Words: Benjamin Velaise '18
As the sun set over Earth House, Overcoats and I sat down to discuss their recent tour, the music industry, privilege, and their experience as women in the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of electronic music.
Overcoats arrived on campus last Saturday for an “all day affair” of sorts. Sponsored by the Aldelphic Educational Fund and the Creative Campus Initiative, Overcoats led a forum on “Gendered Beats.” JJ Mitchell '15 and Hana Elion '15 spent the afternoon discussing women in electronic music based on their experiences as female musicians at Wesleyan and beyond. Later that night, Overcoats performed at Earth House along side campus musicians, Old Soles and IVES. The forum was a discussion of their experience as women in the industry and the implicit sexism they’ve experienced and tried to navigate since graduation.
In their presentation, Overcoats addressed the notion of the “anonymity of the male electronic musician.” “We’ve felt that there are conflicting expectations that arise for female musicians vs. male ones.” Presenting a photo of Deadmau5, Hana expanded on this notion, “It’s considered ‘okay’ and ‘cool’ for Deadmau5 to maintain his anonymity. But, for us, for women, we are constantly told to dress prettier, to have a backing band so that we can be front women, to market ourselves. And the reason we need to market ourselves, is that we are already at a disadvantage.”
For Overcoats, their position in the world of electronic music has conditioned their perception of the electronic scene as almost “impenetrable.” “We always thought that to be able to play live electronic music, you have to be an extremely advanced producer, a techie of sorts,” JJ explains. “We were initially scared of live electronics—we were always told it was ‘too tricky’,” in this sense, Overcoats maintains that even prior to graduation there was this “esoteric nature of the electronic genre that’s implicitly left the “tech” side of things to the men.”
The primary take-away from the forum could be described as the inherently “gendered” nature of the electronic music genre. In their experience, women are often restricted in electronic music, “They’re told to sing the hook, the samples, the vocals, or whatever’s on top of the actual song. When we try to get involved in the foundational aspects of the song—which we write ourselves—it’s often implied ‘that’s the man’s job’.”
In the studio, Overcoats is acutely aware of the language that perpetuates this sexism. As Hana explained, “Kanye West, for example, is considered a visionary when he’s overly particular and controlling, whereas if a woman is in the studio picking a kick-drum, if they’re super particular, they can often get written off as fussy, or overly critical.” Overcoats doesn’t like to let this kind of language slide—they’re conscious of its coercive ability to subject their talent in the industry. “The way language is used towards us and about us is so gendered, maybe we were picky about the sounds and the aesthetic we wanted for our songs, yes, but the fact that people are surprised and frustrated by this says a lot in our experience.”
Overcoats sees the issue extending further than the genre, as sexism continues to be felt in the industry at large, “the dichotomy between artist and manager, artist and agent, artist and booking agent is deeply gendered—for the most part, in our experience, you’ve got this male superior, a manager, telling you to step back.”
There’s no doubt, as Hana supports, that the music industry (like many others), is “an industry based in power, where it’s actually the language that is often used to control and subject the artists.”
Thinking about the language that informs this implicit sexism, I asked Overcoats if any of these experiences have resonated in their music and language they employ in writing their songs.
“A lot of our music is about power and the relationships within power. We want to say the things that people don’t want to say out loud. This is why we chose the name ‘Overcoats’ as our band name. It acts as a mask—very vague and masculine. You don’t know what you’re going to listen to—when you hear the music—it’s shocking, you’re hearing things that we, especially as women, ‘aren’t suppose to say’. We’re trying to tell truths in our music, whether it be a sexist experience or a personal reflection, language is something we’re always thinking about. We’ve also written songs about experiences with a couple of male producers we worked with. Writing the songs was a way for us to understand and reflect on those moments.”
Having recently wrapped up touring, Overcoats commented on the transition from the supposed stability of Wesleyan campus-life to the chaos of touring in Ireland, England, and the US.
“We’re very luck to be doing this. I think that a lot of people post-graduation crave stability and seek out stable jobs. We had an entirely different experience where we moved straight to Ireland after graduation. We turned into nomads. So It’s been a process of finding peace and stability within constant change and chaos. And we love it. Touring allows us to be the most present, doing what we love.”
Ultimately, for JJ and Hana, they find stability in each other, “it’s okay that everything around us is changing. We have each other.”
For Overcoats, things are looking up:
Concerning the direction of their music, “We’re moving toward electronic, but we’re always grounded in our folk melodies.”
On the direction of their band, “We want to reach more people. It’s the most powerful thing in the world when we reach and affect people with our songs.”
On their passion, “We feel very luck to have the privilege of being in New York. Our music can go in a lot of different directions, and we just want to do this as long as it’s fruitful for us.”
Having just performed at Colby and Wes, they’re heading back to the city for another show this week, and then on to Washington DC and Northampton to work on material for their first album.