From the moment the first familiar chord strikes, everyone knows. Sweat-soaked fans in faded Back In Black T’s elbow to the front. Devil horns fly in the air, pumping like fists. A jumble of lyrics and beer spray out of every set of open lips. Then it starts when Angus Young rips that signature riff. Phil Rudd blasts the beat. And a voice starts shrieking “Highway To Hell.” It’s as if the ghost of Bon Scott is howling from the grave through a wall of Marshall stacks. But it’s not Bon, and it’s not Brian Johnson either. Yet there’s something in it, something both familiar and strange. Then Jamie Nova struts on stage and the obvious hits – she’s a girl. They all are: Welcome to Hell’s Belles, fierce and furious femmes fatales who re-create the live-fast-die-young glory days of AC/DC.
“How many of you are Hell’s Belles Virgins?” Nova calls out mid-concert. “And how many of you came in here thinking we’d suck, thinking we couldn’t do it?’ Cheers erupt. “Well, what do you think now?” she taunts. And the crowd goes wild.
Brawny, meaty, and downright macho – AC/DC is raw, testo-fueled dude-rock. “TNT” and “Dirty Deeds,” these are songs that instantly bring to mind guys in Muscle T’s drag racing, beer drinking, and bikini ogling. Not exactly ladylike. But then for Belles’ drummer Melodie Zapata, that’s the point.
“A set of testicles doesn’t mean you can play drums better than a set of ovaries,” she says, talking a mile-a-minute. “We’re using our hands and our brains here people! It kills me when people say, ‘I didn’t know girls could rock like that.’ Really? Because I’ve known it for a long time.”
You’d think decades after Joan Jett wailed about wanting to rock and roll all night, we’d be long past all of that. Hello, Heart? Lita Ford? Missy Elliot? Peaches? ‘Lil Kim? No one would dare accuse those women of being too proper, too polite, too prim. And these days you can add a few more names to that list from the growing ranks of all-female metal and hard rock tribute bands, bands that revel in turning gender stereotypes inside out, rocking fast and furious, girl-style, balls out. DRUM! sat down with the women behind the kits of The Iron Maidens, Zepparella, and Hell’s Belles to find out what it’s like taking on the monsters of rock, assuming the identity of super macho legends, and winning over the boys.
As the beat keeper for Hell’s Belles, no one knows better than Melodie Zapata how tough it can be to cut through all the macho b.s. “Pretty much every time we go to a new place we have to prove ourselves,” she says, adding that as a female drummer, she’s dealt with sexism for most of her life. “It’s AC/DC, so you might be playing it but [they’re thinking] there’s no way you’re gonna own it. And then we’re girls, so it’s a double-whammy. It’s like, ‘You’re ladies. You drink tea with your pinkies sticking out. You worry about breaking a nail!’ [When we play] it blows their version of what they think in their minds, that image of what a girl is or what they want a girl to be, or think they want a girl to be.”