From one of the smallest nations in Europe, the punk rock band GÉNN arose, rocked, traveled and finally ended up in the United Kingdom. Malta, their home country, is a tiny island in the central Mediterranean sea that is both full of culture at the same time as being very old school and driven by ancient patriarchy.
Even though the music scene in Malta was personal and tight knit, the girls in GÉNN felt they needed to explore further options. In the UK the band found a new home and exciting possibilities.
I spoke with the guitar player of the band, Janelle, about their music and their role as women in the music scene.
Halldór: First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who are GENN?
Janelle: We’re a four-piece Anglo-Maltese post-punk band based in Brighton and we’re ready to kick ass and rock your ears!
H: Malta is a unique and ancient place. Sometimes places like that still have remnants of the old ways in society. With most of GENN being from the tiny island, how can you describe its music scene and how has it been being a female musician in that environment? And is it different in the UK, now that you have relocated to there?
J: Malta and the Maltese language are definitely part of us….as a band, we’re very much connected to the Mediterranean region and way of life..three of us are from Malta (Leanne, Leona and I) and Sofia is also half-Portughese. The band started in Malta. There aren’t a lot of female musicians over there and the alternative music community is small but tightly knit. When we got robbed in 2018, the music community came together to fundraise new equipment for us which was honestly such a heartwarming gesture.
We decided to relocate to the UK mainly because of the fact that the UK has been and will always be a hub for alternative music. It’s definitely different over here as it’s more of an established industry and it’s super cut-throat. However, we thrive when faced with challenges…we also found Sofia (our drummer) here! So you can say that it was meant to be.
H: On your brilliant debut album, Titty Monster, there seems to be a theme of female empowerment and feminism. What inspires you to write down lyrics? How important is it for you to use lyrics to send a specific message out into the universe?
J: Honestly, we didn’t set out to write a ‘feminist’ album. We were simply writing a diary of what we experience…and since we’re women, this is what we go through on a daily basis. I think it’s great that there are more female voices and point of views in music and art nowadays. Leona (the singer) writes the lyrics. She’s an existentialist…so the lyrics reflect what she would be thinking at that moment and her experiences as she navigates through life. The lyrics usually reflect a ‘story’ that happens to one of us or a particular experience we’re going through either collectively and personally. I think Leona does a good job in reflecting this in our lyrics.
H: Do you feel a responsibility to use your music as a tool of empowerment for young girls (or anyone else) or do you separate the music and the activism?
J: As a band, we do kind of separate music and activism. We’re musicians and artists first. However, since we navigate spaces as womxn, speaking about issues that affect us and other womxn is unavoidable and it’s also important in the current global climate. We do hope our music inspires young girls (and big girls too!) to pick up an instrument and explore all of their talents! The world would definitely be a better place if more womxn believed in themselves and supported each other.
H: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
J: We would really love to be able to tour the world with our music and connect with other souls 🙂 We’d love to create timeless pieces that inspire others as much as we are inspired by others’ music. That would be the dream .
H: What musicians have inspired you? Are you following other contemporary artists you’d like to throw a shout out to?
J: Personally, I’m inspired by a wide range of musicians including Jeff Buckley, Warpaint, Hinds, Joni Mitchell, Amy Winehouse, Chopin, Pink Floyd, The Clash, CAN, The Doors…to name but a few. I’ve recently discovered Jefferson Airplane and I’m a huge fan. I’d like to throw a shout to fellow Brighton-based outfits Austerity, Stone Cold Fiction and Arxx…label mates Ghum…and Maltese artists Djun, Beangrowers, Oxygyn, Sam Christie, Berne, Joon, I Am Willow and Beesqueeze, amongst many many others!
H: What is on the horizon for the band?
J: Considering the current situation, we went from a tonne of gigs to zero. But that’s okay. We’re writing and working on our craft instead 🙂 Hoping this pandemic situation blows over soon so that we can also go back to gigging.
H: Thank you very much for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
At the time of writing this article Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has declared a state of emergency in his country. In one of the strongest economies in Latin America inequality reigns and the country’s citizens are currently voicing their frustration by taking to the streets in protest.
Economic inequality is far from being the only thing Chileans have
had to protest in recent years. A little over four decades ago its
citizens had to experience a U.S. backed military coup that overthrew
the government. This resulted in more than 2,000 people being killed and
thousands of people tortured, among those internationally acclaimed
protest musician Victor Jara.
Events like these are bound to leave marks on a nation. It was not
until 2004 that the liberty flame that Pinochet ignited in 1975 was put
out. Not only are these flames (popular in many countries) a waste of
energy and usually commemorate war and violence, but for decades
families of those murdered by Pinochet had to see that flame burning.
The inequality in the country shows its teeth in other aspects of
society as well. Femicide (feminicidio), although not as rife as in
Mexico and Colombia, is a grave problem in the country. The term started
being used in Latin America due to the hundreds of women murdered in northern Mexico
since the 1990s. A specific term had to be coined for this type of
homicide to design situations in which women were being murdered solely
because they were women.
One of the main problems for women living through this history of
violence towards them and their sisters is the lack of action from the
governments that are supposed to protect them. Fortunately, this is
changing – in some countries at least. In Chile, law number 20480, now also known as the femicide law, shows amends to violent intrafamiliar offenses
and increases punishment for those crimes. These small steps come with
many hurdles still, because the people in power of the judiciary system
continue to find ways to lower sentences twisting language to their
But all is not lost and today rises a new generation of musicians and
activists that keep the protest flame lit and the legacy that Victor
Jara and other artists left behind alive. One of these artists are the
young women that make punk rock band Sin Lencería (which translates to
The band has been active since 2012 and since day one they have used their voices on and off stage to communicate to their audience the injustice their fellow women face in general society as well as in the very ‘machista’ punk rock scene. Their album Sin Lencería, Ni Miedos came out last August and, as they told me via email, the band has no other plans but to keep speaking up for women around the globe and fighting the good fight.
Halldór Bjarnason: Your music is a fighting
tool against gendered violence. How have you perceived ‘machismo’ and
gendered violence so far in the music scene around you and your
community since the start of Sin Lencería?
Sin Lencería: Even though the punk scene tries to be
more aware of social conflicts, it’s still in debt with gender related
problems. There’s still harassment at gigs and very little participation
of women in the public and as part of the bands and that’s something
that needs to change.
Being female musicians hasn’t been easy, the band started in 2012 and
since the beginning there’s been prejudice against us and the way we
play, some people used to think less of us just because we’re women and
because we look young. And sometimes even the compliments were weird,
like one time a guy told our drummer that she was so skilled that she
“played like a man”. He was trying to be nice but he didn’t even realise
that by saying that he was implying that women usually are bad at
playing their instruments.
But there’s still a bright side. There are some local collectives inside the punk scene that are trying to change this situation like “Femfest” or “Mujeres Al Frente”, they create different types of musical events that encourage inclusiveness and invite women to be part of the scene – providing safe spaces. Women are getting together and we’re raising our voices. “Mujeres Al Frente” has done 4 different feminist shows in these past years in Chile and one in Mexico. We love those events because they’re one of the few times that we get to see so many girls gathered together and at the center of the mosh pit with full energy!
HB: Has your music always been political or made in protest?
SL: Yes, since the beginning we’ve wanted to show
our discomfort and talk about the problems that affect women in their
daily lives. The band starts from that base point, from realising that
it’s time to talk about sex harassment, gender violence, feminicides,
discrimination, prejudice, etc. We need to change that Latin American
culture that’s so patriarchal that needs special words that does not
exists in other languages like “machismo” to explain how bad things are
and the lack of equality that exists.
HB: Feminicidio (feminicide) is a fairly
young term but an age-old problem that furthermore has been quite the
plague on South, Central and North American countries. How do you feel
your government is tackling this problem that you have sung about?
SL: In our country there’s still a long way to go
for these problems to be taken seriously. There’s been some improvements
over time but it’s not enough. A couple of years ago the government
created the “Ministerio de la Mujer y Equidad de Género”
(Ministry for Women and Gender equality) that supports women that are
victims of violence, providing legal and psychological help. There’s
also a “Ley del Femicidio” (Feminicide law), but these laws are
still too soft towards this type of problems and the feminicide law
only works for violence inside legally married couples or couples that
The Chilean law is working on new ways to protect women that are not
married and people that suffer couple/partner violence, but to this date
it’s still not approved. The only thing women can do when they suffer
harassment from a violent partner is to make a legal complaint with the
police and they’re usually very questioned in the process, and even if
they make repetitive complaints the best they can get is a restraining
order in most cases and, even then, they’re left with fear that the
violent partner could easily ignore the charges against them and find
the victims anyway.
An example of the problems with the femicide law in Chile, that also
affected the punk community, happened in 2017 with the murder of Isidora
“Dorito” González. Her case was very brutal and cruel because she
wasn’t only murdered, but her body was also dismembered. Once they found
the culprit and took him to trial, he was initially sentenced to 40
years of prison for femicide. But later his lawyers argued that the
victim and the culprit didn’t have a romantic relationship, nor they
lived together or were married, so his sentence changed from femicide to
simple homicide and they reduced his sentence from 40 to 15 years. And
that makes it clear that the laws are still very basic and don’t reflect
the Chilean reality, where women are still getting killed just because
HB: How do you feel people have been
receiving your feminist music? How do you get your message across to the
people that need to hear it the most?
SL: People have been very supportive in general, we think it’s because Latin America is going through a period of change and we’re speaking up for women rights and diversity. What we like about making songs is to think that the same things we feel and go through are also experienced by other women and at the end of the day we’re not alone, instead, we are a huge net of sisters fighting for the same reasons.
“…we like the fact that the song makes some people uncomfortable, because it’s the first step to start questioning why it makes them feel that way.”
But we’ve also been criticized by some people, especially because of our song “No quiero tus piropos”
(I don’t want your catcalls) that speaks against street harassment and
has some insults in its lyrics. But we like the fact that the song makes
some people uncomfortable, because it’s the first step to start
questioning why it makes them feel that way.
Our message flows in our songs by essence, but we also use other
resources to get our message across. Playing live is very important,
because it can help women to feel represented and motivated to start
their own bands. Sometimes we create zines and sometimes we use social
media to share our thoughts. We also try to participate as much as we
can in collectives like the ones that we mentioned before.
Besides, nowadays is easier to share our music because of technology, in the past the options were limited and even if your music got some recognition, there was the fear that the media would misunderstand your message, like what happened with the press blackout of the Riot Grrrl! movement in the 90’s. In our case we manage our own media and that give us a lot of freedom to express what we want and to have a closer bond with people.
HB: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
SL: We hope that our music works as support for
women that don’t feel protected or represented by social norms. And that
when they listen to us, they can feel freedom to shout as loud as they
can about everything that’s bothering them and that they had to keep
quiet in the past. On the other side, we also hope that singing about
these issues could help people to start questioning themselves and open
up to be a little more understanding and empathetic.
HB: What bands or musicians influence you? Are you following any contemporary protest musicians?
SL: Our strongest influence is Bikini Kill and all
of Kathleen Hanna’s projects in general. We’re also very inspired by L7,
Joan Jett, The Distillers, 7 Year Bitch and other classic punk and
postpunk bands like Ramones, Misfits, The Clash, The Slits and Siouxsie
& the banshees.
On a Latin American level, we have influences from the Peruvian band
Los Saicos, with his classic “Demolición” which we like to play live
from time to time. And we also feel influenced by Chilean bands like Los
Prisioneros, Los Ex and Lilits. In the present, we admire the work of a
lot of our fellow hardcore and punk bands like Portaligas, Dizclaimers
and Límbico. We’re also listening to music from around the globe and we
like bands like Vivian Girl, The Coathangers, The Regrettes, Skating
Polly and Hands off Grettel.
HB: What is on the horizon for you?
SL: At the moment, we want to keep speaking up for
feminism, we plan on continue making music and recording new material,
because we still have a lot to say. And in the near future we would love
to travel around sharing our songs.
HB: Lastly, thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
SL: Don’t be afraid to make music, don’t be scared to say what you think if you feel something’s wrong, your opinions are important, you are important.