Sharon Cheslow

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Sharon Cheslow (born October 5, 1961 in Los Angeles, California) is an American musician, composer, artist, and writer. In 1981, she formed Chalk Circle, Washington, D.C.'s first all-female punk band.[1] She has since become an accomplished artist who works between different mediums, mostly sound-based.[2]


Cheslow has a B.A. in Intermedia Arts from Mills College and attended graduate school at California Institute of the Arts. As a pioneer on many levels, she has collaborated with numerous musicians and artists. Her work crosses boundaries and addresses subject/object relationships.[3]

Early years[edit]

Born in Los Angeles, Sharon Cheslow grew up in the Jewish area near Wilshire and Fairfax in a Reconstructionist Jewish family.[4][5] She listened to rock and roll and was influenced by her parents' love of music, especially folk protest music.[4][5] Her mother graduated from UCLA and was pro-civil rights.[4][5] Her family moved to the Washington, D.C. suburbs in 1967 after Cheslow's father, a CalTech graduate, got a job with the U.S. Department of Transportation.[4][5] They first moved to Silver Spring, MD and then to Bethesda, MD where she experienced anti-semitism.[4]

D.C. bands and publications[edit]

Cheslow was influenced by the Beatles, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, The Slits, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and jazz.[2][4] Her first band Chalk Circle, as guitarist, grew out of her friendships with Anne Bonafede, Henry Garfield (later Henry Rollins), and members of the Teen Idles and Untouchables around late 1979/early 1980.[6] They shared a love of Bad Brains and California punk. When the D.C. hardcore scene became more macho Chalk Circle didn't fit in so well,[7][8][9] but they got support from art punk bands such as Half Japanese and Velvet Monkeys.[4] Cheslow attended University of Maryland and first learned about feminist theory through film studies classes with Robert Kolker.[4] These experiences led Cheslow to examine and write about the role of women in music.

Cheslow’s first fanzine was If This Goes On, co-published with Colin Sears from 1982–83, before joining Sears' band Bloody Mannequin Orchestra. If This Goes On featured an early Minor Threat interview.[10][11] BMO combined hardcore punk with noise rock, no wave, and improvisation, and their recordings came out on WGNS. With Cynthia Connolly and Leslie Clague, she compiled the seminal photographic punk oral history book Banned In DC in 1988, which documented the early 1980s Washington, DC hardcore punk scene.[2] Cheslow's first issue of Interrobang?! was published in 1989 with a Nation of Ulysses interview. Cheslow was also in a one-off project with Fugazi's Joe Lally.

A retrospective Chalk Circle release, "Reflection," came out in 2011 on Mississippi Records and Post Present Medium.

California years[edit]


Cheslow moved to San Francisco in 1990, continued to collaborate with musicians in D.C., and was an influence on Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.[2] In the 1990s she was in indie rock bands Suture (with Dug E. Bird of Beefeater and Kathleen Hanna), Red Eye (with Tim Green of Nation of Ulysses), and The Electrolettes (with Julianna Bright, later of The Quails). Her recordings came out on Dischord Records, Kill Rock Stars, and her label Decomposition. She played guitar and bass and was a singer and songwriter for all three bands, although Hanna was the main vocalist and lyricist for Suture.


In the mid-'90s, Cheslow published her comprehensive list of women in late '70s punk in Interrobang?! and it became available as an online list.[2][7][12] Interrobang?! #2, published in 1994 featured an interview with Cork Marcheschi of Fifty Foot Hose. In 2000 Cheslow edited an anthology on music and transcendence as Interrobang?! #4 which featured writings by Pauline Oliveros, Maggi Payne, Nicole Panter, Public Works, Niko Wenner (of Oxbow), Marc Kate (of I Am Spoonbender), and Allison Wolfe.

She is a contributor to Thurston Moore's book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture.

Cheslow edited and published the book Interrobang?! Anthology on Music and Family in 2008, with contributions by Cynthia Connolly, Pauline Oliveros, Ian MacKaye, Alan Licht, Jean Smith, Anna Oxygen, Bill Berkson, Kevin Mattson, Liz Allbee, Matthew Wascovich, Erika Anderson, Janet Sarbanes, and Sara Wintz.[3]

Coterie Exchange[edit]

While studying intermedia arts at Mills College in the music department, she began performing and exhibiting experimental music, sound art, and installations. Her sound collages and explorations are documented on the CD, Lullabye from the Sky, released in 2002 on Decomposition under the name Sharon Cheslow and Coterie Exchange. It featured collaborations with Tim Green, Julianna Bright and members of Deerhoof among others. The project was the audio component from sound installations she had been performing.[2] In 2003 Fan Music: Winds of Change was featured at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Her videos to the tracks Dream/Construct and September Son are on two Kill Rock Stars video compilations. In 2004 she toured and collaborated with Yellow Swans, Inca Ore, and Chuck Bettis.

Cheslow moved back to Los Angeles in 2005. Since then she has collaborated with Weasel Walter, Liz Allbee, Neil Young (Fat Worm of Error), Christina Carter (Charalambides), and Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers).[3] In L.A. her collaborators have included David Scott Stone, Anna Oxygen, Steve Kim (Silver Daggers), and Julia Holter.[13] She performs with guitar, electronics, organ, digital audio, objects, and vocals.

In 2006 and 2007 she presented the Coterie Exchange sound event Sonic Triptych in Oakland, LA, and NY. The NY version was a collaboration with filmmaker/video artist James Schneider (who directed Blue is Beautiful). Sonic Triptych first premiered in San Francisco in 2002 with nine women, including Blevin Blectum and members of Erase Errata. A video of Duct Tape Piece, a collaboration with Alyssa Lee, was exhibited in Europe through Chicks on Speed in 2007 and 2008.[3]


  • Dream/Construct on Video Fanzine #2 (NTSC VHS, Kill Rock Stars, 3 October 2000, KRS300) [1]
  • While the City Sleeps and September Son on Sharon Cheslow Video Shorts (DVD, Decompostion, 2004, DE08)
  • September Son on Video Fanzine #3 (NTSC DVD, Kill Rock Stars, 12 July 2005, KRS400) [2]


  • Mixed Nuts Don't Crack compilation (1982) with Chalk Circle
  • Time Clock = Hole in Head compilation (1983) with Chalk Circle and Bloody Mannequin Orchestra
  • We Gots No Station compilation (1984) with Chalk Circle
  • Roadmap to Revolution (1984) with Bloody Mannequin Orchestra
  • Streetlights in the Dark (1985) with Bloody Mannequin Orchestra
  • A Wonderful Treat compilation (1991) with Suture
  • Static Storm (1998) with Red Eye
  • Plug Me In (1998) with Electrolettes
  • Lullabye from the Sky (2002) with Coterie Exchange
  • If the Twenty-First Century Didn't Exist compilation (2002) with Sharon Cheslow
  • Uncertainty Rides the Waves (2004) with Coterie Exchange, KIT
  • Collaborations (2005) with Yellow Swans, Inca Ore, Chuck Bettis, Jerry Lim, Kris Thompson
  • Macro-Eden compilation (2006) Sharon Cheslow solo
  • Less Self is More Self compilation (2006) with Trebville Exchange
  • Plants That Kill (2007) with Liz Allbee, Weasel Walter
  • Reflection (2011) with Chalk Circle
EPs and Singles
  • “Pretty Is” EP (1992) with Suture
  • “Special Delivery to My Heart” 7” (1995) with Red Eye
  • “Octane Lies” 7” (1999) with Electrolettes


  1. ^ Andersen & Jenkins 2001 p. 93
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hornreich 2002
  3. ^ a b c d Hornreich 2008
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gibbon 2008
  5. ^ a b c d Cheslow 2008 p. 3-11
  6. ^ Andersen & Jenkins 2001 p. 57
  7. ^ a b Klein 1997
  8. ^ Andersen & Jenkins 2001 p. 93-94
  9. ^ Azerrad 2001 p. 150-51
  10. ^ Andersen & Jenkins 2001 p. 115
  11. ^ Azerrad 2001 p. 145
  12. ^ Kearney 2006
  13. ^ SS 2002


  • Andersen, Mark; Jenkins, Mark (2001), Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capitol, New York, NY: Akashic Books, ISBN 1-888451-44-0, archived from the original on 2012-09-22.
  • Azerrad, Michael (2001), Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Boston, MA: Little Brown, ISBN 978-0-316-78753-6.
  • Cheslow, Sharon (2008), Interrobang?! Anthology on Music and Family: Writings and Interviews, San Francisco, CA: Decomposition, ISBN 978-0-9818706-6-3.
  • Connolly, Cynthia; Clague, Leslie; Cheslow, Sharon (1988), Banned in DC: Photos and Anecdotes From the DC Punk Underground, 1979-85, Washington, DC: Sun Dog Propaganda, ISBN 978-0-9620944-0-8.
  • Giattina (October 5–12, 2005), "8 Days a Week", San Francisco Bay Guardian, San Francisco Bay Guardian.
  • Gibbon, Layla (March 2008), "an interview with Sharon Cheslow", Maximum Rocknroll.
  • Hornreich, Dina (June 2002), "Shout Out: Sharon Cheslow", Venus.

Further reading[edit]

  • Raha, Maria (2005), Cinderella's Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground, Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, ISBN 0-415-97278-7.

External links[edit]