I meet Gang Śródmieście on Krakowskie Przedmieście. It makes me smile not only because of the fact, that the words “śródmieście” (downtown) and “przedmieście” (suburb) rhyme in Polish. Firstly, I would have a sense of inconsistency if we met up in a district other than Śródmieście, but most of all Gang Śródmieście is a band that was a highlight of this year’s Spring Break festival. Karolina Czarnecka, Magda Dubrowska, and Nela Gzowska took up a difficult topic, but the way they have tackled it, especially live, is touching, engaging and unpretentious.
Do you call yourselves “gang” because you have an opponent in sight?
Magda: – It’s not that a specific person is our opponent. It is, however, the patriarchal culture, or a set of norms, principles, and values that causes women to be treated worse.
Karolina: – Fighting against an “enemy” means aggression. I would like it to be possible to change the patterns by the means of peace. Unfortunately, a lot of anger has accumulated and its release is good and unavoidable. Our armor is music, we fight with songs, not with swords on barricades. So we approach it in a carnival way. Like in our song “Discopolka”, which is amusing and fun.
Nela: – “Gang” in our case also means sisterhood. We are doing something and we are in this together. Men are not the target that we want to attack, but they do have to get out our comfort zone to be with our music.
As a gang, are you a hierarchical and profit-oriented structure?
K: – Oh yes! We divide spoils evenly, I take gold, Nela silver, and Dziara gets the diamonds. And the truth is that from the beginning I had a great need for our Gang to be very equal. Each of us is the leader. We write music and lyrics together, and sharing band responsibilities comes naturally. At first, I was annoyed because the headlines began to appear that Gang Śródmieście is “the new feminist band of Hera Koka Hasz”.
N: – Fortunately, it quickly died off.
K: – I like it when we all sing when we exchange instruments on stage because it generates energy and emphasizes that we are all leaders.
Is the story of the heroine of one of your songs, Saszka, real?
M: – She is my friend. I knew that she had undergone surgery because she had a large size of breast all her life. I asked her if she would like to anonymously tell her story. On this basis, the lyrics were created. It seems to me that speaking out has helped her to get used to the idea of what happened and, above all, she learned how to talk about it.
N: – Now she is not anonymous anymore, she openly says that this song is about her.
M: – We thought that when we announce that we are waiting for stories, women will send us a lot of letters, and we only got a few.
K: – We added our stories, and that makes the lyrics for our record, but actually, in the beginning, we really assumed that women will want to use this opportunity to clear themselves through telling the story and being a part of a song. There you go, we open the mailbox and we commit a mass harakiri together. You’re welcome. But the longer we operate as a band, the stronger I get the impression that writing down your story and sending it into the great unknown by email is very difficult. How should women trust us? Maybe it’s a joke, tomfoolery, and it will turn out that they were just silly and naive to participate? We have to prove that it is not a joke, no irony, but that we really want to listen and are serious about this.
M: – From time to time, e-mails come in, in which women suggest that we should cover such and such problems on the next album. We also received an e-mail in which a girl tells how she was hurt by a few of her female friends and you can see just how much she needed to say it to someone.
K: – I felt a huge responsibility even after these few emails. What if women actually do write to us? What if there are tons of mega personal, hard stories?
And you will not use them all and the women will feel disappointed?
K: – Yes, that too! But even the very fact that you have to delve into those stories is really like going into someone else head. A little like therapy! What we wanted to get through it was starting a dialogue, an exchange process, we wanted to create a platform where topics important for women will be addressed.
Apart from the mission – would you rather use examples from others for your lyrics or your own stories?
N: – Just after we released our first song, a girl from an initiative named Girls To The Front called us and asked us to play in the former Euphemia. So we had a concert coming up and one song. There was no way out, we had to sit down and write down our stories. So we organized a “writing night”. We sat down together and Dziara was writing “Gary”, I “Lakierki”, and Karo “Przesilenie”.
Collaborative writing is better than if each of you would send your own story to your bands’ e-mail address?
M: It was more than just collaborative writing because we talked about it, we exchanged experiences. “Gary” is a grateful topic, because you can complain about the difficult situation of women in the music world. But when we got to “Lakierki” it turned out that each of us has such an experience – a childhood trauma that you need to wear shiny shoes and pleated skirts to all sorts of ceremonies.
K: – And when we talked about “Przesilenie” I realized that it’s not a strictly feminist song, it is generally about a human being. And I like it because if people want to classify us as fighting men, it’s this song that says – not true! Some things are universal.
After the screening of “A Modern Man” at the Docs Against Gravity festival, a psychologist, who was a panelist in a discussion, told a story about how, with his colleagues, other psychologists, they decided to create a list of features that they would like their sons to have in the modern world. Then they asked themselves what the list would look like if they had daughters. It turned out that the list would not be any different. How do you make sure that you don’t add to simplifications and deepen the gap but rather encourage people to talk across the divides?
K: – The definition of modern feminism is very difficult to coin. One can say that the way it is is bad, but at the same time, one must go beyond this narrative, not to deepen the divisions. This is a very tough nut to crack. There is also a shortage of language, no good way of saying certain things so it doesn’t build an image of a victim and on the other hand, doesn’t create a sense of superiority.
M: You must also remember that patriarchal culture also enslaves men, and also imposes traditional roles that are not contemporary to their times.
I have read that you dream of playing in small towns and on the streets.
K: – We do not dream of it, we want to do it.
Because you want to educate or confront?
M: – Out of curiosity. Will our music be accepted by people who do not know us? Who don’t expect what we will sing about? This is the harshest critic – the street – and also the most interesting.
It sounded very much like something a gangster would say.
N: – In short, the gang will hit the streets again.
This can also be a good opportunity to collect more stories!
K: – True! We like to talk to girls after concerts. Earlier, after a show, I would much rider hide and not speak to anyone. Now we stay with the audience, we talk, sign records. What happens after the concert is also our work. We don’t hide, we show our cards.
Interview: Misia Furtak
Photo: Aga Murak/materiały zespołu
Style: Hanka Podraza