JILL BARBER (Friday) and REPUBLIC OF SAFETY (Saturday) playing as part of the GOOD GROOMING FOR GIRLS CD launch with HEIDI HAZELTON , JON RAE FLETCHER AND THE RIVER and COUGAR PARTY (Friday) and SCANDALNAVIA , THE DISKETTES and MAGNETA LANE (Saturday) at Rancho Relaxo (300 College), $5. 416-920-0366. Rating: NNNNN
I blame it on Sarah Mclachlan. When the glowing earth mama set sail with her flagship Lilith Fair, she opened a big-ass can of pink, frilly worms.
As an eager tweener, I heard about the tour celebrating women in music and was thrilled to flex my proto-feminist muscles amidst a whole whack of ladies in flowing dresses and army pants. The fact that McLachlan's estrofest focused primarily on white women strumming guitars and warbling folkie ditties didn't register.
But when the endless cavalcade of Women In Songs comps, featuring generally indistinguishable bland-on-bland folkie chicks, appeared, the category "Lilith Fair-y" turned into an insult. Those collections pandered to the pathetic stereotype that women making music are inevitably meek, breathy, acoustic-slinging flakes.
"My knee-jerk reaction to anything that's all-female is to avoid it at all costs," agrees Jill Barber, one of the fab artists on the brand spankin' new Good Grooming For Girls comp, a cooperative venture between subversive teen feminist mag Shameless and indie label Permafrost Records.
"I think it's great if women want to play women singer/songwriter nights, if they want to do all-girl CDs. But I carry around a cynical chip on my shoulder about anything that's gender-segregated.
"On the other hand, I see so few women - especially young women - playing in bands, and I wonder why women need more encouragement when it comes to rocking out. It's so skewed that it makes me think maybe someone should do something about it."
Enter the brilliant kids at Shameless and Permafrost. Good Grooming clocks in at an impressive 22 tracks by 22 bands that would never be selected for a Lilith Fair remount.
From Scandalnavia's trashy suburban garage-hop with a queer bent to Barcelona Pavilion's jerky mayhem to the Arcade Fire's soaring orchestral folk-pop to Kimya Dawson's whispered anti-folk, the range of the well-selected acts overturns any idea that female musicians can be pigeonholed.
The inclusion of bands like Controller.controller, the Phonemes, the Sick Lipstick and the aforementioned Arcade Fire and Barcelona Pavilion, all of which feature a healthy testosterone quota, implicitly acknowledges that boys can be girl-positive, too. It all meshes with Shameless mag's new non-binary, non-segregated feminist philosophy.
Local light Maggie MacDonald, late of the Barcelona Pavilion and a current Hidden Camera, contributed a track from her new Republic of Safety project, a lo-fi melodic punk rock venture with totally rad dudes Jonathan Bunce (Wavelength co-founder and sometime member of way too many local indie bands to list here) and Sick Lipstick drummer Dennis Amos.
"If we're gonna take down sexism, men and women and trannies have to work together," she crows excitedly. "I saw this great button once that said, 'There can be no free men until there are free women.' Part of sexual oppression are these strict gender roles imposed on us. But if gender roles are being imposed on women, then they're also being imposed on men.
"Another part is that binary space where you have to be a man or a woman. People should be able to be faggy or female or tranny or any fucking thing they want without there being a hierarchy. If you want to eliminate gender hierarchies, you have to invite everyone and get them all partying together."
This weekend's double whammy CD release also features two nights with super-eclectic lineups - Barber's on Friday, Republic plays Saturday.
There's something about Shameless culture that feels even more welcoming than the pioneering Riot Grrrl revolution, which needed to be universally aggressive, loud and proud cuz nobody would listen otherwise.
Maybe we're ready for something more.