Arts & Culture

The Four Horsewomen of Rock: Gender and Uprising

Heavy music genres like Metal and Rock are often wrongly associated with 
testosterone dominance.Here is a parable of the four revolutionary women who not only changed this gendered notion but also made their signature mark in the hall of fame.

The music industry especially the rock & roll and heavy metal category has been dominated by men for centuries. Artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Jimmy Page, Stevie Vaughan Lemmy Kilmister or Slash are the golden appellations profoundly establishing their hegemony in this field. The bitter truth is, patriarchy has been deeply entrenched into this mosh pit. The Rock and metal industry, as per the societal trends is supposed to be male-dominated because women are considered to be “shy” and “timid” rather than energetic metal prowlers. 

Although there were multiple women actively participating in the industry , it was these four revolutionary women who belonged to different periods and bands, and managed to create their mark in this gendered industry.

Kristen Pffaf

Kristen Pffaf playing her signature Fender Precision Bass.
Image Credits: Loud-wire

Kristen Pfaff was an alternative rock music bass player, especially known for her affiliations to the bands such as Hole or Janitor Joe. The pain in these beautiful lines, “I made my bed I’ll lie in it; I made my bed I’ll cry in it; I made my bed I’ll lie in it; I made my bed I’ll die in it “, were brought by Pfaff for the Hole song ‘Miss World’ from her song “Limited Edition”, of her previous band, Janitor Joe. Pfaff was typically trained in classical instruments such as cello and piano when she formed her first band and learned to play the bass guitar. 

Janitor Joe was a grunge band mounting a successive rise with their earlier recordings, embarking their mark in the mainstream 90s. Pfaff indeed had a unique technique comprising of the amalgamation of classical and grunge elements giving a further stimulus to the rise of NU metal music. Unfortunately, this young musician died at a very young age under very unusual circumstances. Officially, she died from a heroin overdose and her friend Paul Erickson found her dead, on June 16th, 1994, locked in her bathroom with some drug paraphernalia on the floor. The last person who saw her alive was Hole guitarist and boyfriend Eric Erlandson, who visited her the evening before. The police declared it was an overdose, but once again, things don’t exactly add up because previously Pfaff stated that her life was under threat, alleging Erlandson conspiring for her bereavement.

Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss playing for Alice Cooper in Australia.
Image Credits: Vintage Guitar Magazine 

Rock and metal guitarist Nita Strauss notably known for her stint with the infamous British band ‘Iron Maiden’, paving the way for another unconventional example with her signature Ibanez JIVA. Notably, Nita was interested in the old school rock music during her childhood, in an interview with Loudwire , she stated that when she was 15, it was awkward for her to go to a guitar store to get strings. Employees wanted to know whether she was buying them for her dad, brother or boyfriend.

Several other instances are frequently cited by Strauss, which highlight the gendered prejudices in the music industry. When she was rising through the ranks, she would show up to a gig with her guitar, only to later be told by the security that the girls needed to leave so the band could have its space. A venue employee ignorant of Strauss’s musician status even asked her to leave her dressing room. But this did not impede Nita’s love for music. Her unique finger flash tapping techniques giving her guitar solos a smooth though monstrous tone. This was best portrayed in her immortal 2018 debut solo album, ‘Controlled Chaos’ which debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top New Artists Chart and her guitar clinics are sought out by fans and seasoned players alike. 

Currently, Nita is playing lead for the legendary Alice Cooper. While she’s certainly not the first prominent female guitarist, there’s no denying Strauss’ continued to bring female shredders to the forefront and showing young girls that they, too, can take the lead guitar role.

Amy Lee

Amy Lee performing on July 6, 2012 in Milan, Italy.
Image Credits: The Billboard

Amy Lee is the most renowned female vocalist in the metal as well as rock and roll arena. She is currently the lead singer of the band Evanescence. Notable she has also collaborated with bands such as Korn and Seether; reputably Lee as a solo artist has also contributed to the soundtrack for Underworld and musical projects such as ‘Nightmare Revisited’, ‘Muppets: The Green Album’ and ‘We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash’. Amy follows an innovative singing style with a mix and pulls chest chic, giving her voice the depth and resonance, she is known for.

In her interview with the Karang, she stated that women do get left out in the rock and roll arena because ‘our face is not the classic, quintessential face of rock’; adding that she felt as though she was treated differently when Evanescence broke through into the mainstream and that was partly because she was one of the few females in a male-dominated scene.

She explained, “It’s funny, but it was really hard for me to separate what was me being a kid and what was me being a girl, I learned how to have more confidence in my gut and how to stand up to that. Even in my band, I’ve always been the youngest. It’s funny, I’m the leader, I’m a chick and I’m the youngest one, so it’s going to take everybody either being really cool or standing back. No matter who you are, no matter what sex you are, you have to know when to stand up for yourself, especially when it comes to art.”

Meg White

Image Captions: Meg White with Jack in their recording studio.
Image Credits: Sound on Sound

The loud thumping of the snares with the incoming seven nation army reminds us of the legendary drummer of the Band White stripes, Meg White. Meg currently being inactive in contemporary times since the breakup of Band in 2011, is marked responsible for some of the most memorable and original songs of the past two decades. Meg’s drumming style is unique in its simplicity, and Jack has often stated that this simplicity is essential to the White Stripes’ childlike visual. Meg has also acted as an occasional vocalist for the band, notably with the track In the Cold, Cold Night in the “Elephant” album.

Meg was at the center of another paradox. Her bashing, smashing and booming made her one of the loudest musicians of this century. And yet she’s often remembered, and in some cases criticized, for being a quiet person.

The legendary rock icon, Dave Grohl states that she is one of the best of all time and that he holds her in the same esteem as iconic drummers such as Keith Moon and John Bonham. In his interview with the rolling stone, he stated he enjoys listening to drummers who may not be technically proficient but have made great music nonetheless, especially drummers such as Meg White.

However unfortunately in September 2007, months after releasing the radically creative album Icky Thump, The White Stripes made an announcement that marked the beginning of the end. They were cancelling their entire upcoming fall U.S. tour. An official statement from the duo read, “Meg White is suffering from acute anxiety and is unable to travel at this time.” Cue any Meg naysayers to come out of the woodwork and complain that not only was she not worthy of being in the band in the first place, but that she was responsible for its demise. But what music history ought really to remember here is that this was an artist who, at the very height of fame, dared to be upfront about taking care of her mental health, whether or not it was disappointing to fans.

Feature Image Credits: Dribbble

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Nirmanyu Chouhan

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