Photo: A. Jesse Jiryu Davis
Documenting the impact of the '90s riot grrrl movement
From Bob Dylan's protest songs in the '60s to Rage Against The Machine's leftist rants in the '90s, socially conscious music has often been celebrated for its boldness and progressive vision.
In the early '90s, riot grrrl emerged as a vibrant feminist punk movement in the Pacific Northwest, led by bands such as Bikini Kill, the Butchies, Excuse 17, Heavens To Betsy, and Third Sex, among others. Riot grrrl, which generally attracted high school girls and young women not far removed from their teens, drew criticism from both the mainstream and underground music media. For the young women and girls in the movement, media accusations that they resembled whiny children rather than righteous revolutionaries felt like an extension of the institutionalized sexism that had been used to oppress women for centuries.
"We were young and we were doing something that was really important to us," says Kathleen Hanna, former vocalist for Bikini Kill, arguably the movement's preeminent band. "It was a time when feminism was considered ridiculous. There's still a lot of that around today. We were not only ridiculed in the mainstream press, but we were also hated in the underground magazines."
Approximately 20 years later, riot grrrl is receiving acceptance as a viable social and musical movement with a lasting impact. The Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University has established a riot grrrl collection to document the evolution of the movement. Fanzines, journals, flyers, clippings, photographs, and video footage are some of the materials that have been donated to the collection by riot grrrl artists. The collection will provide primary resources for scholars studying feminism, punk activism, gender theory, and music history.
The fanzines, in particular, were a critical component of the movement. Homemade riot grrrl zines, including provocative titles such as Housewife Turned Assassin, were often personal reflections on feminist issues such as reproductive rights, violence against women, unequal pay in the workplace, and stereotypical female body image expectations.
Girls To The Front, an in-depth book examining the history and importance of riot grrrl, was released this past September. Authored by former riot grrrl participant Sara Marcus, the book attempts to bring clarity to the movement and dispel lingering misperceptions. For example, the book aims to punctuate the point that riot grrrl was not just about music, but a scene that also embraced meetings on important female issues, national conventions, social activism, art, fanzines, and other devices designed to empower females.
"Riot grrrl had become this vague cloud of anything that happened in the early '90s that had to do with women and loud music," says Marcus, who first became involved in the movement as a high school student living in suburban Maryland in the mid-'90s. "But that [inaccurate definition] leaves out the zines and teenagers having meetings. It definitely became a scene of the music world, which did keep the idea that there was this thing called riot grrrl alive. So many movements that don't have a musical component completely vanish."
As an indispensable founding figure in the riot grrrl movement and one of its most political outspoken exponents, Hanna discovered firsthand the power riot grrrl and music had in bringing hope and solace to people in crisis. Her prior experience volunteering at rape relief and domestic violence shelters helped her counsel fans via letters or even in person after concerts.
"A lot of women that I met or wrote me letters would say they felt too nervous to go to a rape relief place or to call a crisis line," Hanna recalls. "They felt more comfortable talking to me because they felt they knew me through the music. I was doing crisis counseling in back alleys after shows. Then the mail started pouring in and it was mostly girls, but sometimes boys, who had experienced sexual violence. I always tried to point them in a good direction."
By the time the riot grrrl movement began to wane in the mid-'90s, chapters had been planted in major cities from New York to Los Angeles and Chicago, and in heartland areas such as Oklahoma, Minneapolis and Texas. There were also scenes in other countries, including Brazil, Canada, England, Scotland, and Switzerland. Some of these chapters were small, but provided a testament to the movement's international reach.
The youth-oriented profile may have helped energize the riot grrrl movement, but it also contributed to its demise.
"People aged out of it pretty quickly because it was largely about expressing a certain kind of anger and clearing up a certain kind of confusion that's really endemic to late adolescence," Marcus says. "For a movement to really endure, it's helpful to have some continuity. You need some people to stick around to bring the next people up to speed. That's not something that happened."
Riot grrrl's influence has been felt significantly in music and society. In the late '90s the Spice Girls adopted the scene's girl power theme. Edgier female artists such as Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette emerged as successful mainstream artists. Today, riot grrl's theme of empowerment is also noticeable in organizations such as Girl Rock Nation, which is designed to motivate and inspire young women in music.
"Riot grrrl was obviously a huge influence on young girl's ability to see themselves as rock musicians. There's certainly no longer a sense that a girl can't play the guitar or drums," says Lisa Darms, senior archivist at Fales Library & Special Collections, who is overseeing the riot grrrl collection.
Hanna is reminded of the movement's influence whenever she hears from women who grew up with riot grrrl. Some now thank her for writing back to them when they were troubled or searching teens. Marcus and Hanna also say that there are quite a few women from the movement that are now working in the media and able to help spread the riot grrrl spirit through their work.
Is the time ripe for a riot grrrl revival?
"I'll say that I definitely hope that my book is going to help spark young people to have some of these conversations that were so important to me and my friends when we had them at that age," states Marcus. "But I hope that [there isn't] a riot grrrl revival. I hope people form something on their own that arises directly out of their own conditions and not out of a wistfulness for a past moment that they missed."
(Jon Matsumoto is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.)
Bikini Kill in 2019
Photo: Debi Del Grande
Bikini Kill Announce Dates For 2020 World Tour, Including Olympia Benefit Show
On March 13, 2020, the legendary Riot Grrrl founders/'90s punk group will return to where it all began—Olympia, Wash., for a special show benefiting local homeless shelter Interfaith Works
Today, the iconic '90s punk group Bikini Kill announced a 14-date 2020 world tour, kicking off where the band was founded, in Olympia, Wash. on March 13. This first show, at Capitol Theater, is a special one, as it will benefit local female- and LGBTQ- focused homeless shelter, Interfaith Works.
We're so excited to announce more shows in 2020 - Portland, Seattle, Boston, Montreal, and more! We're offering a very special presale tomorrow morning from 9am- 12pm PT for Bikini Kill fans. Sign up for the newsletter on our web site to get the code: https://t.co/igiqXSg0Om pic.twitter.com/vBD14CIpVA— Bikini Kill (@theebikinikill) November 6, 2019
The 2020 tour will also bring the iconic Riot Grrrls to U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland, Ore, Philadelphia and Boston during the months March and May. Internationally, they'll touch down in Victoria, B.C., Montreal and Oslo. The Norway date, which will take place at Øya Festival on Aug. 12, is currently slated to be the final show of the jaunt.
The 2020 tour follows Bikini Kill's reunion at the beginning of the year, which led to four sold-out shows total in New York and Los Angeles from punk queens Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox and Erica Dawn Lyle. They also played their first-ever festival headline set, at 15th anniversary Riot Fest in Chicago in September.
The "Rebel Girl" group also recently reissued two of their classic albums on vinyl and CD, Pussy Whipped and Reject All American, from 1993 and 1996, respectively. Both have been out of print for seven years, and proceeds the release of their entire musical catalog on streaming services (Apple Music, TIDAL and Spotify) last fall.
Tickets for their 2020 tour go on sale this Fri., Nov. 8 at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET, with a fan presale beginning 24 hours earlier. A presale code will be sent out via the Bikini Kill newsletter, which you can sign up for on their homepage.
Redd Kross performing at Burger Boogaloo in 2017
Photo: Erika Reinsel
Burger Boogaloo 2020 Lineup: Bikini Kill, Circle Jerks, John Waters & More Announced
The initial lineup for the festival, taking place July 2020 in Northern California, also includes Carbonas, Plastic Bertrand, Bleached, Alice Bag and others
Summer 2020 may feel like it's an eternity away, but the slew of lineup announcements for next year's summer festival season is already starting to heat up. Today (Dec. 10), Burger Boogaloo, the quirky rock festival in Northern California, has announced the initial lineup for its 2020 edition. The two-day event, taking place July 11-12 at Mosswood Park in Oakland, Calif., will include highly anticipated performances from recently reunited punk legends and riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, who are performing for the first time in the Bay Area in 25 years. Hardcore punk icons Circle Jerks and Atlanta punks Carbonas are also confirmed for the festival, marking the first Bay Area show in a decade for both acts.
The Burger Boogaloo 2020 lineup also includes Plastic Bertrand, in their debut Bay Area show, Bleached, Flipper, Chicana punk luminary Alice Bag and others. Additional acts will be announced in early 2020.
Two-time GRAMMY nominee and infamous cult film director/writer John Waters returns for his sixth consecutive year as the festival's host.
In addition to the lineup announcement, Burger Boogaloo, which celebrates its 11th year in 2020, is currently offering a Holiday Ticket Special, which includes discounted general admission and VIP weekend passes while supplies last.
To view the full lineup and to purchase tickets for Burger Boogaloo 2020, visit the festival's official website.
Photo: Steve Eichner/WireImage
Legendary Riot Grrrl Band Bikini Kill Reunite, Announce Tour
The "Rebel Girl" band will play all-ages shows in Los Angeles in New York City and a 16+ show in Brooklyn, N.Y. in the spring
Bikini Kill, the legendary politically outspoken feminist '90s punk band that launched the Riot Grrrl movement, have reunited and announced a tour.
The "Rebel Girl" band, who inspired women to express themselves via music and DIY culture, will play all-ages shows in Los Angeles and New York City, as well as a 16+ show in Brooklyn, N.Y. that will begin in the spring.
"Bikini Kill are thrilled to announce they will be regrouping to play shows in NY and LA this spring," the band said on their website. "They will perform with their iconic line-up of Kathleen Hanna on vocals, Tobi Vail on drums, and Kathi Wilcox on bass -- along with guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle."
The group formed in 1990 and were based in Olympia, Wash. and Washington, D.C. Before their break-up in 1997, they recorded and released a demo, two EPs, two LPs and three singles. They toured the U.S., Japan, Europe and Australia.
Frontwoman Hanna went on to form band Le Tigre and a solo career as Julie Ruin. The Punk Singer documentary is based on her activism and musical career and shows the singer's life and battle with Lyme disease.
Tickets for all three shows will go on sale on Friday, Jan. 18. Both NYC shows will be on sale at 9 A.M. PT / 12 P.M. ET, while the L.A. show will go on sale at 10 A.M. PT / 1 P.M. ET. For more info, visit the band's website.
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."