A farewell to kings: How women are rejuvenating prog rock
Traditionally viewed as a male-dominated genre it seems that there are more women in prog than ever. But how are they accepted, who are the key role models and what does it mean for the music?
There’s no denying that progressive rock is evolving. It’s moved on significantly since the 70s era that was broadly associated with a few key bands, men in capes and elongated guitar solos. Or, for some of the younger generation of music listeners: music that your dad likes.
Now, the scene is being reinvented: progressive music has long incorporated styles such as art rock and folk, but new genres like djent and the intertwining of prog and metal are there to hear in equal measure.
It’s no surprise, then, that the audience has widened, too – you only have to look at a festival like Be Prog! My Friend in Barcelona, where a new breed of bands such as Leprous and Ulver share a stage with Jethro Tull and Marillion, and where there is a vast range of ages in the audience, to see that the prog landscape is shifting. And one of the most significant changes in prog in recent years is that more women are emerging onto the scene, and doing their part in helping to reinvent it.
“Prog used to have an image of something that just guys were doing,” says Kim Seviour, who was the vocalist for UK band Touchstone from 2007-2015 and recently released her first solo album, Recovery Is Learning. “I think because there has been a lot of work done to create a more modern image in prog, then maybe more women are being attracted to it, because it doesn’t feel like it’s something that’s just for the boys anymore. It really does feel like there are more women, and that they are speaking more loudly.”
“Even though it’s progressive music, there was a time where there was not a lot of progression in it,” says Anneke van Giersbergen. Frontwoman of Dutch doom metallers turned alt proggers The Gathering from 1994-2007, van Giersbergen has worked with a variety of prog musicians from Arjen Lucassen to Devin Townsend, and is currently focusing on her new metal/prog band VUUR. “It was as though people wanted really to stick to what they were doing, and they didn’t want new influences. It’s called progressive music: we have to bring in new influences, you know?”
Of course, there are some who will bristle at change, as Marjana Semkina, vocalist for Russian chamber pop duo iamthemorning, noted when her band first emerged and was tagged with the ‘prog’ label.