The Punk Louge’s Befreebeyou is all about freedom of expression and the right of artists to express themselves on stage without criticism of how they choose to appear. It’s the right of the artist to perform their art without interference or rebuff. The Soap Girls have taken a huge amount of stick merely for daring to perform on stage in outfits that don’t conform. They were the focus of our very first feature on the subject. But has anyone ever wondered about what it’s like living in a country that is a massive departure from what we would call normal? Has anyone ever wondered what effect South Africa has had on The Soap Girls in terms of their music, their defiance, and all importantly how their music and art affects their own safety. The Punk Lounge chatted to Millie and Mie on living in South Africa, sexism and the rape culture.
How have you been keeping in contact with people and maintaining momentum while you were back in South Africa?
“It’s been cool, we’ve been trying to keep in contact with as many people as we can but the wifi sometimes in South Africa is not the greatest. It sucks. Also we have had a water shortage crisis in Cape Town where we’re from so a lot of stress while recording an album and getting the next tour down. It was pretty crazy. We had to move to a new house too for safety reasons.”
I think a lot of people don’t really understand that South Africa is quite a dangerous place to live….
“They sell it to tourists as the most idyllic holiday destination and it is beautiful, very beautiful. But it does have an underbelly of disturbing crime, it’s very violent. When you live there you’re more exposed to it but tourists don’t always see it until they go down the wrong street. When something happens it’s a big shock but when you live there you kind of get toughened up. The rape statistics on women in South Africa is huge, and it’s quite a conservative country too. There’s a saying that conservatism breeds perversion.”
Do you think that from the times of apartheid with the ultra conservative government then, that even now things are just the same regarding how women are treated?
“Definitely, the whole mentality is pretty fucked up. A lot of people are saying it’s there culture, they even do something called corrective rape. Where a woman who is gay, they think it’s OK to rape her to become straight. It’s a part of African culture. And if a woman wears a short skirt then they say she is asking for sex. Even the president, now ex-president said, the woman her raped was asking for sex because she had a short skirt.”
That was Jacob Zuma?
“Yes. The country is very conservative and cut off from the world. It’s very sexist. When you see a female bus driver in the UK it’s mind blowing because you never see that in South Africa.”
So do you think that how you have to cope with things in South Africa not only toughens you up , but that people elsewhere don’t get how you react to certain situations sometimes because of how that country has affected you?
“Yes, it’s a totally different cultural mind set. Issues that people have in the UK are completely different. You always have running water. You always have a toilet that flushes. You have rights. Over there you could lose all your human rights in one day. Over there there are people living in some places that have never been in a shower or bath in their whole life, they wash themselves in a bucket, and that’s pretty fucked up. You can tell someone that in the UK and they might be shocked but they can’t relate to it because they’ve never lived it. Here if you have a cold shower rather than a hot one it’s an annoyance, there if you have any water you’re lucky.”
On a more personal level do you think defence mechanisms that you have to have in South Africa get misinterpreted when you’re in other countries?
“Probably yeah. The thing is if someone comes up to us with some shit we’re going to be ready, we’re not going to be like oh that’s a shock. When that thing happened in Hastings (the infamous fake blood throwing incident) we weren’t expecting it, because we were lulled in to a false sense of security. We thought all the English were very civilised and very decent. That had been our experience up until that point. When it happened it came out of the blue so now we’re ready. Someone comes up to us with shit now we’ll be ready.”
So what about socialising in South Africa?
“For a start it’s pretty classist in South Africa. Also say a cashier in the UK can afford to take a holiday but over there that would never happen, and it would only be a black person working at a till. There are certain jobs that only black people do like working at a till or pumping gas. If you’re white and try to be a cashier then people look down on you. A job is a job. And when they go out no one really mixes. There at a table you would never find a lawyer, a garbage man, a doctor and someone who works on a till.”
People might think that everyone in South Africa who is white has loads of money.
“It’s mostly people from overseas who go there and retire, of course they have money, they have pounds, euros, dollars. The average white person from there unless their family gave them a farm or wine estate hasn’t got much. If you’re a white male there you’re fucked, you’re not going to get a job. At the universities they took down all the white statues because they said it was colonialist. But those people who the statues were of made scholarships available for all those people. You can’t erase history like that.”
Do you have any opportunities in South Africa to play your music?
“You could but how we choose to dress and perform and the fact we are anti-political, there aren’t that many venues that are brave enough to handle maybe the police coming in. If you’re a pretty girl with an acoustic guitar singing pretty folk songs that’s fine. But if you’re doing angry music with a message then you’re going to have a very tough time. There is an underground scene and you get people wanting to organise underground gigs. That’s cool, but you’d never get like how you have the venues here and in Europe. You don’t get that there. There’s a lot of sexism in music there too.”
Well if you have a rape culture then there’s going to be.
It’s terrible. If you’re an African woman and you stand at a taxi rank wearing a short skirt you will be raped. That’s in Johannesburg. It’s very scary shit. When we went to the beach and Sam was doing a video. Everyone is on the beach and you have little kids like 9 years old trying to grab your crotch. That’s the whole culture and that’s how it is. It’s a very aggressive place. You’ve got to be wise. You can’t walk down the street and not look over your shoulder to check there’s no psycho behind you. You can’t wear fancy jewellery, you can’t walk around with a guitar. You can’t even drive with a guitar visible in your car. You’ll get your window smashed and your shit stolen.
Presumably you’re pleased to be back in the UK then?
“Yes, but it’s fucking cold. It’s a relief, we can take a shower and a shit. We feel much safer too. You get to live here. You get immersed in what you want to do. You can take a walk without looking over your shoulder. “
So your music and the way you choose to dress…..
“It’s a big fuck you.”
And the UK and Europe allows you that freedom of expression.
“We do get shit. Europe is a bit more open minded than the UK. The UK is amazing but in unexpected places you will often encounter hostile attitudes towards our dress. Again some people have a certain image of how a female musician should dress. If you dress a certain way then you’re asking for attention or you’re selling sex and you’re not a serious musician. We met a woman who was 102 in Ireland and she is a huge fan of what we do. As long as you are a good person. You don’t have to justify how you dress. A few years ago if you had tattoos you were frowned upon and people thought you were a hoodlum. Nowadays everybody has tattoos and it’s cool. Back in South Africa we can’t even do our make up without people wanting to ostracise us. Or people see it as an invitation to harass you. Same if you’re gay, they’re very judgemental.”
Given the obvious dangers in South Africa would you consider moving to the UK permanently?
“Yeah probably. We want to just tour the world and not ever stop.”
You’ve overcome a lot of people’s resistance to you, certainly in the UK. What are your aims for 2018 onwards?
“To piss off more people. The more successful you get the more people you piss off anyway. That’s just inherent. We just want to carry on writing and touring. We’re going to tour America next year which is a big thing for us because we’ve never done it. We want to tour Australia, Asia, just keep going. That’s what we want to do.”
Interview and photos by Gary Trueman