For many, riot grrrl symbolised something tangibly new: the awakening of a fresh subculture. It was an opportunity to reclaim not only femininity and sexuality, but creativity, politics, and independence. It was as a reaction against the boy’s club that was music in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even the ‘90s that riot grrrl flourished.
The first band on the newly created scene were Bikini Kill, famous for their 1993 single ‘Rebel Girl’, produced by Joan Jett of The Runaways. ‘Rebel Girl’ is aggressive, self-assured, and unapologetic. The song is nothing but an ode to femininity, and proves that women can kick up just as much of a fuss as men. Bikini Kill were fronted by the electric Kathleen Hanna, whose biopic The Punk Singer (2013) is a must-see for anyone interested in the movement. Hanna went on to front Le Tigre and Julie Ruin.
Another first-generation riot grrrl band from Washington, Bratmobile originated from Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, two university students, and their feminist zine Girl Germs. The two fell into the subculture, which resulted in the acclaimed LP Pottymouth in 1993. Pottymouth encapsulates the feel of riot grrrl more than any modern audience could; ‘Cool Schmool’ is the record’s standout track. The true DIY nature of Bratmobile makes their music so indescribably nostalgic, and prevalent.
Whilst riot grrrl empowered feminists across the world, the movement also promoted queercore music. Donna Dresch, after creating the queercore zine Chainsaw, formed Team Dresch, a band who represented voices undeniably left behind by the male punk scene of the UK and USA. The more complex use of instruments than their fellow riot grrrls single Team Dresch out as both a politically charged group, and talented musicians. ‘Fagetarian and Dyke’ is their iconic track.
The influence of these women and this collective feminist movement is palpable today. Modern bands such as Skinny Girl Diet and Peach Club are a new brand of riot grrrl; Skinny Girl Diet’s recent LP Heavy Flow pinpoints not only the technicalities of modern punk, but also affecting lyrics and scenes. Peach Club, a quartet based in Norwich, are self-described riot grrrls, with anarchist feminist tracks and an on-stage presence so charismatic, any politician should be scared.
Riot grrrl did so much for empowerment and feminism in its short-lived success in the early nineties, and its phenomenal impact is felt even now.
Art by Hope Spalding. Find Hope on Instagram @hope.gdesign