Audiofemme’s Own Mandy Brownholtz Set to Release Debut DIY Novel Rotten

Photo Credit: Megan Rainwater

“I’ve spent my whole career promoting other people’s work,” says Mandy Brownholtz. “Now I’m in this position where I have to talk about myself and things that I’ve created; it’s this peek into my brain that I’ve never really allowed people to have, and it’s scary.” Brownholtz has certainly been indispensable to us here at Audiofemme, coming on board in 2017 to write album reviews, eventually expanding her incisive music coverage into her role as our Marketing Director after working for some of Brooklyn’s best known concert promoters. But this week, Brownholtz has announced her own epic endeavor – her self-published debut novel Rotten (edited by yours truly) is now available for pre-order, with limited-edition physical copies and some extra swag shipping June 22.

“This book is very, very personal to me, and the fact that I’m putting it out in the world for everybody to consume and have opinions about, it’s a lot of nerves,” she adds. “But nerves indicate that what you’re doing is important and that you care about what you’re doing. Nerves are a good thing.”

Rotten is a story that’s overdue to be told in fictional format. Set in Washington DC’s DIY scene – the same scene where Brownholtz came of age and cut her teeth in the industry, working at the legendary 9:30 Club – the story centers the experiences of freelance writer Viv Taylor, a hapless, haunted early-20-something tasked by City Paper with chronicling the history of Fort Rotten, the kind of party house that anyone who’s been to a basement show anywhere in the United States will recognize. But she has a complicated history with the venue and its residents – including one who sexually assaulted her during a night of hard partying. Grappling with the trauma of that event in a series as flashbacks, as well as the difficult childhood that led her to seek out “people who smelled bad and wore leather in ninety degree weather; ones with pieces of metal lodged in their faces and relentless tinnitus,” there are simply too many women who will find Viv’s story relatable, even if the specific setting is new to them.

“I wanted to write this book for women who have experienced these types of things. I wanted them to feel seen and I feel like I’ve succeeded in that, because almost every woman I know has a story like this and every woman I know that’s read it has been like, this really spoke to me and it resonated with me,” says Brownholtz. It’s been through many iterations – the setting evolved from a webseries she was working on in an MFA screenwriting class, and in its first form as a novel was more conceptual, examining the illusion of choice for women from all walks of life in a country that had just elected Donald Trump.

“I was mad. Everybody was mad; there were like five million things to be mad about. But I wanted to examine what choice and consent really mean when you’re making a choice based off of these circumstances that oftentimes you have no control over,” Brownholtz recalls. “And what really kind of put the idea in my head was that after Donald Trump became president I went and got an IUD, because [women] were like, ‘We’re all gonna lose our birth control!’ And the IUD was not good for me. I went and did this thing that I didn’t really wanna do, I made this ‘choice’ that I didn’t really wanna make, because I thought that I didn’t have a better choice.”

Combining these ideas, and interrogating free will from the perspective of a vulnerable young girl exploring her city’s tight-knit DIY scene, proved to be a perfect vehicle for Brownholtz to introduce herself as a novelist. Building on her own experiences and that of friends adds a layer of authenticity and dark humor to the accurate portrait she renders in Rotten – not just of the DIY scene itself, but also to the archetypes that populate millennials’ lives.

“I wanted it to be as much about what it feels like to be in your early twenties right now – the sexual politics of it, the confusion, and our struggle to communicate in a good way – as it was about heavy #MeToo stuff,” Brownholtz explains. And if you’re a Boomer who’s never been in a basement mosh pit, well, “that’s what fiction’s about – transporting you to a world that you normally wouldn’t have access to.”

Brownholtz doesn’t see DIY scenes as inherently predatory, though she certainly recognizes that some aspects of the lifestyle can lend themselves to problematic situations just as easily as they can uplift otherwise lost souls. “It’s more intimate. It’s people who know each other very well, it’s relationships and friendships, it’s small and close-knit,” she says. “You’re paying with a crumpled five dollar bill at the door, and it’s about supporting bands that are traveling. It has this heart to it that’s a little different than the corporatized music industry machine.”

Last summer, everyone saw the flipside of that when the Instagram account @lured_by_burger_records outed the wildly popular SoCal tape label/record store as a predatory institution that had harmed dozens of young girls, either through grooming, gatekeeping, or outright assault (in the aftermath, Burger Records folded). Teenagers can hardly be blamed for failing to recognize that the subculture niche they’ve discovered can turn into a trap just as easily, particularly when drugs and alcohol are involved. Though some might feel capable of engaging with adults, the situation can change rapidly or evolve into trauma over time, once they begin to reflect on those years with some maturity.

“When I was seventeen and going to shows in places like [Fort Rotten] and hanging out with people who were a couple years older than me, I didn’t think anything of it. I was like, I’m an adult, I’m grown up. But then you get older and you’re like, wow, it was like mad inappropriate that I was hanging out – I was seventeen, I was a kid!” Brownholtz says. “I think it’s important that young people [have access to DIY] communities because I don’t think I would be the person that I am today if I hadn’t. But we have to somehow achieve this balance between welcoming younger people and making sure that people are not taking advantage of them.”

While the sense of community and creative energy a DIY scene fosters can be positive for the many, it also serves to obfuscate abuse – or potential for abuse – only discussed in whispers, and its perpetrators rarely suffer consequences, especially if they have clout. “It’s uncomfortable for men to have to disrupt their business arrangements, whether it’s something as legit as the Bowery Ballroom or some shitty DIY venue. It’s like, that guy is important, he’ll book my band, so I don’t wanna cause any strife with him – he’s only ever been nice to me,” Brownholtz says, adding that another function of Rotten‘s narrative, hopefully, will be creating insight and empathy in men.

“This book gets pretty cerebral and it’s pretty much in this girl’s head and you’re really seeing her anxieties and her fears and reservations about things,” she says. “I wanted them to see how damaging something can be, that they might think is kind of innocuous, just a ‘misunderstanding.’ It wasn’t a misunderstanding to her, and it’s gonna haunt her for fucking ever. I want them to get in the headspace of understanding that.”

That understanding needs to happen, Brownholtz says, because “men are the solution moving forward. Women getting angry is not gonna do anything but make men defensive. It needs to be men calling out their fucking friends when their friends do disgusting shit or say disgusting things. It needs to be about men shaming other men into line. That is gonna be the saving grace of the music industry.”

Viv Taylor may not be a sympathetic character to all, and that’s what Brownholtz intended. “I wanted her to be imperfect and I wanted her to be, at times, unlikeable. I wanted her to make bad choices because I wanted to show how so many things in our lives that are formative to us are things that we have no control over, like who are parents are, what our family is like, all this stuff. All of those things cause the wounds that cause you to seek out problematic people, that put you into these kind of situations,” Brownholtz says. “I also wanted to emphasize that just because she does kind of suck sometimes and makes bad choices, it doesn’t make her any less deserving of being believed or respected.” She never places the blame on her narrator’s shoulders; instead, we see an arc that turns her from a victim to a local hero as she gains back some of her agency from her abuser, her family relationships, and her friendships to emerge with a more holistic view of herself.

And ultimately, that’s Brownholtz’s personal narrative as well; after small publishers gave positive feedback, but balked at the touchy subject matter, she decided to self-publish. “I was shopping it around and then the pandemic hit,” she says. “It’s hard enough to get a book published as it is – most publishers only put out a couple titles a year. Even if I had gotten in at a small independent publisher, it might not have seen print until like, 2022 or 2023. I’d been working on this book since 2017, and I was like, you know what? I’m just done.”

She enlisted Jonny Campolo (a musician and designer she’d worked with at PopGun Presents, but never met) to put the book together while they were both out of work during lockdown. “Jonny and I shared a very unique vision; since it’s such a small run of books, we wanted them to feel like a nice object, like an art book. It was kind of cool to do it that way because it made it more personal and unique than just using the Amazon self-publish tool,” she says. “I’ve had a couple people be like, I wanna write a novel, and it’s like, okay, so fucking do it. That’s all that writing is – if you sit down and do your pages every day, you’re a writer, even if nobody has published it or read it. It took me a long time to be comfortable referring to myself as a writer because it seems so lofty and kind of silly, but then like it got serious and was like, no, that’s what I do right now. I kind of feel like I’m like bludgeoning myself to some sort of relevance, because I don’t have the MFA or the ‘right’ connections – I’m just sort of forcing my way into people’s heads and making them pay attention to me.”

“Self-publishing was mostly just a result of me getting tired of waiting for someone to give me permission. And tired of waiting for someone to tell me that I’m good enough,” she adds. “I realized that printing a book costs less than pressing a record, and bands press records all the time with no institutional help. More people should just publish their own books; it’s not cheap and I don’t expect to see a complete return on investment. This was an investment in myself, honestly, and it was an investment in my community too.”

Follow Mandy Brownholtz on Instagram and visit her website for ongoing updates.

Bel Marries Avant-Pop and Activism with First Installment of her TRILOGY EP

I first met Bel perched up at the bar of Max Fish on the Lower East Side during the last existing Fashion Week before COVID hit. Clad head to toe in vintage designer clothing, she exuded a unique warmth, juxtaposed with a cerebral demeanor – the encounter was refreshing during a season that can too often feel like a cesspool of egos and expensive handbags. We immediately began discussing her interest in psychology, feminism, her work in music, styling and love for refurbished fashions. Bel exists in a world of her own design – grounded, authentic, unfiltered, and of raw nature. Avoidant of the typical rose colored glasses worn by a fresh Aussie in the Big Apple, she’s real. There’s no veil to hide her imperfections or inner truths. Unashamed and unwilling to compromise in her approach, her ambition echoes like a delicate flame on the cusp of unleashing wildfires.

As a feminist activist and multi-disciplinary artist, Bel creates a striking visual world that accompanies her sonic prose. She decided to pursue music professionally at just sixteen years old. “I bought every book you could imagine on ear training, on classical music theory, to production, to how to make samples and all of these things, and I just went haywire for years,” she recalls. “So by the time I released my first ever song when I was, I think 20 or 21, I already had a pretty good grasp. And since then, it’s just been a work in progress… but I can definitely hold my own in a room.”

Raised by parents in the medical field, with a strong sense of morality, she found the hot air and spinelessness of certain industry personas stifling. “Unfortunately, the music industry does attract a certain type of person with a slightly different moral compass. And that’s just an industry that I’ve chosen to go into, willingly,” she says. “When choosing people to work with, I really am very focused on trying to understand who they are as a person as opposed to their job in the industry.”

Bel began her year with the release of “Better Than Me;” the track’s sleek production and syrupy charm made it a song not just to be listened to, but one to be consumed through all the senses. Marrying the avant-pop and experimental realms, Bel’s second single “Spectre” catapulted her to the forefront of Australia’s female pop ranks. Produced by Konstantin Kersting (Tones and I, The Jungle Giants, Mallrat), “Spectre” was a fearless return from an artist always on the cutting edge of sound and visual artistry. Bel worked on the music video with James Mountford, the creative director for BANKS and Chance The Rapper. The resulting art-house meets fashion film exemplifies Bel’s unique visual artistry and intense introspection, making a comment on the demanding and often misleading nature of the fashion and music industries.

Bel connected with Mountford via Instagram while living in Australia (he’s British, and was living in Los Angeles). Given the distance, Bel says, they had “obviously limited opportunity to work together,” but “just stayed in touch all those years connecting, celebrating each other’s achievements, supporting each other through awkward things, and just made a really nice kinship. When it came to the point where I could actually get myself over to LA, we cleared our schedules and we did it. [When] I first met him in the flesh, it was like I already knew him because we had been speaking for so many years virtually.”

“Spectre” addresses the imbalance of power in the music industry that led Bel to co-found a a network for women, trans and non-binary folks with fellow artist Sarah Wolfe, after Jaguar Jonze and hundreds of others came forward to out a well-known Melbourne-based photographer as a serial abuser. Bel bravely details her own experiences with sexual assault in a powerful essay titled “Unmute Us,” noting that over a thousand artists, managers, producers, publishers, label heads, publicists, journalists, A&R, tour managers, and media lawyers joined her collective in the first week of its existence – obviously, the safe space she’s attempting to create is sorely needed in an industry where toxic dynamics and pressure to immediately bond in sessions with male co-writers and producers foster the boundary-less behavior that quickly escalates to something predatory in nature. Too often, it leaves women – particularly those who are just starting out – feeling inferior, as though they have no place in the industry. “In the piece, I wrote specifically about the psychology of shame, and the psychology of guilt when it comes to these things because we somehow turn it in on ourselves and internalize it when that’s just completely unnecessary, and unsolicited,” Bel points out. “Shame is the universal theme when it comes to dealing with these men; as women we often internalize it and turn it in on ourselves.”

With a newfound sense of empowerment, Bel is ready to take on her next project – a three-EP trilogy, the first installment of which arrived at the end of August. T1 compiles singles “Better Than Me” and “Spectre” alongside the recently released “Good News” and opens with a beautiful spoken word intro. A natural poet since age five, explaining her ethos behind the body of work is an important component to Bel’s musical repertoire. “That piece was written in no more than 20 minutes, and I didn’t edit it, I didn’t fix it. I just wrote it. And then that was it. Poetry and spoken words, specifically the delivery of it, is really exciting to me,” she says.

When asked her advice for young women developing the courage to go after their dreams, Bel answers thoughtfully and instinctively. “I still [ask myself] what if I didn’t choose music, and why did I choose this? The thing that I come back to time and time again, is trust your intuition and trust your gut because there’s nothing that’s going to scream louder than that when it comes to keeping you safe and keeping you on the right path,” she says. “Whether it’s dealing with a person, or making a decision for your career or anything like that, if something is screaming out, you have to listen to it.” With so much to say, it’s time we listened to Bel, too.

Follow Bel on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Katie Kuffel Premieres Video for Recovery Anthem “Jelly Donut”

In 2013, Seattle musician Katie Kuffel broke out as a fierce-yet-tender songwriter, with artful piano skills and a husky, blues-imbued voice. She’s also made a name for herself as a community builder, organizing the Fremont Abbey Sessions in 2016—a community-driven music and video project—and striving to collaborate with and raise up local talent.

Kuffel is also a survivor. When the singer-songwriter was freshman in college, she was brutally raped and almost lost her life. With this new song and video, “Jelly Donut,” premiered with Audiofemme, Kuffel takes the time to look at her recovery in the big picture.

On “Jelly Donut,” Kuffel’s piano line repeats like the chime of a rusty church bell, and the lyrics “I don’t think about you,” also come up several times. This captures the “two steps forward, one step back” nature of her recovery, as she puts it, and the determination necessary for so many assault survivors to keep going. The video adds to this tone—a crew of roller derby skaters, the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds, glide around a dimly lit track. There are collisions and straightaways, smiles and grimaces. It’s an artful metaphor.

“I’ve been back to square one many times. That doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means it’s a battle I’ve won before, and can win again,” she said.

Along with premiering this video, Audiofemme talked with the singer-songwriter about her recovery, why she cares about community, and how she sees Seattle’s musicians being sorely overlooked.

AF: Tell me a bit about your upbringing in Seattle — and what got you into Seattle music? Did you go see shows? How were you involved at a young age? Who/what did you listen to most in your early years?

KK: I had a pretty wonderful time growing up in the PNW. I was actually born and raised just outside of Seattle on Bainbridge Island. Small town vibe, very musically supportive family, and in a lot of ways fortunate in that I was encouraged to pursue music from an early age. I started cello when I was 8, played marimbas through middle school and high school, and also learned piano in that time as well. Music was a much needed sanctuary for me during my teen years, as it is for many.

I would often go to Seattle to see big shows at The Paramount (I recall seeing Regina Spektor, Sufjan Stevens, and Vienna Teng being among my favorites), or travel to eastern Washington to see musicians and attend festivals at The Gorge.

AF: You say it yourself—your music is a combo of a lot of different genres, and unlike anything most of us have heard before. Do you work to achieve this sound, or is it your natural output?

KK: It’d be much simpler for me I think, if I came at songwriting with any real goal in mind. I write what feels right for me, and try to be as genuine as I can. Music is my chance to be transparent, so it’s definitely something that just naturally flows from me, and because I embrace my oddity and I love change, that’s directly reflected in my output.

I have a pretty broad range of tastes as far as what I consume goes, and I love playing with others. I’ll often bring the bones of a song to my band, like lyrics and structure, then we workshop it together until it feels good to play. We all have different backgrounds, tastes, and I think it gets all mixed together to make something that I never could have arrived to on my own. We finalize songs by just performing them a ton. So in a way, our audiences also have a part to play in how it sounds in the end.

AF: Is music your full-time gig?

KK: I’m firmly in this weird, self-employed, gig economy that many twenty-somethings find themselves in. Music makes up the biggest part of my income, but I also do design work, I paint murals, illustrate, and will take random jobs as they come. Before this I was working an 8 to 5 office job for over a year, and I think it was the final push I needed to attempt being fully self-employed. I wasn’t fulfilled, I had no energy, I was running on fumes and feeling like I had no room to create. Happy to say it’s been over a year since then and I still have a roof over my head.

AF: What’s your songwriting process like? What sort of mantras do you have to help keep yourself on track creatively?

KK: It totally depends on the song. I’m definitely a lyrics-focused artist, so words are usually what I’m basing my music around. I’ve also started trying to write songs quickly, as a kind of exercise. Like… a few hours before a show quickly. It makes me less afraid of experimenting, and I think allows me to share a genuinely unique moment with my audience. I really don’t have a concrete process, but I do have some principals I like to create by.
Not everything is going to be good. But sometimes you have to unclog the drain to get started on the next thing.
No one else can create what you create. That’s both humbling and powerful. Own it.
Get out of your own way. And by this I mean, don’t put limits on the kind of songs you think you should write. In the creative arena you are all-powerful.
Not every song is meant to be shared. That’s okay.

AF: You are a very community-focused artist. Why is community important to you, and in particular, what are your goals for Seattle’s music community?

KK: I’m very thankful to the people in my life who support me, and I think I’m lucky to have landed in such a welcoming music community. Seattle’s scene is special, I believe, and people look after each other here. I think it doesn’t make sense to be competitive in music. I want to see others be successful, I want to play with people, I want to lift others up where I can, because it’s one of the few ways I know to help make the world a little more palatable. I believe music is a conduit for sharing our experiences, sharing space, and understanding that we are not alone.

AF: Many Seattle musicians are leaving the area because of cost of living and other struggles amidst the tech boom. What are your views on that? Why/how do you remain here?

KK: Seattle is choking out its creative community. It’s true, a lot of us are moving outwards, to Tacoma, or Olympia, or to new states all together. If housing costs aren’t addressed soon, if the continued indifference for protecting diverse communities isn’t addressed and the fight against Seattle’s extreme gentrification isn’t won, Seattle will lose all of its soul. I really believe this. It shouldn’t be our job to explain to a city why we matter. Why art matters. Why it is not just for your passive consumption, but a part of our collective cultural identity. Seattle used to be a city proud of its rich history in jazz and grunge, and now it feels like a lot of the tech community likes the idea of living in a “cool” city, but doesn’t want to put their money where their mouth is by going to local shows, supporting art programs, and rethinking Seattle’s archaic tax structures to serve the larger populace.

I stay because for now I can afford to. For now there are enough genuinely supportive folks and musicians here to let me forget about the overarching problems Seattle’s growth is causing. I also recognize as a white, cis woman, a lot of these issues won’t effect me as drastically as it does other minorities. This problem doesn’t just effect musicians. It effects families, it effects small business, it effects Seattle’s future. I wish I had an answer.

AF: Tell me about this new song, “Jelly Donut.” It is about recovering from sexual trauma. Will you share a bit about that context? Why did you decide to share your story?

KK: I think sharing my story played a large part in my recovery. When I was a freshman in college (before I eventually dropped out due to PTSD-related issues) I was violently raped, and nearly lost my life. Once from the incident, and once from being suicidal. It’s not something you get over, but it is something you learn to live with. Each story of rape, or recovery from sexual trauma, or abuse, is different. So know anything I say is based entirely on my own experiences, and shouldn’t be taken as a blanket statement for every survivor.

“Jelly Donut” was a song I wrote after I was able to have relationships again, after I’d gone to therapy for years, after I’d taken anti depressants, and had a toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms at my disposal. I wanted to highlight, yes that I’m alive and I’ve made it, but also memorialize in a way all of the downswings inherent in recovery. Flashbacks are common and unpredictable. Manic episodes don’t wait for a convenient time. Your brain is scarred, and sometimes those scars will flare up. In recovery I’ve lost my footing so many times, but I find my strength in knowing that those times will pass, that I have and I will be able to live to see another day, and find happiness and worth, and love. I will probably continue to stumble for the rest of my life. Maybe in moments few and far between, but that’s okay.

AF: You talk about the “cyclical nature” of recovery. What does that mean to you? How did you represent that musically on “Jelly Donut”?

KK: Recovery for many things is a two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. Or sometimes you have to start all over again. There’s a common misconception that recovery is a straight line, a linear process where the survivors gets further and further away from the incident, so they must be getting better and better in equal measure. This is false and dangerous thinking, and by refusing to acknowledge that healing is repeating the same behaviors, and understanding how your brain works, and failing then finding new ways to continue on with your life, we run the risk of punishing ourselves for an incident that was outside of our control. I’ve been back to square one many times. That doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means it’s a battle I’ve won before, and can win again.

Musically, I love the repetition of the piano lick. It reminds me of when a record is scratched, and repeats the same line again and again. The beginning and ending also feature the same bell sound. I wanted the music to begin and end at the same place. I also repeat a lot of words over and over again in this song. Phrases like “I don’t think about you” or “I can say a lot of pretty words” and “Do you even know my name” also have that same scratched record quality. I wanted it to feel like I was struggling to even move on in the song.

AF: Tell me about the personnel on the track— where’s it recorded and who’s playing on it?

KK: So I recorded this with Johnny Bregar over at Brickyard Studios in my hometown of Bainbridge Island one sunny afternoon. It was then mixed and mastered by my two close friends Cody Kilpatrick and Hunter Rath. These three people are some of the most genuine, sensitive souls I’ve met and have had the pleasure to work with. I felt I could trust them all with a song that’s this personal.

I sang and played keys. But Jon Robinson plays bass on this track, and Jordan Wiegert plays drums. They’re part of my trio and we’ve played together for over two years. I wanted to record this song with familiar folks, friends, and peers. It was a cathartic process for me, and their support was important for the success of the track.

Kuffel and her bandmates.

AF: Will “Jelly Donut” be part of a forthcoming album? If so, can we expect that to drop shortly?

KK: “Jelly Donut” is actually a one-off. It’s a song I needed to get out into the world. It felt strong enough to stand on it’s own, so no, there will be no new CD featuring this track. That does not mean there won’t be a new CD come 2020 however.

AF: What’s the future look like for Katie Kuffel? What are some goals you have for your music career?

KK: Music has always taken me to places I never expected to be. My goals are kind of loose. I don’t really want to be a famous person. I know I would make music even if no one would hear it. As long as I’m allowed to keep growing, as long as my music feels true and genuine to who I am, then I will be proud of it. Then I will trust that it will reach the people who need to hear it. Monetarily, I really just want my music to be able to support itself. To allow me to afford to keep making it. To allow me to bring it to people around the world.

Follow Katie Kuffel on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer on Making Art in the Era of #MeToo

On the set of “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.” Photo by Hayley Rosenblum.

Exactly one year to the day of the New York Times article that exposed Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator, Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power released a video that cements the importance of the #MeToo movement. Though its lyrics make no specific reference to the disgraced Hollywood mogul, the song is called “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” and was written shortly after the news of Weinstein’s transgressions became a media frenzy.

In a blog post, Palmer details the making of the video, the significance of choreographer Noémie Lafrance’s vivid work, and the genesis of the entire project, which was crowd-funded via Patreon. But in a separate interview with AudioFemme, she illuminates these ideas further. “We all know the basics: rape is bad, sexual assault is bad. But there is such a broad spectrum of power play within these private arenas,” she explains. The #MeToo movement has shown that sexual assault and harassment is an all too universal experience for many women, and the day Power and Palmer were set to enter the studio together, Palmer says her mind was caught on the idea that so many of these incidents had happened in hotel rooms. “I met Jasmine only a few days before we went to the studio, and I had been reading the news that morning, not about Harvey Weinstein, but about Stormy Daniels,” she remembers. “That made me think not just about the hotel rooms as this strange infinite karmic space, but the fact that these moments always happen behind closed doors in these cellular private spaces where women and men are alone.”

That made the setting for the video an obvious choice. But Palmer didn’t want the short film to focus on her – instead, she wanted to make it about women globally and the internal dialogue we may all be simultaneously working through. She says she wanted to capture “how frustrating it is to be that woman, stuck in that room with a man who wields all the power, and this psychic battle that you have to do in your own head, and the exhaustion of having to negotiate [with] an insistent, annoying man… weighing your options, looking for the escape, wondering what the path of least resistance is, wondering if the path of least resistance really is your best option, questioning your own motivation, questioning how you will be perceived. Not being able to actually find your inner voice, because the voices outside of you are screaming at you so loudly.” To that end, Palmer and Power take a more supportive role in the video itself, standing among a throng of women solemnly repeating the song’s lyrics.

Palmer tells AudioFemme this was a very deliberate decision. “When I thought about what the video needed to be I had a short list of things, which is that it couldn’t be centered around me and it needed to include a ton of women, of different ages, shapes, sizes and colors to reflect the fact that this is a totally universal global experience,” explains Palmer. “And choreography felt correct because of the viscerally painful nature of the subject.” In choosing to bring to the story to life with a chorus of women, Palmer shows the magnitude of the issues they were seeking to address, while each woman’s nuanced movements and expressions reveal that no one experience encompasses the reality of sexual assault – each woman is involved in her own internal battle. Part of what makes “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” so powerful is that Palmer doesn’t dive into her anger towards men like Weinstein, Cosby, Kavanaugh and Trump, but instead investigates her own curiosity of the female psyche.

“That is one of the things I hope the song gets at, because it’s a lot easier to write a song about what is black and white, and what is bad,” Palmer says. “It’s a lot harder to write a song, and make a video for that matter, about the internal tumult that women have to face in so many interactions.” As songwriters, Power and Palmer know that making art about weighty subjects is often the best way to process them, show solidarity, and offer a visceral, but not exploitative, experience to those who have attempted to remain willfully ignorant about these issues. “I think we just have to rip out the pages and write an entirely new book about empowerment,” Palmer says.

While the media has relied on the black and white experience of assault and rape, artists like Palmer and Powers are opening up to a wider conversation of grey nuances. “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” opens a dialogue where these nuances to come to life, and ends on an empowering note; the chorus of women stand shoulder-to-shoulder, repeating the words “You forget that I’m the one writing this.” This powerful scene re-imagines the common media narrative that paints survivors as voiceless victims, giving them the potential to re-write their own stories. This, Palmer says, is the whole point. “Art has opened incredibly important doors that have lead to progress,” she says. “I think this is the time for artists of all genders to stand up and start addressing more of this stuff. Art making and storytelling right now is so critical because everything else is so fucking confusing.”

How the #MeToo Movement Could Make Music Festival Season Safer

When I was 16 my most essential possession was a small backpack. It was made of a simple worn-in cloth, the fabric comprised of a colorful rainbow of stripes. The colors weren’t overtly vibrant, instead dulled, to give the desired vintage effect. It was a small bag and would fit no more than a cell phone, smoking pipe – concealed in the secret pocket I had prepared in the side wall – a purse, and on beach-going days a small, portable stereo. I had a friend who poked fun at how I always looked ready for a grand adventure. Although adventure was the outward identity people perceived, the backpack was a tool of quite another design.

This small bag was my weapon of armor. It created an innocuous barrier between myself and anyone who might try to add some unwanted grinding to my experience at a show, backyard concert, or festival. The more unwanted and aggressive the attention, the more I would flail the bag from side to side, an effective tactic that kept strangers away, and kept these experiences centered on the music.

For women who attend live music events, it’s common knowledge that while entering into a venue or festival grounds comes with many highlights, there’s always the underlying threat of machismo aggression. Although women have known this (and far too many have experienced it first hand) for years, it has taken festivals and venues longer to wise up and take ownership over the responsibility they have to ensure a level of safety within these spaces.

As far back as 2015, Vice Media started taking notice of these violence at festivals, running an article on Broadly that detailed the extent of the problem, then revisiting the topic again in 2016 with an article in Noisey that outlined some basic steps toward alleviating it. Also in 2016, NBC News covered the growing aggression of sexual violence taking hold in festivals globally. And just last summer, The Guardian posed the question: “Are music festivals doing enough to tackle sexual assault?” Even as they praised grassroots efforts being implemented across Europe, they recognized that there’s still a long way to go.

Now, as we ease into our first festival season in the wake of the #MeToo movement, current efforts are coming into sharper focus. A TeenVogue article published after this year’s Coachella stated that, out of 54 women interviewed, every single one of them claimed they had, in some way or another, been sexually harassed. Instead of waiting for festival policies to change, fans and femmes are creating their own safe utopias, in hopes that mainstream festivals might catch up to grassroots consent training.

Sex educator Emma Kaywin has started to work with smaller festivals on the East Coast to create consent-based teachings for volunteers. Working closely with the consent programs at Brooklyn’s popular art and performance space House of Yes, Kaywin has seen first hand what effect teaching participants of musical experiences can have on the overall safety of an event.

Currently studying for her doctorate in health education, and previously working as the sexual health columnist for Bustle, Kaywin turned to working on consent programs when she began feeling unsafe at clubs in New York. “I stopped going to a lot of parties, because I would just go there, get groped, get triggered and leave,” explains Kaywin. “I just wanted to be in spaces that felt safer.”

In her work with festivals, Kaywin has organized a two-hour long training, which includes information about recognizing microaggressions and how to respond. The training also focuses on intervention – more specifically, how to identify consent violations on the dance floor and how to intervene in situations of violence and intoxication. Those who have taken the training become “space guardians” of the dance floor. It is the job of these guardians to work as professional bystanders, and their purpose is twofold – to act as watchdogs who can intervene before an assault occurs and potentially remove the offending party, and to make themselves available as a trustworthy advocate for someone who feels unsafe.

While these trainings, and the idea of “space guardians,” can be easily implemented on dance floors at smaller festivals, the issue still remains – how do organizers make larger festivals, like Coachella, safe for everyone?

One campaign working with staff and fans alike is Chicago-based advocacy campaign #OurMusicMyBody. The organizers of the campaign work in conjunction with Chicago-based festivals, including Lollapalooza, to address problematic relations between fans and security.

“No one should be told exactly what they should do,” says Kat Stuehrk, co-organizer of #OurMusicMyBody, when discussing what advice she might give to a survivor. #OurMusicMyBody focuses on teaching security staff to first, believe the victims who approach them, then ask before acting what it is the person wants to have done.

Many security guards who are not trained properly will oftentimes immediately call the police, or take other actions victims are uncomfortable with, without asking permission. These actions further extend misdirected power dynamics, heightening the sense of lack of control a victim feels after an assault. #OurMusicMyBody works directly with security to establish protocol to directly help survivors, and communicate with them openly about their needs and wishes.

“We have folks from domestic violence or sexual assault agencies come in and do trainings for the security and the staff, about crisis intervention and how to respond with empathy, and with options for folks who have had those experiences.” explains Stuehrk.  “Through no fault of their own, people don’t really know what to say or do.”

Another important component of the #OurMusicMyBody campaign is fan education. When given the opportunity by a festival organization, the campaign sets up a booth to teach practices of consent, and let others know it is okay to call out their friends who are being inappropriately aggressive.

Zero-tolerance policies posted on festival websites are the small first steps festivals can take to addressing the issues of sexual harassment. However, it doesn’t hold a lot of weight if fans themselves aren’t ready and educated with response tools, since even the most sensitive security staff can’t reliably watch over thousands of individuals. #OurMusicMyBody is working to addressing these levels of education, so that zero-tolerance policies can be upheld.

“As far as I’m concerned, every single person who is present at a festival, or works at that festival, needs to know what crisis intervention is and have a basic understanding of how to respond to a report of harassment,” says Stuehrk.

Overall, these various approaches are moving towards one thing; education. For a long time, festivals and festival-goers have refused to admit there was a problem – particularly men, who shockingly seem unaware that sexual harassment has been an ongoing issue for women at festivals. Along those lines, many festivals refuse to talk about how they are addressing these issues on their website or to attendees. It is this fear of recognizing the problem, and allowing those unaffected to stay in the dark, that allows violent behavior to proliferate. By the same token, those pushing for positive change must understand the sensitive, sometimes complicated nature of sexual violence, and take responsibility for their own actions in public spaces.

Writer Vera Papisova, who published the TeenVogue piece, also mentioned her little backpack. “This is why I usually wear a backpack in concert settings,” describes Papisova. “It forces distance between the stranger behind me and my body.” It won’t be the symbolic use of these backpacks that ends the abundance of sexual harassment at music festivals. In a post #MeToo age it is the responsibility of the masses to understand their personal role in maintaining spaces where violence towards women becomes unacceptable.

For more information on how to help prevent sexual assault, check out RAINN’s guidelines on bystander intervention.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Alice Glass, YouTube & More

Alice Glass, YouTube & More

By Jasmine Williams

The Indomitable Ms. Alice

Thanks to #MuteRKelly the #MeToo floodgates have opened in the music industry with more stories of rampant sexual abuse and harassment coming out every day. Just this week, allegations surfaced against Dee Dee Warwick and Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band. While it feels daunting to read more and more about disturbing abuses of power, there is a silver lining. Victims are finally being taken more seriously and with everything coming to the surface, the tides may finally be changing.

Case in point – Alice Glass. Last October, the ex-Crystal Castles front woman authored a blog post accusing her former bandmate Ethan Kath of almost a decade of sexual, physical, and mental abuse. In response, Kath attempted to  sue for defamation, calling Glass’ allegations “pure fiction.” His case was thrown out in February, in part because of Glass’ legal team’s citing of anti-SLAPP legislation.

Recently, Kath tried to re-open his defamation case and lost, again! Yesterday, Glass revealed that a judge denied Kath’s appeal. Glass’ statements are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech; she and her lawyer, Vicki Greco, were also able to prove that her comments were made in the public interest. Glass was also awarded $20,000 in damages for her legal fees.

It will be interesting to see if the Crystal Castles cases create a precedent for similar situations such as Gaslamp Killer’s case. The producer has filed a defamation suit against two women who alleged that he drugged and raped them in 2013.

The Stream Team

YouTube is throwing its hat in to the streaming ring. YouTube music will launch in several countries, including the United States on May 22nd. The video giant’s global head of music Lyor Cohen is on a publicity tour ahead of the launch. He sat down with NPR to discuss the future of YouTube and his hopes and fears for the industry. Cohen made his name with Def Jam and 300 Entertainment and has long been a controversial figure in the industry. Only last month he was accused of flashing a white power symbol in a photo with a MAGA-hat-wearing, Kanye West. Cohen maintains that his hand gesture has long been associated with 300 Entertainment.

That New New

Courtney Barnett’s new album is out today! Tell Me How You Really Feel is a more personal follow-up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Christine and the Queens is also back this week, she rolled out a new track called “Girlfriend.” Mitski also gave us a new single, as well as a video. She calls “Geyser” one of her “vaguest songs.” Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail released the song, “Let’s Find An Out,” this week. The nineteen-year-old is getting lots of love in the media lately. She was recently profiled in The New York Times and W Magazine.  Disclosure fans got a gift this week – the brothers just released the six-minute track, “Ultimatum.” Australian duo Kllo dropped “Potential,” their first single since their 2017 debut album.

For more new music, check out recent Audiofemme features on Knotts and Maria Taylor.

End Notes:

  • Issa Rae has partnered with AfroPunk on a contest to find new music for her hit (amazing) series, Insecure.
  • Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is number one on Billboard this week. His video also surpassed 100 million views. His choreographer celebrated the milestone by posting a dance tutorial of the routines in the clip.
  • This week in random Kanye tweets, the Trump apologist rapper showed some love for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Kelis, Avicii & More

Kelis, Avicii & More

By Jasmine Williams

Kelis Opens Up About Abusive Marriage

Compared to the film industry, the music has been slow to acknowledge the #MeToo movement. While the rock and rap blares, sexual abuse accusations against major musicians have largely fallen on deaf ears. Thanks to Kelis, this may be about to change. Yesterday, in a seemingly routine interview with Hollywood Unlocked, the “Bossy” singer dropped a bombshell when she revealed that her ex-husband Nas was physically and mentally abusive during their five years of marriage. They married in 2005 and were instantly seen as one of music’s most indomitable pairs. However, their public image was far from Kelis’ reality – in the interview she described a highly explosive relationship, where Nas would become highly intoxicated and physical violence would follow. The couple divorced in 2009, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Kelis has been largely silent on their split, until now. She told interviewer Jason Lee, “I have edited myself for nine years and I woke up this morning and said, ‘not today.’ “

Avicii Dead of Possible Suicide

The EDM world was hit with a major tragedy late last week after it was announced that mega-DJ/producer Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii, was found dead at age 28. The “Wake Me Up” artist had long suffered from health issues, partly due to excessive drinking. Yesterday his family released a statement hinting that he may have taken his own life, writing, “He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.”

That New New

Janelle Monae’s new album, Dirty Computer, is out today. The “Make Me Feel” singer blew up the internet this week after telling Rolling Stone that she identifies as pansexual and is “someone who has been in relationships with both men and women.” She premiered a 42-minute film in support of the album on BET last night.

Today is a big day for jazzy genre-blasters; The Internet released a video for new single “Roll.”

Grouper’s new LP is out now. She hits the road today in support of Grid of Points.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse are approaching 50 years together; they’ll celebrate with California shows on May 1st and 2nd at Warnors Theatre in Fresno. New legends, Florence + the Machine, are also playing a few special shows in May. Tickets go on sale today for May 13th & May 14th shows at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also on sale this week are tickets for My Bloody Valentine’s seven United States stops.

End Notes

  • When fame emerges, lawsuits are sure to follow. Cardi B is being sued by her ex-manager for $10 million. In unrelated Cardi news, the “Bodak Yellow” artist just announced cancellations of her spring and summer tour dates due to her pregnancy. Sorry New Yorkers – that means no Panorama appearance.
  • This week in Kanye West’s Twitter:

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Screenshot courtesy of abc.

No comment.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ONLY NOISE: A Woman Like Your Kind

Today is International Women’s Day, and people are celebrating in many ways. This American Life devoted their entire show on Tuesday night to listening to the stories of five women who were sexually harassed by media executive Don Hazen, giving individual voice to members of the #MeToo movement. Mattel came out with 17 new Barbie dolls celebrating diverse and historic women like artist Frida Kahlo, Australian conservationist Bindi Irwin, and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. Our favorite female and non-binary music festival, The Hum, has announced a new run of shows slated for May, and various Women’s Day events have sprung up across the world. In my own way of celebrating women, here are five groundbreaking female musicians pushing their formats forward.

U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls mastermind Meg Remy has always looked to the past for inspiration – her decade-deep catalog often reverberating with sounds of ‘70s disco and Phil Spector’s girl groups. Those influences haven’t dissipated entirely on Remy’s latest LP In a Poem Unlimited, but Remy has forged something completely new from them. Remy has garnered more widespread attention with this album than any prior release, and while that could easily be attributed to its near perfect track list, it may have occurred as a result of topic and timing.

In a Poem Unlimited chronicles female rage in an era when it’s finally being recognized. From James Bond-tinged revenge epic “Velvet 4 Sale,” to the satirical “Pearly Gates,” Remy and her U.S. Girls collective have crafted something fresh and relevant, wrapping rocky subject matter in swaths of multicolored silk. Standout track “M.A.H.” (“Mad As Hell”) combines these two assets seamlessly, succinctly verbalizing what women have been feeling for too long over an ABBA-esque dance cut. “As if you couldn’t tell, I’m mad as hell,” she sings. “I won’t forget, so why should I forgive?/Supply me with one reason why, boy?” Pertinent questions these days.


Chicago rapper CupcakKe, aka Elizabeth Harris, has been in the game for longer than you might think. Harris began releasing music on the web in 2012, and her 2016 mixtape Cum Cake caught the attention of critics for its unabashed lewdness. None of that raunchiness is lost on CupcakKe’s most recent LP Ephorize. Harris is the lightning-tongued, pornographic poet we’ve all been waiting for. Her brand of female sexuality is raw and unapologetic, debunking the myth that women are less sexual creatures than men with streams of dirty verses. She celebrates LGBTQ love on “Crayons” and her love for dick on “Duck Duck Goose.” Cupcakke is easily one of the most progressive MCs on these matters, and when it comes to the societal damning of women’s sexuality, she’s furious. “Females have sex on the first night they get called a ho for that one night stand,” she raps on “Self Interview,” “Men have sex on the first night, congratulations!” “Most wouldn’t comprehend/Double standards need to end.” Preach, High Priestess Cupcakke.


Scotland born, Los Angeles based producer SOPHIE is making pop music dangerous again. The transgender artist is seemingly allergic to binaries, and therefore makes music that is difficult to categorize. There are elements of techno, disco, and deep house, but her work also boasts more the “difficult” sounds of industrial and noise music. “A lot of the stuff I’ve done takes the attitude of disco but tries to bring the sound world forward,” she told Teen Vogue last year. “We’re in a different world now. I’m trying to imagine what music that’s positive, liberating, weird, dark, and real could be in the current day.” SOPHIE has achieved all of those descriptors in her music, and she’s one of the few contemporary artists that can truly be called cutting edge. Her live shows are a mixture of theater, rave, and performance art, and her skill as a producer is unrivaled. She can turn the fizz of soda into a symphony and the screech of latex into a solo. SOPHIE will undoubtedly have a hand in how the future of pop music is shaped.

Moor Mother

Moor Mother is the project of Philly poet, musician, and activist Camae Ayewa, whose music blurs the lines between hip-hop, gothic industrial, and spoken word. Moor Mother is angry, and she has every right to be. She raps about domestic violence, race riots, and police brutality through layers of distortion, and her live sets are a blatant display of her rage. Ayewa’s music is compelling through headphones, but contagious in person; her body thrashes with each verse, making the air around her taut with fury. Her last record, 2016’s Fetish Bones is a stirring amalgam of disturbing poems laid over horror movie noise-scapes. Moor Mother’s sound is a much-needed slap in the face to oppression.


Jerilynn Patton is one badass woman. A top-notch producer and steel mill worker from Gary, Indiana, Patton, aka Jlin, has taken the independent music community by storm with her last two records, 2015’s Dark Energy and last year’s Black Origami. Jlin’s music is instantly recognizable, and while it incorporates electronic genres like footwork and house, her stamp of authenticity lies in the clanging metallic rhythms, West African percussion, and dizzying synths she weaves through her beats. Her live sets are robust and disorienting, causing more convulsions than dancing. In an industry, and a genre (electronic music) that is overwhelmed by men, Jlin makes harder beats than just about anyone.