White Lung’s anti-sexism stands stumbles on deaf ears


Photo Editor

White Lung frontwoman Mish Way screams her way through the band’s Sept. 10 set at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave.

By Features Editor

Punk rock is making headlines again, but this time, it is not to warn parents of their kids’ impending bad haircuts.

At the forefront of the movement is Perfect P–sy frontwoman Meredith Graves, who in the last year has had her band featured in both the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as being token Pitchfork darlings on a near-weekly basis. Her feminist views and comments on body positivity have only spurred a rise in her popularity.

While White Lung frontwoman Mish Way may not have Graves’ public profile, her articles as a contributing writer to Vice have made her stance clear.

“Way back in Olympia in 1992, there were a bunch of college girls who thought it was important to separate themselves as female musicians, even to go so far as to call themselves ‘riot grrrls,’ Way wrote in a 2012 article. “[It] was their answer to the violence that had emerged in the hardcore punk scene. They wanted to talk about rape, sexuality, abortion and women’s health, as well as boys and girls they f–ked and loved.”

The band’s latest record, Deep Fantasy, released June 14, declared Way’s outrage in a concise 22-minute run time.

Moving beyond punk’s traditional three-chord romp, White Lung’s devastating Sept. 10 set at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., proved there is no difference between a frontwoman and frontman as far as bringing the house down.

A piercing whistle from the audience announced Way, guitarist Kenneth William, drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou and touring bassist Hether Fortune as they descended a spiral staircase to the stage, with the enthusiastic buzz of the crowd rising to a deafening volume in greeting.

Sweat-covered Mormon Crosses singer/guitarist Jesse Taylor, who opened for White Lung along with Chicago hardcore act Den, approached me and asked if I had seen the band before.

“They are the best band ever,” Taylor said. “[William] created a new punk with just his guitar.”

He was not kidding.

William’s guitar feedback erupted into a maelstrom of distortion—a mix between the blitzkrieg of Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and the anti-melodicism of Greg Ginn on Black Flag’s My War. His hands were a blur as they raced across the fretboard. His body swayed slightly and a vacant expression of concentration crossed his face.

By contrast, Way’s voice dove like a Stuka bomber over the audience. Her terse delivery was equal parts tenacity and furious anger. She owns her sexuality completely on stage and captivates with it, grabbing her inner thighs and sliding her hands across her midriff, at one point falling to her knees and screaming directly at one audience member’s face, who was completely delighted by it.

Like precursors Bikini Kill, L7 and Babes of Toyland, the band is not shy about addressing sexism with their music. Unfortunately, some of their fans are not getting the message.

At its core, punk rock is about personal expression and art creation. White Lung takes a serious stand against sexism and violence, and it is their intention to make a difference. But at Subterranean, the concertgoers demonstrated that the message was too lofty for some.

At least three fistfights nearly broke out in the pit. Those shout- ing, throwing punches and catapulting themselves at each other elbow-first dominated the throng. Anyone trying to simply listen was torn from the front of the audience.

One fuming female fan shouted “F–k you” at a guy who grabbed at her and ran away, angrily reaching for him until he was swallowed by the crowd. Another fan spent the majority of the concert trying to touch Way.

As her last exasperated, wheezing note soared through the air, the mic stand slammed to the ground, firmly declaring the end.

As the venue emptied out, it would be a wonder if half of the wiry Wicker Park 20-somethings in attendance with their too-hot-for-them girlfriends took anything at all from the transmission.