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Riot Grrrl
Riot Grrrl

Riot grrrl was an underground feminist punk movement that started in the early 1990s, and it is often associated with third-wave feminism (it is sometimes seen as its starting point). However, riot grrrl's emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave. Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, and female empowerment. Some bands associated with the movement are Fifth Column, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Jack Off Jill, Excuse 17, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, The Third Sex, Sleater-Kinney, and also lesbian queercore like Team Dresch. In addition to a music scene, riot grrrl is also a subculture; zines, the DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are part of the movement. Riot grrrls hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music.

In the early 1990s, many young women involved in underground music scenes throughout the United States articulated their feminist thoughts and desires through the "Do-It-Yourself" methods of making punk-rock fanzines and forming garage bands. The political model of collage-based, photocopied handbills and booklets was already used by the punk movement as a way to activate underground music, leftist politics and alternative (to mainstream) sub-cultures. Many women found that while they identified with a larger, music-oriented subculture, they often had little to no voice in their local scenes, so they took it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own fanzines, music and art.

 

In 1991, in what many believe to be an unorganized collective response to the Christian Coalition's Right to Life attack on legal abortion and the Senate Judiciary Hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas--in which Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment and was mocked by the media--young feminist voices were heard through multiple protests, actions and events (L7's Rock for Choice) that would later become part of a larger organized consciousness. This consciousness coalesced in late 1991 under the movement known as "riot grrrl."

Uses and meanings of the term 'Riot Grrrl' developed slowly over time, but its etymological origins can be traced to the actual Mount Pleasant race riots in spring 1991. Writing in Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, Mark Andersen reports that early Bratmobile member Jen Smith (later of Rastro! and The Quails), reacted to the violence by prophetically writing in a letter to Allison Wolfe: "This summer's going to be a girl riot." Other reports say she wrote, "We need to start a girl riot." Soon afterwards, Wolfe and Molly Neuman collaborated with Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail to create a new zine and called it Riot Grrrl, combining the "riot" with an oft-used phrase that first appeared in Vail's fanzine Jigsaw: "angry grrls".

Although they're known for frequently denying exclusive credit for the movement, two bands in particular remain inextricably linked to its early formation.

Kathleen Hanna had been working as an exotic dancer to support herself, volunteering at a women's shelter, and studying photography at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she'd opened her own small art gallery called Reko Muse, and would frequently have bands like The Go Team and Some Velvet Sidewalk play in between art exhibitions (partially just to keep the gallery running). While there, she started a band herself called Amy Carter with fellow gallery-founders Heidi Arbogast and Tammy Rae Carland to open at shows. After touring with some other projects like Viva Knievel, she hooked up with The Go Team drummer and zinester Tobi Vail, who'd been writing of her own experiences:

"I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly and partly because punk rock of this generation is coming of age in a time of mindless career-goal bands."

They started working together on another fanzine called Bikini Kill, which would eventually become a band after recruiting friends Kathi Wilcox and Billy "Boredom" Karren.

Allison Wolfe met Molly Neuman at the University of Oregon, and while Wolfe was turning Neuman onto bands like Beat Happening and The Melvins, Neuman was introducing Wolfe to sociology classes and Public Enemy.

They began working on zines called Girl Germs, and later riot grrrl with Tobi Vail, Kathleen Hanna and Jen Smith.

Wolfe and Neuman started frequenting shows by bands like Fugazi and Nirvana, bragging every chance they got about their band Bratmobile (which at the time didn't really exist yet). In 1990 though, Calvin Johnson called them up and asked them to play a show on Valentine's Day with Some Velvet Sidewalk and Bikini Kill, which had just started. Terrified at first, insisting they weren't really a band and having only played a few garagey jam sessions at each others' houses, they finally accepted it as a dare and played the show at Olympia's North Shore Surf club. After eventually hooking up with guitarist Erin Smith in March '91, they finally started playing together as a trio just in time for the IPU convention in August of that year.

From August 20-August 25, 1991, K Records held an indie music festival called the International Pop Underground (IPU) Convention. A promotional poster reads:

"As the corporate ogre expands its creeping influence on the minds of industrialized youth, the time has come for the International Rockers of the World to convene in celebration of our grand independence. Hangman hipsters, new modrockers, sidestreet walkers, scooter-mounted dream girls, punks, teds, the instigators of the Love Rock Explosion, the editors of every angry grrrl zine, the plotters of youth rebellion in every form, the midwestern librarians and Scottish ski instructors who live by night, all are setting aside August 20-25, 1991 as the time."

An all-female bill on the first night called "Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now" signalled a major step in the movement, featuring artists like Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Nikki McClure, Lois Maffeo, Jean Smith of Mecca Normal, 7 Year Bitch, and 2 side projects of Kathleen Hanna: the first was Suture with Sharon Cheslow of Chalk Circle (DC's first all-women punk band) and Dug E. Bird of Beefeater, the second was the Wondertwins with Tim Green of Nation of Ulysses. It was here that so many zinester people who'd only known each other from networking, mail, or talking on the phone, finally met and were brought together by an entire night of music dedicated to, for, and by women.

The following days would also feature bands like Unwound, L7, The Fastbacks, The Spinanes, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Girl Trouble, The Pastels, Kicking Giant, Rose Melberg, Seaweed, Kreviss, I Scream Truck, Scrawl, Nation of Ulysses, The Melvins, Jad Fair, Thee Headcoats, and Steve Fisk.

Influenced heavily by DIY culture, most bands' presentation subverted traditional or classically trained 'musicianship' in favor of raw, primitive, avant-lo-fi passion and fiercely deliberate amateurism: an idea growing rapidly in popularity, especially in the Olympia music scene, with bands like Beat Happening coining the slogans: "Learn how to NOT play your instrument" and "hey, you don't have to sound like the flavor of the month, all you have to do is sound like yourselves", arguing that traditional musical skill doesn't ultimately matter and should always be subservient to the passion, the fun and ideas in their music. This argument is similar to the ideological origins of punk rock itself, which started partially as an attempt to dissolve the growing division between audience and performer. These indie-punk bands (and riot grrrl bands in particular) were often ridiculed for "not being able to play their instruments", but fans are quick to counter that identical criticisms were often faced by the first-wave of punk rock bands in the 70s, and that this DIY garage amateurism "play just 'cause you wanna, no matter what" attitude was one of the most appealing and liberating aspects of both movements.

Quickly amassing a devoted cult audience, the riot grrrl bands worked to ensure their shows were safe spaces in which women could find solidarity and create their own subculture, thus setting the tone for much of the movement. Consciousness-raising activist-punk group meetings began taking place in international chapters, held in any available space from dorm rooms to community centres to studio apartments, soon becoming much bigger things like conventions and conferences, one of the first of which took place from July 31-August 2, 1992 in Washington, DC.

Other bands and artists associated with the riot grrrl movement in one way or another include Mecca Normal, Slant 6, Sta-Prest, Sue P. Fox, Jenny Toomey, Autoclave, Jack Off Jill, Raooul, Nomy Lamm, Excuse 17, Oiler, Canopy, Third Sex, Cheesecake, CWA (Cunts with Attitude), Tattle Tale, Growing Up Skipper, The Need, Team Dresch, Fifth Column, Bangs, Free Kitten, Emily's sassy lime, The Quails, The PeeChees; in the UK, bands like Huggy Bear, Mambo Taxi , Skinned Teen, Pussycat Trash, The Phantom Pregnancies, Linus, Budget Girls, Sister George, Coping Saw (who featured Leeds fanzine writer Karren Ablaze), and Voodoo Queens; and in Asia, bands like Hang on the Box, Nonstop Body, Red Bacteria Vacuum, and Lolita No. 18.

However, it's also worth noting that there were quite a few girl-centric or all-women punk bands of this era like 7 Year Bitch, Red Aunts, Thee Headcoatees, or Spitboy, who were plenty independent and political themselves, but didn't necessarily self-identify with the 'riot grrrl' label, despite sharing similar DIY tactics and feminist ideologies.

Even as the Seattle-area rock scene came to international mainstream media attention, riot grrrl remained a willfully underground phenomenon. Most musicians shunned the major record labels, devotedly working instead with indie labels such as Kill Rock Stars, K Records, Slampt, Piao! Records, Simple Machines, Catcall, WIIIJA and Chainsaw Records. The movement also figured fairly prominently in cassette culture, with artists often starting their own DIY cassette labels by as basic and spartan a means as recording their music onto cheap off-the-shelf boom-boxes and passing the cassettes out to friends, seldom charging anything beyond the cost of the actual tapes themselves.


Riot grrrl's momentum was also hugely supported by an explosion of creativity in defiantly homemade cut-and-paste, xeroxed, collagey zines that covered a variety of feminist topics, frequently attempting to draw out the political implications of intensely personal experiences with sexism, mental illness, body image and eating disorders, sexual abuse, racism, rape, discrimination, stalking, domestic violence, incest, homosexuality, and sometimes vegetarianism. These zines were archived by zinewiki.com, and Riot Grrrl Press, started in Washington DC in 1992 by Erika Reinstein & May Summer. Others can be found anthologized in A Girl's Guide to Taking over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution.

Punk Planet editor Daniel Sinker wrote in We Owe You Nothing:

"The vehemence fanzines large and small reserved for riot grrl -and bikini kill in particular- was shocking.
The  punk zine editors' use of 'bitches', 'cunts', 'man-haters', and 'dykes'
The was proof-positive that sexism was still strong in the punk scene.

Molly Neuman once summarized: "We're not anti-boy, we're pro-girl."

Indeed, members of riot grrrl culture, fans or members of bands, include males too.Bands would often reappropriate ordinarily derogatory phrases like 'cunt', 'bitch', 'dyke' and 'slut' (the very same words often received from male audience members), writing them proudly on their skin with lipstick or fat markers, thus nullifying their attempted offensive power and making them ultimately harmless and funny.

Riot Grrrls dress just like female punks in general, except maybe with little feminism logos somewhere in their outfit.

Image from deviantart, info -save for the last paragraph, which is mine- from wikipedia.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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