Source Photos (L-R): Ruby Ray/Getty Images; Ian Dickson/Redferns; Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images; Paul Natkin/Getty Images; Daniel Boczarski/Redferns
5 Women Essential To Punk: Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Kathleen Hanna & The Linda Lindas
GRAMMY.com highlights some of the culture-shifting women who changed the course of punk, spotlighting one band who is moving the genre forward.
Challenging the status quo musically, lyrically, and visually, the pioneering women of punk made sure they were seen and heard. Punk rock didn’t require stellar musicianship or record-company backing; for the powerful women making noise in the genre, it was about overthrowing old tropes of women in music occupying sweet or subservient positions. These pioneers spewed and shared ideas, passion, poetry and individualism.
Late ‘70s New York and London were two of the flashpoints of the nascent punk music scene that welcomed women into the fold. In NYC, Patti Smith was a pioneer who remains quintessential, along with the more New Wave-leaning musicality of Debbie Harry and Blondie. In the U.K., Poly Styrene, Siouxsie Sioux, and the Slits made waves on their own terms. Punk's DIY ethos allowed girls and women everywhere to rebel against the macho excesses of ‘70s stadium rock and '80s hair metal.
Since its late-‘70s birth, punk has seen numerous iterations, and as an ethos and genre, it continues to thrive. And women remain an important part of the musical conversation. From the from Riot Grrrl movement kickstarted in the Pacific Northwest in the early ‘90s until the present day, numerous lineups, including Arrow DeWilde of Starcrawler and the Linda Lindas, have taken up the mantle, bringing punk into a new era.
GRAMMY.com highlights some of the pioneering, culture-shifting women who have changed the course of punk and one promising, up-and-coming band at the forefront of the genre’s future.
Exene Cervenka performing live in 1983 | Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage
Featuring the shared vocals and lyrics of Chicago-born poet Exene Cervenka and John Doe, X’s 1980 debut LP kicked Los Angeles’ ‘70s soft rock/ hippie era to the curb. Cervenka's enviable thrift-store style, pointed harmonies, bold vocals and personal, clever lyrics made her an unimpeachable icon of the L.A. music scene.
X songs including "Your Phone’s Off the Hook But You’re Not," "I Must Not Think Bad Things," "4th of July," plus stellar covers of "Wild Thing" and the Doors’ "Soul Kitchen," and the quartet’s best-known tune, "Los Angeles" are a small part of Cervenka’s prolific output.
In addition to eight X albums, including the most recent, 2020’s Alphabetland, Cervenka was in the country-leaning project The Knitters, while the first of several solo albums solo to date, 1989’s Old Wives,' was pointedly a record "for and about women," she told the Los Angeles Times.
Auntie Christ and the Original Sinners are among the singer/guitarist’s other musical projects, while Cervenka concurrently pursued poetry with collaborators including LA’s "unofficial poet laureate" Wanda Coleman and Lydia Lunch. As a fine artist, the X singer has been part of at least a dozen exhibitions and mounted a one-woman show, "Exene Cervenka: America the beautiful."
Proof of punk’s —and Cervenka’s — endurance and influence? In 2017, the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live honored the lineup with an exhibit titled "X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles," which showcased the uncompromising vision that took Cervenka and the band from grimy punk clubs to Dick Clark’s "American Bandstand" and Rolling Stone accolades.
Poly Styrene, lead singer of the pioneering punk group X-Ray Spex, in 1977 | Photo: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
An oral history of Poly Styrene’s life, DayGlo!, published in 2019, includes stories from the X-Ray Spex singer’s many admirers, including the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, The Slits' Tessa Pollitt and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.
Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, Poly Styrene was intensely individualistic, leaving home at 15, hitchhiking to music festivals and living in crash bands around her native U.K. In 1976, within a year of making her first demo, Elliott-Said saw the Sex Pistols, anointed herself Poly Styrene and founded X-Ray Spex. She was 19.
The band’s 1978 debut, Germ-Free Adolescents, has horns punctuating the speedy guitars and Poly Styrene’s cocky vocals. Still-memorable songs like "Germfree Adolescence," "Art-i-Ficial," "Identity" and "The Day The World Turned DayGlo" ensure the band’s legacy, which includes influencing bands from Romeo Void to the Waitresses.
Though Styrene died from cancer at the age of 53, daughter Celeste Bell (singer of Celeste Dos Santos and The Tabloid Queens) has helped cement her mother’s place in punk history. The award-winning documentary Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, came out in 2021, and was co-directed by Bell. In the doc, Styrene's personal diaries are narrated by actress Ruth Negga, an artist who shares Poly Styrene’s Irish-African heritage and bold spirit.
Alice Bag performing at the Mabuhay Gardens in 1978 | Photo: Ruby Ray/Getty Images
The title of Alice Bag's 2011 memoir — Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story — only hints at the stories the singer/songwriter, musician, author, artist, educator and feminist has lived.
As lead singer and co-founder of the Bags (also featuring bassist Patricia Morrison) the vocalist born Alicia Armendariz found herself at the forefront of the original LA punk scene. The Alice Bag Band was featured in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization before Bag when onto stints in other groundbreaking lineups, including Castration Squad, Cholita and Las Tres.
Bag’s speaking engagements, music, art and writing further the initial inroads made as young punk singer ‘70s and ’80s. Bag’s second book, 2015’s Pipe Bomb for the Soul in 2015 joined her memoir as a staple in gender, musicology and Chicana studies courses across the country.
As a solo artist, Alice Bag’s self-titled 2016 debut album, featuring the sharp single "No Means No" and an updated feminist take on the "girl group" anthem, "He’s So Sorry," was named one of the best albums of 2016 by AllMusic and Pitchfork. Two more solo albums and acclaim followed, including the punky 2020 single "Sister Dynamite," with the trenchant lyrics "she’s so tired of fragile masculinity."
She continues to inspire and influence: In 2018, the City of Los Angeles officially recognized Alice for her "profound influence on music and the punk rock scene in Los Angeles and her activism for the LGBTQ community and speaking out against social injustice."
Kathleen Hanna performing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival | Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
With more than 24 million Spotify streams, Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl" is an enduring anthem for women of all ages and stages. When the tune dropped 1993, Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna was already a voice for third-wave feminism thanks to her collaborations with like-minded young women on ideas, music and zines that launched the Riot Grrrl movement.
That call to action for young women to embrace feminism, especially via the punk rock scene, arose alongside grunge, and still resonates powerfully more than 30 years later. By the time the band broke up in 1996, the frontwomen had a plethora of side projects and guest appearances with top indie musicians among her many accomplishments.
In addition to spawning and empowering many bands, writers and artists, Hanna’s own commitment to art and activism remains strong. In 1991, she performed with Bikini Kill a Pro-Choice Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; in 2011 she gave a speech at a Planned Parenthood "Stand Up for Women's Health" Rally.
A documentary about Hanna titled The Punk Singer chronicled her life and work up until its 2013 release. Fronting the groups Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin still with a DIY ethos, Hanna also reformed Bikini Kill for its first show in 20 years in 2019… and had the current wave Riot grrrls, irrepressible L.A. lineup the Linda Lindas, opening. The future’s unwritten, but the end is nowhere near.
The Linda Lindas
The Linda Lindas as guests on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2021 | Photo: Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images
By the time the Linda Lindas’ Los Angeles Public Library performance of "Racist Sexist Boy" went viral in May 2021, the three teen (and one pre-) musicians were anointed with the mantle worn by previous all-female punk band groundbreakers including Bikini Kill.
It was late April 2019 when Amy Poehler saw the Linda Lindas open for Bikini Kill and recruited them for her 2020 film Moxie, where they perform Kathleen Hanna and co.’s iconic "Rebel Girl." In 2020, the Linda Lindas wrote a song for the Netflix documentary The Claudia Kishi Club.
"Racist Sexist Boy" tells the true story of an experience Mila, the band's drummer, had when a schoolmate made a racist comment before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the tune became a social media hit, all the right people (Tom Morello, Thurston Moore) took notice, and the band scored a deal with respected punk label Epitaph.
Self-described as "Half Asian / Half Latinx. Sisters, cousins and friends who play music together because it’s fun!" the Linda Lindas "channel the spirit of original punk, power pop, and new wave through today's ears, eyes, and minds." Ranging in age from 11-17, the quartet have already played with punk legends the Dils, the Gears, and Phranc. Their debut LP, the aptly titled Growing Up, came out in 2022, leading to appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, gigs in New York, and a tour with Japanese Breakfast and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The Linda Linda appear to have a firm hold on their career and position, as a sort of musical cri de Coeur in the lyrics to "Growing Up" makes clear: "We'll talk 'bout problems we share / We'll talk 'bout things that ain't fair / We'll sing 'bout things we don't know / We'll sing to people and show / What it means to be young and growing up."
Photo: JoAnna Jackson
10 Mad & Memorable Moments From Punk Rock Bowling 2023
From Rancid fans literally breaking barriers, to farewell sets from FEAR and club shows featuring Save Ferris and Alice Bag, get back in the circle pit and revisit highlights from Punk Rock Bowling 2023 in Las Vegas.
Since its inception in 1999, the Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival has become less about knocking down pins and more about making big musical strikes, showcasing the best in new and OG hardcore music.
Following COVID cancellations in 2022, PRB came back more raucous than ever this Memorial Day weekend. The four-day event felt very full circle too, with its usual mix of newer acts in early slots and legends as the sun went down.
The downtown Las Vegas event has grown with Sin City itself — especially the part of Vegas formerly known as the Old Strip, which is now the locale of choice for other big music fests including Life Is Beautiful and the rock and metal focused Sick New World.
Beyond the outdoor festival grounds, Punk Rock Bowling also felt like a reintroduction to Downtown Vegas. A plethora of punk shows were held at local clubs, while many of the big names playing the festival also made appearances as "tour guides" at the brand new Punk Rock Museum in the Arts District.
Everyone played their ‘hawks off, but some really made an impression on this writer. Here, GRAMMY.com shouts out the most memorable moments of what has become one of the world's premiere punk events.
Me First And The Gimme Gimmes Get Meta…And More
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes were the first band to ever play PRB back when it took place at local bars like Vegas’ Double Down Saloon — in 2023, they gave and gave. The super-group consisting of members from NOFX, Lagwagon and the Swingin Utters are known for rollicking punk covers of pop hits like Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" and Elton John’s "Rocket Man" and they served all the biggies during their main stage slot Saturday at PRB.
They also had a "secret show" at the Punk Rock Museum, where current bass player CJ Ramone did a guided tour prior to the set. The most meta part? The band played inside an exhibit — a replica of Pennywise’s garage practice room that was moved piece by piece and rebuilt by bassist and museum co-founder Fletcher Dragge. The Gimme Gimmes popped up at another surprise show at Fremont Country Club too, where they were joined by members of the Damned (also on the festival bill). Highlight track at all three weekend shows: an audacious cover of Paula Abdul’s "Straight Up!" complete with "Oh-oh-oh!" crowd sing-alongs.
Save Ferris "Come On" Strong
Punk Rock Bowling feels like an immersive experience when you attend the pre-parties during the week and late-night after-bashes. Many of these club shows feature bands on the festival bill in smaller settings, while others feature bands you can’t see anywhere else. At Thursday’s pre-party inside adjoining nightclubs Backstage Bar & Billiards and Fremont Country Club (FCC), a shining shindig was headlined by Save Ferris.
Singer Monique Powell’s saucy vocals were animated and elevated by the bouncing rhythms of her band, best-known for breaking out of the O.C. ska scene alongside No Doubt with hits like its vibrant cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ "Come On Eileen," and for appearing in the teen classic 10 Things I Hate About You. Angelo Moore of Fishbone brought his side-project Dr. Madd Vibe to the venue the same evening serving some cool funkadelic-flared jazz stylings.
Alice Bag Is Nowhere Near Decline
Women were well represented at the festival this year. Alice Bag (a.k.a. Alicia "Alice" Armendariz), frontperson for L.A. hardcore legends the Bags, might be best known for appearing in Penelope Spheeris’ seminal punk documentary "Decline of the Western Civilization," but she’s maintained a career beyond film as well. Today, Bag is an author, educator and musician.
Bag and her band played a potent club set on Friday night at Fremont. Incorporating some Spanish songs into the mix and lyrics that deal with everything from sexual assault ("No Means No!") to ageism, the Bag band proved music with a message can still be escapist fun too.
Lee Ving Bids "Fear-Well" But Still Sounds Badass
FEAR’s Lee Ving may be older and greyer, but the ferocious frontman is no less imposing onstage, even with reported health problems. The 73-year-old singer (and actor, as seen in Clue and Flashdance) announced just last month that his band will stop touring in the near future due to health issues.
Ving touted the band’s "Fear-well Tour" and Punk Rock Bowling appearance as significant for this reason and he’s not the kind of guy to pull a Motley Crue retirement fakeout. In any case, Fear’s early outdoor set at PRB Saturday lived up to any hype; while Ving didn't move around very much, he still sounded sprite and spot-on during classics like "The Mouth Don’t Stop (The Trouble with Women is)" and "I Love Living in the City."
The Adolescents Growl For The Grown Ups
Southern California’s the Adolescents represent how punk has literally grown up, even as it holds on to its figurative youthful aggression. The O.C. punks formed back in 1980 and have gone through countless line-up changes over the years, but they seem unified in their seasoned years — especially after founding member Steve Soto’s death in 2018 (they played with a backdrop brandishing "Soto" in 2019 at PRB).
Singer Tony Cadena remains one of the most tempestuous frontmen in music, and his growl felt feral as ever at PRB 2023. After all, there’s still plenty to be enraged about in our current world. From the brutal refrains of "Lockdown America" (written in 2018 well before the pandemic) to the familiar sing-a-long friendly choruses of the KROQ hit "Amoeba" and the early classic "Kids of the Black Hole" (about Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness’ punk squat apartment when the scene was new), the Ads showed that they aren’t kids anymore. But neither are their fans — and we all still need a release.
L7 Top Our Hit List
Though they were the highest billed females on PRB, the thing that’s always made L7 so inspirational is the fact that their gender was and is beside the point.
After a long hiatus, they got back together in 2015 and have been active ever since, releasing new material and playing diverse shows and festivals. Often lumped in with "grunge" bands due to the era in which they emerged, the band has major punk leanings which they showcased with ease and lots of energy during their main stage set at PRB on Memorial Day and the night before at their intimate and very late night Fremont club show. And both sets solidified "S— List" as one of the best punk anthems of all time.
Fishbone Bring Boogie Back To Punk Rock
Punk Rock Bowling regulars Fishbone always brings a refreshingly upbeat, dancey vibe to the festival, and this year was no exception. Since forming in the '80s, the L.A. band have influenced everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to No Doubt — and always emanates a joyful and jammy vibe on stage.
Seeing so many mohawked, patch-covered crust punks boogie to extended and reworked versions of Fishbone's most beloved numbers was quite the delight. Stand-outs at Saturday’s Monster stage show included "Alcoholic," "Pressure," "Bonin' in the Boneyard" and their biggest hit as a revelrous closer, "Party at Ground Zero."
The Exploited Explode On Stage
The Exploited are an essential punk band that many music fans might know of, even if they don’t know their material too well. It’s safe to say the Scottish band’s logos (a skull with a mohawk) are iconic, as the imagery perfectly reflects the darkness and destruction that early punk music sought to convey around the world.
During their Monday evening PRB set, the band, led by red-mohawked lead singer Wattie Buchan was defiant and debauched on stage… and it was a kick to watch. Meshing old-school street punk with the thrash-focused styles from later in their career, the Exploited kept the circle pit below them at the Monster stage whirling.
And despite the hate towards politics and religion in their lyrics ( i.e. "F— the System, "F— the USA"), their set ended with a real love fest as dozens and dozens of fans joined on stage for singing, hugging and mugging.
Rancid Offers Salvation After PRB Barricades Break
If there was one bummer moment at this year’s Punk Rock Bowling festival, it had to be when the barricades broke about six songs into Rancid’s headlining main stage set on Sunday night. The energy the band was building was pretty much destroyed, and though Lars Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong tried to keep the crowd entertained — even doing a couple acoustic numbers, including a ballad-y take on "Ruby Soho" — the repair break dragged on way too long.
Surprisingly, the spike-adorned audience did not riot nor fight, but there was yelling and boo-ing when a PRB rep came out on stage to ask for patience. But if anyone could come back from a lull like that, it’s the Northern California-bred punk rockers, whose music and style remains some of the catchiest of the genre, with ska and British rock influences infusing their noisy rants and swift tempos.
"Roots Radicals" and "Maxwell Murder" warmed up the show nicely until the imposed break and a slew of gems brought things back including "Salvation," "Fall Back Down,"" I Wanna Riot" (again, we’re thankful no one did), and probably their biggest hit, "Time Bomb." They even played "Soho" again, the right way, and debuted a new song, "Don’t Make Me Do It," from their forthcoming album Tomorrow Never Comes.
Suicidal Tendencies Prove They’re A Musical Institution
Though Dropkick Murphys did a fine job as the closing night act at Punk Rock Bowling on Memorial Day, they could have (and maybe should have) switched slots with Suicidal Tendencies, who were billed just before them. The Venice Beach outfit consisting of Mike Muir and some new, very young members on drums and bass (including Tye Trujillo, son of former ST/current Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo), came on like gangbusters and never quit for a second, except for when the infamously expressive Muir discussed the band’s journey and controversy over its name.
The set consisted of a full rendition of ST’s breakout Frontier Records self-titled release (though not in album order), including the still-relevant angsty favorite "Institutionalized" — a song that had the entirety of the festival screaming along with glee and capturing the spectacle on their cell phones. Two bonus tracks from the albums How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today and Lights… Camera… Revolution! rounded out the wonderfully rowdy show that proved Suicidal was always more about life than death. Just like punk rock itself.
Photos (L-R): Dasom Han, Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images, Gabriel Chiu, Rick Kern/Getty Images, Ethan Miller/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Han Myung-Gu/WireImage
Celebrate AAPI Month 2023 With A Genre-Spanning Playlist Featuring BLACKPINK, Yaeji, Olivia Rodrigo & More
Spotlighting artists of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, GRAMMY.com honors AAPI Heritage Month this May with 44 songs by Japanese Breakfast, NewJeans, Keshi and many more.
As spring blossoms and May rolls around, AAPI Heritage Month reminds us to recognize and reflect on the talents of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists — across the music industry and beyond.
It's vital to celebrate diversity year-round, and May sparks additional dialogue about reshaping spaces to be more inclusive, especially within industries that are traditionally difficult to break into. Today, the music community views difference not as an obstacle, but an opportunity to celebrate individual and collective identity.
While 2023 marks 60 years since the first Asian American GRAMMY winner, AAPI creatives have been making waves in the music community for centuries. Whether you're raging to Rina Sawayama's enterprising electropop or vibing out with NIKI's soulful indie musings, AAPI artists are continuing to shape contemporary genres like never before.
In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, GRAMMY.com compiled an original playlist to honor AAPI musicians' creativity and novelty. Take a listen to the playlist featuring more than 40 trailblazing creatives on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].