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Screaming Females 

Queer disco on the moon

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Be sure to bring some breath mints. There will be a room full of open mouths. Jaws will drop. The New Jersey trio Screaming Females will be in town.

"You'll have to see it to believe it," gushes Chaz Martenstein, co-founder of Bull City Headquarters, the room they'll play in Durham. He's seen Screaming Females play several times, even at his record shop. "I'm left wowed and slayed every time. Their live show is one of the best. It can only get better from there!"

BCHQ, as it's called, opened in March at 723 N. Mangum St. Since, it's grown to serve a multitude of community needs: as a bike co-op, as a place to hold community workshops, as a safe space for meetings of marginalized people, and, of course, as a new site for art and music shows.

"We want to promote people starting positive, friendly spaces," says Martenstein. "We hope this can show people just how easy it is to just do it."

Martenstein passes off Bull City Headquarters as easy, but Screaming Females could never pass as such: The trio of singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster, drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Mike Rickenbacker are exemplified by Paternoster's accomplished guitar playing. She's carved her way into typically masculine musicianship with intense, masterful guitar solos. They seem to occur with such frequency that people sometimes forget there are other people in the band.

And then there's the take-them-to-task band name, Screaming Females. In dude-centric rock, there are few things more hated than screaming female vocalists. Why bother when you can have the controlled rage of Ian MacKaye or the growls of Iggy Pop? But Paternoster and her crew have beaten everyone to the punch: By owning the inevitable complaint, Screaming Females direct everyone's attention to the beyond-their-years skills, smart lyrics and life-changing live shows.

Even when pressed for comparisons, it seems hollow to place the sound of Screaming Females against an existing band. The best description comes from Paternoster herself, in an interview with Jim Testa earlier this year: "Queer disco on the moon, with pterodactyls and squid fighting satellite dishes," she says.

So this is a virtually uncategorizable sound, where the closest description is "lesbian dinosaur rock." It's a radical take on gender in rock 'n' roll with a lead singer whose guitar solos leave mouths agape, all at a radical all-ages, all-volunteer-run, alcohol-free community space like none other in Durham. Sound surreal? It leads to one conclusion: Paternoster is a musical messiah dinosaur descended from the moon, who has come to save us all by creating a huge explosion of new musical energy via her Screaming Females.

Community spaces everywhere, like Bull City Headquarters, will foster the intensity of a do-it-yourself ethic to new generations by putting on shows for people who may have otherwise been unable to experience the aforementioned Tyrannosaurus Rex of rock. The status quo is collapsing. The future of rock is looking hopeful in these dinosaur hands: The details of it all remain unclear, but why wouldn't you want to be there, to bear witness to it all?

Screaming Females play Bull City Headquarters Sunday, Aug. 26, with Midtown Dickens and The Drowsies. Donations requested.

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  • In dude-centric rock, there are few things more hated than screaming female vocalists.

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