by Tim Birkbeck
Punk rock is not just a phase it is a way of life. For feminist four-piece, Petrol Girls, they were born out of the DIY punk scene and have evolved in it. Ahead of the release of their debut record Talk of Violence, Tim Birkbeck caught up with vocalist Ren Aldridge while she was preparing for a house show in Graz, Austria.
How is preparation for the show tonight going? And on that note Petrol Girls were born from playing one of these DIY house shows, so how have you seen everything evolve first-hand?
To be honest it has been a while since I put on a show, I haven’t even been living anywhere properly for a year, so this is kind of a one off thing. We used to put on a lot more in London when we all lived together in a house where we would put on shows. Me and Liepa (bass) started Petrol Girls so that we could play one of those shows. Being part of that DIY background and ethos is something that I feel like I will never leave.
We just done all these really cool shows with Dead Kennedys, but it was also quite alienating as the shows were really big and the only people you really met were people that worked at the venue. That’s why I love doing merch in those situations because then at least you meet people. I guess that’s what I love about the DIY community is just meeting people, everyone eating together, sleeping at random people’s houses, its all part of it
You mentioned you have just come off touring with Dead Kennedys, what was people’s response to Petrol Girls at those shows?
The shows were definitely a much older, male dominated crowd and for me I feed off that antagonism quite a bit.
For me it is really important to play in really safe, feminism friendly spaces, I really love that. But I really enjoy laying into a load of dudes at some shows – it’s just fun.
There was one night where the band before us said “so Petrol Girls are up next, and this next song is for all the ladies” and I just thought “is this actually happening?”. So when I was on stage I just ripped the shit into them which was really fun, the others had to stop me from saying “this ones for the ladies” before every song.
With the tour you are doing at the moment to promote Talk of Violence, you have gone down the more DIY route, do you prefer these tours where everyone mucks in together?
Yeah for sure, I think that is what is really special about the punk community because everyone is an active participant in it. Where as I just feel super uncomfortable at the bigger shows where you get treated like a bit of a rockstar and I don’t like that hierarchy.
With the soon to be released full-length have you found it has pushed you onto more peoples radars and you are starting to get a bit more of an audience?
We are endlessly surprised by how much of a reaction we do get from people, and that people turn up to shows that we play. In Austria and Germany its incredible because we always do outrageously well.
The feedback from the record so far has been really positive, everything with it just seemed to come together really quickly and we are all super proud of it. If you said to me this time last year we would have had a full-length out I would never have imagined it.
Petrol Girls: Zock Astpai, Ren Aldridge, Joe York, Liera Kuraitė
People who may be familiar with your music know that your lyrical content can be quite politically driven. Were there any points that you wanted to particularly hit on the new record?
When we went to recording I had just come back from a refugee and migrant conference in Hamburg, so a lot of what came out from that really blew my mind and put some ideas in my head. And with that it brought together all my thoughts politically and as a feminist, it just clicked.
After going to the conference my political views changed a lot, so I adapted some lyrics. For example the song ‘Deflate’ – it was a song I wrote with my old band which has now developed.
There are also themes of sexism and feminism in your words. Over the years the punk scene has become more accepting of these ideals, so do you feel you can speak more openly about these issues now?
Definitely, I mean I’ve been involved in this community for about 10 years now. I think the first five years of that was blokes older than me telling me to shut up, and accepting a lot of things happening to me, which I didn’t want to because I just thought I had to shut up and that’s how things were.
Now I feel a lot safer and I feel that now I am more visible on stage which has helped. I don’t think my experience is true of all feminists, trans people and non-gender conforming people. But I feel like I am in a massively privileged position. For example the amount of sexual assaults I’ve been on the receiving end of since playing in Petrol Girls has plummeted.
Also dudes who used to patronise me or would tell me to shut up have to listen to me now because I have a microphone.
Currently you are all spread out over Europe a bit, so how do you find the time to come together and be Petrol Girls?
We were all living in a house together in London when we got together, and we wrote the record when most of us were still in London. However, we haven’t really been writing new stuff just due to the stage we are in at the moment.
We’ve been able to tour and we are releasing the record so obviously we spend a lot of time together doing that.
Me and Joe (guitar) spend a lot of time in Bristol and we get to right a lot together then, and I am looking to move out to Austria in January and I think Joe is as well so we will be a closer unit again once that happens.
As we are coming towards the end of the year what does 2017 have in store for Petrol Girls?
I don’t know what I’m allowed to announce but we have some cool festivals in the pipeline and there are some pretty sweet support slots that we are hoping will come off. We will be touring a lot in the spring time as well.
Talk of Violence is out on November 18th via Bomber Music. You can read Vulture Hound’s review, here.