Stockholm Straight Edge pushes the envelope for a more equal scene

Last week the promoter group Stockholm Straight Edge announced they would start booking more bands with female members. Today women are underrepresented in their booking history, amongst both gig visitors and member base. Something needs to and is about to change, so I went for some dinner with Hannah Savvas and Johan Ekström of Stockholm Straight Edge to talk about gender equality, online expressions of hate and last years Fallbrawl debacle.

Gärdet, just six minutes with the subway from central Stockholm, is where I’m headed. Johan’s invited me for dinner with him and Hannah. Though, it so happens to be that it’s more or less full house when I arrive. Johan explains that several from the Stockholm Straight Edge crew lives nearby and that it’s quite common that they meet up, make dinner and perhaps watch a movie together. Just like a family.

And it shows. The laughs and occasional teasing in the kitchen seems like something they’re accustomed to. Friends doing what friends do. After some time and a lot of “Should the stew really look like this?” everybody sits down to eat. A finished vegan meal and a couple of laughs later the coffee is served and Johan asks the others to quiet down. I start off by asking about the background of Stockholm Straight Edge’s work for a more gender equal hardcore scene. And why it now feels like a relevant question.

Johan: – I’d say it’s always felt as a relevant question. One reason is that we’ve grown a lot as an organization. And the more you grow the more responsibility you should take. We have, if I may say so, become a quite important part of the hardcore scene in Stockholm, so I think it’s mainly because of that.

– How’s the feedback been?
Hannah: – Positive, but there have been a couple of people wondering how we on more practical terms will be able to pull it off.

Johan: – Some people have been skeptical to it but the overall feedback has been positive. The first update on Facebook we did about this was the single most popular update we’ve ever done, which for us is rather positive. People outside the hardcore scene have even picked it up. So the feedback has definitely been positive.

I follow up with a question of what they think the reasons are for so many men are drawn to the hardcore scene, but Johan quickly points out that the question itself is wrongly phrased.

Johan: – The hardcore scene doesn’t attract a lot of men. It attracts fewer women in comparison.

Hannah: – I myself would say that society itself is a cause of that. It’s not only the hardcore scene where it’s a majority of men involved. Metal and hip-hop are other genres as well. It’s a lot because men are brought up in a way where they are allowed more space than women.

Johan: – I know there have been discussions regarding violence at shows and that it may be a reason why women are drawn away from hardcore, because of the moshing and so on. It’s very rare at our gigs but there have been occasions when people have started fighting. I’m more skeptical to that kind of reasoning because I wouldn’t say there’s more violence at our shows than other concerts or nightclubs.

– Or at an Undergång show…
Johan: [laughs] – Or at an Undergång show.

– Why do you think that sexism is so widely spread in a scene where activism is so deeply rooted?
Hannah: – I think you have to differentiate between people who say they’re politically involved and those who actually are. Personally I think many like to talk about how politically involved they are but when you go to participate in a demonstration you rarely see someone you know. That’s why I think this is a good way of starting a discussion regarding sexism. And to get more women involved in the scene.

Johan: – I think one reason may be that many group people as either sexists or non-sexists. I don’t believe it works that way, but sexism is rather a framework that permeates the entire society. And it permeates me as an individual, the hardcore scene as a platform and everything else in your daily life. A lot of people have the mindset of others being sexist or non-sexist but you miss out on the fact that sexist frameworks influence you as an individual as well as the hardcore scene. It’s a shame because I genuinely think that a lot of people in the hardcore scene identify themselves with, for example, feminism. But you have to accept the fact that you as an individual do not remain unaffected by things that happen in overall society.

Hannah: – You also have to differentiate between hardcore scenes in different countries. I think it’s important. Like when you meet people from other countries, who are involved in the hardcore scene, but you recognize have a different view on things. That you recognize as cultural differences.

Johan: – Sweden has come quite far with feminism in our society. So it feels natural that the hardcore scene discusses it as well. While in other countries our point of view is seen as something foreign. Which was something we noticed with the cancellation of Fallbrawl last year.

– The cancellation of Fallbrawl stirred up some strong emotions and the band also got support from Shattered Realm. Were you surprised by all the turmoil?
Johan: – No, not really. I think they made their music video to get attention and that they must’ve been aware of that it was startling. They obviously didn’t see it as an issue. So when we cancelled Fallbrawl they e-mailed us thinking it was a bad joke. It became clear to us and everybody else that it was a collision of two very different opinions. With that in mind it’s not that surprising that it became such turmoil. It also became clear that our visitors supported our decision, even though some commented it as strange, while Fallbrawl’s fans thought we were idiots and so did the fans of Shattered Realm.

Hannah: – The thing is it’s quite amusing to see how much of their fan base actually are comprised of men.

– How was the discussion atmosphere?
Johan: – Shattered Realm started off and wrote, “We want to say fuck you to Stockholm Straight Edge.”, and it’s very hard to try to discuss with that as a starting point. However, I think we tried to reason with them and reached some kind of agreement.

Hannah: – Like, agree to disagree.

Johan: – We were a little concerned that Fallbrawl’s booking agency would get upset with the cancellation. But they were very understanding, didn’t ask any questions and understood why we felt as we did. Some other promoters also contacted us to ask what we had said to the booking agency, and if I understood it correctly there were more cancellations. I think Fallbrawl had to recognize that, even if they didn’t think the video was bad, it was controversial and a lot of people were against it.

A couple of weeks ago SVT (Swedish Television) aired a documentary about men’s online expressions of hate towards women. Several well-known journalists and news anchors presented selected e-mails and comments that they’ve received containing hateful comments of death threats and rape threats. “You’re a real bitch and whore, you have two weeks left to live and I’ll show you I’m serious”, “What you need is being fucked broken by a baseball bat”, “One day I’ll slit your throat and shove the knife up your cunt” and similar comments were just some of the disturbing texts that were read out loud. Needless to say, the documentary got a lot of attention from both regular and social media, showing that Sweden as any other country has fundamental issues with allowing women to be free to have opinions. Being a relevant subject, I ask my interviewees if they’ve noticed any similar patterns within the hardcore scene.

Johan: – I’ve seen some examples within the scene but not to the same extent as portrayed in that TV show. But I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I’m a male and such hatred would not be directed towards me.

– Will the process of change focus on gender equality or will you work on intersectionality regarding gender, ethnicity and class as well?
Johan: – We’re aware of other problems within the scene, one thing being that a white male straight middle class dominates the scene. I want to work with those issues in the future, but we’d jeopardize the entire project if we’d try to fix everything at once. So we’ll focus on the gender equality issue to begin with. We’ve made a list of paragraphs to work by but the main goal is to recognize female artists and bands with female members that we can book. As I said before, we have to be aware that sexist frameworks permeate our organization as well. Especially since we’re a majority of men in the organization. We hope that when more women are represented on-scene that…

Hannah: – …women who visit our shows will say, “Awesome, I can do that too!” I know there’s people who want to but don’t really know where to begin, so that’s something we’ll have to work on to get people excited on starting a band. If it’s what you want. You can’t just assume that everyone wants to start a band; some just like the music but don’t necessarily want to perform.

– Do you feel you have a responsibility, since Stockholm Straight Edge is a well-known organization in Sweden’s hardcore scene, to work with gender equality?
Johan: – The reason behind this is partly due to responsibility but it’s also something that we felt we wanted to do since several in the organization feel equality issues are important. That together with the fact that our organization is an important part of hardcore music in Stockholm. To my knowledge we’re the only one in Stockholm booking hardcore acts since Sunpower Booking called it quits. We probably have the best possibility to influence this situation. I think we should take the responsibility.

– Last, any bands you’d like to push for?
Johan: – Beyond Pink! They made one of the best albums of last year and I think I saw them for the first time about 9-10 years ago and I have been hooked ever since. We also got a tip of a band I previously hadn’t listened to who’s called Tiger Bell, which I really like.

Hannah: – We also got tips about Heart On My Sleeve, which we’ve booked before and will play on one of our gigs in March. Landverraad! Comes from Holland, I think, and is a band we’ve been in contact with since another tip. So maybe that’s a band that we’ll book after this summer.

For more information about Stockholm Straight Edge please visit their Facebook page where they post about interesting events and other things concerning the hardcore scene.