Guest Editor Rachel Aggs on Gauche, Decolonizing the Guitar, and More
Guest Editor Rachel Aggs (Shopping, Sacred Paws) of Issue #18 shares an introduction to her work, a review of Gauche, and pages from her guitar zine.
This article originally appeared in She Shreds Issue #18, released in April 2019.
As a guest editor, I wanted to share a few pages from my zine, DIY Guitar for Beginners, because it was largely inspired by the She Shreds mission. Since 2017, I’ve been facilitating women and non-binary-focused guitar workshops in London and in my hometown Glasgow, and I recently made this zine to accompany those sessions. As a self-taught guitarist, I feel ambivalent about being a “teacher.” Instead, I just want to suggest to people that they can probably already play way more than they think they can. There is loads of power in not knowing “how to play,” and that exciting “beginner” moment can often be when you have your best ideas. I like to emphasis the importance of mess and noise, and how that can lead to really unique and immediate ways of playing.
One workshop I facilitated was called Decolonising The Guitar, because I think it’s so important to deconstruct all the internalised heaviness that surrounds the canon of Western rock music. I often wonder if the overwhelming whiteness of most guitar magazines was what kept me feeling shut out of that world as a brown kid growing up in rural England. I’ve always loved roots and folk music from around the world, so I definitely used that as a way into writing my own songs, and it’s still crucial to my playing today. Letting any white dude tell you you’re playing “wrong” is ridiculous, especially when you start to think about how our ancestors were playing all kinds of African banjos, and how people of color literally invented rock and roll. Really, the possibilities are endless!
Reviewing A People’s History of Gauche was a no-brainer for me because, having toured with Gauche and affiliated bands (Priests, Downtown Boys) countless times, they are essentially family. Back in 2016, when Shopping first went on the road with Gauche in the United States, there was a genuine feeling of being a part of a musical family that I got from that tour, which these days can be pretty hard to maintain when more commercial atmospheres make meeting other bands feel standoffish or competitive. It felt very clear from the start that Gauche are my people, and if you haven’t started your first band yet, I can promise you it’s worth it for this feeling alone!
Review: Gauche – A People’s History of Gauche
Gauche writes confrontational pop songs about work, capitalism, societal pressures, existential angst, and colonialism—all with spiky guitars and hot sax. This music is what you might call “right up my alley.” There is a truly wild feeling of freedom to it that, despite the worry in the lyrics, really lifts the soul and inspires you to keep going.
Any song on their full-length debut, A People’s History of Gauche, released in July on Merge Records (we’re label mates now), could be a personal anthem. On “Running,” one of my favorite songs, bassist/guitarist Mary Jane Regalado (also of Downtown Boys) moans, “What is the point of my life now that I’m here in this world?” There’s something so deeply sad and desperate in her voice, while the music remains funky and upbeat. It’s a perfect clash and clamour; to me, there’s very little that sums up life better than a happy song with sad lyrics. That endless struggle and friction is what keeps you going, and I can’t hear this song live without dancing my arse off and punching the air while singing along, “I’m running out of options and I’m tired of being empty handed.” I wouldn’t trust a person that couldn’t identify with that sentiment, at least at some point in their life. It’s the very precise feeling of relief that you can get from music, when you think, “Somebody finally said what we’ve all been thinking!” It’s so simple, but so refreshing.
Gauche sounds fresh and effortless. They capture what is best about music made by queers, women, and people of color, who the industry might try to call “outsiders” or “non-musicians.” While also being fiercely good at their instruments, there’s an openness of spirit and a way of listening and collaborating on this record that is very rare, perhaps a result from not having the ego that comes with too much privilege. The way Gauche switch lead vocals and instruments feels very intentional, like no one wants to hold on to any one space in the band too possessively. That dynamic forces a totally new type of alchemy on almost every song.
On the opening song, “Flash,” drummer Danielle Yandel (also of Priests) sings that Gauche could never be “flattened to a 2D plane, hemmed in by a frame.” They are a forever shifting and reorganizing ball of energy, and it’s one of the sweetest songs on the record. The swan-song sax line that follows in unison with the vocal is so lovely, and although it’s not a slow song it has a reflective feel to it. (Gauche don’t really have time for slow songs; they have too much partying to do!) “Flash” serves a sharp metaphor in the lyrics—“A flash collapses the depth of field, a flash collapses all that we feel”—as a mission statement from Gauche about letting it all hang out, and remaining weird, human, and flawed in this hyper-airbrushed present moment.
A People’s History of Gauche perfectly balances moments of control and partying. It captures the maximalist feeling of seeing the band play live, with often up to six people on stage at once (it’s really a riot) while also highlighting all the intricate playing and intuitive musicality of the songs. With post-punk, there is a general fear of production amongst a lot of people I know—nobody wants to “ruin” their songs by adding too much weird shit in the studio and loosing the live edge—but on this record, Gauche has pushed all the limits really well. There’s just enough live chaos while still never leaving the songs sounding flat. Take “Dirty Jacket,” in which saxophone maestro Adrienne Berry shines through with their singing and sassy sax flourishes that are hooky as hell and really step up the funk, and the guitar that chimes in like someone ringing the doorbell. Or on “Rent,” there’s a Smokey Robinson-style go-go party happening in the studio, and it sounds so genuinely fun that it’s hard to imagine them faking it.
Gauche make me feel like I’m not alone. They breathe real life into my hi-fi. They challenge me to stay present, weird, and wild. I’m so happy to finally have these songs on a record that could soundtrack so many revolutionary dance parties.This record will sit pride of place next to my X-Ray Spex and Raincoats records as a perfect addition to this lineage of urgent yet joyous, weird yet anthemic post punk. The songs on A People’s History Of Gauche may be brand new, but they feel as though they already belong to all of us.