The first song I ever heard by Speedy Ortiz was Curling. I was listening to Mark Riley’s show on BBC6 music whilst cooking dinner and immediately cut all the appliances in my tiny kitchen to stop and listen. It was, to put it mildly, not the sort of music that I tend to listen to anymore. The song is punishing in its honesty, sublime in its melody, restless and powerful, haunting and heartbreaking, and though it starts fragile (‘If it hasn’t already/ my time’s gonna come/ I’m gonna get/ old and weird/ without you here’) it ends on a note of empowerment and strength (‘Well, honey/ I’ve got the house/ and I’ve got the dog/ and I’m waking up early/ and showing up on time for my job/ so don’t bother to call me!’). Curling is a gut kicker, pushing you down emotionally to begin with before grabbing you back up again for the righteous, energising finale.
What really struck me, aside from the startling guitars which sounded as though they were sneaking up on each other between fret boards, was singer and guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ vocals. Dupuis is a woman who sings with purpose and intimate candor. There’s no bullshit to her. Whatever she’s feeling at the time of writing each song really shines through in her voice be it heartbreak, humour, anger, power or that cadent lyricism of the storyteller, it’s right there. You feel as though you could hang out with Sadie Dupuis because it feels as though you are already. Her voice has the familiarity of a BFF spilling it over a couple of brews to Kelis (And if you don’t kick it over a couple of brews to Kelis with your BFF then shape up, sister! Cos you are missing out!).
So, I obviously went and immediately downloaded everything I could of theirs and listened to it on an endless loop. I got a little obsessed. In fact, the last time I remember being that obsessed with new music was back when I was a teenager. It was energising but this great, terrific love affair with this band hit me completely unexpectedly. In fact, I didn’t altogether understand where it was coming from, but three years in to my shameless fangirling and now I know exactly why.
It isn’t just that Speedy Ortiz are a spectacular band fronted by a phenomenal talent, but that it’s clear from their music and their persona that they’re a band actively out to challenge the status quo. Sadie Dupuis is outspoken about her gender and about feminist issues – particularly within the music industry – and actively encourages and supports other women to be confident musicians (including being an awesome advice columnist for female guitar magazine She Shreds), to own their space and to be actively outspoken too.
I’m in a band myself and as a woman in a band, who is the only woman in the band, and sometimes the only woman who graces the stage at an entire gig or even entire festival, my gender feels ever present whenever I play. A lot of the time crowds acknowledge this and are extremely supportive, but the occasions when they aren’t – when I can overhear bros chattering lustfully about my physical appearance in the silence between songs (Yeah! I can hear you assholes!), or like when I was 17 and had a guy scream for me to stop singing and take my clothes off already (yeah, I can definitely hear you, asshole) – it’s absolutely shattering and you hate to admit it, loathe to, but you also don’t feel safe.
It’s crushing also to play or attend gigs with very few women in attendance. You feel overwhelmed, outnumbered, a novelty, even. Whilst I know a lot of women who are comfortable with standing their ground in the pit or pushing forward to own the space in the very front row, there’s a lot (like myself) who simply don’t feel safe inhabiting that area. Sometimes, even when you stand on the periphery, you still get accosted. At a recent show I attended some jackass (who I rebuffed the flirtations of) picked me up by my shoulders and threw me to the ground. Luckily the guys in the pit noticed and threw the wimpering idiot in there with them and kept him there until the end of the set, but still, you shouldn’t have to pummel someone to grindcore to teach them to respect boundaries. I’ve been going to and playing gigs for years and I’m sick of this shit.
It was just after this encounter that I saw that Speedy Ortiz have set up a safe hotline for their shows for anyone who feels the victim of oppressive acts, harassment or even violence. They can text directly to the band who will deal with the matter and work with venue security to provide a safe, inclusive environment for the audience.
How fucking amazing is that?
It’s no longer an excuse to say ‘It’s a show! It can get rowdy! If you don’t like it, don’t go to gigs’ because fuck that. We shouldn’t have to be swerving situations which could possibly be dangerous or detrimental to us, we’ve been taught to use this ‘method’ to protect ourselves from possibly dangerous situations in society for most of our lives and it sure as shit hasn’t protected anyone so far.
Sadie Dupuis is quite simply my cheerleader. When I don’t want to get up in the morning, when the bus feels like a grim factory line conveyor belt throwing me into work each day or when I just want to crawl under my duvet for a night and hide then Speedy Ortiz are my go-to band . Dupuis’ lyrics and rhythm can be spritely, self possessed and even violent, but in that good way that holding something sharp in your pocket whilst walking home at night makes you feel that little bit safer.
On Silver Springs from the Sports EP, a perversely upbeat song with an arcane, dissonant hook, Dupuis combines those same delicate to empowered dynamics of Curling to build up from a soft verse to a dominant chorus, bellowing a bewildering statement of defiance (as so many of her lyrics are, Dupuis is an exceptional guitarist with the voice of a poet) which makes me want to fight whatever it is I need to in order to get through the day: ‘Legs tight squeezed/ Around the knees/ guess I’m going nowhere/ Why you wanna pull me out?/ Hack up my face/ you’ll never drag me out alive!’. Dupuis matches vulnerability with fight, expressing emotional arcs with an endpoint that she’ll never allow allow herself to become the victim of. And that’s some encouraging shit to hear in a crisis.
If their first full album (still beyond great) Major Arcana felt as though it was battling a break up, their second Foil Deer (read the best review of it ever here. Bravo to anyone who can run with a legit Bring It On reference during a music review) is one of distance from such distractions and celebrating self-empowerment. As Dupuis mentions in an interview with Pop Matters: ‘Writing about a breakup is something I’ve done, but these kinds of experiences are more harmful for more people, and I guess if I’m going to talk about something awful and encourage others to talk about it, then I’d rather go bigger’.
And Foil Deer is bigger, crammed full of assertive pep, the album is a knotted bow of feminist power chanting out from behind a web of riffs which never cease to surprise. On Raising the Skate, Dupuis reclaims authority over feminised slurs and reminds women not to be afraid to take charge and dominate: ‘I’m not bossy/ I’m the boss/ Shooter not the shot/ On the tip and fit to execute/ I’m chief/ not the overthrown/ Captain, not a crony/ So if you wanna row/ you better have an awfully big boat’.
Whereas on the droll, sparkling Mister Difficult, Dupuis calls out unwarranted micro-aggressions of wounded male pride ‘They want the sportsman’s letter/ I’ve already been there with limited editions you could never care for/ but still beneath the poster bait I got the message/ Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive’.
Perhaps one of the most powerful songs on the album comes straight from that overriding feeling of not being safe that I mentioned earlier. My Dead Girl hurls a terrifying experience into a spectrum of (luckily) unfulfilled consequences, with Dupuis recounting a horrifying experience from the end result her tormentors might have wanted from her: ‘Brain like a sphynx/ and a vest like a townie/ if these are my last words/ guess you found me/ I go riding in cars/ but I’m not the driver/ Now I’m the dead girl you wanted’. In a recent interview with the Vice music blog Noisey, Dupuis recounted the event which inspired the song:
I think the initial concept of the song was about independence—it was the Fourth of July after all, and I was happy about having such a great day with my friend Cindy—so it was like, “I go riding in cars / but you’re not the driver.” Like, I’m a strong woman, I can do whatever I want, I can see whomever I want, and I don’t care if my independence makes other people feel insecure like, “Better yet, better get / jealous of what didn’t get your name” means dudes, stop trying to own me. So about halfway into writing out this song, a bunch of fratty looking bros park across the street from me. And I guess they see me in the back of my car playing guitar and decide to come over to my car. And they’re laughing, they’re knocking on my window, I can vaguely hear them joking about how they’re gonna break into my car… it was terrifying. I had no idea what to do. We’re basically at a park in the middle of the woods. If these guys broke into my car and pulled me out, it wouldn’t have been a safe situation for me. And it went on for so long… Mike was supposed to meet me at the park, but I had no idea how long it would take for him to get there. I hesitated to call the cops, for whatever reason. So the song sort of took this different turn, basically while I was sitting in the backseat of my car with these dudes shining their flashlights into my car. I wrote, “If these are my last words, guess you found me” because I was literally afraid I was going to get kidnapped, raped, murdered, and this little notebook with my song scrawled in it would be the only evidence anyone would find. It would have been such a drastic change of events from what had, up to that point, been this perfect, idyllic day. Thank God Mike pulled up and had his headlights on and all those guys scurried back into their car and drove away.
So the song sort of turned from an ode to independence into a mourning of the depressing footnote that comes along with female independence, which is that we always have to be on guard against assault and harassment and violence, always. And that’s a direct result of rape culture. You can go from feeling like the most powerful person in the world to feeling terrified just because someone is walking too close to you. And I guess that’s what the song is about—the simultaneous freedom to be whatever you want, to do whatever you want, coupled with the unfortunate reality that there’s always someone trying to take that power away from you.
Dupuis has also been vocal about her gender identity (she used to feel ‘genderqueer’) and wears a ‘Gender is Over’ t-shirt over her amp at gigs as an active protest against society’s preference for enforcing binary gender roles (from an interview with Complex magazine: ‘women’s dissatisfaction with having gender roles dictate so much of the expectations that are placed on them in terms of working and functioning’. ) as well as her sexuality (in the same interview she describes herself as being demisexual). Which the song Shine Theory from the Real Hair EP seems to address succinctly: ‘I want to want him so bad/ but I don’t recognise the charms he has/ Cos my heart looks in on itself/ and he’d be better loved by somebody else/ who cares about a face’.
For an industry so currently stacked with superficial feminism, where culminating a posse of female friends is presented as some form of pro-female activism and where a white feminist would rather call out a black feminist for ‘being mean’ rather than supporting her very real assertions of racism within the industry, Sadie Dupuis is an independent musician, switched on to those very real assertions and actively challenging and changing the industry from the inside, supporting female musicians as she does.
So let me assure you, next time you’re having to do that nervous walk back home at night don’t just poise a blade in your pocket, blaze Speedy Ortiz through your headphones too. They’re the safe space, the cheerleading squad, the fight club you’ve been looking for as back up. And remember – you’re the chief, not the overthrown.
*As an added, totally unrelated, bonus round extra: Please enjoy this video of Speedy Ortiz performing MKVI at SXSW with none other Hannibal motherfucking Buress of Broad City fame. You’re welcome.
Amy Roberts (a.k.a Alabama Roxanne) is a writer, blogger and multidisciplinary artist based in Liverpool, UK. She’s published internationally, in print and online, and recently had a guest editorship at Queen of the Track zine. Her poetry explores the mythologies of the Final Girl, which is the basis of her collection-in-progress. She was featured on a panel of David Lynch experts at a Northern Film & Media event in early 2015, and is the bassist for crust-punk band Aüralskit. Her blog ‘I Never Knew You Were Such A Monster‘, fiction and non-fiction about the horrors of everyday life, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards two years running. She’s interested in illustration, photography, go-go dancing and Timothy Olyphant. She is vehemently, batshit insanely, Team Catalano.