Karina Utomo of High Tension - Photographed by Matt Warrell
Karina Utomo of High Tension - Photographed by Matt Warrell

Meet the Women of Melbourne’s Hardcore Music Scene

By Monique Myintoo | @aumonique_                                  

Photograph by Matt Warrell

Until I was 20-years-old, I had never questioned my experiences in the Melbourne hardcore scene. It was an unusually frigid summer night, the air itself humming from flickering lights as crowds congregated amongst cigarette smoke and the echoing chatter of the Northcote Social Club. Brisk to tumble into the venue, my night was set through a series of impulsive performances framed through the friendly duress of hurling bodies and an all-powerful, rhythmic pit. Fumbling my way between gaps in the crowd, I found myself resting by the stairwell trying to catch my breath. It was there a woman maybe only five years older than me had collapsed out cold, struggling to remain conscious. Instinctively passing on water to one of her friends, I stood alongside them as they continued to call her name and ensure everything would be okay. “Thank you so much,” the woman’s friend turned to me, gripping the cup so hard it splashed against her knuckles, “we all have to help each other out.” It was the first time I felt such a burning sense of camaraderie.

Pressing up against a gritty passageway with a sigh, I was searching for patterns in my own experiences. Recently, I had been scouring the web for articles expressing my feelings; ‘being a woman in hardcore’, ‘why does hardcore music connect people’ and ‘feminism in hardcore,’ peppering my search results. I crossed my fingers — but not too tightly — hoping I could find a place to project my feelings about this music community.

Sitting together in a small café surrounded by cobblestone and thick glass, Karina Utomo and I began our conversations filled with the impending doom of due dates. Recently returning from tour as part of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Karina was neck-deep in new collections and business outside her band, High Tension. “I’ve always been a big hardcore fan,” she begun, speaking into a glass of craft beer, “It’s a pretty unique community because fans are so loyal. There’s that sense of experience, that, in a positive way, is addictive.”

This addiction was something afflicting me by age 13 and I attributed it to my constant hunger for new music, something beyond late night Rage telecasts and Myspace recommended pages. From Silverstein to The Red Shore, I collated my clichéd, loud and cathartic playlists, burning my strategically planned mixtape CDs and awarding them with felt-tip marker accolades like ‘scre@mo’, ‘heavy :)’ and ‘HARDCORE’. By the time I hit 14, I was enthralled in experiencing something chaotic, grimy and totally inclusive. More specifically, the gushing house party of Enter Shikari’s music video, Sorry You’re Not A Winner.

Reflecting on her own early band days in Young And Restless’ Karina smiled, “one of the funnest shows we played was a house party, as soon as we got onstage things were destroyed.” She continued, “I think there’s so many aspects about hardcore that is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.” To a younger me these experiences felt infinite and faraway, but I was stuck with nervousness. How could a young woman like me validate herself in a community so seemingly distant?

I was 16 when I attended my first hardcore show. It was the year I decided to get bangs after discovering Tumblr and began recognising my self-worth completely and lovingly. “Don’t be afraid to get among the crowd,” I told myself, slowly stepping into the small and dusty venue. “I know all the lyrics. I’m dedicated, I’m strong.” It was only then I recognised all my fears were, at their simplest roots, physical.

“When I wanted to start my first hardcore band, my main concern was that I didn’t have the physical ability to sing in that hardcore way.” Karina paused, trying to find the words to explain her frustrations, “in every other genre, there’s not a (sic) specific voice or type of vocal execution. I wanted to explore the limits of ‘grindcore’ in terms of being able to erase the gendered aspect in my voice.”

This erasure of gender was an element I too felt moving into the scene, innate from the discourse of punk histories and the fear of wanting to be taken seriously as a woman. “Every approach I had was very masculine in a sense,” Karina said, “It was from that fear of wanting to be taken seriously, to make it easy for myself and achieve that goal of wanting to play with hardcore bands.” Afflicted by these anxieties on my own terms, my fear had suddenly reached a crescendo that rung incredibly clear at 18.

Only I could validate myself.  

Karina chuckled, “there’s been so many situations where my gender has been undermined. I laugh about it. It’s never (sic) a personal attack, it has always been a sustained discourse.” Recognising these discourses, Karina and I had both taken our individual experiences by the horns, choosing to remain positive and feel empowered in an industry projecting itself as inherently masculine. “I think it’s important for women to feel comfortable in being themselves, it’s incredibly important not to put any pressure on yourself to be a certain way to fit in.”

While this underbelly of self-confidence was the driving force in both our experiences, it was the result of finding our voices — collective or otherwise — in the Melbourne hardcore community. “To me, feminism in hardcore is just about not being afraid of these hurdles”, Karina admits, swirling her drink, “I think the more perspectives we have – the more experiences, the more honesty – we can communicate and talk about things that are difficult. As artists using [music as a] platform, we have a real privilege to discuss things that are important. Intense. I don’t feel like it’s necessary to force discussions. But having discourse and dialogue is an important way to get resolution.”
Briefly looking up from my empty glass, I began staring at the bustling Melbourne laneway we were nestled in. I felt an undeniable sense of positivity.

Karina paused momentarily, then said, “I feel like as an individual you can project positive or negative experiences. I feel that your outlook has to be positive. You have to believe in what you’re doing and you also have to trust people. As much as there is a perception of hurdles of being a woman in the hardcore scene, there’s also so many advantages.”

It’s through these advantages defining our stories; stories swollen with inept bedroom playlists, private catharsis, and hours spent pushing against bloody, sweat-fuelled crowds. Until I was 20-years-old, I had never questioned my experiences to be universal or encompassing, but for the longest time I tried to find my mantra.

I am a young woman in the Melbourne hardcore scene, I tell myself again, one who has found a voice through camaraderie, both in myself and through the positivity of others. This will never cease.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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