The hardcore and punk music scenes are thriving, forward-thinking communities that continue to push forward social equality—thanks in large part to the diverse folks that occupy those spaces.
A couple of years back, I first started seeing the categories of gender neutral or non-binary being associated with artists I was listening to. It began a deeper introspective process of research as a way to attempt to understand the complexities of humanity from different social perspectives. Without music, I never would have started the process of learning, or even listening to what was going on in the community, let alone speaking out to have their rights be recognized.
Lauren Kashan, vocalist and frontwoman of Sharptooth, is broadcasting her voice—and then some. The Maryland hardcore vocalist is visceral in approach, with piercing screams and lyrics about breeching gender norms, sexual violence, and the lack of safety as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I think in hardcore, the music that you are writing is angry,” Kashan said about the tone of Sharptooth songs.
While there is vitriolic whiplash present in Clever Girl, their 2017 debut full-length, it is the sense of awareness attached to the message that makes the record’s abrasive nature have much more of a lasting impact.
The specifics of Kashan’s writing coupled with the band’s bombastic sound are intimidating yet empowering, as deep down the message is rather simple.
“I think the biggest thing people can do is listen to each other. Part of the problem with a lot of these issues is people have their preconceived notions, and at the end of the day you don’t understand somebody unless you listen to them,” Kashan explained.
Having grown up immersed in the hardcore community, Kashan recalls the troubling perceptions of being an active female member of that scene.
“I felt a compulsion and a pressure to present myself as asexual as possible because otherwise you were just some girl who was there to hook up with people or whatever horrible shit people would say about women who go to shows.” Kashan continued. “There’s also this idea that there’s a girl at a show and they are just someone’s girlfriend. But then, here’s the thing that also pisses me off, that also basically makes it seem like if you are someone’s girlfriend you don’t have a right to be there, which is f*cking b*llshit.”
As time went on, the community surrounding Kashan became more aware of the misappropriated stigma, realizing that she was there to be involved.
The hardcore community helped her represent herself. These feelings are noted in the opener of Clever Girl, “Rude Awakening.” She explained that music is the place the walls can come down. At the same time, off stage, Kashan expresses her feminine side and is more comfortable wearing dresses while on tour or living life day-to-day.
“I kind of almost enjoy that people are taken aback that I am not this super butch person all the time or super intense and aggressive,” Kashan said.
Kashan is also bisexual, and notes that finding a specific bi community has been tough.
“I don’t really know what the bi community is, because I haven’t really felt a community in that type of way. I have a couple of friends who are also bi and we connect over that, like ‘hey, no one gives a sh*t about us, yay!’ Even at Pride events and such. I went to the Baltimore Pride weekend and I was there with a couple of friends and the guy I was dating at the time. I was first aggressively hit on and then nullified by some lesbian girls that told me being bi wasn’t a thing and I would come over to the gay side eventually.”
This is why the hardcore community, and more specifically, Sharptooth’s platform, have allowed the singer to comfortably express the troubles or qualms that reside within her and the outside world.
“Basically getting the green light from them to talk about LGBT people and talk about women gave me free reign to be myself. I immediately recognized that it was an environment where I could be myself.”
In having this freedom, Kashan has penned songs like “Left 4 Dead” about her story as a survivor of rape, and the song “No Sanctuary,” which sheds light on the victims of hate crimes in the queer community.
Kashan also screams about the objectification of women in public. This stems from a deeper societal norm, in particular discussed in songs “Clever Girl” and “Can I Get A Hell No.” Kashan is trying to rip up the floor underneath the patriarchy, and shed light on rape culture.
“Our society has told young men that it is okay to treat women that way; that is how it has been for f*cking decades. We are having to undo decades of progression that told young men that it is okay to, like, aggressively hit on women or that it is okay to get a girl drunk and take her home.”
Using the mic as a platform to spread awareness of these issues, Kashan again focuses on the importance of listening.
“Everyone needs to be better at listening and better at asking ‘What can I do?’ or ‘What do you need?’ At the end of the day I am just one person and I can’t speak for all queer people and I can’t speak for all women, because my feelings will be different than others. Listen to everybody on an individual basis and you can’t make assumptions about what someone will want or need based upon labels,” she said.
In light of sexual misconduct allegations happening in mainstream media, she wants to focus on the experience of the victims.
“That is what we need to in order for any of this to get better. We need to be treating victims of sexual violence better. It’s so interesting; people are so excited to talk about the perpetrators but when it comes to victims we are often dismissed or not listened to or not given the time of day,” she said.
Outside the band, Kashan works with and mentors kids as part of her day job. While there, the vocalist steps up and provides ways to teach young people consent, such as asking for her permission permission before they try to hug her at work and using more gender neutral language.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know a lot about different sexualities or gender identities and there are positive, helpful ways to teach people without making them feel dumb or weird,” Kashan said. “When you make people feel dumb, or you talk down to them, they will be less perceptive of what you’re saying. Just be helpful and be nice to each other, because everyone needs to be nicer to one another.”