Somehow, in my late twenties, I had become a groupie. It was inevitable, really, that I’d end up here. When my ex left for the bright lights of London and I was to linger on in Manchester trying to rebuild my fractured existence, my self-confidence was at an all time low. I watched a few boxsets of Girls and began doing what any newly single person does: going out, getting wrecked, and looking for someone to fuck the pain away with. True, I wasn’t in the best place - my agent had recently informed me that my novel had been rejected by all possible publishers, I had a shit job, and my fella had fucked off - so it seemed apt that I would start sleeping around. What I wasn’t banking on was how much I’d get out of it.
Around this time I started dipping into the writing of Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Freud and the man who coined the phrase “free love”. He was popular with counter-culture figures of the 1940s and 50s - JD Salinger, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, the whole squad - namely because he invented the Orgone Energy Accumulator, a wooden cupboard the size of a phone booth which the psychoanalyst said could infuse up the body with a special energy which he claimed could treat all sorts of things including cancer and radiation sickness, later proved to be a dud. But it was a book entitled Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf, published a decade before Reich’s death, and later translated to The Sexual Revolution, which caught my attention. In it, Reich argues that a true political revolution would not be possible until sexual repression was overthrown. Aside from that, he believed that sex was the key to good physical and mental health. Put simply, sex would not only make you feel good, but could cure you of your problems. And the more people you fucked, the better your treatment, the deeper your understanding of yourself and the world at large. Until you were sexually satisfied, you couldn’t change the systems of oppression around you.
The source of my depression was an overwhelming sense of a lack of control. Everything I’d been working for, from my relationship to my chance of publishing a book, had been taken away from me. I needed an escape but also something which would give me a sense of autonomy. Plus I was really horny. Deciding that I would sleep exclusively with musicians was a form of regaining control. I also found that sex with guys whose music I liked not only temporarily alleviated the grim reality of my life, but was also an almost spiritual experience; I was interacting with people whose art had lifted me at my lowest ebb. And it filled me with hope; if they wanted to fuck with me, then maybe the whole world would one day fuck with me in another way. They could see something in me which at the time I couldn’t see myself, even if that something was only sexual attractiveness. When you’re hating on yourself all the time that’s worth a lot. Besides, while most people are inspired by art every day, they rarely get to meet the artist whose paintings they like or the author of the book they keep rereading, and most of them are already dead. Musicians are much more accessible; they play our towns and cities and in this way they are people whose eye we can actually catch. Fucking a musician is a very unique way of connecting with art that most people don’t get the chance to experience. It made me feel special at a time when I felt like shit.
The word “groupie” has traditionally carried negative connotations. So much so that in the 2000 film Almost Famous, Penny Lane derides another character who dares describe her as such. She says she’s a ‘band aid’ – a woman who inspires musicians simply through being there, deviating attention away from any sexual relationships. But why is sleeping with musicians seen as such a bad thing? If a man decided to sleep exclusively with musicians, would he get called a groupie? I think we all know the answer to that. But moreover, the traditional perception of a groupie as a powerless woman positions the male musician as someone taking advantage, and the sexual exchange which takes place is always perceived as something negative. It shouldn’t be that way though. There’s power to be gained in sleeping with people.
Just after I got dumped I also stumbled upon a book called Honey Money by the feminist writer Catherine Hakim. Her shtick is that along with economic, cultural and social capital, there is also erotic capital, a currency we can all tap into to become more successful. Erotic capital is more than just being fit, although that is definitely part of it, but also includes other factors such as charisma, grace, social skills, self-presentation and vitality. It applies to both sexes and you don’t have to be in an explicitly sexual situation for it to give you a leg up – in my opinion people like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have definitely used it to advance their humanitarian missions. Generally, the people who utilise their erotic capital are those who know their strengths and how to use them to get what they want. With austerity getting harsher and the divide between rich and poor widening, erotic capital is one form of capital available to society at large. So I, for one, think Hakim is one of the most relevant thinkers going right now.
By the time I decided to set up a club night with my friends as an antidote to the predominantly male dominated Hip Hop scene in Manchester, I’d already had sex with a 90s rapper from Brooklyn. He danced to the up-and-coming Manchester band I played him while telling me about hustling for a living in the Projects, and the following week I was at an afterparty rendezvous with the guitarist of said up-and-coming-band. However, I can date my adoration of musicians way back to when I was 18 and, heart-eyed, had asked Mark Ronson to autograph a tenner when he played at Sankeys. I didn’t have his album on me, I’d lost the gig ticket, and not even a chewing gum wrapper would materialise in my bag. Mark wrote “spend it well”. Obviously, I never did. But along with being a nice memento, it’s a nifty reminder that money isn’t the only type of capital out there. With musicians, many of the stereotypes are often correct. Boys in bands will fuck you and after the deed inform you that they actually have a girlfriend. They’ll fuck you and get up two minutes later to play the same chord combinations over and over while they write their next hook, sending you crazy as their semen is still warmly seeping out of your vagina. But these encounters had given me a confidence and a lust for life which I’d lost following my breakup. I was ready to start living again and try my hand at something new.
There’s no stigma around making connections within a music scene through online or non-sexual networking, but there is lots of stigma around using sex to make those connections, and there shouldn’t be. Why not utilise my erotic capital, whether through flirting, dressing a certain way, or having casual sex? This became an almost necessity when I realised how hard it is to get a foothold in a music scene. When we started our night we had practically no contacts; we couldn’t even get through to most venues, never mind convince them to take us seriously when we finally got hold of someone on the phone. If you’re not a DJ, then the received wisdom is, what business have you got starting a club night anyway? No one starts club nights just for the fun of it. Even the DJs who we eventually booked were skeptical. So I felt it necessary in certain situations to deploy the erotic capital I realised I had after gaining confidence after sleeping with a string of musicians. When I saw an opportunity, I played up the chirpse to get cheaper venue hire, I negotiated fees with DJs after sleeping with them, and I orchestrated photo shoots using the resources of people I knew fancied me. I’m not ashamed to admit it because for me, erotic capital is like every other type of capital and it’s fair game, especially in an industry still rampant with gender inequality.
Still, I have to admit there have been times I haven’t enjoyed being a groupie. A while ago I was at a night in Manchester club Gorilla and suddenly a girl tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. She told me that one of the DJ’s wanted to speak to me and would I mind coming upstairs to the VIP room. My friend urged me to say yes. The night was a sellout and the queue to the bar was huge. At least up in the VIP we’d get some drinks. But when I got there the experience was awkward to say the least. There was no chemistry between me and the DJ but the air was filled with an expectation that, because I’d come up and drank the free booze, I would then go back to his hotel room and have sex with him. I had a similarly cringey experience with an award winning musician I admired and got chatting to on the way to a party in the early hours of a morning. I gave him my number so he could join us when he finished his drinks, but he bypassed it and instead started incessantly calling in the following days to say our meeting had been love at first sight. As it turned out, he had recently split up with his partner and was in the middle of a breakdown. Like with any profession, there are good days and bad days to being a groupie. Perhaps controversially, these experiences didn’t put me off. I refuse to deny myself a positive employment of my sexuality just because it comes with a danger. I see that as defeatist and a step backwards for feminism. More than anything, these meetings confirmed I have erotic capital which I can use when it suits me. However, groupies are often stereotyped as desperate girls for whom proximity to talent makes up for their own lack thereof, I was under no illusion that sleeping with someone would get me anywhere simply because I had fucked them. But in my opinion some knowledge is embodied, some things you can’t convey with words, and it was this that I was after.
I spoke to a musician about the notion of being a groupie, whether he felt bad about sleeping with them. At first he went on the offensive. “What’s wrong with being attracted to musicians?” he mused. When I challenged him saying a lot of musicians are narcissists, as well documented in Pamela Des Barres' book Confessions of a Groupie, he said, “Musicians are interesting. And more often than not they have something good to give to the world. Though I do think most musicians do it for the girls.” With regard to the exchange of sex for information he said, “if you identify that musicians might know something you don’t and you want to know and share this then that’s to be celebrated. And you can’t know someone better than by fucking them.” So it’s a fair exchange, then? He said he doesn’t deem it necessarily fair but believes it’s positive when the end goal is to enrich a culture.
There is no getting around the fact that the music business is still rampantly sexist, as pretty much every festival line-up in history will testify, and we’re still nowhere near overcoming gender inequality outside of this industry either. So I agree with Catherine Hakim in urging women to learn to ask for a better deal in private as well as public life and using erotic capital as a means to that end, whether they’re a musician or a groupie. Obviously, utilising erotic capital won’t change the world, but Hakim argues that recognition of the social and economic value of erotic capital can play a big role in renegotiations of gender inequality. Until we have real equality, I feel women are legitimised to do what they can to get what they want. For me, asking for that better deal was going to start with casual sex. Being a groupie allowed me to get both sex and knowledge; two for the price of one. I think that’s fair game in a patriarchal society. Through the process of reading Reich and Hakim and fucking musicians, I found confidence, my own taste, and ultimately, my own successful club night where we try to showcase the best of local female talent. You really can have your cake and eat it; be a groupie as well as have your own place within a music scene.
You can find Kamila's club night on Twitter: @WITCH_UNT