A blog on the history of the Riot Grrrl movement

With the revival of 90’s culture and fashion creeping into aspects of today’s society, it’s hard to ignore the fact that feminism and girl empowerment amongst the hot topics of the youth. From Lily Allen’s much-discussed “Hard Out Here” and Beyonce’s new album referencing feminist issues, it’s clear that feminism has become almost fashionable, everyone’s talking about it, and most female musicians don’t just simply want to be seen as music icons – but instead – feminist icons.

But women have been fighting the feminist fight through the medium of music for many years now, it’s nothing new, despite the trend, and I think everyone should be informed of the women and ‘grrrls’ who have been at this – often with little credibility – for decades now.

ORIGINS

The 1970s: punk rock – a liberating and exciting musical movement – is born. Mixing youthful rebellion and anti-authoritarian ideologies with fast, hard-edged music, it’s quickly becoming a major cultural phenomenon, but with acts such as New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Ramones, and The Clash dictating the scene, it’s apparent that males are predominantly and automatically assumed to be the voices of anarchy and revolution.

Or so it seemed…

The stance that “punk was not for girls” sparked in itself a catalyst of female rebellion against the rebellion – and so an array of female punk and rock musicians such as Joan Jett (and The Runaways), Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, The Slits, The Raincoats, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Mecca Normal, Lydia Lunch, and Fifth Column to name but a few, helped establish the musical foundation on which the riot grrrl ethos would (some years) later be built on.

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THE RIOT GRRRL MOVEMENT BEGINS TO TAKE SHAPE

‘Riot grrrl’ is far more than just a music genre; it is a political stance, cultural movement, and lifestyle.

The early 1990’s – The Pacific Northwest:

“BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk after boy… BECAUSE we need to talk to each other. Communication and inclusion is the key. We will never know if we don’t break the code of silence… BECAUSE in every form of media we see ourselves slapped, decapitated, laughed at, objectified, raped, trivialized, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked and killed. BECAUSE a safe space needs to be created for girls where we can open our eyes and reach out to each other without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit”

Young women (especially those involved in underground music scenes), in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, begin to articulate their feminist thoughts and desires through creating punk-rock fanzines (a D-I-Y publication produced and circulated by fans for fans) and forming bands. Due to the undeniable misogyny in the punk culture, these women feel to represent their own interests and thoughts, they have to create their own music and art.

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Kathleen Hanna, a twenty-two year old native of Portland, Oregon, is working as a stripper to support herself, and volunteering at a women’s shelter. She hooks up with zinester and friend Tobi Vail who’s been writing about her own experiences and struggles:

“I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly…”

After recruiting their friend Kathi Wilcox, the duo start working on a zine called Bikini Kill (which would eventually become a band, who, along with Bratmobile, are exclusively credited in many people’s minds as the creators and instigators of the riot grrrl movement).

“RIOT GRRRL”

The riot grrrl movement allowed women their own space to create music and make political statements about the issues they were facing in the punk rock community as well as in society. They used their music and publications to express their views on issues such as patriarchy, double standards against women, rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, and female empowerment.

Riot Grrrl Manifesto

Women in the movement would often attempt to re-appropriate derogatory phrases like ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘dyke’ and ‘slut’, writing them proudly on their skin with lipstick or sharpie.

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Bands associated with ‘Riot Grrrl’ include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney, Adickdid, Bangs, The Butchies, Calamity Jane, Dickless, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Fifth Column, The Frumpies, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, and L7. In addition to the music scene; zines, DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are a big part of the movement.

DECLINE AND LEGACY

By the mid-nineties, riot grrrl had severely declined. Many within the movement felt that the mainstream media had completely misrepresented their message, and that the politically radical aspects of riot grrrl had been subverted by the likes of the Spice Girls and their “girl power” message. The term ‘Riot Grrrl’ was often applied to less political female-fronted alternative rock acts such as Babes in Toyland, The Breeders, PJ Harvey, Hole, and even No Doubt.

The legacy of riot grrrl is clearly visible in society today; as numerous girls and women (and men!) worldwide cite the movement as an interest or an influence to their lives and/or their work. Some are self-proclaimed riot grrrls (and riot boys), others are admirers, some play in riot grrrl tribute bands, others simply listen to and enjoy the music of a subculture thats impact has spanned two decades.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

10 Female-Fronted Britpop Bands

The term ‘britpop’ is often overshadowed by male band dominance – the likes of Oasis, Blur, Pulp (with the exception of Candida Doyle), Suede, Supergrass… the list goes on. People are quick to forget and undermine the array of wonderful female-fronted bands around at the time.

Well, here’s ten of my favourite female Britpop bands you may not have heard of, but should check out regardless.

Elastica:

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I should probably start this off with Elastica; they are, after all, the seemingly ‘definitive’ Britpop girl band always remembered by critics and music journalists. But was that because of their music? Or the fact that lead singer Justine Frischmann (ex-Suede band member) was in possibly the biggest love triangle of the early 90’s with the two Britpop ‘it-boys’ of the time: Damon Albarn and Brett Anderson? Who knows. However, that’s not to take away from Elastica’s worthiness as a band; their self-titled release in 1995 is easily one of the best Britpop records ever released.

My favourite songs: Connection, Waking Up, All-Nighter

Sleeper:

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Fronted by Louise Wener, Sleeper were one of the more well-known female-fronted Britpop groups. Their sound is quite reminiscent of Blondie and even makes one draws comparisons with their peers at the time in Elastica. It wouldn’t surprise me if Louise Wener was inspired by Justine Frischmann in more than just a penchant for creating catchy pop songs and similar lyrical context (see her haircut for details) – but that doesn’t matter, because I for one much prefer Sleeper over Elastica.

My favourite songs: Inbetweener, Sale of the Century, What Do I Do Now?, Statuesque

Echobelly:

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Like Sleeper, another band that enjoyed moderate success but were often overshadowed by Elastica’s popularity and comparison – were Echobelly. In my opinion, the influence of Morrissey, The Smiths, and jangle pop is much more apparent in the music and lyrics. And after all, Morrissey was an Echobelly fan, which means they must be good.

My favourite songs: King of the Kerb, Great Things, Insomniac, I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me

Lush:

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Originally more of a shoegazing band, Lush’s sound eventually progressed towards uplifting Britpop with feminist undertones and anti-misogyny/anti-sexist lyrical themes. Perhaps their most famous song, Ladykillers, is a feminist anthem embracing fierce female independence. Their most successful album, Lushlife, released in 1996, is considered a 90’s masterpiece (and even features a duet with lead singer Miki Berenyi and Jarvis Cocker). Lushlife would’ve no doubt launched them into Britpop superstardom if not for the shock suicide of their drummer shortly after the release – which ultimately caused them to disband later that year.

My favourite songs: Ladykillers, Single Girl, De-Luxe, Ciao! (duet with Jarvis Cocker)

Catatonia:
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In the days of post-Britpop, Catatonia were one of the biggest – and best – rock bands to come out of Wales. With front-woman Cerys Matthews’ instantly recognisable brash vocal style and sometimes-odd lyrical subtext, they enjoyed quite large success – especially with the 1998 release of their album International Velvet. They even did a duet with Welsh legend Tom Jones.

My favourite songs: Mulder and Scully, I Am The Mob, Road Rage, Strange Glue

Kenickie:
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Fronted by Lauren Laverne and hailing from Newcastle, Kenickie (named after their favourite character from Grease), gained mild popularity with the release of their debut At The Club in 1998 – which, I can vouch for, is a great, upbeat staple to the Britpop genre. Although Kenickie never achieved major success, they were the epitomy of a 90’s pop band — lots of fun and never took things too seriously.

My favourite songs: In Your Car, Punka, Nightlife, Stay In The Sun

The Sundays:
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Okay, probably technically not Britpop and perhaps leaning more towards indie – but it doesn’t really matter – because The Sundays were a really great band and deserve some love and appreciation. Formed in the late 80’s and continuing throughout the 90’s, they achieved almost unprecedented success within their genre for their debut Reading, Writing, And Arithmetic which features songs about living in England, finding a pound coin in the underground, and kicking boys until they cry. They are one of my favourite bands and a nice mellow listen. Highly recommended.

My favourite songs: I Kicked A Boy, My Finest Hour, Here’s Where The Story Ends, Can’t Be Sure

Dubstar:
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Dubstar were a trio from Newcastle lead by Sarah Blackwood. Their acclaimed 1995 debut, Disgraceful (amazing record) is full of catchy dreampop and indie melodies which gained them a lot of success early on in their career. They had a real knack for writing bright pop melodies which were then underpinned by quite somber, depressing lyrics (see: Just A Girl She Said for example). Often forgot about nowadays, but definitely worth checking out.

My favourite songs: Just A Girl She Said, Not So Manic Now, Popdorian, Stars

The Popguns:
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Formed in the late 80’s, The Popguns never made much of an impact and I have no idea why. Led by frontwoman Wendy Morgan, and with Shaun Charman (ex-Wedding Present) in the line-up, The Popguns’ sound is upbeat jangle pop at it’s best. Despite their lack of mainstream success, they were, however, championed by the late great John Peel – someone who always knew a great band when he heard them. They are seriously good and seriously underrated.

My favourite songs: Waiting For The Winter, Landslide, Someone You Love, Still A World Away

Salad:
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Despite their first album Drink Me being quite well received, Salad never really took off, which is a shame because they were a cool band and wrote some really good songs: one of my favourite lyric of theirs being “I am winter solstice waiting / Like a granite statue”

My favourite songs: Drink The Elixir, Motorbike To Heaven, Granite Statue, Machine of Menace

So there you have it. Ten female-fronted Britpop bands I like, complete with Spotify links for you to enjoy and hopefully discover some new music. Let me know what you think.

xo, c

I want to live in a world where straight boys aren’t afraid to cry

The 21st century media stereotype of “masculinity” is seriously fucked. Society instantly places us into a category; “male” and “female”, “masculine” and “feminine”, and thereby we must abide to those categories rules otherwise we are considered to be some sort of abhorrent subspecies who doesn’t follow the rules of what is right or wrong depending on our biological sex.

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY:

  • Dependant 
  • Emotional
  • Passive
  • Sensitive
  • Quiet
  • Graceful
  • Innocent
  • Weak
  • Sexually Submissive

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE MASCULINITY:

  • Independent
  • Emotionless
  • Aggressive
  • Tough-skinned
  • Competitive
  • Experienced
  • Strong
  • Active
  • Self-Confident
  • Sexually dominant

Can the masculine/feminine stereotype please be broken? Somehow? I know these things have been around since the dawn of time but I feel they’re becoming less and less relevant – especially with trans and androgynous acceptance being seen more than ever before.

Let me draw your attention to one particular ‘rule’ above which, when thought of in a different context, turns my stomach; the “sexually dominant/submissive” stereotype. There are some human beings in this world who assume that being masculine (“dominant”) would mean they’re entitled to act violently, disrespectfully, aggressively, etc, towards the feminine (“submissive”) – that includes domestic abuse, rape, domestic rape, sexually objectifying, harassment, or just plain disrespectful behaviour towards others in general. 

THIS IS NOT OKAY.

RAPING SOMEONE DOES NOT MAKE YOU “MASCULINE”. PUNCHING A GIRL IN THE FACE DOES NOT MAKE YOU A MAN. SHOUTING HUMILIATING AND DISRESPECTFUL SLURS TO A WOMAN IN THE STREET DOES NOT MEAN YOU AREN’T A PIECE OF SHIT.

More than anything I wish for a culture where violence, sexual violence, disrespect, harassment, and humiliating others is seen as the furthest thing from “masculine” behaviour.

Monthly Mixtape: August 2012

August was sort of a 90s/riot grrrl month…

Babes in Toyland – Bruise Violet

The Muffs – Lucky Guy

Bikini Kill – RIP

L7 – Wargasm

Excuse 17 – Watchmaker

Heavens to Betsy – My Red Self

Lush – For Love

Bratmobile – Gimme Brains

Sleater-Kinney – Modern Girl

4 Non Blondes – What’s Up

Belly – Feed The Tree

Vagiant – FTK (Fuck The Kells)

Hole – Sugar Coma