The Vancouver-based, post-punk band talks diversity and gentrification
Theodore Abbott // Contributor
Kerria Gray // Photographer
In the no-fun-city of Vancouver, among a landscape of closed down venues and repetitive garage bands, Necking brings an edge of excitement to what can otherwise be an underwhelming scene. According to the four members—singer Hannah Karren, guitarist Nada Hayek, drummer Melissa Kuipers, and bassist Sonya Hm—Necking is a hobby that got out of hand, “just a couple of buds hanging out” as Karren put it. To their dedicated fan base, Necking is a band that brings the same captivating vitality to every show. When standing in the crowd at a Necking show, the static energy so typical at Vancouver rock shows dissolves as the crowd rocks to the music in a reciprocal pulse. Since forming in March 2017, Necking has quickly become one of the most recognizable names within Vancouver’s music scene. Gaining notoriety for their clever lyrics, the group manages to express a particular brand of post-ironic humor that has come to define the millennial ethos. Necking’s music plucks at the heartstrings of every twenty-something who’s ever been in a relationship with a playful apathy that makes heartbreak just a little bit easier. This past November, I sat down with the band to discuss everything from new music to gentrification and diversity in Vancouver’s music scene.
How would you define Necking’s sound?
SM: We say it’s punk rock but there are some tracks on that album that are not punk rock.
MK: Someone else should define what our sound is—we’ll make it, and then someone else can pick. People also have this tendency to associate our sound with the fact that we are all women. We can’t seem to separate ourselves from this Riot Grrrl persona. We did an interview once in Seattle, where we were sort of comparing our music to the Melvins and the interviewer said, “yea like the Melvins but feminine right?” We’re not a ‘chick band’, we’re just a band that happens to also have all female members.
What’s it like being a somewhat newer band within the Vancouver music scene?
HK: I feel like when we started playing music there were all these bands in the city that had been together for years already. They had already been a band for like two or three or five years, and now that we’re two years in all of those bands are still here, and so I feel like we’re still babies. We didn’t age up with them, Maybe if some of these five-year-old bands had dissolved I’d feel more established.
Following the release of your most recent album, Bandcamp named Cut Your Teeth one the top three punk albums of July 2019. What was it like to receive that designation?
HK: It was awesome. I mean we definitely didn’t see that coming, and overall it’s been so nice to see how well the album has been received.
How much of a role does the need for diversity play within the Vancouver music scene?
SH: I think that people make a conscious effort to at least try and be diverse, but it doesn’t always play out the way it’s supposed to. I think its in people’s minds, it doesn’t necessarily always come to fruition.
MK: A lot of the focus is on gender diversity, but then you just have white women being brought to the forefront, and that’s not revolutionary to bring white women to the front of the room. So I think a lot of people, when they’re booking shows and stuff like that, are focusing on women. It’s like, okay, but when you’re talking about women, which women exactly are you talking about? Are you thinking about intersectionality? Are you looking at gender, race, sexuality? I think for us, we’re four women [that] present pretty straight, so you know, it can feel kind of difficult, because I don’t feel like a diversity hire when we’re on a bill, but we always are.
HK: Yea it feels crappy and weird because someone will do some sort of girl power festival, or like, we wanna do an all female bill, and I’m like, wow, revolutionary!
MK: They’ll be like “oh we’re hiring diverse because you’re half Asian”.
HK: When they tell us we are the representation, It’s like, okay, so where are the people of color who didn’t get this slot because we fill that diversity slot?
MK: And sometimes there will be shows where the people will be like, “Oh we just found you on a spreadsheet for female bands, we didn’t know you’d actually be good.” So in a way there could be a positive side to this, in the sense that they took a look at all the token bands they have hired and you were the best of those bands. But they got your name off a list of bands that meet the minimum requirements of ‘diversity’. There’s not really much of a meritocracy to it.
MK: I think there is a meritocracy to it, but I think our privilege played a big role in helping us get to where we are. I think that the people who maybe didn’t have the same opportunities that we had when starting out have just been overlooked.
What do you think makes you such a good live band?
SH: Beer, at least two beers, and no more than four. Also, Hannah helps; when Hannah gets into it, I think we all get more into it too. But it’s not just that, I think we all just really enjoy playing high energy shows. We’re also really lucky because we also have good crowds of people who are into it as well—oh, and we practice a lot too.
Recently a lot of venues around Vancouver have been closing, many of which are venues that you have played or would surely have played in the future. Any thoughts on the constant closure of these local spots?
SH: It’s hard to be objective and calm about it, I mean we’ve seen three venues shut down in the last month alone. It’s sad here, and it’s not just that the venues are unable to afford to stay open.
HK: It’s also all this legal bullshit that you have to go through too. Look at SBC [Smiling Buddha Cabaret], the cops literally said you can’t keep doing this—it’s not about the money anymore.
Do you ever think about moving to Montreal like so many bands from Vancouver have in the last several years?
MK: We do. Montreal is way cheaper, it’s got a great music scene and it’s pretty central for going on tour around the rest of Canada. Over here on the West Coast, we’re a little cut-off, but for now we’re going to stay in Vancouver.
What’s next for Necking?
MK: We’re starting to write some more, it’s louder, it’s more sludgy.
SH: Also, on our next tour, we’re going to be playing South by SouthWest.
HK: If someone had told me two years ago that we’d be playing South by South West I’d have been like ‘holy shit, that’s the craziest thing’. Now that we’re here living it, after having done all the work to get here, I’m like ‘fuckin right we’re playing South by South West’ —we’d better be doing something.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Follow Necking on Instagram @wearenecking