Lauren Laverne has a feature on her BBC 6 Music radio show called ‘Biorhythms’. For this feature, listeners are invited to submit three songs: one that connects with them on a physical level, one on an intellectual level, and one on an emotional level.
A few weeks ago, Lauren’s guest was a woman called Stephanie, and as she talked about her relationship with music my ears pricked up. Stephanie had discovered the Smiths at the age of thirteen, and as she talked about how she’d found them and her love for their music I recognised a kindred spirit.
When I was twelve, I went to Our Price one day with a ten-pound record voucher that I’d been given for Christmas and no idea what to spend it on. I leafed through the records until my eye was caught by a white sleeve with the words ‘New Order Substance 1987’ and nothing else, no glossy band photo, no pretentious art – it was stark and compellingly enigmatic. Turning the record over, I read the tracklisting. I recognised some of the song titles, and thought I remembered hearing some of the songs on the radio and liking them though I couldn’t remember how they went. I bought the record, listened to it and a switch was flicked. This incredible music captivated me, and it was the beginning of an obsession that’s lasted all my life.
As a twelve year old girl, in a time before the Internet, iTunes, file-sharing, I was on my own when it came to discovering and consuming music. At school, no one had yet heard of the bands I was falling in love with. My only source of information about them was what I could glean from the pages of Smash Hits – I hadn’t even heard of the NME or Melody Maker – and given that I was coming late to this music, all of which had been released many years earlier, that was hardly anything. I felt like a detective, putting together scraps of evidence that gradually fitted together to reveal a new world that was mine to claim.
Nowadays, things would be so different. I could find out all I needed to know about these bands in an afternoon, and download their entire back catalogues from Spotify in a second. Today, I’d probably listen to each song for half of the first verse before skipping on to the next one, unconstrained by the need to fast forward a tape or move the needle across a record (though I acknowledge my extremely short attention span is as much to blame for this as modern technology). Although at the age of 12 I would have loved to have been able to go straight to Wikipedia to find all I wanted to know, I realise now that the slow reveal of all this music was much more deeply satisfying than its rapid acquisition would be nowadays. It’s an experience that I treasure having had.
As well as enjoying hearing a story of musical discovery so similar to my own, I also found it inspiring to hear another woman talk about her genuine love for music. As a music fan, it has sadly always been obvious to me that your views on music aren’t taken as seriously if you’re female. More than that, there just aren’t that many women my age who are still into music to the same extent as a lot of men are. Recently, I went to see Ride – a band I loved very much when I was thirteen who have recently reformed – and was taken aback that the ratio of men to women at the gig was about 8:1. I don’t really understand why. Back in their heyday they had many female fans, who seem to have disappeared. Maybe it’s because now so many of us are middle aged parents the women are at home looking after the children? Surely not! Or is it because Ride’s female fans have ‘grown out of’ music? Again, I really hope not – mainly because I don’t want to believe that it’s possible to grow out of loving music. Besides, why would this happen to women more than men?
I happen to believe that besides the obvious physical differences, very little separates the sexes. In particular, I don’t believe there’s anything about a male brain that makes it more susceptible to music than a female one. I can only assume that it’s social conditioning that means women are less likely to identify as music fans, especially as they get older. Maybe this is changing for women younger than me. I really hope so.