Interview with Simona Kapitolina
Featured image: SEyonce
“Girls Who Smoke Poke is a Melbourne based independent record label representing a unique musical community of trans*, queer, QPOC and sex positive musicians, creatives & allies. [They] are advocates for QBTIA identity and stories through music, performance and multimedia.”
Author | Winter Mendelson
“The Melbourne queer club and music culture was stuck in a really unimaginative and subservient decade of ipod request culture, retro pop and appropriation of LA or Berlin queer scenes and it said nothing about us…”
How and when did Girls Who Smoke Poke come to be?
Girls Who Smoke Poke started in 2009 to release my own music and re-edits online as Simona Kapitolina and Fluorescent. At the time I was frustrated at spending so much energy getting local and major labels to pay some attention to what I saw as an emerging community of queer musicians and songwriters. It was difficult to even get shows with other bands – let alone labels to understand what we intended to do or what we could do as bedroom musicians. I wasn’t going to stay stuck in the bedroom. The phrase ‘girls who smoke poke’ was a ‘wise’ parental proverb I’d get before I went out to party as a closeted trans teenager – they had no idea what they were saying. I was a girl, and I smoked, and I poked – and I was determined to be proud of it one day. The joke was on them and that idea just seemed like empowerment to me; I mean shit yeah – lets own that!! But that saying is embedded in mid-20th century sexism, whorephobia and transphobia. I wanted to turn it around. So the name is intentionally provocative; but it encompasses AMAB, AFAB, trans, gender diverse, intersex and sex positive identity. Poke refers to diversity in penetrative sex, fingering, fisting, whatever – so what we fuck – it’s awesome. And yeah – we smoke a shit load of ciggies. Let’s celebrate it. What a great name for a label!
Who is involved?
The label is run by myself, but each artist has complete autonomy of their work, identity and involvement in Girls Who Smoke Poke – we are a musical community first and foremost. As the label has grown we’ve been really lucky to have the enthusiasm and belief in each other to build it – and now we represent KT Spit, SEyonce, Ana Nicole, Geryon, EN V as well as my work as Simona Kapitolina and the back catalogue of Fluorescent. We’ve just added Wet Kiss and Boquuet to our label. Broke Powers and Narcissique are great djs establishing a great new queer dance culture. We’re now branching into Sydney with Jackson Stacey getting the music, and shows up and about.
What made you want to begin this label?
We knew we were good musicians and great people, we just didn’t think anybody cared. It just became really apparent that it was actually a queer thing that was separating us from the established musical avenues. We needed to create our own critical mass somehow to give ourselves the confidence and ability to perform and release to an audience.
The Melbourne queer club and music culture was stuck in a really unimaginative and subservient decade of ipod request culture, retro pop and appropriation of LA or Berlin queer scenes and it said nothing about us, there was no visibility or space for a trans or queer or POC vernacular through music and our stories. We needed to make that space – particularly for Australian experiences and aspirations. I was getting sick of having our trans and queer culture and politics delivered by Upworthy and The Guardian. Local media and event promoters ignored us so we had no access to an audience. Melbourne’s a big city with a big GLBTIQ population – it didn’t make sense that we couldn’t access it. The musicians that are now part of GWSP were so frustrated at not being able to access musical careers in our own city. Out of desperation and boredom we just went fuck it – let’s make this our own label – run our own shows and parties – we hold the key to our own doors. We needed a label to represent us and give us some hope. It was frustrating to see so many people in their 20s feel they needed to leave their homes to the US or Europe to make it as musicians. I think GWSP gives people a reason to believe in their home town and a place to belong.
I was running a club night called ‘The Shock Of The New’ playing new beat, underground techno and new wave – it attracted a really amazing group of trans women and queer folks and all of the sudden Melbourne became this haven for trans, queer, POC and sex positives that has just exploded, and music, the events we run have become such an important part of our local culture, sense of future and aspirations. An audience just grew and rejected the mainstream – and it inspired some Melbourne queer musicians to get out of the bedroom and start making music and performing it – do it for themselves.
How do you seek your creatives?
It just comes about organically, as a community we keep ourselves as a label accessible to punters and musicians. We collaborate in performance and recording and all of the sudden more shows start up and we just like what we hear. As a label manager – I try my best to break down the idea of a ‘clique’ and make access really important. This attitude lets us get through to more people. We did a label showcase in Sydney last month and it went berserk. It opened up new doors for both our musicians but also to the local musicians and punters who felt a two way street from the stage to the dance floor – that’s the key – a relationship. Labels are not key masters. It runs on the emotion, initiative and energy of the artists – the dog wags the tail and GWSP is just a cosy warm queer studded leather doggie jacket.
Are you particular about the music genre or themes explored in the songs / videos?
Not so much, we are interested in working with good people, who tell great stories about themselves and their experiences. It just so happens we don’t sing about meaningless bullshit – being queer and trans, aboriginal, of colour or a sex worker is something to be celebrated, but it comes with its melancholy and reflection too. These people just happen to be incredibly talented writers and performers, so the music, the video content, songwriting and arrangement is something we believe in totally. Genre wise; it’s been a more electronic lean, but there is an emerging post punk/guitar energy coming out – but we don’t limit our genres. It’s about people.
Can you tell us about some of your artists and recent projects that you’re working on?
We have just had KT Spit release her latest record ‘Combluotion’ which is an extraordinary debut, and the shows she has been doing have gone up a level since her tour of US and Europe last year. Kt is the ultimate multi-media artist – and the narrative between her music and online content and videos are inspiring. Geryon is just finishing recording their first EP release, so is SEyonce is in writing phase of an EP and I’m half way through my next album with a single and video due out end of June. Bu, just heaps of shows and recording for us all at the moment, all of which will come about in online and vinyl releases through the latter of 2015. The first thing will be a mixtape In July of as many GWSP bands that we can fit into 38 mins with local label Comfort Cassettes. We are just working on funding for some vinyl releases, part of what GWSP’s role in the community is to physically catalogue and release our work. It’s really important to us.
What hurtles have you faced in representing LGBTQI musicians? Have you found your experience to be difficult or are people supportive and interested?
Representing our musicians is fucking empowering. Seeing them evolve each show, each release is incredibly satisfying experience. But we are different to other labels – we don’t push time frames or release agendas on our artists, as individuals we don’t operate like that. Shit happens – shit doesn’t happen too. Life’s tough – but we’re tougher.
There are hurdles, we still find breaking into the headspace of bigger events like Melbourne’s Midsumma or Sydney Mardigras for example to be the next challenge – or even some of the bigger festival circuit. Every time grants are awarded or spots for major line ups are announced – no queer artists with a clear agenda to promote our community get a look in. Why is that the case? We don’t know, but we contribute or activate discourse about it as best we can. We do what we can with advocacy and activism to bring about some kind of change – but we do it through relationships and stay on the topic; the music, the artists.
Queer, POC, trans*, sex positive is what we are – not what we do – we make music. But who we are means people want to put us over here or over there. But then others don’t, we are part of a new aspiration in gender futurism and feminism that cis/hetro allies believe in as well, inclusion for me at the Camp Nong NYE festival line up shows us that things are changing and we hope that can turn into more opportunities for other GWSP artists. We have made significant headway into community radio in both Sydney and Melbourne – community radio is a huge influence over here. Online magazines are taking notice of our artists and that can only generate more exposure for the music.
Our job at Girls Who Smoke Poke is to make sure all the online content and merch is available and visible but that job includes times where we have to fight for that space as an alliance; from telling radio announcers to use appropriate pronouns to calling out under representation of the larger queer community in the gay & lesbian mainstream or generally. Our exposure is growing and we hope it becomes a great asset to the Australian LGBTQI landscape and the musical culture of Melbourne. As we say down here – ‘queer the space!’.