If you know your punk history, you know the name Alice Bag is one of significance. As a Latina, and as frontperson and vocalist of the iconic band the Bags, Alice Bag pioneered the Los Angeles punk scene in the 1970s. Breaking into an underground scene, which predominantly consisted of sweaty white dudes thrashing about, Bag was confrontational, political, and brazenly feminist. She paved the way for artists, particularly women and people of color, who aspired to make music that deviated from and aggressively defied suffocative societal norms.
Though decades have since passed, Bag continues to fulfill that legacy today. You can still find her wailing in dingy DIY venues across the country, advocating for inclusionary spaces, demanding humanitarian change, and broadcasting a huge “fuck you” to the President of the United States, AKA, He Who Shall Not Be Named. Needless to say, Bag is one of my feminist heroes, and I was stoked to hear there was recently a short film made about her titled "We’re Here, We’re Present: Women in Punk." Directed and shot by talented writer and filmmaker, Amanda Siberling, the 15-minute documentary follows Alice Bag and indie-punk band Leggy on tour. Featuring interviews with both bands, as well as other artists (Tracy Wilson, for example) and fans, this brief documentary exhibits the scene’s raw spirit, growth, and seemingly everlasting endurance, proving once and for all that punk is NOT dead. Check out the rad film, as well as an exclusive interview with the director, Amanda Siberling, below.
How did you get involved in filmmaking?
I started making films on a whim. I've been writing all of my life, but I started writing about music when I was a freshman in college. I got into music photography through music writing – fast forward a few years, I decided that I wanted to see what going on tour was like, and I felt that making a film would more accurately capture a tour than writing or photography alone. "We're Here, We're Present" is my first film – I'm self-taught when it comes to filmmaking.
What inspired you to make this film, in particular? How did you get in touch with Alice Bag?
I always wanted to go on tour, and as a writer, I was just really curious about what touring is like – I interviewed Leggy earlier that year, and we got along, so I asked if I could tour with them to make a documentary. Then it turned out that Alice Bag was also on that tour, and she was totally cool with being a part of the project, so it ended up becoming a documentary about both bands. I thought that the juxtaposition between those bands was really interesting, since Alice is a pioneer of punk, and Leggy is within the next generation of punk.
What did your introduction to punk look like?
I was pretty nerdy in high school (I still am pretty nerdy), and one of the things that I was excruciatingly nerdy about was music... I had a Strokes fan blog, it was a bit much. But there was something that I just loved so much about these bands, and I do think that inexplicable enthusiasm pushed me towards music journalism. And from there I started getting into other music and other genres and what not.
I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, which is basically just one giant retirement home, so there wasn't exactly a huge punk scene, and I didn't necessarily know where to find it. But eventually, when my high school friends started a band and began playing shows around the area, I discovered that we did, in fact, have a music scene. I was fifteen when I started going to shows in South Florida. I remember making my mom drive me and my friend to a Best Buy in the middle of nowhere to see this band LAVOLA, who were the first local band I had ever heard of.
When I moved to Philly for college, I was so lucky to suddenly find myself within one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country. There is so much going on every night in Philly, and it's so awesome to see how the community keeps growing.
In the film, Bag says that punk was founded by "outcasts" and people who "exist on the fringes of society," and that inclusivity is a foundational aspect of punk. While this is true, I think it's important to recognize room for improvement — how do you think the punk scene can still work to be more inclusive? What's it lacking?
It sounds kind of silly or sarcastic to say that the most punk thing you can do is be nice to each other, but jokes aside, I really do believe that. Historically, I think that punk has manifested itself in many different ways (some great, some not so great), but I really appreciate the way that Alice approaches punk – that it's a way to create a better, more inclusive world. It's not just a type of music. If punk is a way to critique society, then we also need to critique the environments in which punk music thrives. Punk is strongest when it attracts and supports people of all identities. But even on an even smaller level, I want DIY spaces to be more welcoming to people who might be at their first punk show or feel out of place for any reason – going to a show alone can be so intimidating, but it shouldn't be. If we are all involving ourselves in these spaces to support a common goal, then we should always be thinking about how we can open these spaces up and make everyone feel comfortable. Even just saying hi to a person you don't know might help make them feel more welcome. And of course, booking shows that reflect the diversity of our community is essential.
What was it like to spend a week with Leggy and Bag, a living punk legend? What were some highlights of the experience?
This was my first time on tour, so it was exciting, but slightly terrifying – I had no idea what I was getting into, and I figured that if I hated touring, I could just never do it again, but I ended up loving tour. About a year after the Alice Bag and Leggy tour, I just got off a two week tour with Francie Cool and Deer Scout, which I absolutely loved, even if I ended up crying half-way up a mountain in Vermont (long story, but those are the stories you get on tour). Someone asked me how I handle touring when I don't get the validation of performing each night. But I just find tour to be such an exhilarating experience – you're always on your way somewhere and seeing new cities every day, and then each night you get to watch your friends do what they love. It's obviously not the most glamorous experience – the van is always on the verge of breaking down, you don't get much sleep, you sit in a cramped vehicle for most of the day, and even if you're with your best friends, it can be challenging to be around the same few people non-stop for weeks. But as hard as it can be at times, these are experiences that I'll remember for the rest of my life, and I want to tour as much as I can while I'm still young and my body can handle sleeping on cold, hardwood floors.
I think the funniest thing that happened on tour was when Leggy and the whole Alice Bag band all met up to ride a monorail together – Kerstin Bladh, Leggy's bassist, studied urban planning on college, so she's really enthusiastic about public transportation. In Morgantown, West Virginia, we noticed that the University of West Virginia has this monorail that goes around the perimeter of the town, and even though the rest of Leggy definitely made fun of Kerstin at first, we all decided that it would be really fun to ride the monorail. So we made plans to meet up the morning after the gig and rode the monorail around over and over. This is the equivalent of someone visiting NYC and being excited to ride the subway – it's kind of ridiculous and makes no sense, but that's also what made it so fun. The UVW students were very confused and just trying to get to class. But we had a great time. It's this tiny little car with a great view of the West Virginia mountains, so it's definitely more exciting than the subway.
Getting to know Alice on a more personal level was awesome – on stage, I'm blown away by her coolness, but then off stage, she's always just trying to make sure that everyone is feeling okay and having a good time. I think she kind of balks when people refer to her as a legend, but there definitely is something legendary about a person who spends over thirty years of her life making meaningful change through her music, writing, and activism.
Images via Amanda Siberling
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An excessively queer Aquarius with a LOT of opinions. Things I'm passionate about include, but are not limited to: writing (duh), my pet bunnies/animals in general, LGBTQIA+ issues, Sleater-Kinney, massive helpings of spaghetti, RuPaul's Drag Race, tacky horror movies, never shutting up about astrology/how gay I am, et cetera.
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