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Ali Barter: rock goddess and accidental feminist

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Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Ali Barter never intended to cause controversy, but with her 2017 debut album A Suitable Girl she changed the game for women in the Australian music industry.

Tracks like ‘Girlie Bits’ and ‘Cigarette’ challenged the dominant narrative of what it means to be a woman today, and Ali has been vocal about female artists getting the recognition they deserve.

“I was just trying to share my experience,” she explains, “Because that’s really all I can do. I never really set out to write a feminist album, it’s just if you’re a woman with a strong opinion that’s how it comes across. Of course, I don’t think everything that’s feminist needs to aggressive and political, it can just be someone’s experience and talking about it. I think the main thing for me is just starting the discussion.”

As a result, her songs are simultaneously deeply personal and relatable, walking the fine line between social commentary and raw love stories. Ali started her musical career as a choir girl, before discovering the cathartic power of rock through influences like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Juliana Hatfield of The Lemonheads.

“The other day I saw an ex-boyfriend and it brought up a lot of feelings so I just wrote it all down,” she says. “Somedays I’ll be feeling really shitty and the only thing that will make me feel better is if I do something constructive. If there’s a guitar nearby I might pick it up and try to get [the feeling] down. It’s pretty inconsistent, some days it happens and somedays it doesn’t.”

Although she has found success professionally, winning a spot in the 2017 Triple J Hottest 100 and touring internationally, Ali’s recognises that the music industry still has a long way to go when it comes to equality.

“I’ve been pretty supported in my career, especially by Triple J, I never felt like I was there to fill a quota or anything. I’ve had a lucky run, but the things that annoys me are just societal stuff that affects women. I maybe didn’t feel like music was a safe space for me because it’s generally dominated by dudes… There’s a lot of great guys out there, but there’s also a lot of really entitled sound guys or band members.”

But things are changing, and Ali is constantly inspired by other women in the Australian music scene.

“I was at a Women’s Day breakfast and Stella Donnelly sang ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, it was incredible. I also love what Ecca Vandal does, Alex Lahey, Bec Sandrige, there’s so many.”

A follow-up album to A Suitable Girl is already in the works; Ali is currently writing and recording demos while also playing live shows around Australia.

“I think sonically [the new album] will be more raw. A Suitable Girl is quite poppy and polished, which I love, but I think this is going to be really interesting. Subject-wise I’m going a little deeper. Some of the songs on the last album, like Please Stay, are pretty self-explanatory, so with this next record I’m probably going to deal with older issues from my past. But there’s still a lot of fun stuff on there,” she laughs. “I’ve already written a couple of fun songs about boys.”

Ali Barter will perform at the Enlighten Festival Canberra Day celebrations at Commonwealth Park on Monday 12 March. The free concert is set to kick off at 2 pm.

Images: Supplied

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