Introducing: Petrol Girls

By Clara Cullen


Photo credit: Monika Zamojska

Mid July saw the arrival of House Show Fest 2014. As the festival name suggested, it was a thoroughly DIY affair, with three houses in South East London putting on some of the most raucous and unhinged punk the capital has seen in months.

Over the three days the frenetic energy of punk filled the rooms only a tad faster than the heat rising off sweaty bodies. In the blur of the weekend two important lessons were learnt: 1) always say yes to invitations, it’s a pretty good rule to live by and you may surprise yourself and 2) never, ever, EVER forget to bring ear plugs – damn those amps are loud.

One of the bands many had been eagerly anticipating was Petrol Girls. The band, named after Les Pétroleuses, have just released their debut EP. Les Pétroleuses were a group of women rumoured to have existed during the dying days of the Paris Commune in 1871. Using milk bottles they would make explosives and hurl them into buildings as an act resistance against the French government. Pretty radical stuff.

It was after hearing a talk given on the topic, that Ren Aldridge knew her fledgling group had found their name. As she told me, with enthusiasm almost overpowering her, “I always write things in these talks and I had Petrol Girls double underlined, exclamation mark, arrow, band name!” Petrol Girls began an acoustic project, playing one or two shows, but it was only when Ren and bassist Liepa Kuraite were joined by guitarist Joe York that they became the brash and defiant force they are today.

Keeping with the theme of the Paris Commune and the mythical Petrol Girls, the band’s logo is a milk bottle, bandana and flames. It was a logo that they, and Ren in particular, went to great lengths to get historically accurate. As Liepa noted laughing “it’s another long story of how Ren was in a search for the perfect milk bottle… calling the diary companies!” Confirming this with a chuckle Ren told me how she “went on a right mission for the right milk bottle!”

The band’s self-titled EP is scathing in its political condemnation of the current status quo. Not ones to shy away from thorny issues the band have a strong commitment to feminism and are forthright critics of sexism within the punk scene itself. As Joe explained earnestly : “With Petrol Girls, the feminism, a lot of it is actually aimed at the scene we’re playing in”.


Photo credit: Monika Zamojska

“We’ve got a song called Big Man,” continued Ren. “The lyrics are ‘I’m a fucking big man and I play in a big band’ because I’ve been fucking patronised. I think the way the patriarchy works, people assume because you’re a girl; you’re young, that you don’t know what you’re doing. And you start to believe it yourself as well! You start to think, ‘Oh no, maybe I can’t do that’. But there are so many awesome punk bands that have women in them.”

Sexism and assault are topics that Petrol Girls feel incredibly passionate about and as a band feel need to be confronted more directly. These experiences are not one-offs or anomalies but, as Ren explained, frighteningly common. “Sexual assault is a big problem within the community. Women don’t speak about it. It’s something that’s really difficult to say, to admit that that has happened to you because you feel guilty or whatever. Talking to a lot of female friends in the community it has happened to nearly everybody. Just unwanted sexual contact, grabbing, or someone just gets in your bed, all of this sort of stuff and it’s really common. It happens and it needs to fucking stop! Consent is not vastly challenging, it’s like fucking ask!” she told me, exasperation evident.

Petrol Girls recorded their debut EP in their kitchen and this DIY approach runs through everything they do. It is however, not so much through choice, as out of necessity, explained Joe. “To be honest music in general, even outside the punk scene, is going that way because it’s so much easier to record your own stuff nowadays. You just need a laptop and some mics.”

petrol girls vinyl

When talk shifts to the technical aspects of recording, lighting, sound and the issue of women in technical positions Joe believes here too women have been made to feel they can’t succeed. “That’s another thing I think in music that women are particularly made to think they can’t do is the technical setting up stuff”. Adding that the technical arena, setting up for shows, sound and lighting is an area that women are made to feel is “the man’s domain”. On the night the Petrol Girls played it was Liepa, Joe adds, who did all the sound and setting up, deifying this engrained stereotype.

That is, of course, in a nutshell what Petrol Girls are all about. Facing up to awkward topics, not choosing to remain silent and confronting stereotypes head on. It’s important work: punk should not be an elitist art form and they’re doing their part to break down barriers and challenge expectations. They’re also making a right racket while doing it. Nice one.



Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]