Martens to the forehead do not feel good.

The Photographer

As a photographer myself, I’ll say this: even though some of us are working, we are just fanatical as anyone else. We typically love the bands we shoot, we love the thrill of a live act, and we love to document that. We have to be near the stage to get good shots, and with that comes some risks. We dodge crowd surfers, flailing arm people, pit-pushers, and more, often with expensive equipment that we’d prefer not to break. A good photographer shouldn’t distract you from the main act – most will get in and get out once they’ve got what they need. If you’re near an amateur with an iPhone who sees a need to record video of every song in its entirety, that’s another story – politely remind them that they’re blocking your view when they do that and ask them to keep documenting the event to a minimum, and hope that they’ll oblige.

Push Pops

At some shows, there may the tamer cousin to the mosh pit – the push pit. The push pit mostly contains people jumping up and down and having a good time. It is a uniform mass and is easy to get in and out of. Those who decide to be a part of this mass are usually not aggressive, but have a gigantic love and appreciation for the band, and let that excitement show with high-energy movements. Joining in can be really fun, and it’s great cardio too!

Photo by Sarah Knoll

Needless to say, a crowd encompasses many types of people, and works almost like its own organism, reacting to the same stimuli. No matter what type describes your own show-going persona, there is some behavioral protocol that should be followed when attending a show. We all want to enjoy the experience, get our money’s worth, and leave happy. But one or two unpleasant folks can sour the mood for everyone, instead bringing negativity and sometimes even danger to the audience around them. Here are some best practices to be conscious of when you’re at a show.

Most importantly: R-E-S-P-E-C-T isn’t just a song by Aretha Franklin (RIP), it’s something that everyone in general life should exhibit, both spoken and silent. In the close quarters of a sold-out venue, this goes double, and the easiest way to tell if a given behavior is acceptable is to look around you. Observe the crowd – if no one’s dancing or moving around at all, it’s probably not an appropriate time to start up a pit and start pushing people around. Though it seems like common sense, unfortunately, some people are lacking of that.

Respect also comes in the form of respecting physical boundaries. Although sometimes show-goers are packed like sardines into a venue, it does not mean that someone should be touched without permission and personal space should always be 100% respected, as best you can. Even a tap on the shoulder can make someone feel uncomfortable, and shoving people aside to get a spot in front of the band is pretty rude. If someone’s in the pit it’s probably safe to say they’re open to the types of touching that come along with that, but – especially for people in the pit periphery who aren’t active participants, keep your hands to yourself.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

The pit can be an amazing experience to be a part of, but it’s also a complicated one. Unfortunately, the pit is heavily dependent on social cues, therefore communication can be misinterpreted. For the most part, even folks who appear aggressive want everyone to have a good time too, and there’s a good deal of helping people up when they fall or doing some protective pushing around smaller moshers.

If you do not want to participate in jumping around, possible pushing, fist-pumping or any of that action, it is recommended that you find a small space where you will not be affected by said pit. Standing along the wall or in corners is a great option as these provide pockets of space where the pit will more than likely not open up, yet you’re able to see the action both on stage and off. If someone keeps pushing you or trying to throw you into the pit from the sides, feel free to tell them to back off, but don’t act hostile about it since you don’t want to start beef with someone who can put you in harm’s way.  If you’re not dying to see the act up and close, going to the back of the venue can put you in the arms of safety. It allows you to be close to the exits and possibly the bar, so you don’t have to interact with the pit people at all.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

If you’re going into the pit, don’t do anything more aggressive than you’d want done to you. If you don’t want to get punched, don’t punch people. It’s as simple as that. It’s sad that this has to be said, but countless times, people have been more aggressive than they need to be. If you’re in a pit and other people are knocking into each other and pushing around, cool. But if people are starting to grab one another by their shirts, push people down to the ground or grab anyone to the point where that person is out of control, don’t hesitate to notify someone. A lot of shows at bigger venues have competent security. Some bands have even been known to call out bad behavior they see in the audience. But whether it’s happening to you or someone nearby, don’t just do nothing. The more aware that people are about a potentially violent or offensive person, the safer that environment can be.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

Be observant of the venue around you, too. Be aware that the space needed for a pit can push other people into uncomfortable nooks and crannies. Assess your space before you decide to flail your arms everywhere or bring the pit further into the back or sides of the venue. Sometimes it’s appropriate and other times it’s not.

The pit can be a unique and fun experience if people can observe behavior and assess before they act. It takes at most five seconds to turn around and look at the people to your left and right and anticipate their next move. You’d do the same if you’re about to turn a corner on a street, so bring those same principles to a show.

Be a Conscious Observer. 

Safety should always be your main concern, even if that doesn’t seem “cool.” Observe and assess your surroundings; with violent events at concerts on the rise, it’s important to know where to go in case of emergency. Also, don’t be afraid to say hello to whoever is nearby you, and make sure they are aware of your presence. Whether offering a simple wave or friendly eye contact, noting your neighbors may help you in the long run if something were to happen, and even if nothing does, you might make a new friend.

It’s also important to note other people’s behaviors. Pit or no pit, some people may act in an unruly or uncomfortable way that can not only effect yourself, but other people in the crowd. Don’t be afraid to speak up if someone is making you or another person uncomfortable. Talk to the bartender, security, someone next to you, the box office attendant, even the band. Try to prevent a person from doing something potentially threatening and dangerous without direct conflict.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

Don’t Be An Asshole.

Pit ettiquette boils down to that one simple phrase. If you wouldn’t want it done to yourself, don’t do it. It’s very easy to be nice, but’s also easy to cross that line when you’re in the midst of your favorite song.

Courtesy extends to the bands providing the music; unless they have asked for requests, don’t heckle them with suggestions for their set list. Bands put time and thought into crafting their set list and try to get a good range of music played to make their audience happy. Sorry if that one obscure song from their very first album wasn’t played – ask yourself if you really wanted to hear it, or if you’re just posturing for those around you so that they know what a longtime fan you’ve been (FYI: no one cares, and true fans come to hear what the band is interested in playing). At the end of the day, though the band is hopefully grateful to have an audience to play for, it’s also an opportunity to play what they’re excited to play, and recycling the same old tunes can get boring on a long tour. Just because you paid money to see them perform does not give you the right to dictate how and what they should play.

Here’s an important one, if you are tall. Please. Let. Short. People. FORWARD. If you’re plagued with the short gene like I am (I’m 5’1”) then it can become difficult to see the band through a sliver of space between two people who are much taller than you, and no one wants to stare at someone’s shoulders and neck all night.

Photo by Sarah Knoll

Bottom line: show-goers want to get the most out of the shows that they go to, and the bands that play want to see their audience have fun. If “fun” entails pushing people around in a mosh pit all night for some, and standing by the bar with arms crossed for others, remember: there’s room for all types of fandom, but all are governed by a golden rule. It’s easy to be nice, so why not do it? You’re there for the music, sure – but also for the experience of being in the midst of a living, breathing crowd, so taking it all in and putting out positivity in turn is the best way to make sure everyone has a blast.