20th March | Exchange
Photos: Rowan Allen
“This is ridiculous,” a guy near me said. He was obviously drunk, and his face was covered by David Brent facial hair and an apocalyptic scowl. We were standing at the back of the crowd. All the women had been summoned to the front, where something between a rugby scrum and a bacchanal seemed to be taking place.
Brighton’s feminist-punk band, Dream Wife, were nearing the end of their set when Rakel Mjöll paused, foot up on a speaker like she was founding it, to summon “all the bad bitches” to the front. The extroverted women pushed to the front with glee. But when it became clear that the female members of the band planned on plucking out even the most camouflaged of bad bitches (the male drummer kept appropriately shtum all gig) the rest resigned themselves to the spotlight.
It looked amazing up there. The women were dancing and chanting, free from all the bullshit they were used to at all their other gigs and, I suppose, just everyday life. Their view wasn’t blocked by men, they weren’t being jostled or harassed. The statement was blunt and effective.
The guys lingered at the back like wallflowers at an awkward school disco. This bit wasn’t for us. Although a couple of guys seemed to sincerely ask themselves if they were ‘bad bitches’ when Rakel called the women to the front, it looked like the men at a Dream Wife show had got the memo. But not one long-haired guy, who looked like a drunk Jesus. After repeatedly invading the female space, drunk Jesus was eventually shouted down and kicked out.
I saw Drunk Jesus sticking his lower lip out, hurt and confused that he didn’t have permission to do whatever he wanted. Predictably, he went to stand next to David Brent. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, and these two were bachelors who had come to search for a literal dream wife.
“This is ridiculous,” Brent said again.
“This is ridiculous,” Rakel mimicked through the mic, catching his eye. “That’s right, honey, I’ve got ears that go for miles.” He looked momentarily spellbound. She smiled knowingly.
That’s the thing about Rakel. From the moment she appeared on stage, holding a pose while the rest of the band hammered around a thumping riff, it was clear that the room was hers. Her charisma was overwhelming, threatening at times. As Dream Wife thundered through the hits from their new album and 2016 EP (‘Hey Heartbreaker’ and ‘Somebody’) soundbites percolated into a feminist manifesto.
“I am not my body I am somebody.”
For a punk band, Dream Wife were uncommonly involved with their crowd. Alice Go and Bella Podpadec rocked hard, aiming boisterous fun at their families, who were watching in the wings. They all bounced around feverishly, with Rakel’s sugary vocals packing a punch. She delivered each line of each song to a different crowd member.
“I’ve been your Lolita,” she sang to a short woman at the side of the room. “We drove to upstate New York looking for your father’s grave,” she sang to Jeff. Then my turn came. She looked at me. I felt privileged. “I’m gonna fuck you up, gonna cut you up, gonna fuck you up.” Privilege turned to low-level terror. I decided to stop taking notes on my phone.
With their riot grrrl force and art school background, Dream Wife have caught comparisons to The Slits, who mocked the enforcement of femininity in the 70s. But the difference is Dream Wife’s inclusion of femininity in their force. Where 70s punk music rejected traditional femininity, Dream Wife wield it powerfully. All women, they seem to say, are bad bitches.