Music is in Sheffield’s roots. The city has produced global bands, but there is a notable gap when it comes to its all-female groups. With recent pushes to equalize music, the industry is under increasing pressure to stamp out patriarchy. On a local scale, this male-dominated picture remains, but some women in Sheffield are starting to push back.

Girl Gang is a female collective that champions creative women and community. Sheffield member, Hannah, told me how the term ‘girl band’ has been tainted by the media, portraying them as “pink, sparkly bitches”. Gradually, the label is starting to be powerfully reclaimed, she believes, with many bands now embracing that feminine aesthetic. Girl Gang events have showcased bands that are representative of this, whilst also ensuring a secure environment for women. Hannah suggests that women need to feel confident to expose their talents, but first they should be able to feel safe in gig spaces which are often overwhelmingly male-dominated.

Girl Gang have also worked with DIY venue Delicious Clam to communicate different female artists to each other. Delicious Clam are conscious of creating a balance in their performers, telling me: “The more awareness raised that there are these acts out there, the more people will be inspired to go out and start something.” Their favoured local female acts include All Girl Arson Club, The Seamonsters, Precious Metals and the recently-disbanded Nachthexen.

One of the best-known all-female bands in Sheffield is Before Breakfast. Band member Gina thinks that if the representation of women in music is to increase, it needs to start from the top. “Big festivals, radio and influencers should be championing female artists” to inspire future musicians, but also to promote women at all levels of the industry.

For so long, she tells me, women have been socialised to compare and compete with each other. This needs to be eliminated to create more positivity for collaboration. “I am infinitely more excited and positive about working with other women, which I think has come from experience.” Female talent definitely exists – it’s just not being properly recognised.

Stemming from the band, Gina formed the all-female choir Neighbourhood Voices. When we chatted, other choir members expressed how girl bands are starting to have a renaissance, mentioning the Riot Grrrl punk movement as inspiration, whilst also appreciating the heritage of female bands. Even still, they identified a lack of musical role models for young women.

They also expressed ideas about gender and music that reach further than the industry, starting with education. Cuts in creative sectors have limited the number of young people coming into music in the first place, alongside a lack of musical freedom and the teaching of gendered instruments. An example provided was boys paired with guitars and drums, compared to girls given recorders and flutes. Choir member and soloist Emily Jane Stancer feels this education has had a negative impact on her ability to source female instrumentalists to start a band, but the popularity of Neighbourhood Voices proves there is a demand from women to enter music.

A common theme across all these conversations was that women are taught to have a sense of rivalry against each other. Once those barriers are broken down, female musical groups can become inclusive social spaces, and Neighbourhood Voices is clear evidence of that. Female talent is being severely limited by a lack of exposure, but as Hannah from Girl Gang emphasised, once the industry is opened up to women, they will start to gain the confidence to think: “You can do this. You don’t need permission. You’ve got an instrument. Go ahead.”

Charlotte Flavell