Branding the Band

It didn’t occur to me that I’m part of a subculture until I was talking with someone the other day about what I do on weekends.

“So, what do you do for fun?”

I told them the basics: hanging out with friends, wandering around Capitol Hill, acting like your typical lame college student… And then I started talking about Black Lodge and how much I love going to shows there. They looked at me kind of confused, so I figured I should clarify.

“It’s this music venue, they have really good bands a lot of the time. Pony Time, Naomi Punk, Chastity Belt…”

574630_540212559333098_904984945_nAs our conversation continued, it occured to me that I was speaking Greek to them. Just as I know next-to-nothing about the electronic music scene (which this person happens to have an affinity for), they had never heard of or listened to most of the bands I love here in Seattle. (To their credit, they had heard of Kithkin…of course…)

The point of this post is not to bask in musical elitism or suggest that I am more cultured (I’m not, trust me). There are plenty of bands here that are fantastic that I’ve never heard of. I’ve just happened to develop a few favorites after spending too many weekends (and weeknights) ruining my hearing and listening to good music.

While I tend to appreciate bands for, well, the music they make, it’s impossible to view them without taking image and branding into consideration just a little bit. As someone who has dabbled in making music (with often disheartening and embarassing results), I’m well aware of everything that goes into being a musician– fight it as much as you want, but performing involves a persona. Everything from the band name to the clothes you wear to the brand of instruments you play– it all contributes to an overall image that can sometimes make you or break you. Most of us are probably well aware of the branding that goes into major artists like Lady Gaga, Kanye West, etc., but branding exists on some level even for smaller bands and artists.

I hate to reduce one of my favorite bands here to their image and branding, but for the purposes of this blog (which exists due to a strategic communications course) I’ll use Chastity Belt as an example. I love Chastity Belt. It’s a group of girls playing grungy, punk-y, riot grrrl-inspired music. When I first heard one of their songs, I was hooked. And no, they admittedly aren’t for everyone (my mother certainly would not be a fan). The lyrics were superficially pop-y, but the more I listened, the more I realized they still had plenty of substance. The instrumentals, while raw, were loud and–for lack of a better word–awesome. When I got the opportunity to see them play live, I was stoked.

179641_537345706286450_1502530646_nWhen I saw them live, it made me like them even more. I went to the show having never seen their photo, and I’d envisioned these older, raven-haired women with quarter sleeve tattoos and beat up docs. Instead, I was greeted by 4 fresh-faced women about the same age as me that could have easily blended in at a sorority house or college party. They played their songs and had fun with it, and there was a sense of honesty about them– these were not girls trying to project an image of something they aren’t. In fact, everything Chastity Belt does comes off that way, from their Facebook and Twitter posts to their in-person interactions with people. They are wholeheartedly casual, and (from what I gather) genuinely surprised at how popular they’ve gotten.

Chastity Belt is one of the most popular bands in Seattle right now among the musician community, and I think their image has a lot to do with it. They’re edgy, but not in a put-on way. To me, they embody everything great about Seattle music right now. As a young woman that has a penchant for feminism and punk music, I view Chastity Belt as a reminder (and inspiration) that girls can make loud, fantastic music that isn’t automatically over-sexualized (or infantalized) or discredited right away.


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