Finding her place in punk
Despite the pretense of belonging and inclusion, punk and hardcore are still very, very white scenes. Any time I’m at a show in Toronto, there’s some kind of interaction or incident reminding me that there's someone who, deep down inside, thinks I don't belong. So when you’re one of the few Asians present, you begin to take note of the other people in the crowd who look like you.
I met VCR keyboardist and Triage’s vocalist Lia Lepre last year shortly after I started going to shows at the local DIY venue, SHIBGBS. Lia, who is half Chinese and Italian, is perhaps the only Asian frontwoman actively making music and art in Toronto hardcore (TOHC). It was through her Tumblr, which consists of her own personal work as an artist as well as digital punk ephemera, that I really got to know Lia. Most of the people I know in the TOHC scene are under the age of 25. This youthfulness is one thing that separates Toronto from other cities, where a lot of punks tend to be in their mid to late twenties or older. Lia took some time out from her busy art school schedule to talk with me about the Toronto scene, touring, the internet, and finding her place in punk.
How does being in your early twenties or younger help make the community a safer and more inclusive space? I think that arts and music scenes owe a lot to the inclusion of younger kids. Since we are all still growing and developing, there is a lot of learning going on. This results in more self-awareness, critical thinking, and also, exuberance.. I can learn something from everyone. That being said, it can be daunting when meeting someone a bit older because I have to gauge what they’re about. I’ve had experiences meeting people slightly older than me who seem cool, but then issues of gender identity come up and there’s a lapse in understanding.
What happens when you interact with someone who might possess opinions that are problematic or pose a threat to others? It’s important to take a moment to figure out this person’s intentions. There’s always a context and everyone has their own experiences that form their thoughts and opinions. It’s also likely that most of us hold some kind of internalized problematic views whether we’re aware of it or not. There should be an expectation for us to challenge these views. When someone calls you out and takes issue with what you’ve said or done, your response should be to examine your action without immediately becoming defensive.
What does diversity in hardcore look like to you? Well … I haven’t seen it yet. I think a diverse scene would be one in which people of color, trans individuals, people with disabilities, don’t stand out as some kind of glaring exception to the majority demographic. I always take note when I see people who look like me in punk. When I first started going to shows, it would standout to me every time I saw a woman playing in a band. I noticed when there were other Asian people in attendance at punk shows and playing in bands.
What sort of experiences have shaped your idea of diversity and inclusion in hardcore? What is increasingly exhausting for me is playing with bands and to audiences comprised of mostly men. The most memorable shows were the ones where the people on stage were notably diverse, which in turn creates a different dynamic among the crowd and even brings different people out to the show. I’ve heard people talk about needing certain bands to play shows because the booker doesn’t want every band on the show to be comprised of cis white guys which ends up tokenizing that one band that is the exception to that. The solution is not to “diversify” a bill with one band – the problem lies in the structure and in the attitude.
What’s the difference between playing with bands who are closer in age compared to bands who are older than you? I’ll always be more stoked about younger people playing music. Even up until very recently, I think I have always been perceived as younger than I am and have had a lot of people treat me in a condescending way because of that. It’s silly and I still don’t get the thinking behind it. Something that I’ve found to be cool about young bands is that they might not know the “rules” so well, so they end up inadvertently breaking them and coming up with something great and fresh. Like, throwing together their influences in a very honest way to create a sound that they’re excited about.
Have there been any instances where you’re like “this doesn’t seem like it was a space for me?” For sure. There were some spots on our tour where I felt totally misaligned with the people and the spaces we visited, playing a show that takes you out of your comfort zone can be fun but also draining.
In Montreal we played a show where you could pretty much count the women in attendance on one hand. At the end of our set I told this guy off for spitting on my bandmate, to which he responded by calling me “synthesizer bitch” which is, honestly, hilarious. It’s intimidating to feel like you’re outnumbered or out of place.
How do you see online spaces as important points of dialogue and discussion? The importance of the internet lies in the ability to promote and network. It’s cool to be able to be so immediately connected to goings-on in other places in the world. I followed Vexx on tour this summer because there would be new photos from their tour everyday. Tumblr makes it possible for everyone to have a voice on the same level.
Some people believe that real life is a better forum for discussing the issues that are important to our community, but what are your thoughts on this? That’s somewhat of an unrealistic idea. It seems to me like there’s a tendency to discredit what happens online because it isn’t as valuable as what happens “in real life.” What can be off-putting about online discussions is that it means that anyone can publish anything they want to say for anyone to read, but sometimes this results in ideas being posted with a vague intention or no intention at all. Ideas can become directionless and lose their impact. Even though we have the means to say whatever we want on the internet, doesn’t mean we should without thinking about it the same way we would in real life.
Photo credit: Lilliana Downer