Gr­rrls on film

“Some­how I come across as this sex sym­bol wastoid.” For­mer Le Ti­gre star JD Sam­son comes to Dublin

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

‘ITHINK WE ALL feel sad about a lot of the band, in gen­eral. . . Watch­ing it back it feels like yes­ter­day, but we look younger. . . I think there’s def­i­nitely for me this sad­ness that I’m older, that we’re all older.” JD Sam­son is sitting in a makeshift dress­ing room in Block T, the stu­dio, gallery and per­for­mance space in Smith­field, Dublin, rem­i­nisc­ing about Le Ti­gre. The band ran from the cusp of the 21st cen­tury to 2007, and acted as an epi­logue to the riot gr­rrl move­ment, a scene in which Le Ti­gre’s front­woman Kath­leen Hanna was in­stru­men­tal.

It’s an odd pe­riod of re­flec­tion for Sam­son, of­ten de­scribed as “that chick with the mous­tache”. Al­though Le Ti­gre’s legacy is weigh­ing heav­ily on her mind with the re­lease of Who Took the Bomp? a doc­u­men­tary of Le Ti­gre on tour that will screen at next week­end’s GAZE film fes­ti­val in Dublin, Sam­son is at a new chap­ter of her ca­reer.

Her new band MEN will per­form at a not­for-profit queer mu­sic gather­ing called Frighten the Horses, and af­ter­wards, Sam­son DJs at the gay synth night, Mother. One to one, Sam­son is quite se­ri­ous. Softly spo­ken and sweet, she has that North Amer­i­can in­flec­tion that makes most sen­tences sound like a ques­tion. The singsong high-school lin­guis­tics pep­pered with “likes” is at odds with her in­tel­li­gent, philo­soph­i­cal thoughts on the band, ar­chiv­ing femi- nist his­tory and try­ing to find a space for her own writ­ing in the mu­sic scene to­day.

What’s easy to for­get about Le Ti­gre, per­haps be­cause their po­lit­i­cal state­ments and lyrics were so em­phatic, was the qual­ity of the mu­sic. In many ways, they were ground­break­ing elec­tronic mu­si­cians and the merg­ing of drum ma­chines, gui­tars, sam­ples, key­boards, and beats formed the ba­sis of so much we lis­ten to to­day, from CSS to Chicks On Speed, Gos­sip to LCD Soundsys­tem. Not to men­tion the killer tunes they pro­duced like De­cep­ta­con and Hot Topic, or the Sam­son-penned Viz that deals with gen­der-queer

“Bands like The Gos­sip, they’re very po­lit­i­cal, but they’re not re­ally say­ing any­thing spe­cific in their songs”

vis­i­bil­ity. The film was made over five years of tour­ing and fea­tures en­coun­ters with Slip­knot in Aus­tralia, Ja­panese fans, and, most en­joy­ably, live per­for­mances. The band and their mo­ti­va­tions are put in a new light.

“I think one of the in­ter­est­ing things about the movie is that it re­ally shows how much com­edy and our over­all sense of hu­mour kind of helped us get through hard times be­ing a fem­i­nist band,” Sam­son says. “I think peo­ple think of us as be­ing this re­ally po­lit­i­cal band and that we were so mad all the time, but we ac­tu­ally had a re­ally fun time and made jokes out of ev­ery­thing and mostly at our ex­pense, I think . . . That def­i­nitely comes across in the movie.”

There are some poignant mo­ments, like when the band have to de­cide whether or not to let a mag­a­zine run a full page while re­fus­ing to in­clude the word “les­bian”. And some funny mo­ments too, like when her band­mates re­fer to her as “the se­cret Justin Tim­ber­lake of the band”.

Sam­son’s not sure about her rep­re­sen­ta­tion: “Some­how I come across as this sex sym­bol wastoid; drink­ing and smok­ing weed and talk­ing about sex,” she laughs, “and I feel it kind of makes me look like. . .” she strug- gles for a com­par­i­son. Lil’ Wayne? “Yeah! I think it’s just com­pared to Jo and Kath­leen though!”

MEN is a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to Le Ti­gre. The en­ergy is still there, and their de­but al­bum

Talk About Body is highly ac­com­plished and fun, with tracks like Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Credit

Card Ba­bies along with Antony He­garty’s con­tri­bu­tion to Who Am I To Feel So Free as­sert­ing Sam­son’s prow­ess as a lyri­cist and song­writer.

The live shows have been well re­ceived, but Sam­son has con­cerns about where her artis­tic con­tri­bu­tions fit in at the mo­ment. “I think a lot of the mu­sic that’s com­ing out right now is de­void of po­lit­i­cal con­tent, but also de­void of sen­ti­men­tal­ity. I think that, for me, that’s re­ally hard, be­cause that’s what I make. It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to go on tour right now with songs that are po­lit­i­cal and sen­ti­men­tal, be­cause I don’t feel that there’s the same kind of re­sponse as there was 10 years ago.”

She shifts in her chair: “I don’t want to get de­pressed over it or any­thing but, for ex­am­ple, on this next record that we’re writ­ing, I need to think about open­ing that up a lit­tle bit and look­ing at ways to ap­peal to what’s hap­pen­ing now.

“You think of bands like The Gos­sip, they’re very po­lit­i­cal, but they’re not re­ally say­ing any­thing spe­cific in their songs. And they have a lot of love songs, and yes, that is queer, and who she [Beth Ditto] is speak­ing to is not nec­es­sar­ily a man, but I think it’s open-ended and any­one can re­late to it. I think in Le Ti­gre there wasn’t that stress of peo­ple not be­ing able to re­late. There were straight peo­ple at our shows singing along to queer ideas and fem­i­nist ideas, but I don’t see that same kind of in­ter­est right now for sure.”

For a song­writer whose mu­sic bounces around joy­fully and of­ten with bla­tant po­lit­i­cal and so­cial mes­sages, it’s hard to see whereMEN can fit in at a time when min­i­mal­ism is highly val­ued. But it’s their dif­fer­ence that’s mak­ing the qual­ity of their mu­sic stand out.

“I do think that we’re al­most at this place that is so ‘post’ that we’re al­most dumb­ing it down. We’re in a re­ally min­i­mal time too. With dance mu­sic it’s just like you can go into a club and hear one drum sound for 30 sec­onds and noth­ing else and peo­ple are re­ally into it. Bands like The xx are so min­i­mal and there’s hardly any­thing go­ing on, and that’s what’s pop­u­lar.

“I think it’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause I’m into min­i­mal­ist art and see­ing what that gives us, but there weren’t many fem­i­nists ever in the min­i­mal­ist art com­mu­nity! I think it’s kind of an in­ter­est­ing place for fem­i­nism, be­cause most of the time fem­i­nists have too much to say to be min­i­mal.”

Like the en­ergy of MEN, Le Ti­gre still bris­tle with elec­tric­ity on screen. Seg­ments from what turned out to be their last show are in­ter­spersed through­out the film, and Sam­son re­lives that con­cert as if they were yes­ter­day.

“It’s re­ally in­tense. The feel­ing on stage that night was just so in­cred­i­ble, and you can see dur­ing the film when we’re play­ing that show the au­di­ence is go­ing in­sane. It’s fuck­ing crazy, ev­ery­one is freak­ing out. And I just re­mem­ber giv­ing so much ef­fort to that per­for­mance that night and I think that feel­ing that I had in­side my­self was re­ally pow­er­ful and some­thing that made me feel re­ally strong. I think about that a lot.”

Be­fore the last tune, Sam­son and Hanna hugged, know­ing it was the last song they’d ever blast out.

Thank­fully, it hasn’t been Sam­son’s last hur­rah.

plus the GAZE LGBT FILM FES­TI­VAL: what to watch

FATEMA N A JO­HANN

NHANNA KATH­LEE

Tom­boy

Women Art Revo­lu­tion

Archive Screen­ing: Boys On Film

Break My Fall

SAM­SON JD

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