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Skinny Girl Diet interview: punk and politics

"We're the babes with the power, the Powerpuff girls of the music scene; fighting society's expectations of what women can do whilst taking a stand." Henry Lewis caught up with the riot grrrl rockers.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 8th Mar 2017

Image: Skinny Girl Diet

True purveyors of the DIY scene, Skinny Girl Diet have battled their way into the riot grrrl mainframe and delivered debut Heavy Flow in September 2016. Pounding drumbeats from Ursula Holiday marry with sister Delilah Holiday's frenetic fretwork and searing vocals, all glued together by cousin Amelia Cutler's tight-as-hell basslines.

The result is a rip roaring display of punk rock that promotes messages of feminist social commentary in a scene where men dominate, and have done for all eternity.

Skinny Girl Diet have the backing of The Slits icon Viv Albertine, who once said of them: "real girls, young and believable, singing in their own voices. The music is raw, direct and unpretentious – these girls are timeless. They haven’t been squashed and moulded."

This is true in each and every aspect. The artwork for Heavy Flow makes a mockery of those who think that periods are abnormal, tackling a needlessly taboo subject head on.

We caught up with the group to find out more about their strong political roots and a proud DIY ethos.

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Hey there Skinny Girl Diet, hope you are well and looking forward to what 2017 brings! For people who aren’t familiar with your work, what is Skinny Girl Diet all about?

Delilah: We are an alternative band from London, too good for the mainstream. We're fighting the powers that be from oppressing innocent people with our art. We're trying to eventually create a platform and safe space for people that don't want to be oppressed and change the way things are for the better.

Ursula: We've been around for years now and we're the babes with the power, the Powerpuff girls of the music scene fighting society's expectations of what women can do whilst taking a stand. We called ourselves Skinny Girl Diet because Delilah was on tumblr one day when she was 14 and was bombarded with images of young girl's stomachs with skin barely covering their rib cages all in the name of a vile diet called skinny girl diet. Delilah then made a decision to call our band it as it's a commentary on the slim fast culture that's forced down our throats from such an early age.

We are pleased to say our masterplan has worked and a couple of girls have found us through looking into the diet and then listened to us instead. We've also taken over the web results, so people are forced to see three self-loving punk female musicians instead. We're trying to empower and make a space for anyone that doesn't fit into society's bullshit plan.

The misfits and oppressed people of society come and join us, wear makeup, look fabulous, do whatever the fuck you want. Fight the bourgeoisie right wing racist ableist sexist homophobes and always remember to love yourself as it's the biggest fuck you to society.

Amelia: We’ve been playing together for about 7 years. As a band we’re all about making meaningful music that resonates with people who feel they don’t conform to society’s standards. We want to create something that we ourselves can feel proud of, and that represents us as people.

You are all related in one way or another, does this benefit you in terms of your mindset towards music, politics and outlook on life? By that I mean do you have almost telepathic qualities and instantly ‘get’ where each other are coming from?

Delilah: Yeah we definitely all have a kind of ethereal connection. It feels natural and we just do our own thing. We are locked in a bubble of creativity and we don't give a fuck about the music industry, or how to be a part of it, we just do our own thing and hope real people understand it.

Ursula: We all have telekinesis powers. We didn't want to go public due to the CIA keeping tabs on us.

Amelia: There is definitely a strong connection between us. When we make new songs in rehearsals we all pretty much get where the song is going and it comes about naturally without having to say very much. I think it helps that we are all very like-minded - whether that’s a product of us being related I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thankful for. 

Your forays into the punk music scene were no doubt helped by incredible comments from Viv Albertine - describe your interactions with her

Delilah: She's a very inspiring woman and I feel humbled that she likes my band- we played two gigs together and we have been part of a discussion with her at the 100 Club.

Ursula: She's punk royalty and one interaction I had with her she touched my hand I haven't washed it since.

Amelia: It still feels a bit unreal, she is such an inspiration. It’s an honour to have the association!

You were still notably young when you were opening for the likes of Primal Scream over three years ago now – did that help to quickly remove any naivety you may have had coming into the world of music?

Delilah: We aren't really these social climbing careerist people. I think I can speak for all of us by saying we were humbled and we couldn't believe our luck really. Three young teenagers who had been making music for fun and then we get plucked out of nowhere and put on a really high profile gig it was kind of insane.

Ursula: I think due to my age at the time I thought it was just a fun gig in a massive space with a massive band, ridiculously amazing opportunity and I'm thankful. However, I think what impacts naivety is bad things forcing you to mature and playing with Primal Scream certainly wasn't a bad thing. The Roundhouse gig was like an awakening or a window into a completely other world.

Amelia: Not really. By that time we had been playing for a while so we were pretty used to being part of the world of music, though obviously on a much smaller scale. We’ve always been pretty sceptical people, and playing as young girls meant a lot of people, especially men in other bands or sound men, did assume we were naive (and incompetent musicians), so looked down on us a little. Playing with Primal Scream was such a positive, incredible experience, it really motivated us and made us realise that we could go further than we had.

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How is the punk scene looking these days? Particularly as a female outfit, I wanted to ask do you think it’s harder to gain respect in what I’d imagine is quite a patriarchal scene, can you describe what it’s been like for you?

Delilah: Well that's what we are fighting for, three women of colour making unusual music; every time we play a gig we are claiming a male dominated space for ourselves and that's the beauty of our band even existing. Yeah it's been tough but we never expected it not to be. If its not worth fighting for its not worth having.

Ursula: The punk scene, well there isn't much of a scene especially ones that are welcoming to women so hopefully all those that are outcasts come party with us. It's been hard getting constant belittling, snide remarks and plain sexism, but while they were stood there saying all of that shit, and wasting their time being arseholes making us feel like we were never good enough, we worked on ourselves, progressed and pushed ourselves at our instruments. They're unable to do that as male privilege made them lazy.

Amelia: When we started we played a lot in the queer DIY scene, which was really great. Everyone was absolutely lovely and supportive and took us under their wing. They’re the closest to what I would call the punk scene, since they show that sort of ethos, though the music itself is very diverse and may not necessarily be what people consider 'punk'. On the other hand, what might be considered the punk scene, from a musical genre perspective, tends to be full of middle-class men who are drowning in their own machismo. It’d be impossible to gain their respect and I wouldn’t want to.

The album cover for Heavy Flow is extremely striking – was the concept for it yours?

Delilah: Yeah it was a joke we had been laughing about and planning for five years.

Ursula: Everything we do is ours, from the ideas and artistic direction to funding it all independently.

Amelia: Everything of ours is our own.

How good was it to get a full-length release out there after a couple of years of releasing EPs etc?

Delilah: Very satisfying.

Ursula: It still feels unreal.

Amelia: It felt amazing, especially since we were able to do it independently.

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Have you always been interested in politics and political movements? Was it brought on by your love for punk music or did you interest in politics encourage you to want to be in a punk band?

Delilah: They kind of go hand in hand for me personally. I love punk more that politics. Because politics can be very depressing. But its definitely something as a band we care about passionately. We never stop talking about and analysing current affairs. They are how we create art. What's the point in making music if it's not about something that means something?

Ursula: We were raised by our parents on punk as they were around when it formed, they took us to demonstration marches when we were tiny and we grew up loving it. Our politics are just those that all humane people with a brain should believe, so they don't feel 'shocking' to us. Both things, punk and politics, are just who we are equally. The punk ideology is included in what our political beliefs are and punk music is what I like to listen too. Forming a band with all those influencing it was inevitable.

Amelia: We’ve grown up with both politics and punk, thanks to our parents, so they’ve always been a big part of our lives. Politics is such an intrinsic part of everyone's lives, and affects every aspect of it, so I feel like it’s not something you can get away from. It seems counter-intuitive to shut out and ignore it.

You’re champions of the DIY ethos not only in the music you make, but also as an unsigned act making a name for yourselves, is this something that is important to you?

Delilah: DIY life chose us to be honest. It's just who we are. I would HATE being controlled by anyone or anything. I like being free and collecting all the commission we are owed. However it's really fucking hard to do everything ourselves and spread the message further. We also get ripped off a lot by chumps who get signed and have no original ideas but they have more resources and money. Which is frustrating but I'd rather have original ideas and always be one step ahead.

Ursula: It's brilliant when you're your own boss and there's something so beautiful about the DIY way; especially in such a 'technology, quick fix, everything's got to be perfect otherwise it's wrong' generation. It's also working with the resources you have around you, so it's a very intimate thing that you're giving to people.

Amelia: The independence is something we treasure, as it’s the best way to keep the band true to ourselves and what we believe in. It’s hard work but it’s very rewarding. 

Does the idea of signing to a major label interest you?

Delilah: Yeah definitely, we have never turned our noses up to ever signing a record deal. But we aren't interested in a corrupt record deal trapping us to a long time of ownership and a tiny amount of money for it.

Ursula: Selling my soul to the devil interests me, if the contract is good enough.

Amelia: The only appeal of a major label is having the financial ability to realise all of our ideas and being able to afford things like tours.

Furthermore, you were involved in Independent Venue Week at the beginning of the year, how important are the UK’s small venues, especially to the punk/ DIY scene?

Delila: Very important, they give London its culture.

Ursula: Gentrification is the biggest murderer of creative spaces so playing them while they're still there is awesome and hopefully we'll be helping keep them alive.

Amelia: It’s really important to support small and independent venues; without them the music scene would be even less diverse, and it’d be that much harder for new bands to play. We need to do our best to keep creativity in our cities, especially in a time where funding for the arts has been cut so severely.