This week at Canonball, we’ll be writing about our latest book club selection, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus. To prepare the uninitiated for the fangirldom that will surely ensue, we’ve culled a few links and put together a quick, selective overview of riot grrrl.

Briefly: riot grrrl was a movement of young feminists (often teenagers) in the early 90s who formed bands, created zines and held meetings to talk about feminism and their experiences as women. The first communities formed in Washington, D.C. and Olympia, Washington, and chapters had spread throughout the country by the time the movement started to fall apart in the mid-90s.

Lindsay: Though riot grrrl was all about community, perhaps no single band was more emblematic of the movement’s passionate politics and underground ethos than Bikini Kill. Headed up by the inimitable Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill emerged from the underground scene in Olympia, and took the punk world by storm with their uncompromising feminist anthems. Of an early Bikini Kill gig, Marcus writes in Girls to the Front, “Every muscle in her body drawn stick-taut, her eyes clenched shut, Kathleen danced like a convulsion, like she was trying to throw up or shake her skin from her bones. Her face blared rage, disgust, baleful accusation.” Don’t just take her word for it, though – here’s a video of the band performing “Suck My Left One” and the veritable riot grrrl theme song, “Rebel Girl.”

Mia: I’ve been listening to Heavens to Betsy a lot recently, whose songs I wish were feminist anthems the way Bikini Kill’s have become. They were from Olympia, a scene that encouraged everyone to perform, regardless of ability – as result, Marcus writes, the band had a name before they had any serious practicing under their belts. Luckily, they were good, and their songs were well-received for their honest and powerful lyrics. Band member Corin Tucker would go on to found Sleater-Kinney, a band that would ultimately become much more popular. Before I get carried about with recommendations, I’ll just advise everyone to get their hands on the album Calculated. In the meantime, check out White Girl (“I want to change the world/ but I won’t change anything/ unless I change my racist self”), Stay Away (“My love, my life, my words, my heart/ Are things that you can’t take apart”) and Paralyzed, whose lyrics, I think, are amazing (“I know what privilege is, I know what mine is and why/ But if I could I’d steal yours/ And I would fly so fucking high”):

Lindsay: Riot grrrl eventually made its way across the Atlantic, thanks mostly to boy/girl revolutionaries Huggy Bear. Inspired by their one-time pen pals and later tourmates in Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear were outspoken about their feminist politics and made quite a stir in the British press. Their blistering performance of “Her Jazz” on the British show The Word is perhaps the finest and most infamous moment in riot grrrl TV history. Clad in an unquestionably spectacular wig, lead singer Niki Elliot launches off a series of manifestoes as explosive as torpedoes: “This is happening without your persmission/The arrival of a new renegade girl/boy hyper-nation.” After the song, the show cut to a segment featuring two “self-described bimbo” Playboy models, and guitarist Jo Johnson yelled from off stage at the show’s host, “You think all fucking women are shit, do you?” – igniting a riot that would get the band and their entourage dragged from the studio. Young bands, take note: that’s how you do live TV. Here’s a clip of the performance:

Mia: Zines were a crucial part of riot grrrl. I mean, imagine trying to disseminate ideas without the Internet (I can’t!) and without the mainstream media or publishing industry. As Marcus explains, the girls composed articles on typewriters (again, something I can’t imagine – do you feel OLD yet?), and decorated the pages by hand. Everything was glued together, collage-style, and photocopied – often for free in someone’s or someone’s parent’s office. In 1991, Bikini Kill Zine #2 published the Riot Grrrl Manifesto that declared:

BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.

Lindsay: As mentioned above, self-published zines were a way for riot grrrls to express themselves and share ideas with other like-minded grrrls. Some zines now live on on the Internet, like Bikini Kill/Frumpies member Tobi Vail’s Jigsaw. Flavorwire recently posted a great visual history of riot grrrl zines as well.

The conversation on riot grrrl continues here tomorrow. As always, we love hearing what you have to say, so keep the comments coming.

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