A 16th Century pub, ceramic patterns on the ceiling, clashing beautifully with the shiny, new amps and microphones, glinting from the spotlights. Every ACM student is wonderfully familiar with this sight but what no one anticipated was the sheer mass of people cramped into the small room.
Stick It To The Stigma is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to reducing the negative connotations and stigma around mental illness and on educating society on how to treat mental illness, both personal and of others around you, since May 2017.
The pub downstairs is quiet. People out for a drink, some even doing work on the tables. If not for the vague thumping of a bass you would never think that there are over five dozen people all bopping their heads to Bethia’s smiling, powerful voice.
The friendly group of five interact with each other and the crowd as they dish out yet another catchy tune. Six acoustic-based songs with Pop, R&B and Soul all mixed into one; songs like ‘Place’, ‘Still Waters’ and the crowd favourites ‘Nothing’ and ‘Make Up Your Mind’. The instruments play around with contrasting rhythms and the interactions between the two vocalists are both touching and personal – their enjoyment spilling through.
“Being able to speak up about [mental health] is really important. I’m so grateful to be part of something so amazing with such talented female artists. Everyone smashed it,” Bethia grins as she gets called over to congratulating audience members.
Before you know it, the excited chatter is bombarded by sound as Jai, the second act and founder of Stick It To The Stigma, stands on stage, one arm raised in the air, fur coat on full display, drawing all attention to herself as the band comes in. If the people doing work downstairs haven’t yet come up to see what all the fuss is about, they definitely do as Jai’s strong vocals begin. The variation of covers proves this seven-man band’s talent; Arctic Monkeys, Lianne La Havas, The Bottlemen, even Beyoncé . As Jai rightly points out, “You can’t have a girl power night without the queen herself”.
“People attacking each other about femininity, masculinity, we’ve got to stop! There’s so much pain in the world without us adding any more.”
In the middle of her set, the Stick It To The Stigma founder stops and asks the crowd to raise their hand if they’ve ever been hurt by someone. “People attacking each other about femininity, masculinity, we’ve got to stop! There’s so much pain in the world without us adding any more.” She then shares a story of relying on a previous boyfriend for “love and happiness” when she could find none in herself. “He left me four days after a suicide attempt, when I was still in the hospital. But I didn’t lose him, he lost me. He hurt himself by hurting me.” She speaks steadily without a hint of losing strength, a true inspiration. Murmurs go through the awed crowd. “This girl.. Wow… Imagine going through something like that and being able to stand up on the stage with that amount of confidence,” comments one observer.
After a short interval all eyes are flicking to and from the stage in anticipation. They all know the next act, a name often bouncing off the ACM walls among fellow students: Luna.
The bass vibrates the worn, wooden floorboards so that you feel it rattling your bones. Five contrasting songs, all fast-paced rap with gorgeously low bass and beats that you can’t help but move to. Luna may only be in her second year at ACM but she has the entire crowd wrapped around her finger as she takes them on the journey through her songs with haunting vocals and breathtaking emotion. You can feel anger radiating off her. “I wrote this song after all the gigs I played at, where I was the only one who didn’t get paid. Why aren’t there female acts on the posters, the promotions? People say it’s because there aren’t any. But here we are.”
The final song of Luna’s set, ‘Pussy Grabs Back’, really hits home. “I guess freedom of speech has turned into a crime.” The song is unashamedly aggressive. Luna crouches to the floor, emotion truly building as she exudes anger, all eyes on her. The stage goes to black out as the set ends, crowd more deafening than the bass moments before.
As she walks through the crowded room after her set, Luna barely has time to breathe, swarmed with compliments, hugs from peers, fans and tutors alike. But even after such a spotless performance she talks about how she could improve, passionate about perfection.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what your ambitions are. Your passions are yours.”
Luna explained that the most degrading part of the sexist music industry are “the small things”. She shares stories of derogatory names and comments and even speaks of how people “won’t let [her] plug in [her] own microphone.” “You don’t notice in the beginning but it builds up. It stops me from meeting people, getting a fan base. I’ve lost so much patience people probably think I’m a bitch! I walk in and I’m like, this is what I want, I’m gonna do it.
“When I moved here I didn’t rap, I didn’t do hip hop, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, except it had to be music. As Jess said, we all have our struggles. For me, I was about to let my passion slip away. That’s why [talking about mental health] is so important to me. This industry is a competition, people bitching and digging at you behind your back, sexism just makes it worse. The advice I would give to someone like me is to surround yourself with people who want the best for you. People will say it’s not what you really want, it’s not realistic. Don’t let anyone tell you what your ambitions are. Your passions are yours.”
Finally, the headlining act, Chinchilla, hype the crowd even more with an upbeat mix of synthetic and live instruments. The style seems retro and yet new at the same time. Powerful, bad-ass, catchy, sharp: all words you could easily use to describe the performance. The word that comes to mind the most, though, is sassy. In their style, music and clothes; the strong vocals, atmosphere, crowd interaction, dancing on stage; it is all done with a gorgeously disgusting amount of confidence. You would never have thought the lead singer had been calming her nerves in the bathroom not 10 minutes before, as she enters a section of call and response with her backing vocalists, smiling to each other and clearly proud with their performance, as they should be.
The song ‘Let Me Sleep’ awes the crowd. The tone is brought down dramatically as the piano and vocals entwine with each other, lavishly enhanced with the occasional cymbal. The top notes the lead singer hits are impossibly strong and the previously rowdy audience is suddenly silent. As the song ends a man somewhere in the middle of the crowd lets out an “Oh my god…” And the spell is broken, chuckles and smiles appearing sporadically over the room. But these are quickly snuffed out with the haunting vocals at the beginning of ‘Elements’.
With the final song, ‘Party’, there isn’t a single body that isn’t moving, from fully dancing to just bobbing their heads, everyone claps along to the variation of gentle head voice, and dominating chest voice from the talented vocalist. The seemingly never-ending cheers finally fade and the room is left with excited bustle and chattering.
Daisy, the lead vocalist in Chinchilla, said she had experienced countless acts of sexism
Daisy, the lead vocalist in Chinchilla, said she had experienced countless acts of sexism: “Where to start… Whether it be a man repeatedly overriding your opinions or questioning your musical judgement and ability, or a male producer approaching you after a gig to explain how you should be producing your music, or someone trying to take what he sees as a young, impressionable girl with potential but no direction, and mould her into his own doll, throwing away any ideas she had for her own future; or just anyone who ever mistakes a woman for someone to be walked all over.. I have quite a few tales. I think sexism is a massive issue which infuriates me. I don’t consider my music aggressive, but I try to write songs with empowering messages and hook lines, that give us ladies an outlet for our anger.”
Daisy goes on to say how she has experienced mental illness both first- and second-hand. “Everyone has unfortunately gone through it in their own way. I wish there was a cure and I wish people weren’t so prone to it, but I do think events like tonight help to bring people together and get rid of the feeling of loneliness.”
Everyone who played gets onto the stage and Jessica Byhurst, previously having performed as Jai, gushes her thanks to all those involved. “I’ve never ever seen an ACM gig like this! Girlpower!”
After most of the crowd have left, a motley few dozen remain, chatting to the artists or grabbing one last drink. Byhurst spares a few moments to share a little more about Stick It To The Stigma:
“As the founder of the non-profit organisation, it is an absolute honour to have put on a show this massive with nothing but good vibes and amazing female artists, such powerful and inspiring women. It was really motivating and a blessing to perform on the same stage as them. All this money will be going towards public speaking in schools, hospitals, hospices, AA meetings, anywhere that wants and needs it. It’s so refreshing to see so many people in one room, supporting something so important to the world. When it comes to mental health I have been through the complete wars, nearly losing my life, but I fought so hard to get it back. Having nights like this really make all that pain and hardship worth while. Without that I never would have been able to create this, so for that I’m really thankful.”
If anyone is experiencing mental health issues, don’t ever be afraid to admit it. As proved by all the powerful acts tonight, it is never shameful. Ask for help, and you will be able to get through whatever you need to, just like so many of the inspiring girls who share their stories with us through words and music, and offer their support to all who need it.
Photogrpahy: Rob Blackman