Gouge Away Offers Female-Fronted, Hardcore Music for Resistance, Education, and Awareness

At the entrance to Pompano Beach's Solid Sound Studio, the unmistakably familiar sound of a hardened bar band slugging its way through a cover of Heart's "Crazy on You" is offered to all passersby. But back behind the main studio, down a little alleyway to another warehouse bay, something entirely different is going on.

Stacks of magazines on police brutality, animal rights, Angela Davis, Food Not Bombs, and sexual consent are piled high at a table operated by Gouge Away's vocalist, Christina Stijy. She is standing on a chair to get a better view of band Guilty Conscious' set as a packed room of punk and hardcore kids lose their collective shit -- in the best possible way. Gouge Away's members have organized the all-ages show in hopes of bringing more to the studio on a regular basis.

Guitarist Victor Skamiera jumps on the shoulders of a friend to hang up a spray-painted banner reading "Resist Oppressive Traditions," and Stijy -- a kindergarten teacher by day -- reminds the crowd to "Have fun and watch out for each other" before the band blasts through the beginning of its set with Stily's strikingly impressive howl carrying the way.

At the door where a sheet of paper reminds to "Mosh at Your Own Risk," no one is being turned away because of a lack of funds, and between-song banter is the kind normally reserved for a college gender-studies course. It's music as a means of resistance, education, and awareness.

The mission Gouge Away offers is a dominant female perspective. Toward the end of the set, as the song "Enough" (about Stily's personal experience with sexual assault), the audience sings along to the chorus in an act that is at once complete catharsis and a gigantic pushback to those who attempt to silence.

In a time of overwhelmingly no fux given, parents -- if this is where your kid is on a Saturday night -- you outta be proud.

It's this that has led the band in its short existence to be featured in (best blog ever) Fuck Yeah Female Fronted Hardcore and go on its first tour this summer, when it shared the stage with other female musicians in Cop Problem, Bitchmouth, and Appartition.

Each member comes to the band from other well-known projects (drummer Mikil Ford does vocals in Reveal Renew out of Tampa and the Dead Legs from Boca Raton; Victor sings in mathcore set Fero Lux; and there are other unnamed projects in the hopper for the others).

Gouge Away recently talked to New Times about the importance of giving a shit even when it can be seen as uncool, maintaining a scene, and what is next.

New Times: What were the reasons for wanting to start the band?

Christina Stijy: I was ranting to Victor about everything going on in the world and in music, and it ended with, "And that's why I need to start a band!" And he responded with, "OK, let's do it." The first people we had in mind were Kotu and Mikil, and they were all-in. We got together in December 2012 and released our first EP and started playing shows in March 2013.

Kotu Hell: In fall of 2011, I had just moved back to South Florida... I was working a shitty job and taking care of my mom while she was undergoing breast cancer treatment, and life was just weighing heavy. I had known Victor and Christina through Ben, the bassist in Fero Lux, who's been my best friend since middle school. So when they asked me to play bass in this band, it seemed like the perfect outlet for my personal, social, and political discontent.

Mikil Ford: I remember being at a Denny's after a show we'd all been at. Christina and Vic asked me if I'd want to play drums in a band with them and just write a few songs and play a couple of shows.

There seems to be a lot of South Florida pride and emphasis on maintaining a community here versus moving away like so many do. Why is it important?

Victor Skamiera: We've been a part of the South Florida hardcore scene for a decade now -- maybe not in this band, but others -- as well as booking, and being patrons of shows all over Florida. I personally want to see our scene thrive, and I wouldn't trade this for anything.

Christina Stijy: Yeah, some of us have had a hand in booking shows. I used to run a page called the Florida Scene for seven years before starting this band, and brought a lot of touring friends through here. Sometimes I want to move away to cities that have more female involvement and stuff like that, but then I also have the thought that if something is not the way that I want it to be, then I need to take ownership of it and make the change myself.

Kotu Hell: I really love Florida. I don't think there's another place on Earth like it. Besides the beautiful weather, it's wildly diverse here. So many different languages, cultures, music, food (as long as it's vegan), and I love it all. Growing up, I was always kind of culturally confused (in a good way), and I attribute that in large part to growing up here.

In punk/hardcore, lots of scenes are known for having a really distinct sound: NYC, Boston, L.A., Chicago, etc. I think in some ways, Florida has the same thing. You know a Miami band when you're listening to a Miami band. You know a Gainesville band when you're listening to a Gainesville band. I don't know if GA has a distinctly Florida sound, but I do know that some of my favorite bands just happen to also be Florida bands, and I take pride in being a part of that.

Mikil Ford: Some people are scared to speak out about things they believe in. No one wants to get picked on or be uncool and whatnot. We're just used to being in our safe zones, our goal being to push you out of that and know there's a whole bunch of people who are always backing you up and trying to be the best they can.

South Florida is not necessarily known as the most altruistic place (it is ranked last in 51 metro areas for volunteering), but you volunteer, have anti-oppression literature at shows, play benefit shows for nonprofits, talk about consent in between songs, make sure whoever wants to come to a show but doesn't have the funds gets in. Do you think that's a rarity here? How do you resist apathy, and what keeps you inspired to do better?

Victor Skamiera: I don't think it's a rarity. It may have been in the past, but I think all of the scenes in South Florida are connecting, growing, and looking out for one another. I think we're all just getting smarter and becoming more aware of our shitty world outside of our scene. I look at what we have at a really awesome show and think, "This is how our whole world could be," we just need to implement these beliefs on the street. And I think some kids are doing that these days.

Christina Stijy: I feel like our scene has definitely made progress, but I would like to see it continue, and I would like to see people take an interest in Food Not Bombs and Smash HLS, or keep asking what they can do to help. Putting myself in situations like the ones you mentioned helps me feel less hopeless in this negative world and more productive.

Kotu Hell: As much as I love Florida, I also acknowledge that it is way fucked up. I kind of come from an activist background, and so I believe in the following principles: One, think global, act local; two, be the change you want to see in the world; three, go where the work needs to be done. Hence, Florida. Although I do take a kind of twisted pride in all the crazy headlines out of Florida. I don't think our attitude is actually that rare at all. I think people like us often just feel so disconnected from like-minded people that we collectively end up feeling defeated.

Honestly, for me, having friends involved is the best way to stay motivated. If GA can make people feel a part of something bigger and better, keep people motivated and connected, then my job is done. But I do think the scene has changed immensely since I was kid. Seems as if the like-minded people have been organizing a lot. Kids are getting smarter or, at the very least, more sensitive. I hope to continue seeing that and being a part of it.

How did the Solid Sound show come about?

Christina Stijy: We don't really have many venues in South Florida anymore, and lots of people are trying to put their heads together to open a new place. We were doing the same, and we practice in that Solid Sound warehouse that the show was held in and always said that it would be a great spot for shows. So Victor took the initiative and went ahead and asked. That's all it took. 

Victor Skamiera: SSS used to have shows all the time, but they stopped a year or so ago. But we're going to keep running... As far as all-ages shows being important to us, yes, it is very important. It's hard to get people into their local music scene when they can't get in until they're 21. Screw that. By that time, it'll be too late; they'll have already gotten into Robin Thicke, Lil' Wayne, or some other garbage that Clear Channel tells them to like, and they'll most likely have little interest in going to a local show at that point.

You got to go on your first tour this summer. How was that?

Victor Skamiera: That was our first tour that was any longer than four days, yeah. It was perfect. Each show was bonkers, and everyone we met was incredibly supportive. We also got to visit our favorite cities and feast upon some great vegan food.

Kotu Hell: I skipped out on touring in high school because I thought it was important to get my diploma (whatever), and then I passed on being a roadie for Homestretch and Centuries when they toured in 2011 because I thought it was important to finish my degree (whatever). So it was kind of weird to take time off from my full-time job to go on my first tour at 26 years old.

But I got to see No Peace play every single night, saw a surprise set by South Florida hardcore supergroup Bad Salsa, went on a vegan food tour in Philly and Brooklyn, maybe vandalized a cop car at a Christian Taco Bell in South Carolina (I am not saying that happened), got to nerd out with the guys in Capacities (New Jersey) about '90s vegan straight-edge hardcore bands, so I had a blast packed in the crevasse.

Mikil Ford: It was awesome; we were the worst band at touring, though. We left stuff everywhere. Excited for the next one!

At the SSS show, you dedicated a song to straight edge... and the not straight edge. Explain. Is everyone in the band vegan straight edge?

Victor Skamiera: Christina wrote the lyrics for a song we play called "Chemical X," which is about not judging someone else based on their personal life choices as long as those choices don't affect the lives of others. It's great to be straight edge -- I have been all my life -- but I would never tell someone else they need to live that way solely because it's right for me. As far as our band goes, three-quarters of us are vegan, three-quarters of us are straight edge. 

Christina Stijy: And if you don't like that, you can sit on a tack!

Kotu Hell: A big sharp tack.

Mikil Ford: I'm the worst member of Gouge Away.

I noticed a lot of girls in the front, singing along. Is it important to you as a band to create a space that embraces everyone, a "not just boys fun" crowd?

Christina Stijy: Absolutely! I always enjoyed the energy that came from hardcore shows but noticed very little attendance and support for girls to get involved, and as girls we didn't really support each other either. I would get involved at hardcore shows when I felt safe, but those times were few and far between. When we started this band, we played to audiences that still had mostly men, and over time, the population of women has grown. I noticed how much I needed that when two girls that I didn't know started singing the words to "Enough" with me, and their voices shrieked as much as mine did. Through playing in this band, I have met amazing, virtuous women who I am so lucky to call my friends, and I hope they keep working on their own projects too!

Can you talk about the song "Enough"?

Christina Stijy: This is a song written about my own experience with sexual assault. Through the scene and internet community, I have always heard about others' experiences and always supported them, but when it happened to me, I gained a whole new understanding of what sexual assault meant.

The song is about dealing with your own internal struggles after it happens and coming to terms with the fact that you did nothing wrong. It was all the abuser's fault. It's about gaining your life back and not letting someone else control you anymore in any way, whether that be physically, through manipulation, or your own guilt and fear. "I wasn't born to die a statistic." My life won't be defined by anybody else.

You can see more of Gouge Away when it plays an after-show Saturday night as part of Gainesville's mammoth the Fest, on November 1. Visit Facebook for full details.

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