Loud, angry and unapologetic, the riotous Petrol Girls take on one of Bristol’s best live venues, Exchange, on Saturday night. Supporting popular US punk giants Strike Anywhere, Petrol Girls are a raging feminist post-hardcore band straight out of South East London. With roots in the extended Bristol area, the band is returning to the city for a blowout show – and they intend to make it a loud one.
Thoughtful yet furious, Petrol Girls’ sound is a meditated mix of infuriated shouting and a sprinkling of pretty melodies fully set to ignite your inner activist. Nitelife had a chat with guitarist Joe York about the band’s new album Talk Of Violence, summer tour plans and their forthcoming show at Exchange.
Give us some background on Petrol Girls; how you came together and how you discovered your name.
Ren (the singer) and Liepa (the bassist) started the band initially for a house show for International Women’s day in 2013. Back then Ren was playing acoustic guitar so you can imagine it was very different to how we sound now. I joined shortly after thinking it would be a casual project but it snowballed into something a lot more full on. We played with loads of different drummers but eventually settled with the awesome Zock. Looking back, it’s crazy how much we’ve progressed since the early days.
Looking back, it’s crazy how much we’ve progressed since the early days
The name was Ren’s idea. We were at a talk by the feminist writer Laurie Penny and she mentioned Les Petroleuses – a mythical group of badass women from the Paris commune. They supposedly made Molotov cocktails from milk bottles and the name roughly translates to Petrol Girls.
How would you describe your sound and the concept behind your latest album, Talk of Violence? Conceptually the album is about themes of violence and thinking about what that word means and how it is used in a political context. For example protesters will be demonised in the media as violent for breaking some windows – inanimate objects. Whereas would we use the same description for austerity, borders, capitalism or patriarchy? It’s about understanding that there are insidious and systematic forms of violence in our society and drawing attention to how the word is used as a tool to manipulate public perception.
Sonically, it’s a mix of rhythmically jagged angular riffs and furious shouting with occasional melodic breaks. We’re all about playing live music so we tried to capture that feeling in the record.
protesters will be demonised in the media as violent for breaking some windows – inanimate objects. Would we use the same description for austerity, borders, capitalism or patriarchy?
Do you have a personal favourite track on the album?
Probably Clay or Treading Water. Crowd favourites seem be Touch Me Again and Restless, though.
Are you currently working on any exciting projects you can tell us about?
We’re collecting audio submissions of people’s personal experiences of sexual violence at festivals, for example harassment and assault, to use as a soundscape at all the festivals we’re playing this year. Ideally we want them to be relating specifically to each festival so we can have a unique soundscape for each one.
Also outside of the band we’ve got a few cool new things going on. Ren’s started a new project called PASTE which is like hardcore meets spoken word. She also did an essay about gendered violence for a book called Nasty Women, which has just been published and is available at 404ink.com.
Zock’s fairly recently joined a new band on guitar called Barrier Reef The Great. They’re recording an album at the moment. And I’ve also got some new musical projects in the works, but that’s very early days right now.
In terms of a Bristol influence, would you say the city’s unique sound and live music scene has influenced your development as a band?
Well Ren and I grew up near Bristol, so it was the city that introduced us to the DIY punk scene and where we played in our first bands. It certainly had a big influence on us personally, though it was ska punk that was all the rage back then. As a band however, not really. We formed in London and have spent most of our time together living there, and now we’re relocating to Austria! Bristol does have an amazing scene though, we always have great shows there and would definitely call it one of our favourite places to play in the UK.
Bristol was the city that introduced us to the DIY punk scene and where we played in our first bands
Which artists or groups would you say are most influential to your sound at the moment?
We sometimes get compared to bands like Refused and War on Women. Both awesome bands who we definitely take some influence from. Though I’d say our sound is mainly down to Zock and Ren listening to loads of punk music, and Me and Liepa listening to loads of music that isn’t punk. So the result is music that’s kind of punk and kind of not.
Tell us about the thought process and political motivation behind your music?
Most of our music starts off as something more subconscious and personal, and then as we flesh it out it takes on more of a clear message that makes sense as broader political commentary. For example Slug started off being about depression and then later took on wider themes about borders and alienation. Touch Me Again lyrically came from Ren’s personal experiences of sexual assault and then grew into an anthem about consent. It also uses the demo chant ‘my body my choice’, which is increasingly relevant at the moment.
You’re touring with Strike Anywhere and will be playing alongside them on Saturday night. What dates are you most excited about, and what can we expect from your show?
Well Bristol has got to be up there just because it’s always good and we have lots of friends there. London is gonna be awesome because we’re also playing a midday show before with a really cool band called Paint It Black. Then there’s Groezrock Festival in Belgium, which will be huge. What to expect at the show? I don’t really know, come down and see for yourself!
Have you got anything exciting in the pipeline for the summer?
Yeah, we’re touring and playing loads of festivals. Locally to Bristol, we’ve got Boomtown and 2000 trees, which both look really exciting.
What is the most important message you hope people take home from listening to your music or watching you perform live?
We always make a point to talk about consent. Don’t try and sleep with people who are too drunk or on drugs. If someone says no, they mean no. You need explicit consent every time.
PETROL GIRLS LIVE: 22 April – Strike Anywhere, Petrol Girls + more, Exchange
petrolgirls.bandcamp.com //words by Molly Chinner // photography by Isha Shah & Al Simmons