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Cheap Perfume on punk, patriarchy, and surprise sexists

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Curb your enthusiasm: Colorado Springs' preeminent feminist punk band Cheap Perfume get ready to celebrate their new album at Flux Capacitor. - AMELIA ESKENAZI
  • Amelia Eskenazi
  • Curb your enthusiasm: Colorado Springs' preeminent feminist punk band Cheap Perfume get ready to celebrate their new album at Flux Capacitor.

During Cheap Perfume's song "Dog Hollerin'," lead singer Stephanie Byrne beckons the men to the front as though she were a mid-40s man in a Mustang whistling at a woman on the street while cruising down Colorado Springs' Nevada Avenue. She begins the reverse catcall with sarcastic coos such as "Hey handsome, nice jawline."

Then, she lays them out flat:

"...too bad I'm gonna break it in half with my vagina!"

For women, there is no substitute for this moment. Some men turn red, others internally shrink, and others laugh. And yet there is no one in the pit more touched by the lyrics of a feminist punk band than guitarist Jane No's husband, who knows all the words better than Cheap Perfume's woman-identifying devotees ever could. (Drummer David Grimm and bassist Jeff Bryant are also men).

Cheap Perfume, minus Bryant, played their first show at Flux Capacitor a little over a year ago. Since then, they've packed rooms and delivered clever jabs at the patriarchy. On Nov. 11, they'll be playing a release show for their new CD Nailed It at Flux Capacitor, followed by another at Denver's Hi-Dive on the 13th.

"We blew up from the get-go," Byrne says. Onstage, she moves with conviction, like a feisty acrobat in a leotard who couldn't care less whether you like her technique, her tricks or her looks.

She's armed with a lifetime of putting up with patriarchal bullshit, and has a better sense of humor than that.

We're all huddled on the edge of the Flux sidewalk, musing on the punk ethos, the scenes in Colorado Springs and Denver, and everything in between.

All perfumers but David Grimm are Colorado Springs natives, and whether they asked for it or not, their band stands out in the ebb and flow of the city's soundscape. Bryant moved from Colorado Springs up to Denver six years ago.

"I was right around 30 and most of my friends were having kids and being really domestic," he says. "And I noticed all the kids I had booked shows for — who should build your scene when they're turning 19, 20, 21 — they were moving out of the Springs. So all the cool people in the Springs were either getting out of here as soon as they possibly could, or retiring."

Later on, we retreat to one of the bigger practice rooms that are part of the Flux complex, sitting around between mike stands and drum sets, spilling beer on the floor and examining Grimm's Juggalo tattoo. Bryant and Byrne are playfully threatening to punch each other. It's easy to picture No and Byrne getting together here once a week for what they call "Cheap Perfume sessions," where the lyrics and harmonies are born before they bring the music to the rest of the band. Overall, it's a collaborative effort that makes punk relevant and inclusive, a centripetal force between gender, age and music taste.

But according to both No and Byrne, the most offended audience members still go so far as to call a message of equality a tirade of "feminazism."

"I'd like to remind everyone that the term was coined by Rush Limbaugh," No says. "We have 50 percent male members. We just don't like assholes of either gender."

And while Nailed It songs like "Hands Up" and "Slut Game Strong" are vehemently — and in some cases, offensively — anti-oppression and anti-system, the band is clearly not feminazi-esque: "Everything has a point, and a message, and we're spreading that message with some digestible humor. There are definitely a lot of riot grrrl bands that are fun and are femenazi-ish, and I would not wanna be part of something like that," Bryant says.

The biggest morale killer for a female-fronted band is what No terms "surprise sexism" — the seemingly inescapable misogyny and indifference that unfortunately have come out of the woodwork, even from punk lovers who frequent Cheap Perfume shows. These "surprise sexists" like the intense drumming and catchy guitar riffs, but the songs don't seem to bang the message into their heads.

"They don't care about feminism, they don't give a fuck about females, they don't give a shit about women equating or coming to a place where you're all equal. They just like your fucking music," Byrne says.

Back onstage, there is nothing flashy, fashionable or fake about Cheap Perfume. Byrne's and No's voices fuse into a voice that aims to speak for everyone. Especially when it comes to "Trump Roast" — they make sure to let Trump know that they do, in fact, menstruate. "We're not just fetus factories, made to serve a man down on our knees," they scream.

And, less politely, they tell him to "eat a dick and die."

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