Tag Archives: ngaire ruth

“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)

Advertisements

8 April – Clash Night ’77

f7416224-6e01-4203-9543-5722bd007016

Saturday 8th April, on the 40th anniversary of the 1977 release of The Clash‘s debut album, Philosophy Football are holding a night to remember all the anger for change The Clash helped ignite back in ’77, together with a celebration of the Clash’s culture of resistance which continues, alive and kicking, today.
And it’s the latter part of that celebration that LOUD WOMEN is most excited about, of course! our own Ngaire Ruth will be joining a panel discussion, alongside The Clash‘s former manager, Caroline Coon, and there will be music from Dream Nails and Nia Wyn, and poetry from Janine Booth and Emily Harrison.
Tickets will sell out, so grab them quick from Philosophy Football.

interview: Louise Distras

by ngaire ruth

Protest-Punkster Louise Distras is one of the headliners at our LOUD WOMEN Fest. Currently working on her second self-released album, in between relentless gigging and touring, Louise is our kind of girl. The awesome Ngaire Ruth posed her some probing questions …

ngaire ruth: So, Louise Distras, where did you come from? (musically, geographically, influentially … any way you want to take that question)

louise distras: Geographically, I come from Wakefield. Influentially I come from Nirvana, and musically I come from The Beatles.

nr: Why this type of visceral, folky punk?

ld: Somebody once said my music is “too punk to be folk and too folk to be punk”, but I really don’t consider it to be either. In my head it sounds totally pop, like Abba. But regardless of however folks want to define my music, it wasn’t a conscious decision to make it sound the way it does. It just came out that way and I don’t really know why. It just is what it is.

nr: What sort of bands/acts do you see yourself billed with and why?

ld: One day I’d really like to open for Pearl Jam. I’ve been a huge fan since I was a teenager. I love their music and their message. In my opinion, Eddie Vedder is a really good example of what it means to be a true artist.

nr: You seem to play a lot in California – what’s the link?

ld: Last year my first album ‘Dreams from the Factory Floor’ was released on vinyl by an American label called Pirates Press Records. The response to my music in the States has been really good, and folks have been connecting with the songs in a big way which is the reason I’ve been touring over there so much recently. I love America, it’s a great country and I can’t wait to go back.

  • “Arriving in America to find people singing along to my songs at the shows was a mindblowing experience.”


nr: Given your time again, would you do anything differently?

ld: No, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m really proud of the fact I have always stood firm to my own truth and vision regardless of other people’s opinions and would advise any aspiring songwriter to do the same. When you are someone who creates your own path, the journey can be very lonely at times but it’s important to remind yourself that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.

nr: Do you believe that music can make world a better place?

ld: I believe it already has made the world a better place and will continue to do so forever.

nr: What’s next for Louise Distras?

ld:  LOUD WOMEN Fest of course! See you there!


Louise Distras’ debut album Dreams from the Factory Floor is out now.
Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

interview: mx tyrants

by ngaire ruth


MX Tyrants’ music is for wriggly-hip-dancing, raised, lilting arms and pouting, with confident stare. The guitar has the swagger of Roxy Music or Duran Duran but with TONS more energy, poise and playfulness. Go Charley Stone, guitarist, and Lolo Wood, keys.

ngaire: Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
lolo: You have seen Charley Stone in a million squillion bands, famous ones on the telly an’ all. You have seen the two of us together in Ye Nuns, who play the music of The Monks, and you have seen all of us in another certain all-female band [Joanne Joanne] who play the music of another certain all-male band [Duran Duran].
charley: You’ll also have seen me and Melanie Woods together in one or two other bands… and she’s been in a fair few herself (KnifeworldSidi Bou Said, loads of others) …
l: I have been in other bands but we mostly played to 2 people and half a dog.
c: Actually, Ngaire, I think you’ll find that you first saw me and Jo Gate-Eastley in the sensational Frantic Spiders back in the early 90s. You gave us our first Melody Maker write-up!

n: Why this type of melodic, traditional four-piece band? 
c: Can’t help it.
l: We were all playing the same instruments in [Joanne Joanne], and it sounded so good that it was a natural step to start writing our own tunes in rehearsals.
c: There are 4 of us, we can’t help that.

n: What sort of bands do you see yourselves billed with? 
l: Good ones! Ones we like! They can be similar, they can be contrasting, they can be chicks or blokes, or chicks and blokes.
c: Charley: Or persons who are neither, or persons who are both. Let’s not get all binary about it.
l: Our songs are good to dance to, so it would be nice to be on the bill with other acts who are good to dance to.

n: Since you are experts: How do you actually go about starting a band? Beyond getting the idea in the pub? 
l: Decide the concept of the band.  What will you sound like, who will do what? How will you fill any personnel gaps? Decide how you want to approach the writing – are you going to jam together, or bring along ideas/ fully formed songs you’ve already written? Then pick a date and a place to make noises in. Turn up and make noises.
c: “turn up and make noises” is the tl;dr version of this. That is basically it.

n: How much money do you need to get started? 
l: You need instruments unless you’re going to be an acapella vocal band. But you can pick up cheap secondhand stuff or free things from Freecycle. Warning: some instruments need amplifiers, but these can also be cheap or free. Unless you have somewhere you can keep all your amps together and be as loud as you like, you’ll need to rent a rehearsal room. Tip: the more people in your band, the cheaper your share.
c:  Back in the late 80s when I started, I began with a cheap “Axe” guitar, which I bought mail order from an ad in Smash Hits. It included: guitar, strap, lead, plectrum, carry case, really good practice amp (which I used for actual gigs for several years) AND a book and cassette teaching you How-To-Play. It was about £70 I think? I saved my allowance and got it. Didn’t bother paying for rehearsal space for years, just borrowed school halls and/or played quietly in our bedrooms. I recommend it.

n: Is this your art? 
l: Yes.
c: #art

n: Is making art your political protest? e.g. even though you all work full time, for high rents and little relaxation time, you still belong in so many bands, and make new ones. 
l: I guess so, but we would be still doing it if we were ladies of leisure. I have curtailed a lot of activities (cinema/ theatre-going, eating out, holidays, hairdressers) as a sacrifice to the London Rent Gods, but playing in bands is one of the main reasons I’m in London. So it may not be protest, more obstinate doggedness. And it is kind of relaxation time, even though it’s also work.
c: When everything is terrible, I always say “at least we’ve still got our #art”

n: Does your art always involve working with others, making music? 
l:  I work better collaborating with other people, but I still want to be a novelist when I grow up.
c: Personally I think bands work always better as collaboration rather than several musicians helping a lead song writer realise their #art, but I also like writing/recording on my own. But wouldn’t impose that on a band. The brilliant thing about a band is seeing what happens when other people put their ideas into the mix and change what you had to begin with.

n: Why then release a single? 
l: It’s an easy way of getting people’s attention.
c: Assuming anyone bothers listening / watching, ho ho. BUT seriously, what else would we do? If you record a song you are pleased with, you must release it into the public, so that it can have a run around. No point keeping it cooped up in your room. No point at all.

n: Am I neglecting the obvious and most interesting question: Band name? 
c: MX Tyrants, that’s the name, don’t wear it out. It’s MX, not Mx, incidentally. We are tyrannical about the fact that the MX bit of our name is pronounced MX not Mx. And therein lies the reason as well. It’s one of those answers that goes back on itself, like a Möbius strip, like the universe, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it can only be observed from within itself.

You’ll get nothing more sensible out of us.


 
MX Tyrant’s single ‘Mutual Lucid’ is out now.

Fiery, Feminist, Fun: the story of LOUD WOMEN

 

fightmilk
Lily from Fightmilk, playing a LOUD WOMEN gig at the Veg Bar Brixton, 10 June 2016. Photo (c) Keira Anee 2016  – keiraaneephotography.com

LOUD WOMEN describe themselves as “a DIY collective that champions women in music by hosting live events that are fun, friendly and frickin awesome”. The gigs were launched in October 2015 by Cassie Fox, of The Wimmins’ Institute and Thee Faction, as part of the ‘We Shall Overcome’ weekend of anti-austerity gigs staged all over the UK.

She says, “I looked at the list of gigs – hundreds of them – all starring men with guitars, male DJs, male organisers, and I thought I’d try putting on a women-led live music night at the Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park. I was bouyed up from having organised a big show (with Thee Faction), at Union Chapel, a fundraiser for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign, which raised nearly £10,000. The first LOUD WOMEN night was a massive hit! The place was packed from the start, we raised loads of money for our chosen charity (Women’s Aid), and some awesome, unknown bands got a platform.”

Most notably, this was Dream Nails’ first ever gig, a band involved with feminist direct action groups. Without even a demo to their name they were booked by Cassie, as the bill’s opener, and delivered an infectious Ramones meets Bikini Kill for the 21st Century. News of this fire, feminism and fun travelled fast: since then they’ve released an EP, ‘DIY’, live shows are always sold out, and they’ve secured a slot at this year’s Glastonbury.

“That’s what LW is all about: putting talented and committed women on stages who might otherwise have struggled to get heard.”

Anya of Dream Nails describes LOUD WOMEN as “our fairy punkmothers”.

Since that first gig, LOUD WOMEN have showcased 42 women-led acts via 17 shows, and raised nearly £1,000 for Women’s Aid, through a regular raffle (prizes often include rare records and books). Shows are mostly in London, where Cassie Fox is based, but not exclusively so: recent dates included cracking events at Newport and Brighton.

In February, the LOUD WOMEN eZine was launched to over 1,000 subscribers, featuring news, interviews, videos and music reviews. A festival is planned for September. Bob Oram wrote in The Morning Star that “Loud Women will undoubtedly be the beacon for all the best new female talent in 2016”.

Tegan Christmas, of The Ethical Debating Society, says LOUD WOMEN are the “Best shows in London for grrrl fronted guitar action! Inclusive, friendly and inspiring.”

Angela Martin of Bugeye says, “Awesome crowds, amazing bands and one of the most supportive promoters you’re likely to meet.”

Artist Diane Goldie describes the nights as “Real feminism and sisterhood in action with a rrriotous score”

Behind the scenes is a group known as ‘Team LOUD WOMEN’ – a group of musicians, gig-goers, music journalists and writers, willing to support Loud Women, as and when required in areas such as marketing, writing for the E-zine, organisation, door duty, stage managing, social media, design. Women who join the Loud Women team are committed to DIY music, and want to support Cassie’s vision and share their experience or knowledge, others want to work or study in a particular field, a feasible very part time internship.

What type of bands is Loud Women looking for?

“Officially, the genres we put on are punk, pop and indie,” says Cassie. “But in practice it’s just ‘stuff that I like’. And, to be fair, that seems to be working pretty well for us so far! My favourite bands are those who have something to say for themselves, but want us all to have a good time while they’re doing that. That’s the kind of atmosphere we love at LW shows: one minute we’ll have tears in our eyes because someone on stage has just been so open and honest about something that’s hurt them, the next we’re down the front jumping about with our friends, laughing while we’re dancing and singing along to some badass music.”

LOUD WOMEN also host regular all-ages matinee gigs, the first, at the Lexington, Islington and the next on 18th June at the Half Moon, Putney, with acts such as Piney Gir and The Priscillas providing entertainment for grown ups and kiddies alike. Children are encouraged to take part in music making and bands adapt their set for the mixed audience. There is face painting for children and the usual raffle. Parents need to provide their own ear-plugs or headphones for children but the sound level is not as high as a normal live show.

Highlight of the LOUD WOMEN calendar this year is their first all-day festival – Saturday 3rd September at the 700 capacity venue T.Chances in Tottenham. 25 acts will appear across two stages (with no slot clashes), in a line-up that mixes established artists, such as Desperate JournalistLouise Distras and Grace Petrie, hot new stars like Vodun and Dolls, and DIY favourites such as The Ethical Debating SocietyPetrol Girls and Dream Nails. There will be stalls, zines, clothing, poetry and speakers. The event is all-ages until 7pm, then the louder bands get going until 2am.

This article, by Ngaire Ruth, was published in The Morning Star newspaper, June 2016, and is reproduced here with permission, cheers!

ABOUT NGAIRE RUTH

ngaire

Ngaire Ruth wrote for Melody Maker for 15 years, as well as presenting Transmission TV, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. More recently, she’s moved into online journalism as Live Editor for thegirlsare.com, and continutes to freelance and teach at UCA.