A cursory glance at documentary filmmaker Sam Dunn‘s “Heavy Metal Family Tree” reveals a familiar, tiring, and altogether incorrect assumption: only cis-gendered men create anything of merit. From the exclusion of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black woman who practically invented rock ‘n’ roll, to the complete omission of the riot grrrl movement, Dunn’s “family tree” overlooks the significant contributions that women have made to the punk, rock, and metal genres. Given this incomplete narrative, WORT shows like Alex Skalla‘s Girls To The Front prove both necessary and illuminating.
Skalla (pictured below) has been hosting Girls To The Front as “DJ Catwoman” every fifth Friday since February. Noting that “punk and metal spaces are still very male-dominated,” Skalla plays female-fronted acts exclusively. While Skalla believes making room for women artists is critical, her decision to focus on such musicians came with some hesitation. “I was sort of torn on having [female-fronted music] be my theme, because ‘female-fronted’ is definitely not a genre it itself, but is so often confused as such,” says Skalla. “I just wanted to have a space on air dedicated to voices in music that are too often unheard.”
That commitment to highlighting diversity remains even as some might bemoan a perceived sacrifice of quality in the process. “Diversity is quality,” Skalla stresses. “If you have music made by the same people all the time, it all starts sounding the same and gets boring! Music evolves when it’s looked at and thought about from different perspectives. My hope is that people who listen to my show will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world, [and] you can’t do that unless you listen to voices of people who might not look like you.” Beyond helping add nuance to our collective understanding of the punk, rock, and metal canons, Skalla aims to provide a sense of community — and opportunity — with her platform.
“We live in a very individualistic and isolating society, and so having a space where people are supportive and respectful for others is already super radical,” shares Skalla. “Throw in music as a component, and you now have a powerful medium through which people can heal together as a community.” Indeed, it was music’s healing potential for communities that inspired Skalla, who had no previous on-air experience, to make that leap from the stage and elevate similar artists in the process.
“I’ve personally witnessed this phenomenon within the queer punk community of Iowa City,” says Skalla. “It was so cathartic just to be able to make the music you like together, to be angry and heal together, and to validate each other’s experiences and identities. I used to play in a punk band, and I know how frustrating it can be to be shoved to the side, so if you’re in a female-fronted punk, rock, or metal band, hit me up and I’ll play your music on my show.”
A self-described “average punk cat lady with a witchy side,” Skalla prepares for each show by casting a spell and dancing around the studio three times clockwise while discovering new music through premonitions. “Rituals help me turn stress into bless,” Skalla says. In addition to incorporating a touch of magick to her life, Skalla does advocacy work, is involved with roller derby, and is actively trying to start up a doo-wop band.
Listeners can get a taste for some of the music Skalla spins by checking out metal act King Woman‘s latest record, Created in the Image of Suffering, or class punk rock band The Muffs. Those craving further disruption to our man-otonous cultural narratives may set their dial to 89.9 FM every fifth Friday from between 8:00 and 11:00 PM (or anytime on WORT’s audio archives) to hear some gnarly tunes and learn something along the way. Girls To The Front will air next on Friday, June 29th.