Published May 08, 2015I wasn't even a little bit familiar with the Sydney, Australia trio Julia Why? before last week. Their profile on the Canadian Music Week website said they sounded like Bikini Kill; I wasn't sure how accurate that reference would be (every woman in punk is eventually compared to Kathleen Hanna), but after seeing too many dudes with guitars sing about beers and chicks this week, I was ready to mix it up.
They were openers on a bill that included larger acts like Fat White Family and Gateway Drugs (both of whom will be playing again, May 8 at the Horseshoe Tavern). When Julia Why? took the stage at 11 p.m., the crowd was scarce. Bassist and vocalist Julia Wylie seemed unsure of herself as she introduced the band, staring at the floor instead of the audience. Guitarist Mathew Frederiksen and drummer Peter Beringer made a few quiet jokes about being in Canada. Few people seemed to realize there was a band at the front of the room.
And then they started to play. Wylie plucked a '60s pop riff on her bass, and the two followed suit, plunging into a fuzzy, noisy track called "La La Love" with a catchy refrain that went, well, "La la la." They were in their own world as they played with no pomp, no circumstance, just music. Wylie mostly kept her eyes closed as she sang, focusing on her playing, occasionally exchanging sheepish smiles with Frederiksen.
Bikini Kill, the band that Julia Why? received comparisons to, was known for their abrasive sound and howling vocals. Julia Why?'s songs are much more melodious, and even their scrappiest songs had moments of sweetness. As the show progressed, Wylie seemed to become more comfortable on stage, making her way through a set list with cheeky songs like "What You Want," during which she wailed over the increasing screechiness of Frederiksen's guitar. They made it a few bars into their single, "Just One Night," before abruptly stopping.
"We fucked it up real bad," said Frederiksen. "We're amateurs."
"My bass needs tuning," explained Wylie.
"Should I tell a joke right now?"
They were the least polished band I had seen so far at CMW, and by far the most punk (however we're defining that word these days). They were committed but laissez-faire, performing in the spirit that music was meant to be fun, that it was for everyone,
Near the end of their set, Julia Why? played a quick, rough song called "Bride to Be."
"You're hot!" shouted a male voice in the mostly male room as the song died down. It wasn't the first of such cries made that evening. Wylie either didn't hear him or just didn't notice him. A man stepped forward, wearing socks with sandals.
"You're so pretty, have sex with me!" he said.
"Shut up," said Wylie, not missing a beat, her lip curled into a veritable snarl. She looked right out into the audience, and started playing the next song.