On Sleater-Kinney

Dig Me Out of the Woods was a one-night only exhibition curated by Alex Billingham in honour of the 20th anniversary of Sleater-Kinney’s 1997 album, Dig Me Out. It took place on 4th August 2017 at Vivid Projects in Birmingham.

The work I made for it is here.

A fanzine was produced for the show - Entertain, edited by Vicky Roden - and I wrote something about my relationship to Sleater-Kinney and their continuing impact. Below is that text and a few pages from the zine [the whole zine is available to download here].

“ If I’m to run the future you’ve got to let the old world go ”

One Beat was the first Sleater-Kinney album that I heard fresh out of the sleeve, the first one I anticipated - with a nervous energy I can only liken to the feeling you get before a really promising internet date: a knife-edge of hope (that it would be amazing) and fear (that it would be… okay). In August 2002 I agonised over a list of leaked songs on a file sharing site and decided that I’d pick two to preview whilst I waited for the LP to arrive at my parents’ house. I’d fallen for this band hard and fast, about a year before One Beat, and I was so. scared. that it was all about to be ruined; that my fragile love for them would be crushed by a record that left me cold. I felt entirely undeserving of the bounty of their back-catalogue as it was. I never realised there was music for me: about people like me, about injustice, and inequality, and being really fucking angry about it - but also about how to stand up and try to change things. As a young queer person it was a revelation, an education and a celebration all at once.

It took around twenty minutes for ‘Prisstina’ and ‘Funeral Song’ to download over the dial-up and I was full-body tensed, ready for my heart to either be ripped out or swell right out of my chest. Until I discovered S-K - and consequently riot grrrl - music came to me via my male indie-loving friends, MTV2, or snatches of alternative radio where nu-metal and emo bros were still monopolising the airtime. Now that I’d finally found this righteous bubble I thought it would be just my luck if it burst almost immediately. I was too young to embrace the first wave of riot grrrl as it happened, and as much as I now loved Bikini Kill et al, it wasn’t that quixotic, precarious love you have for a band that can still surprise you. But S-K were still here and they were, thank fuck, just as vital on One Beat as on everything that had come before. I threw myself around my bedroom in one huge, thrashing exhale of elation and relief.
 

Now it’s 2017, Dig Me Out is twenty and I can’t quite believe it. I also can’t believe we’re still fighting a lot of the same misogyny and racism and homophobia. The populist political surge - at least in part a backlash against recent progressive gains - is terrifying. Donald Trump in the White House and the Tories “leading” us out of the EU is terrifying. The ongoing murder of people of colour by the police, and trans people by anyone, is terrifying. Hate crimes and rape culture and FGM are still here. But so are Sleater-Kinney and their riot grrrl kin, and so is the community that riot grrrl catalysed and brought together. Music itself won’t change the world of course - it won’t end war, poverty or abuse, and it’s a privilege that many don’t have the luxury of enjoying - but it can help those who are lucky enough to have it. The personal is political. That is the first step.


“ Could I turn this place all upside down and shake you and your fossils out? “ 

[quoted lyrics from ‘One Beat’ by Sleater-Kinney]

© 2017 Fiona Shaw, all rights reserved

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