A while back I had the opportunity to talk with a number of Her Jazz Noise Collective members and supporters for an essay I was writing about noise music and feminist space. There were so many interesting thoughts and ideas shared that didn’t make it into the final piece, so when I heard that HJNC was looking for works about the the collective, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to both release some of these conversational ‘b-sides’, and to reflect some aspects of HJNC back to the collective using their own words as heard by another.  What I heard from the folks that I spoke with was that through collectivity, patience, and shared understanding and intention, HJNC has provided for many a unique and much needed creative space. In conversation I heard a lot of individual yet complimentary ideas and sentiments, and got the sense that to those for whom HJNC is near and dear, their ideas about the collective, and the collective itself, is constantly shifting and evolving. It’s obviously impossible to encompass everyone’s perspective and all that HJNC has accomplished from a short collection of quotes, but I hope that you’ll be able to see in the words below a slice of how the collective sees itself.

– Heather McDermid

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I think that we are recognized in the noise community; at least we think we’re doing noise, whether other people think that we’re doing noise or not…it’s usually not harsh noise in the ‘dude-fest’ noise kind of way. It can be, it has been; we’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. We’re doing what we say we’re doing, we’re trying to do what we need to do, but it’s never been about trying to prove that we can rock out with the boys at the same decibel.

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I feel like noise is just this blanket term…the jury’s still out on what it actually means and there’s different sub-genres. I don’t really know where we fit into it.

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When we do do sets that bring a harsh noise intensity to it I feel like we seem to be most proud of those sets.

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I like hearing noise, and I like discovering new shit people are doing, and new people who want to become involved …I’m into being super posi towards other people’s shit and supporting people to do whatever they want to do, and I think the more people who want to do it the better, because it’s something beautiful.

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It’s a really revolutionary step for a lot of women – for a lot of people – who have never really taken up that space.

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For me I wasn’t interested in listening to noise, I was only interested in playing it. And I wasn’t interested in performing it, I was only interested in making these intense sounds; and it was so liberating for me when I started.

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The more you get out there and the more you travel, the more you find women doing that kind of thing, which is why I like travelling a lot…I think women’s involvement in noise in Vancouver in comparison with everywhere else that I’ve been, which is mostly down the west coast, is just starting to happen.

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There are actually new people all the time; you get to meet so many diverse people.

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People come and go, and sometimes we never hear from them again.

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I’ve heard a lot of different opinions and different perspectives on us, and I find that…people generally don’t say [negative things] to my face straight-up…but I hear things…Alliances that I felt had been truly solidly invested in for the last decade crumbled away at the slightest misconception without even a question of “but does this really mean what I think it means? cause if so then I’m not really cool with that”, not even a “let me talk to you about it”. That was in the first year, and that was really heartbreaking. But it was also a hard lesson of learning who your friends are…you make yourself vulnerable and you share your real values…when you actually try to pin it down and say “this is what I need to feel safe, and to feel like I’m actually doing something important” and people are just pretty rough. It’s happened, but also other people hear one sentence about it and say “I love it, sign me in!”

– “Come on tour to Montreal! Who are you?”.

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What I take from it is that it is really community oriented; based on community building, with an extreme artistic aspect behind it.

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In this particular moment it seems like we all just kind of come from a certain similar place and anytime there are any challenges to safety I think it’s issues were dealing with from outside, not from within the group; and I think we just support each other through that.

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It’s as if saying it just makes it so, in that were setting an intention…we set an intention with this project, and the intention is to create safe space. Anybody that’s coming into it is coming into it with that awareness, and you can’t be a part of it without coming through that awareness; if not holding it the whole time consciously, it’s like the gateway that you have to pass through in order to enter the space.

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I think that audiences have a really differing or varying degree of understanding of what it means to us what our ideas of safety are but as far as membership we just say it and so far saying it makes it so.

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I still feel that there are so many codes in noise that I don’t understand even though I’ve been playing it for five years, so I don’t know…it definitely is codified and there is a sense of being ignorant of those things and being vulnerable for not knowing.

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I’ve felt incredibly comfortable and safe to not know things.

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It’s not that we don’t challenge ourselves because we do. We do things sometimes – we have in the past – that we maybe not collectively, but individually would be terrified to do.

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I’m still I’m almost there I’m almost ready to grapple my fear…I can’t quite do it by myself yet, but I had been so afraid of making music and until I joined Her Jazz I was…pretty much paralyzed. I thought about it every day and I didn’t do it, and then finally I was like “I can do this here!” It was just a few little obstacles then…and then I’m here!

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We feel that Her Jazz as a collective is making steps out into places that we’ve never been.

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Every time we perform we’ve started a tradition where we hold hands…and in kind of a more metaphysical way, and in an actual physical way, it kind of casts a circle around us. To me that feels like protection, and to me that also feels like we’re all here now.

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We’ll play creating a semi-circle so that our focus is on each other because we’re not doing this for anyone other than ourselves and each other; and the fact that the audience can take enjoyment from it is awesome but it’s not the first priority and I don’t think it ever will be.

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It just comes down to the idea that society, the world, humanity and me personally we will benefit from there being a plurality. So I see Her Jazz as a really great example of how that can be achieved through support, mutual aid and through kind of a combination of…well, through practice. A combination of theory in action, and the idea that you have your goals, you have your concerns, and you find a way to actually engage in them in a way that really changes the whole conversation about gender and what it is, and community. So I see Her Jazz as something that could potentially be replicated anywhere for the benefit of everybody.

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I like that it comes not necessarily from the same agenda…we didn’t set out saying “we’re doing a social thing”.

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We skill share in our jams and in teaching about technical stuff, but we also skill share in just organizing, and communicating, and learning about consensus – not always doing it perfectly all the time but just I think we learn as much by jamming as we do by talking.

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I heard one person say something that could maybe be viewed in a negative light recently, and that was that we process more than we play…and I was like yeah I think it’s really awesome actually!… I’m appreciative to have that in my life.

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There’s a point that we roundtable, we talk about things, and then we’ll make a game plan and we’ll try something…sometimes people just go in and make sounds, but there’s something really valuable about that.

– But not for everyone.

– Not for everyone, but for us.

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Because we listen to each other as people, we listen to each other as soundmakers, which makes for a more cohesive output.

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I think that one of the first the very first priorities is that no one gets left behind in a jam ever. And I think that’s why we will err on the side of caution and make sure we can hear everyone. Once you get experienced with mixing sound you can make sure that that happens, but you know, it’s not always that way.

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I think a big thing that I notice, and totally appreciate as well, about the Her Jazz musical performances is the lack of competition…I feel like people in Her Jazz will often stop and really just listen to one another. Yeah, I think that again in meetings as well; it doesn’t feel like a competition.

– I appreciate it. I think it really works as a musical collective and as a friendship…no one’s really charging ahead ramrodding through the set. We’re all like “hey, checkin’ in…making room for each other.”

– And supporting each other when we’re doing it too. At different check-in points, a lot of times I find there will be like a little bit of eye contact and…

– little smiles?

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I think we probably receive props and fuckin’ disses for the exact same reasons.

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I’d also like to say that gender or genital sex isn’t a part of our primary membership. I think that that’s probably a good distinction to make…I think primarily we’re concerned with creating safe feminist space as opposed to what’s between your pants or how you like to fuck.

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How many people really don’t want to be engaged? They just kind of want to go along…it takes a lot of energy to be engaged with something, it takes a lot of thinking, it takes a lot of willpower, it takes a lot of risk…you know, it’s a really vulnerable place to put yourself; and when you actually put yourself into that place a lot of people will step back because it takes a lot to be engaged.

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If you’re not a feminist or you don’t really really love a feminist you’re not necessarily committed to doing that work and so you want to take a short cut and, you know, you just take short cuts. And I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re taking the long scenic route towards liberation, or whatever the hell it is!

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In the area of music specifically…if all of us have had gender oppressive experiences as musicians then, yeah, it is an issue.

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If you could make interesting sounds with what you had, or make a compelling performance out if it I felt like there was willingness to embrace and accept you within the noise community. But I think it hit limits as it became more widely accepted, and as more women participated and felt like in spite of being accepted as individuals, as a collective body women were not really recognized as having a distinct voice within noise music.

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I think that everyone’s personal experiences are so diverse and so valuable, and a lot of what we do is really addressing really deep psychological shit that is not overt, that is not something that you can see necessarily happening around you, and that if you weren’t tuned into it that you might be completely oblivious to.

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Every time I go to a show I count the women on stage and I count the men on stage and I figure out a ratio – “what was it tonight?” and on average it’s something like 10 to 1, men to women pretty much across the board. And it changes in our shows that we curate, it’s all women and you don’t even know. You don’t even realize that you’ve never seen that before until you see it…and then you realize “ok something’s wrong, something’s keeping women from being on stage. What is it”.  Generalizations about gender are out the window – that noise is too hard for feminine people, that’s not true we know – so what is it? It’s still a mystery, but it’s irrefutable; something’s wrong.

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I feel like my very very pragmatic goal, or my very measurable goal for this project was to see as many men as women on stage. Which is a tiny window of seeing that quality in society; and looking to the big picture is like seeing the destruction of patriarchy. It’s a big thing and I feel like in Her Jazz just doing this tiny little part towards that, that’s my goal. And if it only touches my own community, and my own scene, and neighbourhood then that’s fine; that’s all I can really expect from such a small tokenistic action. But I want to see more women making noise…I’m interested in what women do and say and present and I’m really interested for my male peers to be influenced, for all my peers to be influenced, by it. That’s all I really want to see…besides the destruction of patriarchy! I just want to see more ladies playing noise.

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People still ask “what’s the difference, why is it still better to play with the ladies”, and I still don’t really have an answer. That’s the thing that’s so hard about the shit that’s in your head…Everyone’s experience is so different we can’t just say “it’s like this”. We try not to speak for anybody. We have our mandate and we all kind of hope that we all know what all those terms mean, and we all agree on that, but other than that we just speak for ourselves. That’s all you can do.

– And it happens to be as well this specific group exactly, and people that identify with that mandate. Because it would be a generalization to say that it would be all women…

– And there may be some women based groups that don’t process this way at all, and maybe would roll their eyes and say, “god, I would not come to that meeting”.

– Yeah just play noise! And that’s amazing, because I know that there are women who just have blatantly said “I don’t need Her Jazz”, and they don’t. They’re doing it, they’re totally up there and empowered. But don’t you dare say that other people don’t need it. You don’t need it and that’s good, but we all need it so never you mind. So come play our shows, and we’ll support you if you support us.

– We’ll support you even if you don’t support us.

– That’s true.

– Because we are us.

– We’re just supportive, we’re just like that!

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I just feel like we’re here to create a space where you can ask questions and it’s OK to not know what feminism means. We’ll talk it out; maybe we don’t even know what it means!…I think that part of the reason that people have such a hate-on for feminism is that they don’t want to admit that maybe while they’ve been listening to Minor Threat for the last twenty years something’s happened that they didn’t notice…you know, get schooled by a bunch of ladies!

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I personally I think that noise music as a culture is not any different than most music cultures which means that it was essentially constructed not without the presence of women but it was constructed by men so it reflects the paradigms that men identify with and that are sculpted from male perspectives. And you can pick it apart and find out what that might be – like the hierarchy from the least known band to the best known band, or the quietest to the loudest or whatever – but fundamentally the whole concept of what a noise show is that’s been developed by a male dominated culture. I see Women’s Studies as an opportunity to show how noise can be presented in context of not just a woman’s perspective, but what a woman based culture or a female based culture would bring to the construction of an event or show.

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I see Women’s Studies as a way of showing that given the opportunity to create without the scrutiny, or judgement or oppression of male figures in the community, women will create a different environment. And this is one way it might look, and it’s valuable.

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You should come and hang out with us so we can tell you what it means to us.

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They see that she’s a lady and they’re like, “shit yeah that means I can do it too,” and so they go out and do it which is awesome. I don’t think people should be worried about whether they can or can’t do things…suppressed feelings suck ass and people shouldn’t let those get in the way of doing what they want to do.

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I haven’t been in the group for that long, but it’s really provided a foundation to build that kind of empowerment around music and performance where I feel like I can get that processing support and that emotional content, and then take it into different projects as well.

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I plan to make a line of Her Jazz safety gear for biking. Reflective arm bands, and ankle bands, and big safety vests – but made out of shit from Dressew, like the crazy pink sequined appliqués. And Ella made an amazing three screen version of our logo – a print of our logo white and black and hot pink.

– It’s really good.

– We’ll feel really safe once we have those vests!

– It’s all about the safety.

– And visibility.

– That we’re creating.

– Safety, visibility, here we are!

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Thanks to Aja, A-leigh, Arlie, Gabriel, Mel, Prophecy and Sid.