Mecca Normal’s first show – opening for D.O.A. at the Smilin’ Buddha in Vancouver, 1984. Photo by Ian Smith.
Jean Smith and David Lester formed Mecca Normal in 1984 with the express purpose of changing the world. Writer Jean Smith turned her zine Smarten UP! – A How to Change the World Publication – into a record label to release the first Mecca Normal LP in 1986.
“Arguably the greatest rock band without a rhythm section ever, the duo of acid-voiced singer Jean Smith and guitar hero David Lester must be seen to be believed.” – Douglas Wolk
“Mecca Normal’s Jean Smith would be a heroine in any age: her beautiful harsh voice, her uncompromising lyrics, her sheer performing dignity guarantee her that. But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” – Gina Arnold, 1993
In April 2009, Mecca Normal celebrated its 25th anniversary with 25 shows in 25 days, including university and high school presentations of “How Art & Music Can Change the World” – a lecture intending to inspire audiences to consider adding political content to their creative self-expression.
Mecca Normal is known as a fore-runner and inspiration to the riot grrrl movement in the 90s. As part of the regional D-I-Y scene at that time, Mecca Normal co-founded the Black Wedge – anti-authoritarian poets and minimalist musicians “setting wild hearts free, spreading the damn difficult word of how to combine poetry with activist resistance culture”. At the Black Wedge show in Olympia (1986) Jean and Calvin met and traded LPs – Mecca Normal’s first album (re-issued by K Records) for the first beat happening record.
Mecca Normal performing at Vancouver’s Word on the Street, 2011
Guitar player David Lester is the author of The Listener graphic novel (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011) – the story of Hitler’s rise to power correlates to questions about the power of political art. David Lester lives in Vancouver, Canada.
Click through to high resolution photo of Mecca Normal – Jean Smith and David Lester. Photo by Judith Baumann
Influence on riot grrl
Mecca Normal is regarded as an inspiration to the founders of the 1990s social movement known as riot grrl. When Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill singer and riot grrrl co-founder) was asked who influenced her in the early days, she replied: “Lyrically, Jean Smith of Mecca Normal was really poetic and had feminist ideas at the core of a lot of her songs and she wasn’t ashamed of it. She wrote a song about street harassment and the male gaze. And when I saw her I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.” Fader.com)