London Girls Rock Camp

London Girls Rock at Annual Summer Camp

Mehek Mazhar

As the American rock star Alice Cooper sang, “school's out for summer,” and dozens of girls in London have taken that note to join rock camp.

London Girls Rock Camp is in its fourth summer teaching girls how to play instruments, start bands and write songs to perform at the end of camp. Campers aged 8 to 15 who self-identify as female, trans and gender non-conforming are all part of the program that empowers them to feel confident and comfortable playing music.

When the girls aren’t jamming with their band members, they attend workshops on gender, body positivity and the history of women in music. They also create zines, silk screen t-shirts and shoot band photos. Each of the workshops are led by female musicians and industry contributors.  

This year, the London Girls Rock Camp is running two week-long sessions at the Fanshawe College Centre for Digital and Performance Arts in downtown London. Fourteen campers were part of the first session last week. Some have continued on into the second session, which has gone up to 29 campers.

Savanah Sewell is the director behind the scenes of the camp’s team effort. Holding her 9-month-old son, Oda, she talked about the personal value of having a girls rock camp.

“I’ve worn many different hats in the music industry,” Sewall said. “For me, it’s some of the most powerful work that I’ve done because it’s so important to give kids that space to be creative and feel safe and empowered.”

“We really want to empower them to feel good and strong about walking onto the stage with an instrument.”

Sewell referenced the Riot grrrl movement from the 1990s, which was an underground movement to unite feminist consciousness with punk style and politics. Kathleen Hanna, a founder of the Riot grrrl movement and frontwoman for the punk band Bikini Kill, was one of the first to talk to girls about coming out to the front of bands and fighting for equality.

“Some of these kids have never been in a situation like this before,” Sewell said. “They’re used to playing in maybe a band at school, like the jazz band or the school choir, but there has never been this opportunity for them to each pick up an instrument and write a song collaboratively.”

Radio Western also joined in the fun at rock camp, conducting workshops for the girls on how to interview each other about their bands and create station IDs.

8-year-old Vienne Jane Hoy, of the band Stargazer, raised her hand high to volunteer for an interview.

Hoy and three fellow campers formed Stargazer on Monday. Her role includes vocals and playing the bass guitar. Hoy started taking bass guitar lessons just before joining camp.

“We’ve made a bit of our song and started the lyrics,” she said. “One of our band members had a song and so we took it and changed the words, but we kept the rhythm.”

Each of the bands from London Girls Rock Camp will take their final performance to the stage this Friday at the Fanshawe downtown campus, 137 Dundas St. Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the show will start at 6:30 p.m. Open to the public, admission is pay what you can.

Then, after this week, the curtains will draw for another year of girls rock camp.

According to Sewell, the community of girls who have come together to play music is strong. Girls return to camp each summer with more progress in their musical abilities. Even girls who graduate from camp, becoming no longer eligible to attend based on age, have trained to become camp leaders.

Local support for the London Girls Rock Camp has been clear to organizers from the start, with ease of access to space and equipment each summer.

Moving forward, Sewell is looking for more awareness about the conversation of equality in the musical world, as well as space to continue to run rock camp all year round.

“It would be amazing if someone in the community had that kind of space they could offer up, because we get tons of requests from parents to continue with lessons during the year.”

Listen to our interviews with Savanah Sewell and Vienne Jane Hoy here: