Those in female-fronted bands are often faced with a weird question: when they’re asked to play a gig, is it their talent or gender that’s getting them on the bill?
This issue has come up more in the last few years. As conversations about gender equality make headlines, promoters and those in the industry work to reflect the world changing around them.
Rachel Sparkman, lead singer of the Richmond hardcore punk band Memory Loss, is pretty familiar with this phenomenon. It’s one of the reasons she created the Be Bad Weekend, originally known as the Bad Girl Review, which is set for its fifth annual event this Friday and Saturday at Strange Matter.
Music has been a part of Sparkman’s life since she got her first cassette, Metallica's "Black Album."
“Ever since [I got that album] I’ve surrounded myself with people who were in music and I’ve got some supportive friends,” she says about her early days, forming bands with men and women who, thankfully, saw music before body parts.
“But there’s always that feeling that if your band is getting asked to play, is it because you’re a woman? Or if you're getting treated differently,” she says. She created this annual event to celebrate bands that center women and non-binary performers in music.
“I know it sounds like a double standard, but this is an event to celebrate this community we’ve built for ourselves," she explains. "And instead of being chosen for your gender in an exploitive way, it's a celebratory way."
While exploitative shows might seek to put a female-fronted band early on the bill to build faux cred, she sees Be Bad Weekend as a chance to put those same voices front and center.
“It’s not just about being a woman in a band. It’s about everyone coming and being comfortable. It’s not a sideshow circus. It’s important to have female vocals - the voices and the words,” she adds.
The lineup features 16 bands over two days. The sounds and styles vary greatly, from the spooky synth witchcraft of VV to the soulful R&B stylings of Kenneka Cook. It's this diversity that is sure to be the weekend's greatest resource. Sparkman was inspired partly by the now defunct First Time’s the Charm event, which offered musical newbies the chance to play their first live show inside a club.
“If people are around to give you that confidence it can be really cool,” she says. “It’s one of those ‘it takes a community’ moments.”
That’s what Be Bad Weekend aims to be - a supportive community.
“I think Richmond music, arts, culture collectively is opening up a little bit more. And hopefully we’ll see more representation and people will be more comfortable starting a band,” Sparkman says. “Maybe they’ll be more comfortable to start a band, join a band, and get that confidence to play music.”
Be Bad Weekend happens Friday Jan. 19 and Saturday, Jan. 20 at Strange Matter, 929 W. Grace St. Tickets are $10, all proceeds go to Girls Rock RVA, a local org that helps young women learn to play music. Find out more via Facebook.