Feminist rock collective Permanent Wave gathers a powerful music scene around a core of activism. Just don’t call them riot grrrls.
On the opposite end, the Internet also replaces local physical interaction with a global digital simulacrum of interaction. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that this disembodied communication is not entirely good. That’s what makes Permanent Wave’s shows so important. They take connections that have grown online and bring them into a friendly place in the real world, one based on local connections. New York’s chapter is the largest and most established, San Francisco’s is the newest, and chapters have popped up in Boston and Philadelphia. Permanent Wave runs on the idea that inspired Occupy Wall Street and the Native American camp on Alcatraz, among others: If you take a physical place that society wants to deem neutral and declare it yours in the name of your beliefs, people will react. 285 Kent, where MEN played, could be called a lot of things: hidden, cool, probably illegal. You’d never think it had a political bone in its body, but there was Emily May, representing the anti-street harassment group Hollaback!, explaining between sets how reporting one act of sexual harassment could help all women everywhere. Said one enthusiastic audience member, pointing to the stage, “I can’t believe this is happening here!”
A few days after the MEN show, Permanent Wave put on another show at another Brooklyn D.I.Y. venue, Death by Audio. The crowd was decidedly smaller, from the hundreds to barely scraping 30. The openers were eclectic and fun, especially Sophie Weiner’s Silent Drape Runners, who mix a love of Twin Peaks with bizarro Mariah Carey covers. Yet the headliner, semi-Internet famous La Big Vic, were an absolute drag. The listless trio scuttled along with what sounded like an attenuated version of Moby, and not even Play Moby. 18 Moby. And not even the good songs on 18. They swayed back and forth, occasionally stirring, but seemed more intent on creating the ambiance for a really cool dentist’s office.
The crowd, full of partisans, murmured about it being “not their best show.” The room was full of familiar faces, ones I recognized from previous Permanent Wave events. By their looks, it was clear that some of them would rather have been at home on that Tuesday night, yet they were out there anyway, offering vegan brownies and printouts about stopping domestic violence instead of hawking crap from a merch table. A donations jar was a third full with one-dollar bills. This, it was easy to see, was why Permanent Wave is going to be a success. Non-magical nights like this are what build a movement, slowly, steadily. Permanent Wave is integrating itself not only into New York’s music scene, but into scenes across the country, hoping to permanently alter the status quo.
Amy Klein grew up, like nearly all Permanent Wavers, in the George W. Bush years. She told me about being raised in an environment of “not apathy, just people feeling discouraged.” At the time, the idea that Bush’s wars and policies could be turned back was laughable, and Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority seemed to be a more likely reality than not. Yet the day after Occupy Wall Street was removed from Zuccotti Park in New York, where Klein had led an OccupyRape protest just days earlier, Klein told me, “I think if we only talk about economics we’re only getting part of the picture, so I hope the movement expands, not just to Wall Street, but to an intersectionality of a lot of different kinds of inequality in America.”
Whatever sort of spell of hopelessness Bush inflicted upon young people, it has clearly dissipated. Three years into the presidency of Barack Obama, feminists are feeling a particular frustration that they are still fighting the same old battles as yesteryear. The great battles of 2011 were nearly all defensive, and 2012 seems like it’s going to take a similar tack. Permanent Wave is set to provide some much-needed offense.
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