By Jillian Johnsen
Pop/rock girl band Dream Wife have made their name in the British indie scene, but are still largely unknown to most music fans in the United States. Hot off the release of their debut self-titled record back in January, however, that may be subject to change. Made up of lead singer Rakel Mjöll, guitarist Alice Go, and drummer Bella Podpadec, the group – which formed in 2014 – has received critical acclaim from the likes of NME, Pitchfork, and DIY. With lyrics touching on controversial topics like rape and male dominance in relationships and a lead singer who likes to scream, one can clearly see that they draw inspiration from the Riot Grrrl era of music. Not only that, but their place in Britain’s indie scene is similar to that of Riot Grrrl bands in the American punk scene; in today’s world, just as it was nearly 30 years ago, girls who sing and play their own instruments onstage are seen as “bold” and “daring” to wider society. The more they realized that their particular style of girl-rock is still rare, Rakel Mjöll told Atwood Magazine in January, “the more we wanted to encourage people to do that.” This shows a strong similarity to the mission Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill had back in the 90’s, which was to inspire as many girls to start their own bands as they could, as a way of getting more feminist issues discussed on a wider scale.
This isn’t the only similarity between the bands however; Mjöll’s piercing, guttural vocals sound so much like Kathleen Hanna on songs like “Let’s Make Out” and “F.U.U.”, it’s easy to imagine Dream Wife performing alongside them and other bands like Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile in the 90’s. Emphasis should also be placed on the her timing; Mjöll has a way of singing that leaves her a little behind the beat, so that by the time the next measure begins she’s still in the middle of a note. It might seem strange upon description, but it works. It makes her voice distinctive, and the laziness of it provides a perfect contrast to the energy she follows it with.
Equally important to the vocals that really help to define the bands’ sound is the guitar that dominates every track; the first single they released, “Hey Heartbreaker,” begins with Go’s fingers slinking up the neck of the guitar, playing a succession of distorted notes before breaking into the track’s catchy main riff. During the verses, Go softly plucks at the strings, until the chorus when she lets loose, slamming down on each chord with a force that matches perfectly Mjöll’s powerful shouts of “Hey, Heartbreaker!”. This particular style of playing is heard across nearly all their discography, going from subdued verses to wild, unrestrained choruses.
The band has released several singles off their debut record this year, but one I’d like to draw particular attention to is “Somebody”. The lyrics in this song are so simple, yet they paint a picture of an experience that almost any girl can relate to. Starting off with a dancey-pop beat, Mjöll comes in with a slightly sarcastic tone, singing, “You were a cute girl standing backstage, it was bound to happen.” She is making a point about all the people who place blame on the victims of rape, rather than the ones who actually committed the crime. The most powerful lyric in the song, however, is the one that gave the track its title – “I am not my body / I’m somebody.” The band posted a picture on Instagram of the lyrics to this song with the hashtag #metoo back in October, orchestrating clearly what message they were trying to get across with it. Another highly important song of theirs, “Lolita,” was featured on their debut EP “EP01” back in 2016. In this song, Mjöll sings about being mistreated and dominated by her partner, with lyrics like “I’ve been your Lolita / I’ve been your toy”. For anyone who hasn’t read the controversial classic 1955 novel Lolita, it’s about a 12-year-old girl who has sexual relations with a middle-aged man, a man who is alarmingly obsessed with her, to the point where he marries the girl’s mother just so he can be near her. So therefore, by referring to herself as his “Lolita,” Mjöll is saying that she’s been his obsession, and an object he wants to take advantage of. Both these songs have extremely valuable messages, and it shows just how strong the members of Dream Wife’s belief in women’s rights are.
The band’s entire aesthetic is an easy one to fall in love with if you’re into 90’s girl-power punk; every music video, photoshoot, and Instagram post is as pleasing to the eye as their music is to the ear. The vibrant colors they wear draw your attention so it’s nearly impossible to look away, and their attitudes portray such confidence it’s almost like they’re daring you to say they aren’t good enough, if only so they can pull out their instruments and prove you wrong with smirks on their faces. In the music video for earlier track “Kids,” the girls are energetic and full of life, leaving you with a feeling of exhilaration that follows you through every video they’ve released. Dream Wife just has a way of making you feel alive and free and ready to take on the world.
With all that they’ve achieved already – headlining their own shows since 2015 and opening for the likes of Black Honey, The Kills, Sleigh Bells, and the Cribs – Dream Wife is just getting started. They’re going on a month-long tour of Europe in March, and playing several European festivals as well. They’ll even be playing a few US shows with Sunflower Bean later in the year. The future is bright for these girls, and their message of female empowerment could not have come at a better time. Listen to their words, and let them inspire you. If you do, Dream Wife could be the band that paves the way for a whole new generation of patriarchy-smashing punk/rock bands, something everyone could benefit from. Here’s to the future!