The founders of Filthy FemCorps say the marching band is about much more than music. It’s also about empowering women — and having a good time.
The 24 women that make up the Filthy FemCorps are a diverse group. They are teachers, city employees, software engineers and restaurant workers. They range in age from 21 to mid-50s.
But when they come together to perform, the street marching band unites behind two goals: to empower women and to start parties.
Clad in shiny green, blue and silver clothing with accessories such as army helmets, rhinestones, face paint and fake eyelashes, they perform brass-and-drum versions of well-known tunes by Madonna, Lady Gaga, the Go-Go’s and Taylor Swift. They chant, dance and wander through the audience, encouraging onlookers to dance along.
“We’re not trying to rally a team to win or anything,” said 42-year-old Emily Smith, head of the band’s operations and one of its founders. “We’re rallying people to have a good time and let loose.”
Filthy FemCorps was started in January after Smith and the band’s co-founder found themselves venting about a different street marching band they were both in.
“We were just like, ‘Whatever, let’s just go start our own band and we’ll just not have any men in it, and then we won’t have to worry about those particular details,’ ” Smith said. “A second or two went by and it was like, ‘Actually, that might not be a bad idea.’ ”
Smith said they started pulling friends together who they thought might be interested in joining a street band. They had a group of about seven when they had their first meeting about the structure and organization of the band, and recruited additional members through word-of-mouth.
Their first rehearsal was Jan. 10. By early February, they had their first gig.
And they’re still growing. The band recruited their flag twirler, 22-year-old Kate Rheta, earlier this month after she started dancing with them while they were performing in Cal Anderson Park.
“We’ve been working really hard, pretty much from the ground running … to get to where we had our vision,” said the band’s other co-founder, a 29-year-old woman named Liz, who didn’t want her last name used.
The band was busy with a recent appearance in the Fremont Solstice Parade and three days of performing at HONK! Fest West — a free, national festival of street marching bands that takes place in Seattle every year.
Most members of Filthy FemCorps play in other bands as well, including Sound Wave, the Seattle Sounders’ game band. When they’re not performing in festivals, they play venue gigs and private events, or busk on the street for money.
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Many members have degrees in music. Some played in high school, but stopped when they went to college.
“Watching them improve and seeing what it brings to those folks is a really important aspect of our group as well,” Smith said.
Smith said they aim to only play songs that represent a trailblazing effort by the female artists who either wrote them or made them popular. But they make an exception for “Rollout (My Business)” by Ludacris, which they often use to end their performances.
The band is a “hot bag full of fierce badass women who aren’t afraid to be weird, genuine, raw, sweaty, confident, honest, loving and real,” according to its website. Smith said the only other all-female marching band in the U.S. that she’s aware of is the Yes Ma’am Brass Band out of Austin, Texas.
“When you were in high school and there were band classes … we are those people. We’re those weirdos from band class, except now we’re older” Smith said. “But we still love it.”
Luke Koval, 27, is the band liaison for HONK! Fest West. He said the number of street marching bands has been growing rapidly in recent years. He said the “brass band phenomenon” is important to the city because it’s affordable.
“I wish there were more shows that were $5 or free,” Koval said. “This shouldn’t just be a festival, this should be something that happens more often.”
Koval said he reached out to Filthy FemCorps about performing this year because he knew they were one of several new bands in the Seattle area.
He said many street marching bands foster activism, the way Filthy FemCorps encourages female empowerment. The band he plays in, Chaotic Noise Marching Corps, does a lot of shows at People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, he said.
“Seattle has a history of these kind of activist bands and marching bands,” Koval said. “Each band has its own flavor, its own reasons for doing it.”
Liz said Filthy FemCorps offers a safe space for women to be creative — something many band members didn’t know they needed before they joined. This has made it bigger than just a band, she said.
“Everybody’s really happy about being able to have that freedom of expression,” Smith said. “And just be badass, be filthy, be whatever the hell we want to be — and it doesn’t matter because we’re banded together.”