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Guitar music is in the doldrums, but all-female bands are spearheading its revival

The Big Moon secured only the second ever Mercury Prize nomination for an all-women guitar band.

By Natalia Bus

The dire state of UK guitar music is so widely accepted it’s something even the Gallagher brothers can agree on. In an interview earlier this year, Liam lamented that “No one’s cranking it up and having a bit of aggro,” while Noel’s position remains clear: “If you’re talking about new rock music…people are going on about Royal Blood, but I’m like, “Really?” I don’t fucking get it. Show me the tunes. Rock has left the building.”

Yet in the shape of one of this year’s Mercury Prize nominees, The Big Moon, we may be looking at one way the scene is preparing to prove rock and roll’s most vocal veterans wrong.

Despite being only the second all-female guitar band to be nominated for the award during its 25-year history, the London four-piece are far more concerned with being regarded as musicians ahead of anything else. “We just are girls and we’re also a band, there’s no other way we could be,” they say down a crackly phone line from a Portland, Oregon hotel room, the latest stop on their current tour with singer-songwriter Marika Hackman.

The Big Moon’s frontwoman, Juliette Jackson, assures me that gender was not a consideration when putting the band together: “I kind of ran around looking for people to start a band with me”. She found her fellow band members through friends of friends, recruiting Fern Ford (drums) and Soph Nathan (guitar), before bassist Celia Archer completed the group. The band have been together for two years, during which they have made it on to the Mercury shortlist with Love in the 4th Dimension and grown into a gang of tight-knit friends.

Their journey into the spotlight was fast-paced and hectic. They had only played a handful of live shows together before debut single “Eureka Moment” blew up on SoundCloud, sparking online buzz that led to a deal with Hard Up Records and release of additional single, “Sucker”.

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When asked about being a female guitar band in a still male-dominated music genre, they insist that it’s not really an issue. Jackson says that while festival organisers may be making a more conscious effort to book a wider range of female talent, their main concern is with ticket sales. The Big Moon’s brand of care-free indie rock certainly sells tickets. Their set at this year’s Glastonbury festival saw the William’s Green stage packed to the brim.

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The four-piece aren’t the only band resurrecting guitar music today. While being a female group may be a non-issue for The Big Moon, there is encouraging evidence that more women are making waves on the indie scene.

Savages, the other female guitar band to have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, deliver live shows that leave their fans’ ears ringing. Warpaint, an alternative quartet from Los Angeles, have been known for their haunting vocals and intoxicating rhythms since their formation in the early 2000s.

And while they may primarily be known for their political activism, Russia’s Pussy Riot pack a mean punch on stage. Hinds, a female collective from Madrid, offer guitar-fuelled performances that are fresh and a little rough around the edges. 

Gender is not the only thing that these bands have in common, however. Calling from all around the globe, they create music which carries an urgency – and might just be the lifeline that the Gallaghers are looking for.