Mizbehaviour In The House
Sisters On The Decks II
Squall 11, Autumn 1995, pg. 37.
Sunday night at On-U Studios, Dalston, East London. Caroline has finally abandoned her crutches, acquired after a run-in with a man who assaulted her in the street. When I spoke to her the day after the attack she had persuaded someone with a car to take her to a record shop - the need for new vinyl overcoming small inconveniences like not being able to walk.
This is the spirit of Mizbehaviour, a group of women for whom putting on parties, playing music, exploring their own creative energy and encouraging other women to do the same is, as they say, “a way of life”.
Tonight’s party is the result of a 50/50 collaboration with Liberator (even the flyer was a joint production), reinforcing Mizbehaviour’s assertion that they are not, definitely not, about separatism. “Its about that old cliched thing of going away with a group of your peers, finding your identity and then going out into the world with the knowledge and self-confidence that you’ve got from relating to people who are like you,” says Jane, a founding member of the collective and an experimental artist who’s UV and moulded latex backdrops are an integral part of Mizbehaviour’s aim to provide a complete multi-media experience.
Jane and Caroline first met two and a half years ago when Caroline and a trapeze artist /performer called Lou, returned from a techno festival in Berlin with the idea of putting on a women’s night. Also involved was Christie, a costume designer, who Caroline had met while doing a music workshop at a circus school for children in Hertfordshire. The result was an event called Tuff Fluff, which took place in Tottenham, North London in December 1993. Caroline explains: “It was hardcore performance interspersed with DJing, live music and Capoeira. We ended up with a crew of between 38 to 40 women.”
"Ultimately we've got three aims. We want to go out there and do big fuck-off parties, mixing performance and rave and representing ourselves as women without having to compromise."
Tuff Fluff fired their enthusiasm for more events but money was tight and so Mizbehaviour was born, initially, with the modest aim of providing backdrops for raves. About a year before, Caroline had started to co-organise Zero Gravity parties and asked Jane along to do some painting “because one of the first things that I did when I started getting involved in the organising was to try and pull in more women”. The collective evolved to its current form when Caroline met Gizelle, now the third core member, when she was invited to DJ for Brazen. “It’s still germinal,” says Caroline. “Ultimately we’ve got three aims. We want to go out there and do big fuck-off parties, mixing performance and rave and representing ourselves as women without having to compromise. We want to find women that are doing things, or want to do things, and give them the support that they need. And we want to start running community workshops - teaching women and children the skills that we can pass on.”
Those skills are considerable. Caroline, who plays keyboards, kit drums and clarinet, is a classically trained musician. Jane’s backdrops testify to her skill as an artist. Gizelle has been working as a DJ for nearly a decade and the wider collective can offer anything from fighting skills to circus performance. As Gizelle says: “We’ve all come together from different parts of the same scene and we’ve all got experience of putting on clubs which requires a whole range of skills.”
Caroline points out that women on the scene have always been heavily involved in organising clubs and events but “The presumption is still that it’s men running everything. Unless it’s advertised that its a female crew then it’s assumed, because the DJs are the only women visible, that they have just been invited in to play. Women are not thought to be in there organising things. I used to see women doing lots of work at clubs and raves but they weren’t getting any recognition. They weren’t invited to meetings or consulted about anything. They were used as background support but their contribution wasn’t acknowledged’.
If, even in the brave new world of DIY culture, women are still perceived as ‘background support’, then Mizbehaviour’s aim of ‘doing it, not just theorising about it’ becomes a rallying cry for all women that have dreamed of doing it their own way and without compromise. But are women being pushed into the background or is it lack of confidence that keeps them there?
In an article in a recent edition of The Big Issue, celebrating women’s involvement in DIY culture, journalist CJ Stone expressed the opinion that female energy is the driving force behind the movement. While this may be true, it is still the case that, in a practical sense, women are disadvantaged by their traditional non-involvement with the hardware that is a vital part of any event. As Caroline, Jane and Gizelle will concede, men involved in DIY culture tend to be more supportive and sensitive to women’s needs, but it is still the case that many women feel disempowered in an environment where traditional male skills are to the fore. “We’re not blaming men for anything,” says Jane, “if anything, they go out of their way to help. But sometimes, that’s the problem.” In other words, what women need is to feel that they are able to take control. Mizbehaviour’s skill-sharing ethic provides for women to come together and learn from each other without feeling undermined. And, of equal importance is what Caroline calls “the translation of what we are, into something creative”.
Creating an environment that reflects the energy of the women involved is an important feature of Mizbehaviour events. For Zero Gravity’s third birthday party they met at the crack of dawn to rescue some trees that had been cut down by the local council in Hertfordshire, which they then wove into a grotto to form the centerpiece of the event. Tonight, a suitably ironic giant breast with a glowing bright red nipple dominates the dance floor. One of Jane’s sculpted mannequins hangs suspended in a metal cage, dripping green candle wax and flowers. The stunning fighting is courtesy of Karen from Lobestir, another regular Mizbehaviour collaborator.
In a year in which women’s issues were the subject of a high-profile UN debate in Beijing and Lynne Franks thought she has the answer to What Women Want (a Body Shop neck rub?), Mizbehaviour provide a poignant metaphor for the lessons that a fractured and demoralised feminist movement can learn from DIY culture. As Caroline points out: “We’ve got nothing to prove. We’re not out there waving banners or stamping our feet. We’re just getting on with it.”
Sisters on the Decks - Debbie Shaw looks at the increasing numbers of female DJs battling to get their tunes on the twin-decks - Squall 11, Autumn 1995.