Winnaretta: 'Basically, if you’re putting on an all-male bill, fuck off, try harder'

Indie | Friday 23rd February 2018 | Hanna

Singing about heartache and love in a hopeful tone, Winnaretta is a London based DIY indie-trio comprising of Sim Eldem (guitar/vocals), Luke Gain (drums/vocals) and Ling Luther (bass). We got a chance to interview the up and coming group about their music and the DIY scene in London. 

Tell us about the name of your band, 'Winnaretta'?

We named the band after Winnaretta Singer who was a patron of the arts based in Paris in the late 19th century and early 1900s. She was, apparently, a lesbian in a lavender marriage. She was also an heir to the American Singer sewing machine dynasty. She was such a big deal and funded so many works and artists, and yet there is very little information about her available today. Our t-shirts and tote bags (designed by Beth Hopkins) feature a portrait of her surrounded by amulets, trinkets, and all the things that make us think of her - it's like a shrine to Winnaretta.

Where do you usually write your music and what inspires it? 

SE: Luke and I have been writing together for a while now...for around 10 years. I tend to write the outline of a song, with the lyrics and the main melodies, and then we work on it together. Sometimes it'll be the other way around, with Luke bringing an idea and us working on it together. Ling is playing with us again after a long break - we were in a band together a decade ago in Norwich - but she is based in Berlin now so we don’t always get to write as a three.

You identify as a 'DIY' band. What does this mean for you guys?

SE: We take the DIY label very literally. I think the term has taken on some new meaning over the last few years, to connote a wider accessibility and diversity of voices in music, and that’s really important. But on a very practical level, it’s just always been a necessity for us—I can’t think of many bands who aren’t driving everything themselves.

That said, for us, being DIY has never been about performing every process ourselves. Instead, it’s about working within and supporting a community of independent creative people. We like working with people who are great at what they do and paying them for their labour/time/art. We’re all in full-time work, and we make music with the little free time we have. Supporting talented engineers/producers/artists etc. is also a strong part of what DIY means to us.

Already around the riot grrrl movement, there was traffic between the idea of 'DIY' and queer culture. How do you see these two cultures as complimenting one another?

There is a problem with the idea of DIY and queer being almost interchangeable. DIY and queer cultures can (and tend to) overlap, but that's not a given. Traffic is important, though, because that exchange between communities and identities is exciting. But for that exchange to happen, differences need to be more visible. Being an ally should be more acceptable and exciting in this community. It sometimes feels like we are all fighting to be the same, and there’s no point. We are all completely different, and the community should work as a support network for people to speak about their own views, their own identities, because otherwise it is appropriation, and that’s erasure.

DIY has most commonly been associated with punk. Are there any elements of punk in what you do, or do you feel the meaning of DIY has changed and diverged from punk significantly since?

Punk as a sound is something we can relate to, and that is very common among DIY bands as the music tends to be more lo-fi, more political, louder. But it’s good that the sound of DIY is changing, pop is way more acceptable now and a GSOH is encouraged, too.

Punk was considered a rejection of the dominant culture of the time. Do you feel the queer/DIY scene is similarly a reactionary phenomenon and is it that the same for the band?

SE: The queer scene, more than the DIY scene, is now becoming a rejection of the mainstream live music scene but I am not sure punk did the same thing. I have always thought of punk music as very white and very male, but then I also think of the riot grrrl movement as very white, though not male. Today's queer bands are changing the mainstream music scene and, like any other wave, they are inspiring the mainstream to mimic the queer scene. And it’s all happened before, for example with vogueing and cruising becoming such a big part of the heterosexual mainstream, but it’s exciting to be part of a new movement that is doing similar things.

Do you consider your music as having a political core? 

SE: There is a political element to our music, but I'm a sucker for all the yucky personal stuff. In many ways, that is where our politics come from, but we are not an overtly political band - we don't have a 'message.' The things I have written about - queer love, immigration, work - all affect me directly, but they are wider political concerns. Hopefully, that means it's not just a selfish exercise.

In terms of London specifically, how do you think identity politics affects the music scene?

Playing music in London can be just as gruelling as it is exciting. It takes as much as it gives back. It took us a long time to learn what good gigs and bad gigs look (and feel) like. And honestly, it feels like a lot of that comes down to promoters. There are some great promoters who continually pay attention to representation and make a conscious effort to put on balanced, cohesive nights. But they’re a tiny minority. There’s still an overwhelming amount of boys' club bullshit to wade through outside of the DIY scene, and while it feels like the tide might be changing, there’s still an underwhelming amount of cross-pollination.

Basically, if you’re putting on an all-male bill - fuck off, try harder.

You released your EP last year called Mine. What are some of the themes in the songs?

Mine is, of course, very personal. It's about relationships and heartbreak, but a kind of joyful acceptance that love hurts and changes. It’s a very ‘saturn return’ album for us. There is a hopeful narrative linking the six tracks.

What sort of new material are you working on?

Having said we are not overtly political, the two songs we have just written are about how appropriative the DIY scene can be, and a song about Theresa May in Turkish... So perhaps we are growing our politics a little. We want to record these, along with a few more songs, for another 6-track to be released within the next year.

You can find the band on Facebook