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'From the Back of the Room' Looks at Women in Punk Rock - Beyond the Riot
by Osa Atoe
Amy Oden is a 30-year-old filmmaker and musician from Washington, DC. She recently finished a new documentary on women in punk & hardcore called From the Back of the Room, which will screen in Mid-City this Monday. This is not a riot grrrl documentary! As important as that movement was, women in punk rock have a variety of expressions and aesthetics and shouldn't all be lumped into one box based on gender.
From the Back of the Room features interviews with illustrator, zinester and musician, Cristy Road, hardcore band Condenada, Saira of Detesation, Kristin of Negative Approach, Anna Joy of Blatz as well as riot grrrl ring leaders like Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hannah and Allison Wolfe. We caught up with each other on a busy weekday afternoon to do this interview.
Osa Atoe: Is this your first movie?
AO: Yeah, this is my first feature-length.
OA: You've made shorts before, then?
AO: I made a 40 minute documentary in college about the DC hardcore scene, which screened at the Black Cat. Also, I worked for several years at a
OA: When did the DC hardcore documentary come out and what was it called?
AO: It's called “After the Salad Days” and it came out in 2004.
OA Is there any way for people to find it? I wanna watch it.
AO: I didn't really tour on it or distribute it that widely because I figured no one would be interested in it outside of DC. I posted it on YouTube, actually. It was really just about what I perceived to be a resurgence of "traditional" style DC hardcore around the year 2000, with bands like Striking Distance and Desperate Measures and stuff like that...
OA: When did you start to think critically about your experience as a women in the punk scene?
AO: Well, I think my "coming to consciousness" or whatever you want to call it kind of began taking place when I hit my early 20's. That's when I started thinking about gender and standing up for myself more and trying to be more deliberate about getting along with other women. Prior to that I was kind of a tomboy. I didn't really hang out with other girls too much. I started taking women's studies classes in college, and reading a lot about feminism and I guess that must've been when it hit me that it was important to translate those ideas into my life.
OA: So, did you feel like you had to struggle as a womeA in your local scene, or was it more about being inspired by the legacy of feminism and wanting to live that out?
AO: I think more the latter. At that point, maybe when I was about 23 or so, I had already been going to shows for about 7 years. I was always kind of outspoken and abrasive, but I think that's when I learned what to direct my anger towards and away from, if that makes any sense. For instance, I remember one day reading something that explained the idea of female competition—this is about seven or eight years ago now—and deliberately trying to examine and change my behavior towards other women after that. But that was just one in a series of awakenings I think I went through. I think I'm always learning. That's what life feels like to me.
OA: So, there are already a couple documentaries about women in punk out there. There's Don't Need You, and recently a woman showed a documentary in New Orleans called "Whistlin' Dixie" about queer DIY & punk bands in the South. What did you want to add to the documentation of women in punk that hadn't already been covered? From seeing the trailer, it looks like you wanted to focus more on hardcore & crust than just riot girl.
AO: Yeah, I've heard of Whistlin' Dixie but haven't seen it. It sounds awesome. I saw “Don't Need You” a while ago, and I think that and AfroPunk were the two biggest films that I knew of about women in DIY. And also “Rise Above, the Tribe 8 movie. I think I just wanted to make the point that there are tons of women who are punk who aren't necessarily Riot Grrrls—which is how I've felt about my own participation for a long time. I love Riot Grrrl, but I'm not a riot grrrl, and I think a lot of women get pushed into that box.
OA: How have you experienced that personally? Like, with reviews of your band?
AO: Reviews of my band, yes. Even close friends listing us as riot grrrl on fliers. The movie gets described as a riot grrrl movie a lot, which is frustrating, because that's the exact opposite of the point. From what I've heard, lots of other women have had this experience as well. It's not the worst thing to be compared to, but it's difficult to feel like you have your own identity when people put you in pre-existing categories.
OA: And even within the whole documentation of riot girl, I've been frustrated at how narrow the focus can be. Even within riot girl, there are so many other people to talk to who may not have been as popular, but popularity isn't really the point. I was really glad to see you interviewing folks like Anna Joy of Blatz..
Amy: Yeah definitely, Blatz was such an important band for me, growing up.
OA: Which have you been doing longer, making movies or playing in bands?*
AO: Movies, definitely. I only started playing in bands in 2007.
OA: What's the name of your band and what do you play?*
AO: I'm not currently in a band but I've been in two in the past. My first band was a crusty band called Starve, and the most recent band was an all-lady band called Hot Mess. That was more of a straightforward punk band. I sang in both of those bands. Hopefully I'll do another one at some point.
OA: Who are some of your musical influences and did you get to interview any of them?
AO: Most of my influences, musically, are older crusty bands. I love Filth and Dystopia and stuff like that, but I also like a lot of hardcore and stoner metal. I was really stoked to interview Saira from Detestation, that was definitely one of my influences.
OA: How long is your movie tour and where are you headed?
AO: Well, I've done a bunch of trips into New England at this point - I did a three week tour already to the midwest and through Canada in August also. This particular tour in November is 10 days and it's down to Austin and back.
From the Back of the Room movie screening and potluck is set for November 7, 2011 at 6 p.m. at Nowe Miasto Warehouse, 223 Jane Place in Mid-City near Broad Avenue and Banks Street.
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Minced Media, Inc.