Category Archives: Blogs

God save the Queen: Queen Latifah and the making of a hip-hop Renaissance woman

by Molly Tie

If democracy falls and the whole world is run by a pan-national monarchy made up of musicians with regal titles, who will rule us?  I guess the contenders are King Crimson; Prince; Duke Ellington and Queens of the Stone Age. But I hope that our supreme leader will be the indomitable Queen Latifah because her career has shown she is an irrepressible badass.

Latifah has turned her hand to all sorts of things – rap music, acting, song-writing and producing – and she has been pretty successful at all these things. Understanding Latifah’s rise to fame through a notoriously macho rap music scene makes her success even more impressive and her early credibility means we can sort of forgive her for being in a film called Taxi with Jimmy Fallon. Sort of.

Queen Latifah was born Dana Elaine Owens in New Jersey in 1970. She had a fairly standard middle-class upbringing- attending Catholic school and playing in her high school basketball team due to her height.

From the age of 18, she started beat boxing for a hip-hop outfit called Ladies Fresh. She was signed to Tommy Boy Music in 1989 and released her first single Wrath of My Madness. The song showcases themes that would be present in many of her later recordings- traditional hip-hop flexing and showboating mixed with her strong female proclamations. This would recur throughout her musical career- waving the flag for female musicians and demonstrating that women can rap with the best of them.

Her first album All Hail the Queen was released the same year as her first single and the songs were very much a chronicle of the black woman’s experience from relationships; harassment in the streets and working-class struggles. Songs like Ladies First became feminist anthems with lyrics like this:

Who said the ladies couldn’t make it, you must be blind
If you don’t believe, well here, listen to this rhyme
Ladies first, there’s no time to rehearse
I’m divine and my mind expands throughout the universe
A female rapper with the message to send the
Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen.

Latifah collaborated with a who’s who of late 80s hip hop- KRS-One, De La Soul and Monie Love and her debut album was considered a commercial success.

Latifah continued to release rap and hip-hop tracks throughout the 90s but by the early 2000s, she turned her attention towards more traditional singing. As she was a big jazz fan, she began to perform more soul and jazz music and released an album of such tracks in 2004 with The Dana Owens Album. Her 2007 album Trav’lin’ Light was nominated for a 2007 Grammy. It is a testament to her standing in the music industry that moving between different genres never lost her any of her core fans or professional credibility.

Queen Latifah is probably best known now for her acting roles. She has appeared in numerous comedy films and TV programmes, most notably Hairspray (2007); 22 Jump Street (2014) and Girls Trip (2017). She can also be seen popping up in TV shows such as 30 Rock and her own Queen Latifah Show which ran for 2 seasons.

A list of Latifah’s award nominations from the early 1990s onwards could fill a small novel and she has been recognised for her talent and integrity in most areas of the arts.

She has had her fair share of controversy although never to the same extent as some of her hip hop contemporaries such as Lil Kim or Foxy Brown. In 1996 Latifah was arrested for possession of marijuana and a handgun and then in 2002 was arrested for driving under the influence. Other than that, she has managed to keep her personal life relatively low profile and as such is known for her creative output rather than any personal turmoil.

Whether or not you’re a royalist, I think this is one Queen we can all get behind.

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“WHAT DID RIOT GRRRL EVER DO FOR US?” PART 2

by Ngaire Ruth Published on The Friendly Critic on 24 May 2019

TICK TOCK, NEARLY BIKINI KILL BACK IN THE UK MOMENT… THE TFC LECTURE CONTINUES. DID YOU KNOW RIOT GRRRL IS THE ONLY MUSIC AND POLITICAL-SOCIAL MOVEMENT TO COME OUT OF ZINE CULTURE? THE STORY OF HOW FEMINISM REACHED THE FINAL BASTION, ROCK MUSIC, AND NORMALISED GIRLS IN BANDS. 

YOU NEED TO KNOW

In the early spring of 1993, Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Billy Karren, and Kathi Wilcox – Bikini Kill – arrive in the UK and hang out with Niki Elliot, Jo Johnson, Karen Hill, Chris Rowley, and Jon Slade – Huggy Bear – and everything changes.

From now on, women in bands do not fuck my head up with their feminist statements that are completely missed by their boy and some of their girl fans (L7, Lunachicks and Babes in Toyland). Boys who wanna be Kurt Cobain wear tee shirts saying: “this is what a feminist looks like”. 

Did you know?

Kat Bjeland (Babes in Toyland), and Courtney Love (Hole) were introduced to music journalists in conversations that started by first establishing their relationships with cool feminist men – Stuart Gray, frontman for experimental noiseniks Lubricated Goat, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain – then telling us the name of their bands. It’s all so subtle, and really nice people do it: these women are cool and interesting because their men are cool and interesting. I have no plans for a musician boyfriend.

Bikini Kill, on the other hand, speak for themselves, and it’s clear they’ve got a feminist agenda which includes encouraging a relationship between bands and fans, fans and fans, for celebration, information and the organising of solutions, starting with: Girls to the Front, not just a safe space for girls and performers, but a place to bombard girls with information that they need to know. 

TAKE OVER THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION IN ORDER TO CREATE OUR OWN MEANINGS

Girls to the Front is all about the girls at the front, but the community, the ‘experiment’ proved brilliantly free for the performers; it’s aces not having to worry where that photographer is going to point his lens next – as if we didn’t know. Also see Kat Bjelland, Babes in Toyland. Everything changes – even my opinion.

It connected to current feminist film theory of the era, meaning that the performers and musicians on stage were less likely to be subjects of the male gaze, becoming the bearer of meaning, rather than the maker of meaning

Laura Mulvey, 1974

Feminist theatre theory went as far as describing it as a spectacle of hysteria for the clinical gaze of men, referring back to Freud’s study of hysteria. According to Sara Marcus’, (2010), Girls to the Front, Huggy Bear’s Nikki, purposefully would not keep still long enough to stay in the frame, when being filmed for music TV programme The Word, a disaster by all accounts, and HG’s last tango with the mainstream media. That’s applying theory to practise! So cool. 

On another level, applying a women-only space altogether avoided too many mixed meanings or deflection of meanings. 

Feminist theatre theory was already debating the validity of any outcome, if the understanding relied on individual audience members, who bring their own cultural assumptions (that they think are natural), and will include men. A lot of feminist theatres were already opting for women-only audiences.

“Within a patriarchal culture, this exclusion may provide the only way certain elements of women’s experiences can be signified within the collective consciousness of the audience.”

Sue-Ellen Case (1988) Feminism and Theatre. 

The artistic, socio-political and musical conventions and events run under the banner LaDIYfest emerged from riot grrrl and is still a force today all over the world, a place for women to express, ask, share, laugh, mosh together in a women-only space. In the UK, BristolSheffield and Leeds are very active. 

START A GIRLS’ BAND OR BE A GIRL IN A BAND 

Cuz it’s fun, it’s a good way to act out behaviours that are wrongly deemed ‘inappropriate’, this is a refutation of censorship and body fascism, this can deny taboos that keep us enslaved i.e. don’t talk about sex or rape or be sensitive or corny, to serve as a role model for other girls, to show boys others ways of doing things and that we have stuff to say; to discuss in both literal and artistic ways those issues that are really important to girls, naming these issues, specifically, validates their importance and other girls’ interest in them, reminds other girls that they aren’t alone; to make fun of thus disrupt the powers that be; it doesn’t have to be this intense dramatic self-righteous thing to affect change. It can be fun to talk about scary issues.

Kathleen Hanna (1991), Bikini Kill fanzine, A Colour and Activity Book, sourced Women Make Noise (2012)

EVERYTHING CHANGES

UK’s Pussycat Trash, who formed in 1992 soon became significant players in the girl style revolution, as well as Sister George

NO GENDER AGENDA

There was no gender agenda in riot grrrl. Multiplicity, in opposition to everything presented as binery, was the idea: don’t label people by their choice of sexuality, colour or class, well-meaning but naive (and giving critics fuel for the fire with regard to building a sometimes valid argument that riot grrrl was slipping into forms of white feminism. See Part 3, No hierarchy, no rules, everyone’s learning.) There was already a healthy lesbian punk scene, a community of experienced activists who knew the value of friendship, and their integration into the riot grrrl scene was very influential. 

Jennifer (another RG who’s still an active musician in the current London underground music scene), and sister, Tammi Denitto, and Andy, of Linus, were great flag flyers of a girl-boy revolution, like Huggy Bear

“Linus the band has been a massive influence in many people’s lives yet they’re probably the most lo-fi, in terms of attitude, out of all the riot grrrl bands. Initially, it was the music that was the attraction, the first time I heard them being on the Linus 7” vinyl EP (Bone Records, 1993). But when I followed that up by seeing them live what I got was more than a great gig:

There are more girls than boys; girls running the show; girls at the door; girls doing the PR thing; girls on stage; girls giving fanzines. And they weren’t scary like the others – by which I mean I wasn’t intimated because they were ready and I was getting ready, which I often felt. Linus didn’t make me feel like that. I think they were the great levellers of that period.” 

Ngaire Ruth (2015) GIVE ME 3, Charley Stone, Jennifer Denitto and Tegan Christmas.

Other bands included Heavenly, (Sarah Records) fronted by Amelia, Blood Sausage (two of Huggy Bear) and numerous friends of RG, like Razorblade Smile, Sleeper, Cornershop

heavenlymonarch

I want to find my own girl band! 

TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME, FRANTIC SPIDERS

The cassette box, which arrives in an unsuspecting envelope in my pigeon hole at the Maker, is magical and sweet, decorated in florescent bold colours, words and symbols – open the box, sparkles fall out  – has nothing dark, and fearful about it. The band name, on the other hand, is in yer face and real, a thing girls don’t talk about: Toxic Shock Syndrome. Love them before I’ve heard a thing. 

They’re perfectly untarnished and genuinely interested in all contemporary music, locals at the resident music bar, The Cavern, no famous boyfriends, or well-placed friends in music journalism. They want input much more than they want fame; I relate.

One night I join Toxic Shock Syndrome on stage, at the Bull & Gate, London, wearing the second-hand wedding dress vocalist and guitarist Ronnie has acquired for me, with instructions to kill the plastic baby doll on ‘the eye’. This was tremendously exciting, having friends, and I wasn’t really looking and cut my hand. I’m proud to say that Ronnie reports the dress still has my blood on it. It marks an important night, it’s like I made some kind of girls in rock who are radical feminists pact with these women. 

I take Charley to her first riot grrrl event, Huggy Bear, and encourage her to make contact with riot grrl band Linus, it’s a brave new world. She goes back to Exeter and pastes riot grrrl flyers and her own power statements all over the place, and reads the fanzines she’s collected. 

Ngaire Ruth with Toxic Shock Syndrome 1993 Bull & Gate by Mick Mercer
Toxic Shock Syndrome with Ngaire Ruth 1993 by Mick Mercer

Frantic Spiders are four ordinary girls, including two of TSS.  This is a celebration of girls voices, loud guitars, and new friends. Riot grrrl is in the UK! I think guitarist Charley Stone will move to London and forever be part of the music scene, changing lives, putting it out there, an accomplished and adored lead guitarist. This happens. I write about Frantic Spiders for the Maker. I love that they talk about their instruments. Guitarist Charley Stone has two guitars and names them Charlotte and Emily. This is fresh and thrilling for me, and hard to imagine if you’re a girl guitar ACM student carrying your baby around with you all day and assuming every woman guitarist has been like that for all time. There were no contemporary music schools for girls yet – the riot grrrl rock schools were the first. 

Frantic Spiders release one of the best singles of that era ‘You’re Dead’. 

“Riot grrrl actually changed a lot of lives, it was a key galvanising moment which got loads more women playing the guitar, changed the way we thought about ourselves and made a new space for women to not just be the “queen bee”, the token woman-in-rock, the Suzi Quatro in a man’s world. The effects were far wider reaching than any reading of chart/music press success would indicate.”

Charley Stone (2019)

EVERYTHING CHANGES

Artist, dancer and filmmaker Lucy Thane filmed the whole Bikini Kill UK tour and produced a documentary, which includes conversations with fans and contributions from Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Sister George and the Raincoats

Are you in a band?” they ask Layla Gibbon (15), Flossy White and Esme Young (14).

“Yes!” they reply with enthusiasm, lying out of teenage embarrassment.

Then they went home and they were a band, calling themselves Skinned Teen. Everybody wished they were a Skinned Teen, the first band in the UK to only exist in the world thanks to Riot Grrrl.

Listen to ‘Secrets’, off the vinyl double single ‘Some Hearts Paid to Lie, Automation and Communication’ featuring UK riot grrrl bands Linus, Pussycat Trash, Comet Gain and Skinned Teen (Wiiija, 1993) 

FACT FANS: Comet Gain included Huggy Bear Jon Slade.   

“A huge part of it was communication. Pre-internet, zines, pen-pals, flyers, all connecting girls with each other as never before. Never before did such targeted, individual to individual, personal, emotional, political communication proliferate, city to city, village to town, country to country. It was awesome to see. It was wonderful. It was an awakening that never went away, and now we have Decolonise Fest and Bent Fest and First Timers and Loud Women and all the outlaws are hooking up and it is marvellous for an old lady to see, having seen it from 1993 with my own daughter’s awakening and band. Girls respecting and supporting each other instead of competing, bullying or disparaging. love riot grrrls and Riot Grrrl. It never went away.”

Pearl Pelfrey, a Skinned Teen mum (May 2019)

START AN ANGRY GRRRL ZINE

You’re about to enter a whole new world; an absolute treasure trove of information, ideas, symbolic images and sketches, a fandom that is not adoration, but engaged and articulate in its representation.

Fanzines are synonymous with music, but they’re also a whole subculture by themselves, and zine writers, the true archivists of contemporary culture. Originally the realm of science fiction fans, who started to fall in love with rock n roll, they’re fun, imaginative, and full of information beyond the mainstream sources about your politics, rights, interests, favourite band, scene or genre. 

The infamous Oz magazine – taken to court for obscenity charges (in the magazine) – and Rolling Stone magazine, with Hunter S Thompson as its political editor, talking anti-Vietnam with John Lennon, both started out as the underground press, DIY projects with an agenda that sought to challenge the structure of things. Boys Own fanzine, launched in 1986, about clubbing, football, tales of cocks shaped like a carrot, and clothes, did not a revolution make – influencing the consumer magazines for men, such as Loaded, which boomed in the 90s, pre-digital. 

The psychedelic fanzines may seem more flippant and indulgent compared to the famously political and poetic hardcore punk fanzines, such as Sniffin’ Glue, but there’s no doubt that zines like Gong’s championed a new way of life outside the system just the same. Gilli Smyth and Daevid Allen, of Gong fame, met during the Paris 1968 riots and had to flee the city (Huggy Bear’s beloved Situationism). 

“She met Allen in Paris where she was teaching at the Sorbonne. The pair, united by political motivations, performed a guerilla gig during the 1968 student riots, which led to them having to flee the city. Together, they set up the Gong community: a collective of musicians, artists, poets and writers.”

Ngaire Ruth, (2016) Gilli Smith remembered, an obituary dedicated to an underrated lyrical luminary, The Girls Are 

In my opinion, the difference with Riot Grrrl and its relationship with fanzines is this: the bands and many of those involved front of house and behind the curtain, were running and writing for zines before they were in bands. Music was a medium for the message, and the mediation process (where it can all go wrong due to other skilled contributors, and collaborators, with different viewpoints and assumed cultural attitudes), maintained a clear feminist agenda, from inception to outcome. Hurray!

This doesn’t happen in mainstream media: photographers, subs, editors, production teams all contribute to the final piece of writing on the page and can change the meaning, demean a point of view or the subject of the writing. Consequently, riot grrrl is not a fan of the British music press or the broadsheets on either side of the Atlantic.

In the early 90s, bands started to use fanzines as a promotional tool, a way of making people feel they belonged to a club with shared values and lifestyle, and the privilege of direct access to the latest news about their favourite artists. This resulted in watered-down fanzines, with little comment, original art, or effort in the writing. 

The post-punk DIY underground press and the music scene had dissipated as all the indie bands sought to sign to majors  – bringing us to the generic insipid form of indie recognised by the mainstream today. Melody Maker and NME were no longer gatekeepers of contemporary music culture, but music scouts for the majors.

LANGUAGE IS MAN-MADE, SO MAKE A NEW ONE

zinedream4-420
Bikini Kill zine, thanks to University of Iowa, https://now.uiowa.edu/2012/03/riot-grrrl-finding-voice

Bikini Kill came out of Jigsaw, and Bikini Kill, the zines, Bratmobile came out of the fanzine Girl Germs. Many of the women who helped shape riot grrrl were writers before they were musicians in cool grrrl bands. Layla Gibbon of Skinned Teen, the first original riot grrrl band in the UK and inspired by the experience of Bikini Kill in the UK live in 1993, at 15, went on to write for MaximumRockNRoll where she recruited many more women writers into the citadel of macho hardcore music. 

Tobi Vail has been writing zines for over 20 years, starting out in 1988/89 with Jigsaw. The legacy retells how she would use the expression angry grrrl zines. Like many of the riot grrrls, Tobi has taken some pains to archive her material and comment in a blog – this link goes right back through the decades and up to 2013, at the time accessed [May 2019].

girl germs
bikini kill zine
jigsaw

According to legend, riot grrrls “deliberately used grrrl instead of girl to remove the passive association with the word girl, as well as to display the anger behind the movement, reminiscent of a growl”. Rosenburg, (1998), RiotGrrrl-Revolutions-From-Within.

Jen Smith, musician, artist and zine writer, is credited with being the inspiration behind the term riot grrrl.

While living in Washington DC she wrote to Girl Germs about the riots happening in her city, predicting a girl riot for the upcoming summer. Bratmobile moved to Washington DC and Jen joined the band, proposing they do a zine called Girl Riot.  Molly Neumann began the zine, with contributions by Jen, Allison, and members of Bikini Kill, who had also relocated to Washington D.C. (Jen Smith, ZineWiki)  

Angry grrrl fanzines excelled. Every slogan, article, sound byte and image in these zines reflected a fresh and relatable political agenda; for RG, a feminist viewpoint, great zine names, and a sense that feminism is fun. Examples are Riot Grrrl, Jen Smith’s Red Rover, Nerd Girl, Impossible Schizoid Girl, GERLL Press. Trouble Girls, Red Stocking

Subjects included poetry and short stories, grrrl manifestos, news of girl band gigs, workshops, new RG chapters or other fanzines, alongside slogans, images and articles about body image and consciousness, women’s health,  rock music and punk music, violence against women, sexual identity, homosexuality, and bisexuality.

Sara Marcus, in Girls to the Front (2010), includes a list of fanzines related to riot grrrl in the 90s but there are countless other fanzines out there, written by girls (and boys) that just did it, for a month, a year or so, stored in shoeboxes, or dusty folders, in picture frames, and record shop walls, all over America, UK, Europe, Canada and Australia. Anyone could/can be a riot girl or boy.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Write about what you love, what’s important to you and lace everything with a distinct personal point of view that your future tribe can identify with. It’s all about sharing the love, communicating and celebrating action/reaction through words, art, music.

It’s something you can do on your own without any money, all you have to do is write it, photocopy it, staple it together, and give it out for free, or sell it super cheaply, at the next gig you’re at. They work better in the company of friends who can also write, draw, sketch, organise and administrate.

Serious fanzines had PO boxes or even home addresses for people to send a self-addressed stamped envelope inside another, with a cheque for everything from one Pound to three. It worked – less instant than new media and there was something in the waiting, the one copy, the commitment it takes to organise SAE’s. 

what is a zine? rg archive RED STOCKING
Enter a caption

EVERYTHING CHANGES – NEW WRITING

  • SUPPORT EACH OTHER, COLLABORATE, AND COMMUNICATE, DON’T COMPETE, USE THE POWER OF FEMALE FRIENDSHIP, AND “MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD TOGETHER”. 

Girl love in the UK went the same way as it did in the States, triggering a sudden influx of women singer-songwriters, musicians, artists and designers, new writing in fanzines and magazines, books, documentaries, academic theory and writing, managers, independent press agents, sound engineers, and producers. 

Where there had once been a dearth of women represented in a usual band environment – live shows, rehearsals, studio time –  and therefore open to more everyday sexism from the fans, colleagues, promoters, and other bands, now there was majority women, on the stage, behind the scenes and in the audience.

Here’s a flyer from a Leicester chapter

Leicester riot grrrl zine 90s

The girls and boys who joined the Leeds, UK Riot Grrrl chapter, founded by Karen Ablaze, creator of the fanzine Ablaze!  put on shows, “made more fanzines, and formed bands”. (Cherie Turner, 2001) Karren went on to form Coping Saw and Whack Cat

“This is how I felt girl love turn into girl action,” explained Karen Ablaze to Cherie Turner (2001) The Riot Grrrl Movement, The Feminism of a New Generation

Ablaze-issue-10-Huggy-Bear
karrens book

Karren now owns her own publishing company and reviews of her book, The City is Ablaze! The story of a post-punk pop-zine, a collection of ten issues of Ablaze! crammed together in a big book you can keep proudly on a shelf, got rave reviews with titles like Karren Ablaze made the best pop-zine ever! 

There had always been a boys club in the underground, at last girls united in common goals. We could make a commitment to a long-term, alternative lifestyle, outside the system, because riot grrrl created the options of a global, national, and local community to which we belonged.  Whoop!

THIS IS HAPPENING WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION (IN THE UK)

No one waited to be told/asked. I’ve heard stories of girls going into major newsagents and slipping riot grrrl feminist manifestoes and flyers between the pages of the girly mainstream magazines. New chapters hosted their own riot grrrl events in their local towns and cities. Bands and billings began to support new charities (to rock’n’roll), such as women who’ve suffered domestic abuse, campaigns to fight the anti-abortionists, the bully promoter, the indifferent sound engineer. 

Jennifer and sister Tammi from Linus set up a post box for girls who wanted to launch their own zine. Their own fanzine was called  It’s Unofficial. Jen’s philosophy was if you wanted to be a riot grrrl you were one. 

“You didn’t need to sign up to anything. You just got out of bed and you said, ‘I am.’ I had the idea that if you told two friends, your two friends told two friends, you could really change the world.”

Jennifer Denitto, interview with Sara Marcus, (2010) Girls to the Front.

DIY TRADITION (MAKE A NEW SYSTEM)

  • CREATE NON-HIERARCHICAL WAYS OF BEING AND MAKING MUSIC FRIENDS: COMMUNICATION + UNDERSTANDING INSTEAD OF COMPETITION + GOOD/BAD CATEGORISATIONS

Riot Grrrl feminism is anti-capitalist, does not judge women by how much power they’ve achieved in the system, or by financial success. Huggy Bear was also concerned that the whole ethic of punk was getting lost, as indie bands raced to become mainstream indie pop stars and get a major deal, and a house in the country.

“If we don’t challenge the unhealthy forms of competitiveness that capitalism breeds, or the way it teaches us to objectify ourselves to each other, then we’re just selling ourselves out … We need to at least create new structures and new ways of dealing with things.”  Kathleen Hanna (1998), interview extract, Punk Planet magazine, sourced Cherie Turner, The Riot Girl Movement.

PUNK LEGACY A

The boys found riot grrrl’s feminism easy to relate to because it adopted everything good about punk, loud, rebellious, and most of all, the do it yourself ethic, a place to belong outside the system in a community using anger as an energy.  

Ian McKay, (Fugazi, Minor Threat), produced the first Bikini Kill EP, Revolution Girl Style Now! (1991, demo format, re-issued by Bikini Kill records, with unreleased material, 2015). Nation of Ulysses were massive supporters of the girl bands, as were Nirvana and Mudhoney.

Even though both riot grrrl and punk had the drive to make new structures at its root, the traditional typology of a rock and roll band – in it together, a gang, shared viewpoints and lifestyle choices – still fit in with riot grrrl philosophy as it did with the punk movement. Except people didn’t always have shared backgrounds. This made some elements of riot grrrl utopia difficult on a day to day basis, as it did in the days of punk.  

PUNK LEGACY B

Punk had shown mainstream a new kind of representation of women singer-songwriters, and musicians, as individual performers with anger, outrage, and an alternative style and fashion.

Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, showed us how to delight in the fury. Frontwomen such as Pauline Murray, of Penetration, Debbie Harry, of Blondie and Siouxie Sioux, of Siouxie and the Banshees, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, were all super sexy women in full control (this is not aspirational for a teen girl, in general). They were one woman in a band of men, and that’s how they seemed to like it. Even my own icons did not escape this comparison, Patti Smith, and my alter-ego heroine Gilly Smyth (from Gong) referred to as the Mother of the men. Moe, drummer of Velvet Underground, and older than the pack, was a welcome exception.

The confident girls were inspired to pick up instruments and formed punk bands and girl guitar bands though – such as the still current, Raincoats, out about a feminist agenda from the start, and author and philosopher Lucy O’Brien’s band The Catholic Girls. Lucy went on to join the NME team. My copy of Lucy’s She Bop, The definitive history of women in rock, pop and soul (1995), is much loved and used, currently has 11 bright green post-it notes marking pages full of need to know things. (FACT FANS: more recently, Lucy hosted two in-conversation shows with Celeste Bell, Poly Styrene’s daughter, The Poly Styrene Story.) There was all girl gang supporting The Clash called The Slits, who really showed us something entirely new. Both these punk bands were for dancing, The Slits using a dub backbone to their punk, and signed to Chris Blackwell’s Jamaican Island label, at the time one of the largest independent labels, and starting to make a move on the UK music scene. The band Mudhoney used the idea from The Slits debut album image Cut (Island 1979), ten years later for the single, You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face) b/w Burn It Clean (SubPop 1989).

Even nearer to the riot grrrl era, and influential, were the women bassists because that was one of the few ways in, Tiny Weymouth, Talking Heads, Kim Gordan of Sonic Youth, Josephine Wiggs of That Perfect Disaster (later of Breeders fame), Gina Birch (Raincoats).

An alternative rock band, Ut, compared to The Fall by John Peel, were my first review in the mainstream music press the Melody Maker, November 1989. I realised my perception of the women-powered band was completely different to the boy journalists when I read the album review of the band by a colleague. That night I wrote my own manifesto, just in time for the arrival of the US girl bands, Lunachicks, L7 and Babes in Toyland and the boy grunge bands, Tad, Mudhoney, Nirvana.

THE EARLY GIRL BANDS FROM THE STATES – LUNACHICKS & BABES IN TOYLAND 

Kat Bjelland, drummer Lori Barbero and bassist Michelle Leon, (replaced by Maureen Herman in 1992), Babes in Toyland, were filling out the Brixton Academy in 1990, played Reading 1991. Through the album cover, Fontanelle (Reprise, 1992) and the EP Painless (Reprise, 1993) I learnt about artist Cindy Sherman because the artwork pays homage.

Babes in Toyland rebellion comes in the form of delightful confusion: an accomplished hardcore sound from a pre-riot grrrl band who are majority women, women powered too, an unrelenting force as musicians, performing live in the kind of pretty flowery dresses made for skipping through sun-kissed cornfields. Vocalist and guitarist, Kat with her Snow White hair and bright red lipstick is a force. This is new and preparation for what’s to come. It ties in with the current academic trend to deconstruct fairy tales, as a patriarchal conspiracy, e.g. they don’t want us to go off the path – what happens is Kat Bjelland. Some tales of the riot grrrl legacy claim that Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna admired and was influenced by Babes in Toyland. Kat joined Crunt in 1993, with husband, Stuart Gray, another crazy and wonderful Jon Spencer (Blues Explosion) project. 

EVERYTHING CHANGES – EVEN MY OPINION 

Ngaire_MM_1993.10.02_live-review_Babes-In-Toyland_A4 (1).jpg
lunachicks babysitters on acid lp cover

Gina Volpe, Theo Kogan, Sydney Silver and Sindi Benezra, New York’s Lunachicks, are also the bomb, musically and as performers, tongue in cheek rather than angry. With regard to the modelling of cool girls rocking out, and the success of debut album Babysitters On Acid (1990, Blast), Lunachicks changed lives for many women who love loud guitars. Blast records were the baby of Mute records, which came out of punk and ended up being acquired by E.M.I. records (2002), then returned to an independent label again (2010), with EMI keeping the archive catalogue. Ouch.

FACT FANS 

Apparently, Kat Bjelland and Courtney Love are mates. Or not mates. Which means there’s some element of truth to a real relationship.

There are references to Babes in Toyland’s ‘Bruise Violet’ being about Courtney. And Courtney’s ‘Violet’ being about Kat. At least we know that the entire conversation didn’t revolve around their cool boyfriends. (A current film feminist theory is the Bechdel Technique: are there two women on the screen taking up space, and not talking about men?)

Nina Simone and Anita O’Day, a lesser known jazz singer and drug addict, used to score together; friends in a crazy world of shit consequences for both that was none of their doing. The all-girl band Lunachicks were first introduced to Mute by Kim Gordan’s Sonic Youth, (also with Blast). Crissi Hynde met Joan Jett when one was beginning their career, and the other thought her life in music was over because she had given up on herself. Girl love changes everything.

IT WOULD BE NICE TO KNOW

THE EARLY GIRLS IN BANDS IN THE UK 

I have feminist friends! Awesome vocalist Lesley, re Silverfish, an art student dancing hard in her DM’s, and ramshackle Th’ Faith Healers, fronted by Roxanne, a hippy girl in a punk band with razor-blade guitars, an excellent combo. Now at least when a girl’s in a band of men, the men can be feminists too.

silverfishsausagefactory3

I go on tour with Silverfish in a silver bus. We are slowly being poisoned by fumes getting back into the bus, but we look cool going all the way to Scotland from north London. We roll down green hills together and eat good home cooking at Lesley’s mum’s Scottish B & B.

The Faith Healer’s Roxanne makes me a badge with her own craft set with the words GIRL POWER on it. Life on the underground live circuit is good. (FACT FANS: Silverfish member Fuzz is the resident sound engineer at a well known Camden venue these days.)

We talk about P. J. Harvey and the women bands in the States.

MM_1992.08.08_Steve-Gullick-pic_Juliana-Hatfield
Juliana Hatfield by Steve Gullick for Melody Maker, 1993. Ngaire Ruth’s own archives.

Julianna Hatfield has also come out saying she’s not a feminist, an American artist on a cool label (Mammoth). I share my copy of the Melody Maker, August 8th, specifically the Julianna Hatfield album review of Hey Babe, and the photo comment, which is bigger than the capped artist name, the brilliant photographer or, the writer’s name, David Bennum. SCHWWWING! There is no big band musical influence or bell features in the album. I wonder why she thinks she doesn’t need feminism?

NEW INDIE LABELS

wiija


A lot of the current UK bands are with the new independent labels, Wiiija and Too Pure, the latter is also the promoter of the Sausage Machine @ The White Horse, Hampstead, referenced in Part 1. Wiiija’s riot grrrl bands are handled by Olympia’s Kill Rock Stars label, and viz-a-viz.

lida words

A band called Tsunami and an American label, Simple Machines, founded by singer and guitarist Jenny Toomey and run with bandmate Kristin Thomson, is a lovely thing to discover. I’m also a little bit in love with anything that comes out of the New York Shimmy Disc label, owned by musician Kramer. One of his artists, Lida Husik, stays at my north London flat during a short UK visit to vaguely promote her album, and leaves me the most fabulous thank you present: Angry Women, (1991) The inscription reads:

Next, Part 3

Media: Ngaire Ruth’s playlist

Text: What happened next

  • No hierarchy, no rules, everyone’s learning – white feminism 😦 
  • Girl rock schools!
  • It lives! – my POV 

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED VIEWING AND READING

Feature pic: Huggy Bear, thanks to http://grrrlswithguitars.com/huggy_bear_riot_grrrl/

Angry Women, (1991) Andrea Juno and V. Vale, ed, Re/Search publications

Case, Sue-Ellen, (1988), Feminism & Theatre, MacMillan: London

Kathleen Hanna (1991), Bikini Kill fanzine, A Colour and Activity BookWomen Make Noise(2012), Julia Downes ed, Riot Grrrl, Ladyfest and Rock Camps for Girls, p265.

Kathleen Hanna, Interview extract, Punk Planet magazine, sourced Cherie Turner, The Riot Girl Movement, The Rosen Publishing Group: New York, p13.

Lucy O’Brien, (1995), She Bop, The definitive history of women in rock, pop + soul, Penguin Group.

Sara Marcus,(2010) Girls to the Front, This is happening without your permission, Harper Perennial: New York, p260

J. Rosenberger & G. Garofano (1998) Riotgrrrl: Revolutions from Within, https://www.scribd.com/doc/36791709/Riotgrrl-Revolutions-From-Within[accessed May 2019]

Ngaire Ruth live review Heavenly, Nelories, Razorblade Smile, Pussycat Trash, Waccamole, Sarah Records archives http://sarahrecords.org.uk/heavenly-the-monarch-camden-town-ngaire-ruth-nme/ [accessed May 2019]

Ngaire Ruth, (2016) Gilli Smith remembered, an obituary dedicated to an underrated lyrical luminary, the girls arehttps://www.planetgong.co.uk/archives/mementos/gilli-smyth.shtml [accessed May 2019] 

Ngaire Ruth (2015) GIVE ME 3, Charley Stone, Jennifer Denitto and Tegan Christmashttp://ngaireruth.blogspot.com/2015/ [accessed May 2019]

Cherie Turner (2001) The Riot Grrrl Movement, The Feminism of a New Generation, Rosen Publishing: New York, p36

http://zinewiki.com/Jen_Smith [accessed May 2019] 

Sarah Wood Zine Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/riot-grrrl-2/ [accessed May 2019]

Bikini Kill released an EP Revolution Girl Style Now! (1991, Kill Rock Stars), and two albums Pussy Whipped (1993, Kill Rock Stars), which includes ‘Rebel’ , no 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of Most Excellent Songs of Every Year since 1967. Later, Reject All American (1996)

Sister Act! Sister Rosetta Tharpe

by Molly Tie

Look at any muso list of greatest musicians/albums/bands produced for the likes of Rolling Stone etc and you could be forgiven for thinking they are written by the same bloody person as they all contain the exact same entries. It makes you wonder why they continue to produce them at all. They are also depressingly lacking in women save for the odd nod to Stevie Nicks or Aretha Franklin. It’s always the same thing: Beatles/John Lennon? Check. Chuck Berry? Yep. Bob Dylan? Of course. And whilst I’m not so churlish to underestimate the impact that these acts have had on modern music, they did not operate within a vacuum and there are lots of other acts who have not got the credit that is owed to them. It doesn’t help that so many of these alternative artists keep getting whitewashed out of history by these unimaginative and unnecessary lists. Well, I’m here to rectify this! And I’m starting with I’m starting with the most ground breaking and important guitarist that no one in the mainstream knows and that’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe

I’ll be honest- I’m relatively new to the Tharpe party but now I’m here, I’ve happily passed out in the hallway and I’m never leaving. Tharpe was a forerunner of the rock n roll movement and her music influenced all those names we tend to see on all those exclusively male lists I hate so much- Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, James Brown, Johnny Cash. She mixed gospel, blues, folk and rock n roll and had the nickname the Queen of Soul.

She was born in 1915 in Arkansas to a musical but impoverished family of cotton pickers. Like many musicians of the day, she started out in church and was encouraged by her pastor mother to indulge her musical inclinations and was regarded by many as being a musical prodigy. She toured the American South from a very early age, gaining more live music chops by the age of 15 than many other musicians get in their whole lives.

What was her music like?

Her early music was gospel in tone, fitting with her beginnings in a Pentecostal church but her predilection for the electric guitar meant a drift into rock n roll was inevitable.  Tharpe maintained an element of gospel sensibilities and spiritual leanings in her performances and lyrics throughout her career which often meant that she was shunned by the conservative Southern churches, particularly as she would play in nightclubs and other venues considered to be places of ill repute. Tharpe also had it tough being taken seriously playing guitar in a male dominated music industry- she was often given the backhanded compliment that she ‘played like a man’, a particularly galling comment considering she played far better than most of her male contemporaries.

What was her influence?

As mentioned above, it was considerable. She blazed so many trails she would have been a National Trust nightmare- early rock n rollers; Deep South musicians; women; African-Americans……all owe a debt to Tharpe and her relentless experimentation and prolific output. Her pioneering use of distortion on her electric guitar has been cited as an influence on Clapton and Hendrix and her powerhouse vocals have influenced many female singers from Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner.

Finally, her contribution to music has been recognised as more and more artists have been outspoken in identifying her talent and she was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, 45 years after her death of a stroke in 1973.

“What Did Riot Grrrl Ever Do For Us?” Part 1

By Ngaire Ruth Published on The Friendly Critic, 18 May 2018

For Charlotte Horton, Lucy Jordan, KitKat, Maedb and all the women I know, and am yet to meet.

BEFORE THE DAYS OF FULL TIME CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SCHOOLS THERE WERE ONLY SUMMER ROCK CAMPS. FINALLY, IN THE PRE-DIGITAL 90S, ROCK SCHOOLS FOR GIRLS ARRIVED, THANKS TO RIOT GRRRL.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Riot Grrrl is the name for a pre-digital 90s feminist movement, which has been a major influence on alternative music, arts and academia across the world for boys and girls.

Riot Grrrl feminism was action/reaction in a world where feminist news or opinion was otherwise described as post feminist, assumed to be a movement which belonged to a whole different generation.

The term is, arguably, incorrectly used as a genre, associated with a style of punk and grunge.

In began in the 90s, Olympia, Washington, US, where there was an emerging scene of fresh independent bands, notably Nirvana and Bikini Kill, and labels K Records and Kill Rock Stars, later home to Beth Ditto’s Gossip and the fabulous Sleater-Kinney. It wasn’t long before the Olympia crowd melded with the DC scene, home of Dischord Records, where it continued to grow into a worldwide phenomena, including in the UK. Watch out for rare vinyl releases under the mixed moniker DisKord.

Riot Grrrl had at its heart, girl love: support each other in friendship, celebrate differences and organise, create, collaborate on creative projects, protests, ideas and events. Out of this came action groups and organisations that survive to this day, such as LaDIYevents (UK and the US), new writing, new music, a slow steady normalising of girls in rock and indie bands. (See part 2)

Riot Grrrl feminism was about creating whatever form of beauty was comfortable for you, and not having to declare your sexuality or gender (my perspective). The essential part was don’t wear make-up and girly clothes because you think that’s what makes you attractive to other girls and boys. Be a girl. Don’t be a girl, if you want to be a boy. Fall in love with a girl or a boy, today, tomorrow. The era was reflected in the mainstream (Blur‘s hit track ‘Girls/Boys’).

Riot Grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill launched the first Girls To Front (in the mosh pit/at the gig) campaign as an experiment on the UK tour with Huggy Bear.

It’s met with confusion, aggression, disdain, cynicism and outright rudeness by boys in the audience and in bands. Today, women’s safety at gigs is STILL A PROBLEM, as pointed out in the recent article in The Guardian, even though there are many organisations and bands out there championing women’s safety at concerts, for example the excellent music site and promoter, Get in Her EarsThe Loud Women collective and Safe Gigs for Women. (Post your links and recommendations of similar organisations and groups that support women’s safety at gigs in comments. Go!)

Bikini Kill is in the middle of their first tour in 23 years, London 10th & 11th June, Brixton Academy

Girl Power is not what the Spice Girls did.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

In 1992 Everett True wrote a controversial article in the Melody Maker, Why Women Can’t Rock (Reading festival issue). He didn’t blame the women, he blamed the traditions of rock n roll, and the music press. Nirvana, who had been sixth below headliner Iggy Pop on the Friday the year before, were now top of the bill on Sunday, soon to become one of the most legendary Reading performances of all time. Kurt wore dresses, and talked about women punk bands both as his contemporaries, and having been inspirational to his art (e.g. The Raincoats).

In the previous month, Jo Johnson, of UK underground Riot Grrrl band Huggy Bear, is photographed with RIOT GRRL written on her knuckles in the Melody Maker. I really engaged with the Riot Grrrl slogan: this is happening without your permission. Nice.

On the day of the festival, to add to the MM festival spread, I walk around the site with my walkman asking people about the women artists (on the billing), a low representation (no change there). “Can women rock?” I ask. It’s hopeless. Even the girls define the artists from the male viewpoint –

Shonen Knife are crap. They only get away with it because they’re playing up to being girly. It makes boys feel secure.”

Marsha Duvall

“I thought P J Harvey was a bloke, she’s so fucking ugly.”

Evan Bruce

Lunachicks don’t have to get their tits out on stage to grab our attention. they deserve their success.”

Joanne

Tears. We’re hardwired to take these things too seriously, that’s the nature of the job.

Heart already broken. In an interview with P J Harvey (Siren, 1992), pre her major signing that spring, and my new favourite artist, she’d said to me:

“I hate the word feminist. It can do so much more damage than good. All I want to do is write honestly, and I’m a woman, so I guess you can’t avoid it.”

P J Harvey, 1992

I write in my diary: 

I’ve seen Huggy Bear five times in a month. Where are they when we need them? Where’s the revolution? Is anyone else out there a fucking feminist? 
It’s too bloody weird growing up in the old-skool, male-dominated world of music, not least because women are described according to a typology, and I’m expected to like anything created by a woman because I’m one. So many women rock bands are just shitter versions of the men’s crap bands! I want a new sound and a new language that challenges my creative writing and critical thinking skills. I want to avoid generic muso words, like ‘seminal’ and ‘undulating’. I want more feminist men like Mudhoney and Nirvana! I want more songs like Kat Bjelland’s Bruise Violet and more bands like Babes in Toyland so that I can shout Liar Liar Liiiiiiiiiii errrrrrrrrrr again in a pack of women, at a big gig.

On the 14th March 1993 US band, Bikini Kill play at the ULU, London with Huggy Bear and Witchy Poo.

I loved Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna most of all, because she did not say excuse me.

She did not make me feel I needed to be clever or get educated to be able to join in, and she didn’t care if I bought the records or not (but the debut album Pussy Whipped sold an estimated 75 000 copies late 1993) . She wanted revolution, and somehow it sounded possible coming from her. I related to her hard hitting lyrics, more so than Babes in Toyland, and more than the UK Riot Grrrl bands already here who had stolen my heart: Huggy Bear and Linus. But there were more coming. More fanzines, organisations, events and changes to the structure of underground music culture. (See part 2)

OUR LANGUAGE, OUR PROBLEMS, OUR DECLARATION OF NOT TODAY, TOMORROW, OR EVER AGAIN

Out of all the early active US bands – Bratmobile, (Allison and Molly, originally the women behind the fanzine Girl Germs, and later Erin), Heavens To Betsy (Corin Tucker and Tracy Sawyer) Kathleen Hanna and her band Bikini Kill, are credited as pioneers of the revolution, for good reason.

They produced a Bikini Kill fanzine, and flyers and leaflets which they gave out to the girls at every show, in case the message was lost through the joy and noise. Tobi Vail, drummer, ran a fanzine called Jigsaw. (2010, Sara Marcus). As a singer songwriter and performer Kathleen was one of the first to Just Do It, and always was the most powerful communicator in interviews and panels, and on the stage; a primal scream that grew to fill the room as the audience joined in. What a fucking relief, pure shared joy, a mutual fury, a declaration and warning that we/I/her/him/they will not

KEEP QUIET
BE POLITE
LISTEN NICELY 
BE TOO EMBARRASSED TO CALL YOU OUT

All wrapped up in alternative rock swagger and sass.

CHALLENGE (AND TOTALLY IGNORE), THE TRADITIONAL STANDARDS OF BEAUTY IN MAINSTREAM CULTURE

The new thing about Riot Grrrl feminism was the freedom to be who you wanted. Just don’t wear make up and girly clothes because you think that’s what makes you attractive to other girls and boys.

Another declaration of Riot Grrrl and Bikini Kill, which tallied with academia of mainstream third wave feminism, and could be applied to both creative and commercial products and images, was the question: is the woman a maker of meaning or the bearer of meaning?

Riot Grrrl did not get away without the media and bands like the Spice Girls, “co opting their style and language”, (Cherie Turner, 2001). The term Grrrl Power was the title of an issue of a Bikini Kill fanzine.

After an extensive UK tour, the deal is sealed at a tiny venue, the Sausage Machine, my local in Hampstead, (where I first reviewed the unsigned P J Harvey), Bikini Kill with Blood Sausage and Linus as support (3rd April). See feature picture.

Everything changes.


References and recommended reading

Images from https://library.rockhall.com/riot_grrrl the Gayle Wald Riot Grrrl Collection and the Kill Rock Stars Collection file on Bikini Kill and https://bikinikill.com

Cherie Turner, (2001) The Riot Girl Movement, The Rosen Publishing Group: New York

Sara Marcus, (2010) Girls to the Front, The true story of the Riot Grrrl revolution, Harper Perennial: London New York Toronto

Sarah Marsh, (2019) The Guardian, Groping a big problem at gigs say promoters and campaigners https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/08/groping-sexual-harassment-a-big-problem-at-gigs-say-promoters-and-campaigners-sleaford-mods[accessed May 2019]

Check out The Guardian, The Art and Politics of Riot Grrrlhttps://www.theguardian.com/music/gallery/2013/jun/30/punk-music [accessed May 2019]

Next in part 2:

Girls to the front, girl love, the Bikini Kill documentary, more bands and more revolution now.

Our Fair Cher

by Mollie Tie

Who are the greatest female pop icons of history? Madonna? Sure. Beyoncé? Of course. Kylie Minogue? Obvs. They are all undoubtedly epic pop behemoths but for me they will always be outshone by the incredible life, work and sheer grit of Cher.

Reinvention is her speciality and every Ch-era (sorry) is more ground breaking than the one that came before it. From long-haired hippie chick to fishnet-clad sexpot- Cher has always been a symbol of self-expression and empowerment. And yet despite her incredibly enduring career, she’s never really enjoyed the respect that she deserves, particularly as the years have gone on. Whilst Madonna’s significance in music is not questioned by even the most curmudgeonly of critics, Cher is often designated as a guilty pleasure- a slightly naff novelty act.  But for me, that is not adequate recognition to such a pop culture Goddess.

Let’s remind ourselves of our favourite Cher manifestations:

Hippie chick

During the initial phase of her career, Cher (a.k.a Cherilyn Sarkisian) was part of a duo with moustachioed performer Sonny Bono and the two eventually became a couple as well as performing partnership. Cher’s look was 60s hippie mixed with ethereal boho chic and fans went wild for her barefoot, long-haired and smokey-eyed look. Sonny and Cher’s break out hit was the classic “I Got You Babe” which was the success that catapulted them into stardom and signalled a promising career for one of them at least.

Presenter and Comedian

Sonny and Cher experienced a couple of years enjoying their success but at the tail end of the 1960s, rock was where it was at and the success of bands such as Led Zeppelin and Cream made S&C look pretty tame in comparison. With the loss of support from younger fans, some performers might have decided to call it a day. Not our Cherilyn- she turned her attention to a new medium… television. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour was an old-school variety show which drew in 30 million viewers per episode at its peak. Cher was a fan favourite- delivering cool, deadpan jokes; wearing flamboyant and elaborate outfits and belting out a plethora of hits. Cher’s star stock was rising and her and Sonny divorced in 1974, just as her career went from strength to strength.

Actor

A charismatic performance in Mermaids alongside Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci. An intriguing, gothic performance in Witches of Eastwick. An emotionally charged, powerful performance in Mask. Cher decided that conquering TV and music was just not enough and instead set out to conquer film, as you do. Full-on Hollywood treasure looked set to become the next stellar stage of Cher’s already 30-year career but Cher had been there, done that by the time 1990 rolled around. She decided she had to don a leather jacket and a body stocking and straddle a cannon on a warship instead. And I for one am so glad she did because pop music would not have been the same without the video for If I Could Turn Back Time.

Modern tech guru

It’s 1998. You thought Cher may have gone into retirement. You switched on MTV and there she was with a headdress made of fluorescent tubing and an autotune, belting out 90s club classic Believe. You thought to yourself- can this woman ever be anything other than utterly badass?

And what Ch-era are we in now? The one where she is an ultimate doyenne- an incredible creative force who will live forever. It’s 2019 and she’s still in films (Mamma Mia 2) and releasing albums (Dancing Queen– an ABBA tribute record) and shows no sign of letting up. Someone wrap this woman in bubble wrap so she can live another 50 years.

Madrid: LOUD WOMEN scene report

Janelle Borg (of Maltese punk band Cryptic Street) reports on the women at the forefront of the Madrid’s thriving music scene, exclusively for LOUD WOMEN

Janelle Borg
Janelle Borg

From the first time I landed in Madrid, its music and its people captivated me so much that the city left a permanent imprint on me, and a constant yearning to hop on a plane and go there again. The area of Malasaña, with its colourful aesthetic, picturesque cafes and rowdy crowd at night, encapsulates the essence of the Madrid underground scene. With the meteoric rise to fame of bands like Hinds, I couldn’t help but wonder: who are the women driving Madrid’s scene and what is their story? To explore this, I approached three artists from this thriving scene, and this is their side of the story:

  • Elena Nieto – a young multi-instrumentalist who’s a member of the Madrid-based Yawners and Estrogenuinas
  • Hickeys – a glitter-punk band whose latest release is called ‘Diamond Munch’.
  • Mad Girls – a collective of badass women who run Mad Girls Magazine, in addition to promoting and hosting events in Madrid.

>>Can you introduce yourselves and your involvement in music?

Elena Nieto
Elena Nieto

Elena: I started playing the guitar when I was 10 or 11. Finally, after constantly pleading for it, my dad got me my first electric guitar when I was 14 or 15. I started playing and recording myself non-stop since I couldn’t find anyone to play with. I founded my first band when I was in my second year at university… playing drums in that band. I never stopped playing and experimenting with different instruments in several bands at the same time ever since. Now I’m focused on my main project, Yawners, while also playing the drums for the punk band Estrogenuinas. I also work at the record label and booking agency, La Castanya, so my life pretty much revolves around music!

Yawners: Seaweed
Hickeys

Hickeys: We are basically a group of friends who started playing music while drinking beer at Marta’s two years ago. We know each other from university; all of us had dreamed about the possibility of being in a band, but it wasn’t until the four of us started playing together that we saw that this dream could turn into a reality.

Mad Girls

Mad Girls: Currently, we’re Mimí, Virginia and Ana. We also have an occasional collaborator, Celia, with a foodie column. It all started about two and a half years ago when Mími and Elvira (the other founding member) were too broke to get into concerts, and so, they decided to start a gig photo blog. Virginia joined some time after, with Ana being the most recent addition to the team. We immediately had a lot of very positive feedback and Mad Girls organically evolved into what it is now.

Mad Girls II Aniversario: Prom Party

>> What do you think makes the Madrid music scene different from other scenes out there?

E: I think the guitar bands scene in Madrid is huge right now. I’ve lived in different cities and countries and I can tell that what is happening here is special. The local scene is very strong as there are many well-established bands that sell big venues, but also a never-ending flow of newer bands. There is a solid scene of local bands – not only in Madrid but everywhere in Spain – that is touring the country and playing in festivals.

Estrogenuinas: Miss Antropa

H: We don’t know any international scenes directly and in-depth but, in relation to the Spanish ones, we are noticing fresh sounds coming out of the different neighbourhoods, a variety of genres and very young artists that have a lot to say. Madrid is a great city where people from other parts of Spain come to make a living and that makes it a perfect cradle for creativity and fusion.

Hickeys: Is Lawrence Dead?

>>What attracted Mad Girls to get involved in Madrid’s music scene?

M: We have always been connected to the music scene in Madrid. Most of our friends are musicians so we spent most of our free time attending concerts or jamming at someone’s place. We wanted to have an active role in the music scene, and after some of our best friends performed at our first-anniversary party, it encouraged us to start promoting musical events.

>>Describe your perfect night out in Madrid.

E: It always starts with a show for me. Lately, I’ve been going to Tempo bar (Malasaña). It’s a sketchy but really cool old cocktail bar run by classic-style bartenders … you really wouldn’t expect to find them in such a place! You get a weird bowl of peanuts mixed with gummy bears with every drink.

Also, if the weather is nice, there’s a big chance that I end up hanging outside drinking beer. If you’re around Malasaña, that’d probably be in Plaza del Dos de Mayo.

Hickeys and friends out and about in Madrid

H: Fortunately, there isn’t one specific type of a perfect night. It can sound cliche but we don’t really care about where to go or what to do. In the end, the magic happens when we are with a group of people who are in the same mood, are open-minded, and you can talk and dance with them without being judged. One of the feelings we like the most takes place at the end of a night out when we walk down the streets of Madrid in the early morning during those hours when the city is still quiet and peaceful.

M: Our perfect night out would definitely have a lot of music involved. First stop would be a place to eat tasty food and gather all together to drink and chat…most likely at the delicious Italian restaurant Menomale. Then a concert, of course! You can often find us at Siroco or Costello – small venues where upcoming bands often start their careers. Then we would most likely stop at Lucy in the Sky where we occasionally DJ, and where the underground music scene gathers. We’d probably end up dancing to rock ‘n’ roll and 60’s beats at FunHouse Music Bar. At the end of it all, we’d grab some churros ‘con chocolate’ while watching the stunning Madrilenian sunrise.

>>Do you feel that women and non-binary folk are well-represented in Madrid’s underground scene?

Elena Nieto crowdsurfing at Sala El Sol Madrid.
Photographer: Adrián YR

E: I believe that in Madrid’s underground and punk scenes, women have been well-represented and supported for a long time. Also, at the moment, there are quite a lot of active female-fronted bands in the local scene such as Las Odio, Repion, Hickeys, Hinds, Estrogenuinas, Lady Banana, Pelícana, Cariño, Yawners…to name but a few. In the urban music scene, female artists such as La Zowi are being acknowledged for their work. Another good example is Clara Te Canta: she creates internet pop, sings openly about ‘taboo’ topics, and speaks up for women in general… she’s fun!

Hinds: British Mind

H: We have seen an increase in female presence in the underground scene, and also in different bands and musical ensembles. In the past, women were usually cast as the singers in a band, as opposed to playing an instrument. We think (or want to think) that little by little prejudices are being destroyed and that is being reflected on the stage too. Nevertheless, being perceived as a woman performing in a woman’s body in this patriarchal context is still coupled with some comments and judgements relating to our body/face/movements that wouldn’t be commented upon if we were male musicians. We are progressively conquering this field with our presence but, at the same time, we are still referred to as a Girl-Band when a “Boy-band” is an obsolete term that died with Backstreet Boys era.

Las Odio: Yo Lo Vi Primero

M: In the past few years there has been more attention drawn to women and non-binary musicians. Nevertheless, we’ve still got a long way to go. We always try to promote bands with female/non-binary members in them. Also, we don’t only focus on the band members themselves…. For example, sometimes it may be an all-male band, but with a female manager. We like to give attention to the women behind-the-scenes who sustain the industry since it can be a very sexist sector. We can vouch personally for this.

Repion: Los Noventa

>>Any upcoming plans you’d like to tell the world about?

E: We’re releasing Yawners’ debut album in March 2019. I’ll be performing at SXSW, touring around Spain and doing festivals here. Hopefully, we’ll also have some dates in Europe and in the UK by the end of the year. Can’t wait!

H: Right now, we’re focusing on songwriting and not that much on performing live (even though we’re planning a couple of shows abroad in early 2019, mainly in the UK and the US). Three of us are going to finish their studies, so this is going to be a really exciting, twisted and spontaneous year because, in addition to the above, we are also preparing an LP! It seems as if 2019 is going to be full of surprises. A British record label, perhaps?

…and finally, Mad Girls, can you give your recommendations of some Madrilenian female musicians and artists that we should definitely check out?

M: Our favourite female musicians emerging from this scene include Rayo, Melenas, Hoax Fellows or Hickeys, amongst many others. As for other artists… photographer Sharon López!

Melenas: Cartel de Neon

LONESOME HOT DUDES – Guest Blog and Video Premiere of “Books”

lhdSo we, Lonesome Hot Dudes were asked to write a guest blog for the super cool loud women. Honoured. Here we go!

We  are a five piece band from Vienna and Graz and this is our first fresh 7” release on vinyl out on Cut Surface and kim-pop records – ‘Obey’.

We recorded the two songs within three days in our charming rehearsal space** in Graz, along with another one – ‘No Tears” (which is not on the record but to be found on the last Cut Surface sampler. The next Cut Surface compilation will be out on 29th of August, watch out for it!). Low budget, lo fi –  all instruments were recorded at the same time. Only to ‘No Tears’ we added overdubs (feedback guitar) and added a screaming voice afterwards to the part that we use to call the ‘hardcore-part’ (wild, right?).

The singing was recorded extra and as I remember, we supported Reni to get into the singing vibe by making a circle around her, pushing her with dancing and body language.

Guitar amp was a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, Guitar Lina’s baby, a dark red Fender Mustang from the 70s, Eva is using a fretless blue Music Man StringRay bassguitar. Isa’s Saxophone is a Selmer Super Action 80 Series II.

The person recording and mixing was Tom (Thomas Grassegger), a nice guy who is often doing the sound for all kind of punk concerts in Graz. He also made sound for several of our concerts, and out of a sudden he texted us, that he could not get ‘Obey’ out of his head since the last concert and how happy he would be, if we’d let him record the song with us. We found that very sweet and fixed a date.

Dino Spiluttini made the vinyl mastering.

lonesomeThe Cover Artwork for the vinyl was drawn by our drummer Lena*. The drawing is inspired by the photography Artwork Cover of X-Ray Spex‘s Germfree Adolescents. We love them and are obviously influenced by such amazing (Post-) Punks. And we are even using a Saxophone!

One of the two tracks of our record is called ‘Books’ and reveals singer Reni’s thoughts about reading and feminism. Here is the brand new video to the track, shot by Cordula Thym.

Gossip side info: Veza Fernandez who is performing in the video is Lena’s girlfriend. Also she is a choreographer and dancer and Lonesome Hot Dudes Lina and Lena* were dancing (true story) and making music in her dance theater piece ‘when eye becomes mouth’.

The other song is called ‘Obey’, an inner monologue about saying ‘No’, or not saying it, or saying it but not being heard.
Here is the video to the track.

Some scenes are shot in bassist Eva Ursprung’s Atelier House ‘Schaumbad’ (means ‘Bubblebath’), other scenes at the riverside. Our friend Gudrun Becker made the video, we made the choreography by having each of us inventing a move, the others had to go with it, no matter how weird. The shooting was a lot of fun even though the background-story of the film location is sad: despite massive protests of the local community over almost a decade, a power plant is being built out of speculative capitalist reasons. This is destroying the river and its surroundings, as well as air quality and neighbourhood quality in the small city of Graz. Most of the trees you see on the video, have been cut down in the meantime, so this is an ‘historical’ document!

zineTalking about saying no: in 2016 we were part of a project about exactly this topic. A zine and music compilation on cassette released on Wilhelm show me the major label. A lot of people were involved in this and lots of loud women and cool bands on the tape, contributing with their songs about saying no. Many of the songs were made just for the occasion and were recorded in the same basement** as ‘Obey’. Stream the cassette here! Side A and Side B. And there is also an online version of the zine if you want to browse through, with drawings and words (in German, English and Spanish) and a gorgeous poster by Clara Biller in it.

Wilhelm show me the major Label by the way also released our very first record, a split tape with the Viennese Hip Hop duo EsRAP. A sister and brother with very powerful lyrics in German and Turkish, about (Austrian) politics, racism and sexism.

They are right now raising money for their next album, if you are interested in donating, this is the link to their very original crowdfunding teaser

Ok! it was nice being guest blogging! Thank you very much.

lhd2Lena* identifies non-binary, so actually we are not exactly exclusively an ‘all women’- band, as we are often referred to.

**This basement is a feminist punk pearl in Graz – not only that Lonesome Hot Dudes, Just Friends and Lovers, SchrAiraum and Red Gaze are rehearsing there, it is also the place where feminist Jam Sessions are happening every month, for girls*, women* and transgender, regardless of musical experience.

 


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