BY OLIVIA TAMBINI
Many women musicians (whether they like it or not) seem to be described at some point in their careers, as ‘riot grrrl’. Yet, before the term became an easy describer for feminist musicians for lazy journalists, riot grrrl was an exciting and pioneering movement in the early 90s. Originating in Washington State, the music of the riot grrrl movement was punky, raucous, and totally DIY, with it’s trailblazers addressing issues such as rape, sexuality, domestic abuse, patriarchy, and female empowerment through wickedly unruly tracks. As the genre grew more and more popular, the movement branched out into all aspects of art, particularly in the form of homemade zines, often written and copied out by hand. For all of those new to the scene, here are some classic riot grrrl tracks to get you started:
- BIKINI KILL – REBEL GIRL
This is the quintessential riot grrrl anthem from the band widely considered the first pioneers of the movement. Bikini Kill formed in 1990 and quickly gained notoriety for their female-friendly shows where they encouraged women to the front and handed them lyric sheets to sing along to. An ode to female solidarity and girl love, lyrics like
‘I know I want to take you home / I want to try on your clothes’ have remained in the public consciousness ever since.
2. HUGGY BEAR – HER JAZZ
The British equivalent of the previous band but perhaps even more controversial, Huggy Bear often shared stages with Bikini Kill, even releasing a split album with them. They are best known in the UK for their dramatic turn on Channel 4’s The Word, when, after their performance, the band became upset at an interview with two models dubbed ‘The Barbi Twins’, and were ejected from the studio. What they should be known for, is their struggle to bring riot grrrl to the UK with they tongue in cheek, avant-garde brand of punk rock.
3. BRATMOBILE – COOL SCHMOOL
Bratmobile was formed by University Of Oregon students Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, creators of one of the most influential riot grrrl fanzines of the time, Girl Germs. Unusually, the duo didn’t actually play any instruments at the time they formed the band, instead performing the songs they had written acapella, before enlisting the help of Robert Christie of Some Velvet Sidewalk. After he advised them to listen to The Ramones for inspiration, the band found inspiration in doing the exact opposite, and sought to create a sound unlike any other heard before in the punk scene. With acerbic lyrics likes ‘I don’t want anyone to tell me how thin I am / I don’t wanna die for your fucking candy treats’, Bratmobile soon became a crucial part of the first generation riot grrrl movement.
4. SLEATER-KINNEY – DIG ME OUT
Yet another band formed in the Pacific-Northwest in the early-nineties, Sleater-Kinney have been described as one of the best punk-rock bands of the last two decades. Initially starting as a side project for Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, who were in other riot grrrl bands of their own, Sleater-Kinney quickly rose to fame and became one of the frontrunners of the riot grrrl movement. With stripped back instrumentation and Tucker’s grating vocals, their songwriting alternated between personal and political topics.
5. X-RAY SPEXS – OH BONDAGE! UP YOURS!
X-Ray Spexs are not always included in these ‘best of’ lists because they existed a couple of decades before the riot grrrl movement took off, forming in 1976. However, their combination of hardcore punk and feminist lyrics like ‘Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard/ But I think oh bondage, up yours!’ means that the London band served as a crucial inspiration for later feminist punk bands. Fronted by Poly Styrene, the daughter of a dispossessed Somali aristocrat and a Scottish legal secretary, the band have endured as punk icons largely thanks to her larger than life stage presence and vocals that were ‘powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal’.