I’ve been seeing a fair bit of Deborah Dyer in the papers recently and it got me to thinking about her incredibly powerful persona and exciting career. Still relevant; still badass and still not suffering fools, Dyer (A.K.A Skin of Skunk Anansie fame) still deserves kudos for her enduring legacy and unapologetic brand of ‘clit-rock’.
We have Skunk Anansie’s Summer tour to thank for the influx of articles and interviews in which the impact and influence of the band’s musical output is re-celebrated and poured over, and in true bandwagon style I have decided to add to it. Prepare to be influxed.
Skin was born in 1967 and brought up in Brixton, South London. Her childhood was spent surrounded by music. Her grandfather ran his own drinking establishment and Skin witnessed the revelry and camaraderie that people enjoy when drinking rum and having a dance to Prince Buster. With childhood dreams of becoming a pianist, Skin was keen to pursue a career in music.
The vehicle that would propel her to worldwide fame was the band she is most famous for fronting- Skunk Anansie. Formed in 1994, Skunk Anansie were often lumped into the generic Britrock label as this was the time that ‘Cool Britannia’ was the benchmark for quality culture and British-ness was all the rage- British films; fashion and most significantly, music. Nestled in amongst the likes of Oasis, Blur and Supergrass there was a cohort of harder bands like the Prodigy who made for slightly more hardcore listening.
Skunk Anansie were widely considered to be a political band (they once declared that ‘everything is political’), a label given out due to the nature of their lyrics and Skin’s aggressive vocals. They were Britain’s answer to Rage Against the Machine. Skin has been outspoken in her belief that more musicians need to address issue of racism, sexism and homophobia and actively take a stand against it, rather than sitting on the fence. Many aspects of Skin’s image are political without even trying- she is black, she is gay and she is female. Her shaved head and flamboyant fashion was an antidote the mainstream male Brit rockers of the 1990s who intentionally cultivated a more basic, scruffy image. A strong, powerful and intelligent frontwoman was an instant inspiration for a generation of young women.
Skin was also the first black British artist
to headline Glastonbury, something we all had to be reminded of when Stormzy
was given the title this year.
Skunk Anansie achieved widespread critical acclaim and released a slew of successful singles including Charity; Hedonism, Weak and Charlie Big Potato. The band’s split in 2001 was not the last we saw of Skin. She went on to release two solo studio albums: Fleshwounds (2003) and Fake Chemical State (2006). As a solo artist she has supported RobbieWilliams and Placebo on tour; duetted with Pavarotti in front of the DalaiLama and was even a judge on the Italian version of the X Factor for one season.
Skunk Anansie reformed in 2008 and have continued to be recognised for their contribution to the British rock scene. You can pick up a copy of their celebratory album 25Live@25 which was released in January this year, as well as a new single What You Do for Love – their first new single in three years.
Continuing the 25th anniversary celebrations Skunk Anansie will
be touring Europe throughout the summer of 2019, headlining festivals and their
own shows, finishing with a string of UK shows. For a band that have been
widely regarded as one of the most exciting live bands you will ever see, it is
worth trying to catch them on one of their forthcoming dates. And if you can’t
get tickets to see them in person, there is still an extensive back catalogue
of absolute bangers to fire you up and tear you apart.
Guest blog by Ella Gregg, Manager of Lucy Mair, and co-founder of 321 Artists
For a musician, especially a solo-musician, the idea of introducing a manager into your project can provide a whole host of thoughts and emotions, and it can strangely be quite a lonely experience making a decision like that for your project. As an artist manager, I thought I’d talk about a few things to think about when looking for a manager, where to actually find one, and how to build your relationship together. I also asked my artist, Lucy Mair, to give her opinions too.
I personally started working in artist management at the age of 18, and fell into the role very accidentally. I was already working for an artist development platform, and through that work I was introduced to a band called Blushes who I started to get to know. I was introduced to their manager at the time, and he invited me to work with Blushes as their social media advisor and booking agent. As time progressed, I got closer to Blushes and their manager was no longer able to put time into the band which led to me managing Blushes.
Previous to that, I had had no experience at all in artist management, but from believing in the band and being passionate about doing well for them, I worked hard to expand my knowledge and contact list, and within six months the band were featured by NME and played on BBC Radio 1. And casual artist management is becoming a lot more popular, managers aren’t sitting in big offices as a team anymore, it’s done by individual people sat on their sofa, and there is nothing wrong with that. You don’t necessarily need the most experienced manager, you just need someone who is very dedicated and passionate for your project.
It’s important for you to think about if you necessarily need a manager. Are you at a stage where you just enjoying writing music and playing songs live, or do you want to be an artist? When you get a manager on board, you’re hiring someone to shout about your project, and there may suddenly be a lot more demand for you and your music than you’re used to. If you just want to write and play music whenever you feel like it, a manager might not be the right step for you. And that doesn’t mean you don’t take your music seriously, that just means your motivations might be different to another artist.
Lucy Mair says “I always found it really difficult to balance the ‘corporate’ side and ‘creative’ side of music, I would constantly focus too much on just one and fall behind with the other. Having a manager means I can now almost solely focus on the creative aspects which is the side that I really love and therefore improves the quality of what I put out as I have more time to focus on the music. I knew I was ready for a manager because I knew what I wanted to create and had already established myself as an artist as I had released music with no team whatsoever around me and built the foundations for myself. I guess it is now a case of 321 [Ella Gregg’s company] helping to build on those foundations and progressing to a level of which I could not reach by myself.”
It’s no secret that managers of emerging artists make very little money, therefore they are often the most passionate people in the music industry and they are putting a lot of time and effort into an artist purely because they believe in the artist they’re working with. For that reason, it’s absolutely vital that you’re willing to replicate that time and effort yourself. Bringing a manager into the project doesn’t mean you can kick your feet up and your manager will work around you; if anything, it intensifies the project and you will be worker even harder than before. I’ve worked with artists who have had the attitude of “I write the songs, what more do you want from me?” and safe to say, that won’t get you very far today.
Another thing that can sometimes be difficult for artists, especially solo musicians, is the idea of passing over some control over to a manager. From the start, you’ve been the only one making the decisions for you and your project, it’s been like a baby you’ve been protecting, and now you’re passing the responsibilities onto a manager, and that can be intimidating for some people, which is absolutely understandable. A manager doesn’t set out to make your life miserable, you’re forming a partnership, which means you still have a lot of control, if not more than your manager.
“I was a little bit nervous about passing over control, but only because I have had managers and labels in the past control what I create. The difference this time around is that, with Ella, she had already heard my music and she believed in what I was creating when I was completely in charge of my music, therefore I knew she was not going to try and change what I wrote as she wanted to work with what I was already doing. Whereas, in previous experiences, I had not released any of my own content therefore I was not sure how I wanted to sound and others had an idea of how they thought I should sound.”
You should be prepared and capable of taking criticism or to be potentially met with negative opinions – as mentioned, you’re a partnership and your manager has your best interests at heart. If you don’t think you can take constructive criticism, it might not be the right time for you. After all, the criticism is there to help you as feedback for you to build on.
“I really enjoy feedback, I trust Ella’s opinion and never feel as if she is trying to push me towards a sound that I do not want.”
Before approaching a manager, you need to understand what you actually want to achieve, and why having a manager will approve your chances of achieving these goals. If you have vision you can share with a potential manager, this will give them a better idea of what you can do together, and it will provide the manager with the confidence that you know where you want this project to go, and shows confidence and passion for success.
If you do think it’s the right time to find a manager, knowing where to look for one can seem tricky. As I said earlier, freelance artist managers are becoming a lot more popular and can sometimes seem hard to find. I would recommend using social media – find artists similar to you and see who they’re being managed by, maybe see if any other management companies follow them, contact smaller blogs that have featured artists similar to you and see if they recommend any managers. However, don’t forget that I said artist management is becoming a lot less formal, and the role of a manager is changing. If you have a friend who would just be able to help you keep on top of emails, or help transport you and your kit to gigs, or could advise you, that’s a lot of what a manager does. It’s about passion, not experience. And having someone you know and trust already means you’re going to feel more comfortable quicker.
Having a manager doesn’t have to be as scary as you first thought, and it can be really useful having someone there to fight your corner and someone who will be there for you at 3am if you needed them. But a manager is as much or as little as you want it to be and it’s important to remember that bringing a manager in doesn’t detract any of your passion or power for your project.
Next stop on our epic journey of re-visiting some of popular music’s underrated women, we must go back to the 1941 when Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in Maryland, USA. From birth to her untimely death in 1974, Cohen’s life had it’s harrowing difficulties along with some ground-breaking triumphs. The product of this amazing, and ultimately too short life was a body of work that includes soul, heart and sass.
Cohen is better known to the music world as Mama Cass- one
quarter of the musically brilliant yet personally troubled Mamas and the Papas,
as well as a successful and critically acclaimed solo artist. She was one of
the figureheads of a body positivity movement before anyone even knew what that
was, and was the life and soul of the trendy music scene of the 60s- partying
hard and singing softly.
Cass started her pursuit of an entertainment career in New
York City, trying out for musicals whilst working in cloak rooms and scraping
by. She moved to Washington D.C to go to University and her arrival coincided
with an American Folk renaissance which led to her joining her first band- The
Big 3. The Big 3 only lasted for a couple of years (62-64) and Cass’s next
venture- The Mugwumps- lasted a matter of months.
In 1965, Cass finally joined the group that would make her a worldwide star- The Mamas and the Papas. The group enjoyed worldwide success with hits such as California Dreamin’; Monday, Monday and Dedicated to the One I Love and carved out a niche in popular folk music that had mainstream appeal. Their harmonies were sophisticated, and Cass was certainly the most well-known figurehead of the group with many lead vocal roles.
The Mamas and The Papas released their final album in 1971
and Cass went on to enjoy acclaim as a solo artist as well as well-loved media
personality. She was a regular on variety shows and talk shows and was booked
for a 3-week residency at Las Vegas Caesars Palace. She was well regarded as
having a vivacious disposition and a great sense of humour.
However, behind her sunny persona and musical success Cass
experienced several turbulent events following her joining the Mamas and Papas.
It is generally understood that she was in love with her band mate Denny
Doherty and had even proposed marriage to him. Alas, Doherty was ensconced in
an affair with Michelle Phillips (another member of the band) and a complicated
love triangle ensued. She also had her
struggles with substance misuse, a situation not helped by her intense
recording and performing schedules.
Despite the rollercoaster ride that was Cass’s life; her
talent was always on strong ground. Vocal academics highlighted her immense
vocal range and enviable control and her rendition of the 1931 song Dream a
Little Dream of Me is one of the most popular versions of the classic song
which has also been recorded by Louis
Armstrong; Nat King Cole; Doris Day and Michael Bublé to name a few.
Mama Cass experienced a lot of comment and speculation regarding her weight. Since her death, her daughter has spoken in interviews about the impact of fat-shaming in the press had on her mother and how this spurred her on to not only achieve her own dreams but encourage other women as well. Her Mamas and Papas bandmate Michelle Phillips remembers that Cass was always encouraging her to push herself vocally and not to let men in the music industry push her around.
She decided at 25 that she wanted to raise a child and as
she was unmarried at the time, it was a bold choice to make even in the
swinging 60s. She kept her pregnancy secret and by all accounts was a dedicated
and loving mother to her daughter, even dedicating her song Lady Love to
“I have my little someone to hold onto … a little girl to set me free. … She came along just in time / in time to ease my worried mind / and now I’ve got a little someone to hold on to.”
Tragically, Mama Cass passed away from heart failure in a London
hotel room, age just 32. It was a life and musical career cut heartbreakingly
Her legacy lives on- not just in terms of her solo career and the example this set to subsequent female vocalists; but also the body of work the Mamas and The Papas leave behind. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips, as “the Mamas”, were ranked No. 21 on the VH1 network’s list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock- but Mama Cass will always be in my top 10. Dream a little dream…… of Mama CassHer legacy lives on- not just in terms of her solo career and the example this set to subsequent female vocalists; but also the body of work the Mamas and The Papas leave behind. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips, as “the Mamas”, were ranked No. 21 on the VH1 network’s list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock- but Mama Cass will always be in my top 10.
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 MonieLove 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
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.
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 – HuggyBear – 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 (Babesin 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, Bristol, Sheffield 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)
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 HuggyBear.
“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, BloodSausage (two of Huggy Bear) and numerous friends of RG, like RazorbladeSmile, Sleeper, Cornershop.
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.
FranticSpiders 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)
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 SkinnedTeen, 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, PussycatTrash, CometGain 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
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].
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.
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
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 CopingSaw and WhackCat.
“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
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, MinorThreat), 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 SonicYouth, 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 (BluesExplosion) project.
EVERYTHING CHANGES – EVEN MY OPINION
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 😦
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)
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
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
What was her
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.
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 DischordRecords, 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 HuggyBear.
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 Ears, The 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!)
In 1992 EverettTrue 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 IggyPop 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. TheRaincoats).
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.”
“I thought P J Harvey was a bloke, she’s so fucking ugly.”
“Lunachicks don’t have to get their tits out on stage to grab our attention. they deserve their success.”
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 KathleenHanna 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 BloodSausage and Linus as support (3rd April). See feature picture.