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

Britpop; what it was and what it isn’t

I use the past tense because Britpop isn’t an active genre. It ended sometime in 1997. It’s certainly not and shouldn’t be used to define current British indie or rock bands simply because “they’re from Britain”.

Like any other musical revolution which gets somehow categorised as a ‘genre’ instead of a ‘culture’ – be it ‘punk’, ‘grunge’, ‘riot grrrl’, etc – Britpop was a movement. It was a term exclusive and unique to alternative bands emerging from the British independent music scene during the early 90’s.

Britpop was a retaliation against grunge which, at the time, was infesting the US. Britpop bands denounced grunge as ‘irrelevant’ and having ‘nothing to say about their lives’. Damon Albarn of Blur summed up the attitude in 1993 when after being asked if Blur were an ‘anti-grunge band’ he said, “Well, that’s good. If punk was about getting rid of hippies, then I’m getting rid of grunge.” Graham Coxon blasted Nirvana for their “awful shit” and cited grunge as a “disgusting movement”. The Gallagher brothers felt similarly;

Wikipedia got something right:

The movement developed as a reaction against various musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the grunge phenomenon from the United States. In the wake of the musical invasion into the United Kingdom of American grunge bands, new British groups such as Suede and Blur launched the movement by positioning themselves as opposing musical forces, referencing British guitar music of the past. These bands were soon joined by others including Oasis, The Verve, Pulp, Supergrass, Echobelly, Sleeper and Elastica.

An American girl on Tumblr referenced Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 release “AM” as “the best Britpop album ever” and I nearly gagged. Please educate yourselves, America.

If you would like to listen to actual Britpop, give Blur’s “Parklife” (1994) a listen. It’s arguably the (actual) best example of a Britpop record there is; completely, quintessentially British, Damon Albarn writes about uniquely British topics and concerns; the culture is almost tangible – Brits can listen and relate, anyone else can listen and experience a day-in-the-life-of-type first-hand experience of what working class 90’s Britain was truly like.

WHAT BRITPOP IS: everything I just mentioned.

WHAT BRITPOP IS NOT: Post-Britpop like Stereophonics and Coldplay, pop music from Britain like One Direction, indie bands from Britain like the Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, and The Kooks, bands that aren’t even from Britain yet are tagged #britpop in the last.fm tag like Arcade Fire (WTF???)

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas. Bah humbug.

My 5 favourite frontmen when they were young(er)

Just another five reasons to hate living in the present day…

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David Bowie
My love for Bowie has been consistent ever since I was 11 and one day stumbled across his biography flicking through channels whilst off school. His genius, brilliance, and contribution to the worlds of music and art over the years have been nothing short of legendary – and – is there a soul alive today who doesn’t enjoy a bit of Bowie now and again? I doubt it very much. Also, the recurring themes of androgyny and gender-bending used in his work make him all the more appealing to me. After all, there’s nothing more attractive than a dude who looks good in makeup.

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Robert Smith
Ah, another beautiful man who knows how to write a fantastic song and is not afraid to embrace his inner femininity! The Cure are one of my all-time favourite bands, and the first time I saw Robert sing, my first thought was that he was like Edward Scissorhands crossed with Siouxsie Sioux crossed with some sort of singing demigod. He is undeniably lovely, too, and let’s not forget his fucking fantastic fashion.

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Billy Corgan
Ugh. When you’re finished staring at the beauty that is Billy Corgan circa early-90s, this is why he is awesome:

  • he created The Smashing Pumpkins
  • he is a legit poet who has written some of the most achingly-beautiful, introspective song lyrics in the history of the universe
  • He is incredibly smart, witty, down to earth, and compassionate.
  • he wrote Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness which is one of the greatest records of all time
  • duh, he’s Billy Corgan.
  • Seriously, I can’t think of a single bad thing about him, apart from maybe the fact he dated Tila Tequila… uh, moving on…

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    Morrissey
    There have been times when listening to The Smiths, or one of his solo songs, where I’ve straight-up bursted out laughing at his outrageous misanthropic statements. But that’s what endeared me to him; and although he’s definitely mellowed out with age, he’s still phenomenal. The misery and frustration in his lyrics is so damn relatable, listening to his songs is almost a personal experience. He is (in my opinion) the greatest lyricist of all time. His outlook on life, often brash opinions, irrefutable style, and devilish handsomeness (which has only gotten better with age!) is why I love him.

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    Johnny Rotten
    Okay, whilst at first glance he may seem like a scruffy English punk with bad teeth, he’s actually SO MUCH MORE than that. I saved him til last, because he truly is my favourite frontman of any band, ever. Why? Firstly, he’s a genius. He wrote some of the best punk songs of all time, and was thee pioneer of punk. It frustrates me when people glamorise Sid Vicious’ lifestyle and forget that Johnny Rotten has always been the brains and voice behind the Sex Pistols. His unapologetic, witty, and sometimes downright offensive remarks have always made him a controversial figure; but when you look back at earlier interviews he gave in the late 70’s, at the age of 19, 20, it really puts into perspective just how intelligent and ahead of his game he’s always been. He’s stayed grounded, genuine, and true to himself despite becoming a punk legend in his own right. Johnny Rotten is fucking brilliant. I wish I’d been alive and of age (lol) in the late 70’s… intelligence makes someone so fucking attractive… that, and the fact he was super-duper cute… I love him.