I recently read Girls to the Front: The true story of the riot grrrl revolution by Sara Marcus. I read it for a number of reasons – I’ll read pretty much anything about or by bands that I have even a passing interest in; I love punk / DIY and political music; I love reading about scenes; it was a scene that I was aware of at the time, but not particularly, and I wanted to know what I missed. And I am increasingly interested in women in music, but I’ll come back to that later this post and others – but boredom with a lot of new (male, inevitably) music I hear and Everett True is the short answer.
I really enjoyed the book and there are so many things in it that I ought to come back to over the coming months on this blog. Some might even be in this post. Who knows, I don’t really know where this post is going. But the one thing that I took out of it – the book, not this post – was just how much it was a (female, mainly) youth movement, not a music scene, though back in the day I saw it as a music scene and little more, but then why would I, I was a teenage boy reading the music press, not a woman participating in one of the numerous local groups across (mainly) the States? Riot Grrrl was local, young feminism. Feminism is politics – it shouldn’t be, equality should be a given, but as of right now it is. And Riot Grrrl was addressing political issues that were not strictly feminist, though arguably all issues are feminist issues.
As I said previously on this blog, I went to a record and ‘zine fair at the wonderful Boileroom in Guildford a few months back and approached a twenty-something girl sitting behind a desk and a laptop. We only chatted briefly, but she said she was in a band and – I didn’t mention this before – described that band as a “Riot Grrrl” band. They are called Kamikaze Girls and they rock, as I later found out using a search engine thing which is a thing for searching things on a thing called the world wide web, something I expect many of you will have heard of. Or something. Their song Tonic Youth in particular is great. I have a 3 year old son and he likes it as much as he likes early Pet Shop Boys and that is saying something. Still need to catch them live, one day I hope.
Why do Kamikaze Girls describe themselves as Riot Grrrl? When she said the words I was surprised, maybe even shocked. Even though I was reading Girls to the Front at the time I still thought “why would you identify with a predominantly American scene that pretty much died not long after you were born?” “Why would you tie yourself down like that?” “Why would you categorise yourself in such an obviously uncommercial way?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know that if you’re basically a young female indie / punk / DIY musician then I can see why you’d want to be part of a ‘girl gang’ and identify with feminism.
The other thing that surprised me when I briefly met Lucinda – for that is her name – is this. She answered “no” when I asked if her band was a political one. Why?
The band identify as Riot Grrrl, which is basically feminism, which is basically politics. On social media they hoped that Britain would vote to remain in the EU, an overtly political issue. Most importantly, in my eyes, a claim to not be interested in politics is a claim to have no interest whether children are educated properly; whether the NHS is there to save your life when you get a serious but treatable disease; whether the country is run by the rich and powerful for their own benefit, or ordinary working people and the disadvantaged and disenfranchised for the benefit of the many. Not doing politics, or claiming not to, is batshit crazy in my eyes.
But they do clearly do politics, they are a political band because elements of their message are political (a band’s message is its interviews and social media posts as much as it is their songs). I’d even argue that by making noisy guitar music in 2016 you are making a political decision not to take an easier route to fame and fortune, you’re taking a decision to be an ousider, and stand alongside other outsiders, as opposed deciding to be a pop act with semi-naked dancers who are standing for nothing other than the right of corporations to make as much money as possible with no concern for the collateral damage that follows from a money-obsessed, shallow society that makes the objectification of women maintream culture.
I suppose that my conclusion has to be simply this. Young people – and many older people, especially in northern / Welsh former mining and industrial communities – just do not feel that politics and politicians do anything for them. They are so disenfranchised that they feel that politics is not for them, even if certain political issues are. The main three parties in the UK, and the media that reports politics in such a tribal, dishonest and anti-intellectual way, should hold their heads in shame that political people choose not to identify as such.
Before I go –
Riot Grrrl Manifesto from 1991