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Negative/Positive Are More Than Just Kids

Feb. 7, 2017
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Photo Credit: John Sturdy

When most people think about summer camp, they remember itchy mosquito bites, the intoxicating scent of sunscreen and socks full of beach sand. For the members of Negative/Positive, a week spent at camp led to their very own rock band. 

In the summer of 2013, 9-year-old Ava Antoine met 11-year-olds Ava Gessner and Lola Flores at Girls Rock Milwaukee. Founded by Whips frontwoman Ashley Smith and restaurant owner Valeri Lucks, the camp’s goal is to instill music appreciation in young girls. Campers are assigned to a band and taught how to play an instrument. The girls also attend various workshops like “The History of Women in Rock.” At the end of the week, the bands show off their new skills at a concert where they perform original songs in front of an audience.

As the leaves began to change and summer came to an end, the girls continued to practice together weekly in Antoine’s basement. They stuck with their respective instruments—Antoine on drums, Flores on bass, and Gessner on guitar/vocals. 

Nearly four years after their formation, the band has built quite an impressive résumé. They’ve played a string of festival slots, including Riverwest FemFest, Bay View Bash and Summer Soulstice. In 2016, they were the opening act for local heroes Sat. Nite Duets’ album release show. This past month, the girls hosted an album release show of their own, enlisting “sister band” Tigernite as support.

The three-piece recorded their debut album, Lumanescent, in only one day. “We were there for a few hours,” explains 13-year-old Gessner. “My mom told me to expect to get three, maybe four songs done, but we ended up having six!” The album’s title is a punny tribute to their former vocalist Luma. The lineup change inspired the album’s opener, “Autumn Leaves,” a song about embracing new beginnings. 

Released in August 2016, the six-song track list is brimming with anthems that challenge stereotypical expectations of young women. “Done With This” defies impractical fashion trends like jeans without pockets and painful curling irons. On “Dressed in Black,” the girls express their disdain towards generic pop songs that are all about boys. The album ends with a saccharine cover of Twenty One Pilots’ “Tear in My Heart.”

Citing David Bowie, Panic! At The Disco, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda as influences, the band describes their sound as “a mixture of pop and punk.” They utilize blatant feminist undertones, carrying the torch of yesteryear’s all-girl bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile. Taking advantage of simple, rapid chord progressions and clever lyrics, the band ensures their music packs a girl-power punch. Their youthful energy is obvious and especially noticeable in Gessner’s powerful singing voice.

“I think there should be more bands with kids our age. It inspires people,” says 13-year-old Flores. Her bandmates unanimously agree. “I’d like people to take us more seriously,” adds 11-year-old Antoine. “People think that we’re just kids and our music won’t be that good. But if you think about it, we are only kids and we’ve come this far. Not even that many adults can play an instrument.”

Each band member says they’re committed to a future in music. They look forward to taking on leadership roles as band coaches for Girls Rock. “There should be more females in bands,” Antoine quips. “The plan is to volunteer for Girls Rock when I’m too old to be a camper.” They have their sights set high for the future, and show no sign of slowing down any time soon. Says Flores with a grin, “I want to stay in this. I’m in it to win it.”

Negative/Positive play WMSE’s Local/Live on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 6 p.m.

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