‘Riot grrrl’ punk in retrospect
Willoughby Thom | Thursday, October 10, 2019
It all began with Patti Smith.
In 1975, Smith released her debut album “Horses,” the spark that ignited the punk explosion. Due to her political insight, simplistic song structures and sophisticated beat poetry, it presented something that resembled the sounds of the past fused with modernity and uniqueness that had never been heard before. Her powerful spoken-word poetry is not the only thing that made her punk — it is also the fact that she is a woman. During this time, music remained a male-dominated industry, but she abruptly and successfully infiltrated the unjust music world with her undeniable self-confidence.
Smith is the godmother of “riot grrrl” punk.
The term “riot grrrl” first appeared in fan-zines that circulated the underground punk scene and among various feminist communities in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s. If you are unaware of what a zine is, it is a circulated self-publication of various texts and art forms. It is common to see zines that are a collection of collated photocopies of physical prints. Nevertheless, the term “riot grrrl” is seen as the catalyst for the formation of many feminist groups, which encouraged activism through the forms of performance, art and discussion. The scene provided a safe space for all women not only to talk about sensitive topics like sexual identity and rape culture, but also inspired action against obvious misogyny and sexism.
Musically, “riot grrrl” is raw punk — pure, undeniable punk rock.
Smith’s style is considered punk rock, and she is the embodiment of “riot grrrl,” but the musical movement didn’t officially begin until the formation of Bikini Kill in October of 1990 in Olympia, Washington. The group’s goal was then, and still is, to reclaim “girlhood.” Kathleen Hanna’s authentically raspy voice and confrontational stage presence brought further attention to important feminist issues through the power of music. Hanna became famous for bringing all the women in the audience to the front of the stage and promoting girls-only mosh pits at Bikini Kill shows to provide a sanctuary from the male-dominated facets of the punk scene.
The “riot grrrl” movement still holds true today.
Bands like The Regrettes, Kuromi and Tacocat continuing to preserve and shape the future of “riot grrrl” punk and, thank God, because the world sure needs some young, powerful females in charge.
Something to note: The “riot grrrl” movement, which is closely associated with the punk movement, is often see as aggressive and intimidating, but that is not entirely true. Being passionate about something can often be seen as “aggressive,” but that’s the nature of passion. Being passionate about something fuels action, and it is a fire that drives change. “Riot grrrl” punk is powered by that desire: equality, justice and self-expression.
In regard to self-expression, one of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to look like a “riot grrrl” punk to be a punk. If there was a guideline on how to dress, then it wouldn’t be punk at all. Wear whatever makes you feel beautifully powerful — other people’s opinions are worthless.
No woman should be afraid to speak their mind and achieve justice for what they think is right.
To all the women reading this, no one is allowed to tell you how to act, think or dress. It’s your life, your body and your opinions. Stand by your convictions, speak up for beliefs and act on your intuitions.
Long story short, girls: open up the mosh pit, be undeniably self-confident and unleash your inner “riot grrrl.”
If you would like to hear more, check out Scene’s ‘Riot Grrrl’ playlist on Spotify or take a look at the website for Scene writer Willoughby Thom’s zine.