This is Rockbitch

Lorraine Smith watched channel five's "This is Rockbitch" documentary, but is she any wiser about the radical sex-collective rockers?

Lorraine Smith, 16 May 2003

I'm not a fan of Rockbitch as such, having never seen them live or looked to buy any of their music or videos, but have to admit that they do hold a certain fascination for me. There have been a few glimpses of the band on television before which mostly centred around their extreme live performances, so I was not at all surprised to find a documentary about them on five; a channel notorious for its love of showing bare breasts late at night. The TV guide described it as a "Profile of the female rockers whose raunchy image and exploitation of 'taboo' subject matter has won them a devoted following in America.", but I was surprised to discover that this programme actually went far deeper into the world of Rockbitch than I had ever been before.

Filmed by award winning director Norman Hull, "This is Rockbitch" began like most of the documentaries I had seen previously, but then proceeded to delve deeper into the community lifestyle that the band enjoys. The seven musicians who form the band are only a small part of a sex commune that has been set up in France as a "feminist, matriarchal, tribal retreat where women could explore their sexuality and psyche", and it appears to host an idyllic lifestyle for all in residence. No one person there is in charge and no one makes the rules, but everyone has tasks that they are good at and all join in to assist where needed. Generally this seemed to be when another member of the group needs a little satisfaction but I have no idea just how much of this was put on for the cameras.

These days the message seems to have waned and it just looks like a group of women hell bent on having a damn fine time

When confronted with the idea of a group of women who take to the stage to perform sexual acts on each other (often incorporating pagan rituals and audience members), alongside a soundtrack of heavy rock, most people would be forgiven for not taking it very seriously. At first glance it appears that Rockbitch are simply out to shock but, if they were, surely they'd be a little more notorious than they currently are. Where are the Mirror headlines about the depraved sex? Why isn't the Daily Mail up in arms about the pagan rituals that will surely undermine our precious middle-England? It's a shame really, but it looks like no one in the UK cares anymore. On their website (www.rockbitch.co.uk) they explain; "When we first began our show, we were trying to make a visual and musical statement about the way in which women and their sexuality are portrayed in every medium within Western culture". These days this message seems to have waned and it just looks like a group of women hell bent on having a damn fine time, without caring what the rest of the world thinks.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of their antics, the documentary was probably more likely to tantalise male viewers rather than enlighten females, but I expect that any women interested in living that sort of lifestyle may well have heard of Rockbitch already. I found the portrayal of the commune very sympathetic and intriguing, but sometimes there was a little too much detail even for me. At one point in the programme, one of the girls showed the viewers her safe sex kit that anyone who indulges outside the community must have. She proudly showed off the condoms, lubricant and standard paraphernalia before producing "the most important thing" - a vaginal douche. Nothing unusual there, I thought, as you wouldn't want to be caught out if a condom splits, but I was amazed when she told us that they'd fill it with Dettol! I may have led a blissfully sheltered life up until now having not come across this practice, but it doesn't sound comfortable. I hope they don't need to use that very often.

The band doesn't seem to care that there are an awful lot of people who come to their shows for the sex rather then the music but it does also seem that, whatever happens, the girls are always in charge. They appear to take their sex and rock 'n' roll very seriously, but I'm not sure I can take them the same way. The feminist statement about the way women are portrayed seems to have been lost these days now that commune living has made them more focused on the pleasure of themselves and the group, but is it really needed now anyway? Even Marilyn Manson is finding it hard to shock people these days so perhaps there is no need for Rockbitch at all. After an hour-long look into their world, I'm still not really sure what to make of it.

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