Interview by Kris Smith
As an occasional feature we promise not to call ‘How I became a Loud Woman’, we interview musicians about their inspiration, beginnings and career in the DIY scene. Here, Sophie from Little Fists gives us a glimpse at a riot grrrl scene linked to much missed bands such as Candy Panic Attack and Actual Crimes, as well as current LOUD WOMEN: Bugeye, Ghum, Little Fists, The Ethical Debating Society and The Potentials!
It was weird being a teenage girl in the late 90s / early 2000s – feminism was apparently dead, grunge was dead too (and I was too young anyway), and all that seemed to be on offer was ladette culture and magazines like Kerrang! featuring female musicians as hot novelties. As a teenage feminist I felt like an oddity, but thanks to the serendipity of the internet, I discovered riot grrrl and suddenly a whole world blossomed in front of my eyes: women with guitars, contorting their voices into every sound imaginable, filled with rage and pain, singing about shit I cared about? This was so fucking REAL. I immersed myself in Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, Hole, Heavens to Betsy and every other riot grrrl record I could get my hands on. I discovered zines and the concept of riot grrrl chapters, and, well, that was it.
My first band Tar Baby (named after a lyric from a Breeders song) got together in 2000.
None of us could play our instruments, but we learnt as we played, writing songs about fucked up beauty standards, and battling misogynistic rehearsal studio bros along the way.
Later that year, I started a riot grrrl chapter in London with my bassist Clair and suddenly we were surrounded by like-minded people. It was an explosion of creativity: everyone was in a band or writing a zine, and zines led to pen pals, which led to more zines and a whole UK network of amazingness. There was something so vital about holding a zine in your hand, written by someone your own age, and being able to read about stuff you could actually relate to – sex, feminism, body image, relationships, mental health, just how it felt to be a fucking teenager in this bullshit world. I started my own zine – Antisocial Scarlet – in 2001, and I still have all the zines from that time: Sister Disco, Twinkle Eye Fizzy, The Hand That Cradles The Rock, Dead End Doll, She’s Not Even Pretty, Spilt Milkshake, Firefly, Pussy Star, as well as my chapter’s collective zines and so many more. Ink from teenage hearts/minds/souls, spilt onto paper, photocopied and preserved forever.
My chapter, Riot Girl London, wasn’t really an activist group – as the Guardian wrote about us at the time: “they are not plotting to picket Spearmint Rhino” (as if we would have wanted to?). More importantly, what we did was meet regularly and created a space to, well, just be. To go from being bullied at college for being a feminist, to being surrounded by political, fierce, creative peers was invaluable. We had picnics, went to the pub and got together to see bands like Le Tigre and Sleater Kinney play. I think we may also have managed to put on a gig (which I can’t take any credit for!), which seemed almost insurmountably hard at the time – thank god some things are easier these days.
The bands I remember most from that time are Hooker, Valerie, Bugeye (guitarist Angela came to chapter meetings) and Linus (whose guitarist Andy Roberts was also a member of RGL, but sadly passed away in 2005). I’m not sure if I ever saw any of these bands play live – surely I must have?? (anxiety and vodka do weird things to one’s memory). But I do vividly remember giving a member of the band Angelica one of Riot Girl London’s flyers and her being most unimpressed… ouch. Some of the RGL bands were The Cherry Bombers and Witches of Oz, who Tar Baby played our first ever gig with (along with The Lollies and The Blue Minkies) in April 2001. This gig introduced me to the fact that being in a band is mostly about extreme nerves, waiting around for hours and drinking tequila, but seeing Witches of Oz play made me forget about all of that; they were fierce and intense and seeing their drummer Vicki beat the shit out of the drums was utterly inspiring. Women can’t drum? Yeah right, fuckers.
Like so many bands, Tar Baby didn’t last – we split up right before we were meant to play Ladyfest Glasgow along with The Gossip (which I am obviously not bitter about at all, 16 years later), but it did lead to more bands and more connections…
I ended up in an early incarnation of Candy Panic Attack, which led to the short-lived Emily’s Values, whose singer was of course the amazing Tegan – now in possibly the best band ever, The Ethical Debating Society. Aaron from my riot grrrl chapter ended up in a band with Vicki, whose bands (both together and apart) include Left Leg, Actual Crimes, Ghum, Ex People and Jane Doe Ensemble.
After a 7 year gap of not playing music, I joined My Therapist Says Hot Damn, which broke me out of terrified monotony and into a world of screaming, crying, guitar smashing, amps-on-fire chaos and joy….which finally led me to Little Fists. And in another twist of fate and serendipity, a few years ago I ended up on a night out with Holly Casio – the writer of much-loved early 2000s zine Angel Food – who now plays in the awesome Buffycore band The Potentials. It feels so heartening that 17 years later I am still surrounded by the people who created this second wave riot grrrl culture in the UK, and to know that even though the world is still fucked, we’re part of this huge community of musicians, writers and activists, trying to create a small space where things don’t feel so bad.