music review: big joanie | crooked room

by kris smith

If this is an example of the material Big Joanie have been storing up in the relative musical silence since their last record, any future album of theirs will be a vital contribution to the DIY scene. The two original tracks and one cover here sound like literally no-one else around and are all the better for it.

The epitome of a band gradually finding its collective feet as it goes along, Big Joanie began by posting hesitant demos on their Bandcamp a few years ago, and you can follow their progress as their confidence grows with each release. Anyone can form a band – and everyone should – but not many form a band on the basis of a question, and then work the music out later. The question being “Why isn’t there/why hasn’t there been an all-female UK black punk band, and what might it sound like if there was?” Just as Basement FiveAlien Kultureand An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump may have been the firsts of their kind, so Big Joanie may be the first of theirs. On that basis alone the band would deserve support, even if the music was of no interest (which, luckily, it is), because, to spell the point out to anyone who doesn’t get why these things matter, when it comes to current and future musicians from culturally under-represented communities, as the old phrase goes: you can’t be what you can’t see.

‘Crooked Room’ is built around a disorienting, descending guitar arpeggio, accompanying piano and a lyric (“see it, can’t reach it, yeah”) that reiterates that very point, regarding, in the band’s words, “black women negotiating racist, sexist, classist, homophobic society while maintaining a sense of self”. The music recalls nothing so much as the sub-scene of avant-garde post punk that mushroomed during the cassette culture of the late 70s/early 80s, particularly some of the releases on the It’s War Boys label.

If I had to make a specific comparison, though, and as a big fan of both I’m chuffed to have the opportunity to do so, it would be Nina Simone meets Alternative TV. ‘Baby Rust’, meanwhile, sees bassist Kiera take the lead vocal for a sparse song that starts a bit like one of Gang of Four‘s slower tracks, complete with critical-theory lyric (“the superstructure is our only rupture”), before exploding in a Slits-esque climax. Last track ‘No Scrubs’ I’ll not say much about, not wanting to spoil the surprise for anyone who doesn’t know what to expect yet, but it ends the EP with a series of defiant ‘NO!’s, which surely has to be the point. An intriguing record, then, and without doubt one of the most important releases of the year so far.
Big Joanie – Crooked Room (Sistah Punk Records, May 2016)

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