The landscape of UK bands is much better for the presence of Big Joanie. The London trio’s debut album, Sistahs, was released at the end of 2018, and it features all the ingredients of a great indie-punk record. With raw riffs, emotive songwriting and moody vocals, Sistahs is an addictive, thought-provoking album which excitingly suggests that the overwhelmingly white and male punk scene might be starting to change (albeit slowly).
The band was brought together by vocalist and guitarist Steph Phillips after she shared a post on Facebook seeking musicians for a black punk band. Soon enough Steph, bassist Estella Adeyeri and drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone had made their live debut at First Timers, DIY Space for London’s showcase for new bands. Six years on, and they’re stronger than ever. They’ve supported the likes of Parquet Courts and Downtown Boys, and on 10 – 11 June, Big Joanie will open for Bikini Kill at Brixton Academy – the Riot Grrrl pioneer’s first UK shows in 23 years.
Three is often a magic number in punk — what more could you need than a singer-slash-guitarist, bassist and drummer, anyway? — and Big Joanie prove that more than most. Steph spoke to The Face about some of the musical trios who are close to her heart.
Sleater-Kinney really influenced the way I thought about writing emotional songs, and my approach to punk music. I saw them when they reformed in London at the Roundhouse and it was so emotional. I was singing along to every song with everyone else. I never got to see them when I first found out about them – I think they broke up literally a couple of months after I first found out about them as a teenager – so it was like all my teenage dreams coming true. Being able to play and sing and do everything they do is definitely something I really aspire to. They are one of those bands that haven’t really been topped yet. They were always doing their own thing and no one has really ever been able to replicate it.
The Ronettes were all teenagers and they managed to create the sound of youth that everyone wanted to copy. That whole ‘60s teenage, African-American, female sound has been something that loads of people have tried to capture. It’s always been made by black women and young black women, and that element of black joy and female power is something that I always find really amazing to listen to. It always makes me feel happy, and always makes me believe in what we are doing. We’ve always been at the forefront of rock ’n’ roll.
They’re a band that I’ve only recently got into, but I’ve been listening to all of Hüsker Dü’s albums lately. I think they are, again, one of those bands that are really influential in ways that you forget about now. They started out as hardcore ‘80s alternative rock, and they made that become more popular, and then they became more melodic. It was the building ground for bands like Pixies and Nirvana. I want to try to write songs like New Day Rising, but it’s not happened yet. It’s music you can put on to pump you up and make you feel better.
Shopping are a really good example of what’s going on in the punk scene at the moment. It’s so creative right now — we are really thinking beyond a set idea of what punk is supposed to be. People think the punk scene stopped in the late-‘70s, and that it was always that straightforward. But when you listen to Shopping — their music is so poppy, and about bringing life to people, and making people feel happy — you can see how much it has developed and how much punk has become so much better. Yeah, in terms of music, but also in terms of everything else — better representation for people of colour, better representation for queer people.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
Karen O was everything I wanted to be when I was younger, but I was far too shy and too worried about what people thought. Deep down I wanted to be as out there and able to take up as much space as she did. I think they came out at a really interesting time. The fact that she was a person of colour was never mentioned in any press or anything about them. As an East Asian woman, she would have been marginalised in a weird way if that was a part of her narrative, so I think it shows the change in our perceptions in those 20 years. If they came out now, they would probably be taken a completely different way than they were back then. I remember when I first heard them – there was a whirlwind of colour, a whirlwind of joy and a bit of rebellion in those party tunes. I remember my mum thinking it was so strange that I was into them.