Who They Are and Why You Should Listen to Them: Young Turtle
Samantha Spaccasi continues to explore artists who shape and push the boundaries of a genre.
The DIY scene holds a special place in my heart. For me, the thriving underground indie scene is a reminder that the legacy of punk’s democratic, egalitarian principles is still alive and can function in a neoliberal, capitalistic society. Even though I’m not in a band, the ethos of DIY encouraged me to start my own blog and be a music critic. While some would argue that the scene is becoming largely homogenous and stylistically rigid, and it’s true that some bands and artists are lured into the trap of making music that sounds exactly like the work of Mac Demarco and other lo-fi artists, there are some who are doing pioneering sound work in the DIY community while also working to radically reshape it. For many people, the DIY community can be a difficult space to navigate. I’ve read many books on the American indie underground, and I believe this phenomenon can be pinpointed to the fact that DIY shows became spaces where toxic masculinity ran unchecked. As Sharon Cheslow brilliantly stated, “Although many of the females have just as much anger, it [isn’t] socially acceptable for us to release. The angry young boy thing [is] very romanticised. Angry young girls [are] a threat.” Historically, DIY spaces haven’t been very welcoming to women, femmes, trans people, or people of colour. And while strides have been made in making the scene more inclusive, as a community, we still have a long way to go towards dismantling oppressive power structures that do exist and are present in our shows, stores, and publications.
One band, however, is taking a bold stand on standing up to “bro behaviour” by queering the scene. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Young Turtle, a group consisting of Oberlin students who are non-binary and femme. We chatted about everything from cheese, fruit, and van stories to combating unacceptable male behaviour at their shows. The band members are charismatic individuals and showed extreme excitement as we sat down to discuss their most recent tour of the West Coast and Canada.
Young Turtle formed as a group of friends hanging out in bassist’s Cameron Rabb’s (they/them/theirs) dorm room. Many of the members were already making their own music, but they decided to form a group and go on tour in the summer of 2016. “We were working on separate musical projects, but it was Andrew [Louden, they/them/theirs] and Eliot [Sernau] mostly making music together, forming the bare bones of the material for Young Turtle,” says multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Soleil Solomon (she/her/hers). “The songs that we ended up writing for Young Turtle were just some indie-folk tunes with some jazz influences. It was a very relaxed project. But in November or December, a friend suggested that we should tour. I brought the idea up with Drew and they were all for it,” Sernau (they/them/theirs), guitarist and vocalist, continues. The process of forming their sound, however, was unorthodox. Despite the lack of original material in their repertoire, they decided to go on tour anyways. Jane Lincoln (she/her and they/them), synthesiser player and keyboardist, says that the tour was where the band began to finely tune their material and hone their sound. “We didn’t get to the organisational process of forming a group until we were all in LA a few days before our show. We went into a room, had one 5-hour practice session, and cranked it all out,” she continued. Despite relatively little practice time as a group, the tour was successful overall.
The group is aware of the toxic dynamics of the DIY community, and those were apparent during some of their shows. The group was sharing the stage with standard DIY bands consisting of white and hyper-masculine men for some of the performances, and began to grow upset with the lack of diversity on the bills. “We got really bored of white, masculine punk,” Solomon expressed. At one show, Young Turtle was so upset by one band’s behavior that they left. “The part of the show where we said, ‘We can’t do this anymore!’ was when the bassist and the singer picked up an acoustic guitar. The singer says ‘Alright, need to take out the acoustic for songs about girls!’ We just left,” Solomon said. The show deteriorated further as the band, Greater Division, made sexist remarks directly to audience members. The band also takes a more direct approach to combatting “bro behaviour”: at one show, Young Turtle took the stage, and Solomon went up to the mic and plainly said, “Hi, we’re Young Turtle. None of us are dudes,” Sernau recounted, “We just wanted to make the whole situation queerer.” This anecdote clearly illustrates that the band places importance on challenging DIY norms and increasing queer accessibility within the community.
There’s no doubt that Young Turtle is destined for great things in the world of DIY. Their challenging of aggressive male behaviour and witty and clever experimental electro-folk punk are appealing to all those who don’t exactly fit within the increasing rigidity of DIY and modern punk aesthetics. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I feel confident in saying that this band could very well be the future of DIY that many of us would like to see.
Their album, Musical Chairs, will be released soon.