ISBN number: ISBN: 9781906155018
Publisher: Black Dog Publishing
All artwork by Freya Harrison – www.freyaillustration.co.uk
“Rebel Girl, Rebel Girl, Rebel Girl you are the queen of my world” sang Bikini Kill to their eager following, each yearning, like me, to be their very own Rebel Girl. Unhappy with the status quo a small army of like-minded grrrls set about rebelling against a male dominated music scene; riot grrrl was born.
Nothing could surpass the excitement I felt upon discovering the sub-genre of riot grrrl, feeling truly connected to the music and messages within it. I was too young to appreciate riot grrrl’s heydays of the early ’90s, but just the aftermath and old records were enough for me. The thrill of listening to this angry, passionate female punk music was electrifying. Rather than just being on the sidelines it made me realise I could be a part of something too!
‘Riot grrrl: revolution girl style’ seeks to unpick the origins of the movement, it’s history (or herstory), and the impact on the musical and cultural scene today. Riot grrrl is typically thought of as being about female musicians in visceral, confrontational stances but it was also so much more. As the book demonstrates, riot grrrls across the United States and Europe took the opportunity to affirm a cultural identity for themselves; a new community through which they could build links of mutual support and interaction in. In many ways, after punk was co-opted and commercialised, for a few fleeting moment, pre-Spice Girls and sanitised ‘girl power’, Riot Grrrl was the new punk.
Riot grrl represented a true rebellion; against social norms, against capitalism, against patriarchy and, perhaps most importantly and most confrontational, against the existing underground scene. Fed up with being constantly sidelined and feeling that they had no real voice, riot grrls scathingly pointed out through their songs, writing and activism how a supposedly radical scene was a microcosm for society and gender imbalance.
Through the text and images the book documents the energy and excitement behind riot grrrl, alongside the factors behind how it came about to explode as it did in the small town of Olympia, to grow over the world, as well as the cultural legacy it has left in it’s wake. In addition to the music of Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Huggy Bear, to name some of the key players, zines were a driving force behind the riot grrrl movement of 1990’s. They ranged from the typical A5 hastily cut and pasted zines, frenzied rants of angry individuals, manifestos for change, to meticulously put together publications. As the book shows it was important for riot grrrls to be in control of their own media, making sure that their voices were heard in the way they wanted them to be. When the mainstream media pricked up their ears and ran stories on this burgeoning scene people were hesitant, however the doubled edged sword of the mainstream allowed the ideas to permeate corners around the world that they would otherwise never have reached. However, when titles like ‘USA Today’ and ‘Rolling Stone’ were increasingly ridiculing and patronising, a media blackout was encouraged, forcing riot grrrl back underground.
The book itself is a real feast for the eyes, jam filled with images on most pages of assorted riot grrrl paraphernalia from zine covers, artwork, subvertisements, band photos and from protests. However at times the visual presentation, done to look very DIY-photocopy-styled jarred with the formal academic language that was often used by the authors. I also have to mention that for me, the decision to reference all quotes at the end of the chapter, without also saying within the text who had said what, was infuriating.
Of course one of the legacies of riot grrrl has been Ladyfests. Over the past few years they have truly mushroomed around the globe, springing up all around the UK, America, Europe, Australia and even elsewhere. Individual Ladyfest’s are organised by different local collectives, creating a space to celebrate female musicians, performers, film-makers and the the like. They also aim to raise awareness of important political and social justice issues. Without riot grrrl as their touchpaper, and strong networks to tap into, it’s unlikely they would have spread like wildfire in they way they have.
Riot grrrl also represented a new form of feminism. For many it was accessible and relevant to their lives in a way second wave feminism now looked redundant. Whether Riot Grrrl and Third Wave Feminism came simultaneously together or fuelled the fires for each other is a matter up for debate, but they certainly shared many parallels; challenging notions of female sexuality, queer theory and female empowerment. But the beauty of riot grrrl versus any academic labelling system was that you could live and be riot grrrl. You could participate, make friends, go see a band, express yourself and most importantly, have fun!