Emergent Archives: Women's Liberation Music


If you're in London, you have until 13th January to see some of the materials making up the Women's Liberation Music Archive at Space Station 65. Luckily, since May 2011 the archive itself has been completely available online, a DIY initiative built from scans and stories, some of them contributed via e-mail. 

Started by Deborah Withers and Frankie Green in October 2010, the archive is organised alphabetically by band name, with songs, lyric sheets, photos, posters, ephemera, and recollections about each in its place in the music scene of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s and 80s UK. It's a good example of multi-media collecting, since it includes audio and video files which have been uploaded to digital formats, and the world of posters, photos, and other press clippings that any comprehensive music archive draws to itself. Most importantly, it's a great example of an emergent archive at its best: continuously growing and actively filling a gap in the existing historical record. As the founders write:

"Fusing music with politics to develop and express feminist ideas, women musicians and bands were a major part of the WLM [Women's Liberation Movement]. However, there is scant permanent record of their ground-breaking activity during this era, much of which is not widely known about. Many groups never made recordings and operated outside the commercial, mainstream or alternative circuits - or indeed were oppositional to them. They were self-funded and worked on a shoestring and thus unable to create lasting material. Despite being a vital and integral part of the movement, they are often omitted from or marginalised by media reportage and feminist histories."

The Women's Liberation Music Archive emphasizes one of the great services the internet allows collectors to provide: free and comprehensive access to collections which otherwise might not survive by their own means. There are at least two kinds of materials that make up collections: works that are self-evidently collectible like fine press books, and those works for whom it takes an outcry or two to bring to our notice. Since many of the bands and their associated paper-and-song trails archived here were created in opposition to commercial culture, it's hard to imagine their place in an archive by their own means. It's emerging archives like this that turn historical deficits into surpluses, and that's important work in any field.

Image Credit: From the Women's Liberation Music Archive, under C for Clapperclaw.