Various Artists

I Know Why The Caged Girl Sings

This compilation of artists roughly falling under the (as far as I know) non-existent, dream record store category of "queer feminist punk/indiepop" is a beautiful thing to behold. The third compilation to be put out by Brighton’s Tuff Enuff records, it’s pressed on transparent blue vinyl with the sides labelled in felt-tip, the sleeve a cut-and-paste explosion of Divine-esque faces, and, most impressively, the liner notes are decorated with hand drawn images of every single band member featured on the compilation. It’s like an Island Records sampler for the DIY punk generation.

In the tradition of other many-tentacled UK lo-fi projects such as Slampt, Tuff Enuff records stems from Riots Not Diets, a Brighton-based riot grrrl and queer club night that has been running for a number of years, showcasing bands such as those featured on the compilation. If you’re new to it, it might be surprising to discover the depth and breadth of the community this night has both created and been created by. But far from projecting exclusivity, the cheerfully handmade-with-care aesthetic has a "you can all join in" friendliness to it, the wide range of bands on here straddling many tastes. Unless you like your music polished and perfectly produced of course.

London band Frau kicks things off with their urgent, strung out, punk-rock-turned-inside-out. A good example of the cross-scene co-mingling that occurs in DIY music, they are equally at home on this compilation and the hardcore and feminist punk shows they regularly play around town. Flying the freak flag for the unclassifiable is Ravioli Me Away, a band that seemingly gave birth to itself, all sleazy, snakey, bass-driven, synth-filled strangeness filled up with distorted deadpan vocals; a maelstrom of inner-city confusion. There’s the tongue in cheek pop-punk of Dog Legs, and Big Joanie evokes shades of K Records’ summery lo-fi.  The latter, who describe themselves as a black feminist band and explicitly place themselves in the continuum of black punk past and present – which, as a woman of colour who listens to punk, I find hugely exciting, particularly in a scene not known for its diversity – unfortunately have the raw-est recording on the compilation: vocals are almost inaudible, and clearly the best of the band is not conveyed here. Oh well, support your scene and go see them live, right? One of the best things about this compilation is that it’s an embodiment of the living, breathing UK DIY music community, and you’ll be able to go watch most of these bands any week of the year.  

Bona H.C. (bona being Polari for good, h.c for, well, hardcore, obvs) is a welcome anarchic slash of queercore, rending your suspicions of twee to shit, "because queer isn’t always fucking cupcakes and rainbows and QTs and softly softly nicey nicey don’t upset the hetero hegemony". Newcastle is represented both by Beauty Pageant’s experimental noise, the chaotic saxophone and militaristic drumming recalling Erase Errata, and Silver Fox’s exuberant, jerky post-punk. I could go on, there are 15 bands on this album: the dark, oddness of Men Oh Pause, the London/Berlin indie pop duo Humousexual who have appeared on all three Tuff Enuff compilations, but I’d run out of adjectives, and anyway, this album is best enjoyed when you engage with it; read the liner notes, and maybe think hey, I should pick up my guitar again.

Speaking of liner notes, the elephant that I was pleased was not just in my room is the title of the compilation: a pun on the immensely important and influential 1969 Maya Angelou autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The crew at Tuff Enuff have written an admirable explanation of their decision to align with riot grrrl, a movement viewed with suspicion by many these days due to perceptions of it being a stronghold of middle-class, white feminism. But they also express regret at the flippant title they have chosen for this compilation, which does unfortunately call to mind some of the very issues women of colour had with the original riot grrrl movement. As disappointing as this is, this is the DIY music community in its raw glory, where political aims are often imperfect, but at least the discussion is had – in this case, right there inside the record sleeve.  

As each band has donated their own recording the tracks slightly differ in quality. But as we’ve already established fans of precision probably aren’t going to enjoy this, that hardly qualifies as a concern. The compilation is an inspiring collection of bands doing it for themselves and each other, and along with the previous two compilations Why Diet When You Could Riot and Carry On Rioting, is an important snapshot of UK underground culture.

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