More than incense


By Laura James

When you see Hecate play live, it's easy to understand why they are one of the hottest of Melbourne's growing number of young female bands playing fast, loud rock. Powered along by Stephanie's furious drumming, bass-player and singer Fran and guitarists Mel and Sarah pound out fast metal/thrash-influenced riffs.

But Hecate combine this raw energy with melodic, harmony-laden vocals that set them apart from other thrash bands. Their willingness to stretch the boundaries is typified by "Rapunzel", in which Fran and Mel's harmonies and Sarah's mandolin combine to give the song a haunting urgency.

Formed just over two years ago, Hecate is one of the success stories of Rock and Roll High School, set up in 1990 to support young women who wanted to play rock music. This unique organisation has been hailed by bands such as Sonic Youth and L7, and recently featured in a US documentary about new female bands, Not Bad For a Girl. "Rock and Roll High School helped us form the band, provided us with rehearsal space and equipment and helped us learn about the business", says Mel.

Hecate are regular players on the inner-city pub circuit. They have also played numerous benefits for feminist and progressive causes, including the Network of Women Students in Australia and Green Left. Their political stance is often reflected in their lyrics. "Pig Arrest" was inspired by Fran's and Mel's experiences at the Nurrungar protest, in which Fran was arrested. "Private School" describes Fran's unhappy experiences at that institution.

However, Fran — who is responsible for most of the lyrics, although the song writing is a collective effort— says that many of the lyrics are based on personal experiences that can be as mundane as baking chocolate cake. "We do lots of instrumentals, too, just 'cause we like them", she adds.

I asked Stephanie, whose other role as coordinator of Rock and Roll High School gives her ample opportunity to observe trends in the industry, if the position of women had improved.

She says that Hecate's reception shows a welcome change in attitude. "We haven't encountered any real sexism; in fact the industry has been very encouraging. Actually, they don't really care if you're male or female — whether you pull a crowd is the great objectifier. The crowds have been good, too. Mind you, it was pretty scary when we played at Box Hill Boys College."

Hecate takes its name from the Greek goddess of magic and witchcraft, but Fran hastens to dismiss any New Age connotations. "We like the associations of goddess with strength and women having control. It doesn't have to be all incense and herbal tea!"

Hecate has contributed to Rock and Roll High School Volume 2, due to be released next month by Shock Records and featuring bands such as Sourpuss, Craw and Midget Stooges.