Take a look around: Women are pissed right now – and there are few better places to exorcise that rage than at one of Dream Wife’s rowdy live shows. The U.K. trio has a “bitches to the front” policy that creates perfect moshpit conditions for women to dance off their frustration to the roiling, feminist anthems from their self-titled debut LP, released in January. Take a track like “Somebody,” a timely paean to body autonomy in which frontwoman Rakel Mjöll, 27, howls, “I am not my body!/I’m somebody!”
With that ability to channel collective female anger into heady, punk-edged pop-rock, it’s no wonder the band’s gotten early comparisons to riot-grrrl stalwarts like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. You’d be forgiven for thinking that nod to the past was intentional: Mjöll met guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec (both 25) at art school, and they even played their first formal-ish show for a performance art showcase. But the band insists that any similarities to their predecessors from the ’90s are coincidental. “We all love Kathleen Hanna, but I mostly knew her from Le Tigre,” says Mjöll. “We only started listening to Bikini Kill more recently because of the comparisons. We kind of discovered them backwards.”
Like many children of the early 2000s, the trio was brought up on a steady diet of sugary pop — something their own music both embraces and reacts to.
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“At the turn of the millennium, women were kind of manufactured in a pop sense,” says Go.
“They were like really sexy products,” Podpodec agrees. “But especially in London’s creative scene right now, there’s this real thing of women and female-identifying people to reclaim that imagery from the early 2000s and making it empowering, rather than doing it for a man. It’s for yourself.”
At shows, they put this philosophy into action.”There’s one song we do live, ‘FUU’—’Fuck You Up,'” says Mjöll. “During that, we usually drop in Spice Girls’ Wannabe.’ Like, ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want,’ and then, ‘I want to fuck you up.'” The bandmates say they sought permission from the Spice Girls themselves for this interpolation, via a handwritten note. “Mel C said yes, she gave it her blessing,” says Mjöll, then excitedly adds. “That means Mel C has heard ‘Fuck You Up!'”
Dream Wife’s sound is as pummeling as it is hooky, a potent mix of art-school sensibility and bubblegum pop adoration — but the heavy dose of politicized anger on the album is rooted in personal experience. As a group of women in a rock band in 2018, the members of Dream Wife are perfectly content fielding requisite questions about sexism in music; in fact, they acknowledge that their platform obligates them to answer. But, they note, the progress made in the last decade toward music being more open and inclusive means that the dismissiveness and creepiness the band still occasionally experience is all the more jarring. Though they say that their current label makes them feel incredibly listened to and supported, ask them about specific instances of ickiness and they’ve got receipts.
“Somebody once told me to practice my guitar, because in ten years my looks are going to fade,” says Go. It happened at a show in Germany, and the band was so annoyed that they went back to their hotel room and watched Kill Bill (in German, no less) to purge their annoyance over the episode.
“When we got back from our first tour, we suddenly got a lot of attention from some very, ‘Oh, I know the music business in London’-type people,” says Mjöll. “We were going to these meetings where it seemed like people had an agenda for us just because we were women with instruments. They were rather into branding us before we even knew what we wanted to sound like.”
“It was very, ‘How can we mold you? How can we shape you into this other thing, anything other than what you are right now,'” recalls Podpadec. “It had nothing to do with us.”
Instead, the band stuck to playing DIY shows, using the time to hone the exact sound they wanted. “It was better to keep doing what we were doing,” says Podpadec. “Especially when you’ve got people twirling their fingers around in the holes of your fishnets, or you’ve got someone patting your butt before you’re going onstage.” A publishing representative actually did this to Go, according to the band members. “I remember thinking, Wait, did that actually just happen?,” says Go. “And then thinking, Should I tell someone about this? I don’t want to ruin any relationships.”
Rather than turning them off of the music industry, those negative experiences underscored even more the need for woman-friendly spaces in music — a mission Dream Wife has gladly accepted. “It’s a bigger conversation that’s finally being heard,” says Go. “Janelle Monae released a video where she’s dressed like a vagina! This is a great time for pop music, and women in music in general.”
For Dream Wife, “bitches to the front” is more than concert policy: It’s a promise.
“The idea that you have to get rid of all this stuff that’s traditionally associated with femininity and what you can’t like if you want to be powerful and in control and strong — No!” says Podpadec. “Stick with your own shit, but also break down the rules and question them.”