40 years of partying like a punkette
August 12, 2016 8:34 PM   Subscribe

The Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs: From Patti Smith to Bikini Kill, the songs that have crushed stereotypes and steered progress (Pitchfork). More than a list of songs, it's an overview of feminist expression through raw music, from 1975 to 2015, with an introduction by Vivien Goldman. "Because nothing beats jamming and singing with your sisters. That is punk. Punk freed female musicians. It is yours. Sing it, play it, live it now."

To understand some of the selection process of the Pitchfork staff, here's the intro to the piece:
“Feminism,” “punk,” and “feminist punk” can have many definitions, culturally and personally. In attempting to capture the spirit and story of this lineage, we had to narrow down these enormous fields. We looked for songs that make their feminist messages clear—not just songs by punks who are feminists, and not songs that were “punk” or “feminist” in spirit alone. In this context, we defined punk as some kind of raw expression, not only an attitude. We looked for rallying cries that have questioned, explored, and destroyed stereotypes, in which the form of the music has mirrored the message. We believe they are classics that cross canons, set precedents, and uphold virtues for the idea of feminism in punk, and the artists who wrote them have moved punk forward.

We'll let a true punk vanguard take it from here....
  1. 1975 - Patti SmithLand” (and Horses / Land, live in Stockholm, 1976)
  2. 1977 - X-Ray SpexOh Bondage! Up Yours!” (and live at the Roundhouse in 2008 with Zillah Minx, plus Poly Styrene's daughter)
  3. 1978 - The BagsSurvive” (and live in Portland, Oregon)
  4. 1979 - The SlitsTypical Girls” (extended music video; and live in London ULU on Friday 16th October 2009)
  5. 1979 - CrassWalls (Fun in the Oven)
  6. 1980 - Bush TetrasToo Many Creeps” (music video; alt.link: Vimeo; and live at The Standard, New York, June 25, 2012)
  7. 1980 - Neo BoysRich Man's Dream” (and some live clips from the documentary Northwest Passage: The Birth Of Portland's D.I.Y. Culture
  8. 1980 - The BratAttitudes
  9. 1980 - Kleenex (later LiLiPUT) “Hitch-hike” (music video; live footage)
  10. 1981 - Vivien GoldmanPrivate Armies” (see also Vivien Goldman aka the Punk Professor with "Moist" Paula Henderson, performing Launderette live in 2011)
  11. 1982 - The RaincoatsNo One's Little Girl” (and live at Scala, London, UK 20.5.2010)
  12. 1983 - VulpesMe Gusta Ser una Zorra” ("I Like Being a Slut," performed live in 1983 on the Spanish program “Caja de Ritmos” ("Drum Machine" or "Rhythm Box")
  13. 1985 - Sonic YouthFlower” (and live in Mojave Desert, California, January 5th, 1985)
  14. 1987 - Mecca NormalMan Thinks ‘Woman’” (music video, and live in the 1990s in Chicago)
  15. 1988 - FugaziSuggestion” (and live in DC in 1991)
  16. 1990 - Fifth ColumnShe Said ‘Boom’
  17. 1991 - Bikini KillFeels Blind” (and live)
  18. 1992 - 7 Year BitchDead Men Don't Rape” (and live in Long Beach, CA, 1993)
  19. 1992 - L7Pretend We’re Dead” (and music video, live TV appearance on The Word, 1992)
  20. 1993 - Slant 6What Kind of Monster Are You?” (and live at Fireside Bowl, Chicago, IL, 12/10/94)
  21. 1993 - BratmobileCool Schmool” (and live at Jabberjaw, L.A., 1993)
  22. 1993 - PJ Harvey50 Ft. Queenie” (and music video, live in Chicago (Metro), 1993, live at Release, Athens in 2016)
  23. 1993 - Huggy BearHer Jazz” (and live on Channel 4)
  24. 1994 - HoleViolet” (music video, and live and uncensored on MTV Awards, 1995)
  25. 1995 - SpitboyWhat Are Little Girls Made Of?
  26. 1998 - The Julie RuinCrochet” (and live set at Pitchfork Festival in 2015)
  27. 1999 - Le TigreHot Topic” (and live on Granada TV)
  28. 2000 - Sleater-Kinney#1 Must Have” (and live on Trackers, New York City, Feb. 24, 2000)
  29. 2008 - New BloodsOh, Deadly Nightshade!” (and a live clip from Boulon on 19.05.08)
  30. 2014 - White LungI Believe You” (and live in LA in 2014 as part of Urban Outfitters (UO) Live)
  31. 2014 - PriestsAnd Breeding” (and live at the Wilderness Bureau in 2014)
  32. 2015 - G.L.O.S.S. [Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit] “G.L.O.S.S. (We're From the Future)” (and live at Static Age Records, Asheville, NC on 9/26/2015)
  33. 2015 - Downtown BoysMonstro” (and live@DemocracyNow, January 2016)
posted by filthy light thief (48 comments total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
And from a comment I saw on Facebook: this list could have started earlier, because punk started in Detroit in the 1960s with "girl bands" like Pleasure Seekers (Wiki).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 PM on August 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

posted by evilDoug at 8:51 PM on August 12, 2016

The fact that they included Huggy Bear's "Her Jazz" (one of the greatest songs ever, imho) almost makes up for the So Much Missing. But to start: The lack of Au Pairs is inexcusable.
posted by thivaia at 9:06 PM on August 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

And from a comment I saw on Facebook: this list could have started earlier, because punk started in Detroit in the 1960s with "girl bands" like Pleasure Seekers (Wiki).

The Pleasure Seekers, What a Way to Die features the killer line, "Please don't make me decide between you and a bottle of beer." There's also a surviving film clip of The Pleasure Seekers with Suzi Quatro and her sister Arlene Quatro (who also happens to be Sherilyn Fenn's mom).
posted by jonp72 at 9:18 PM on August 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

If anybody's looking for a more modern update of the 1960s aesthetic found on the "Girls in the Garage" compilations, there's a great clip here of The Pandoras, Hot Generation.
posted by jonp72 at 9:21 PM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree that it's an oddly thin list, especially with early 1990s focus and gaps in recent years, but I forgive them for introducing me to the New Bloods' one and only album (Bandcamp).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:21 PM on August 12, 2016

posted by alex_skazat at 9:50 PM on August 12, 2016

2000-2008 and 2008-2014 seem like weird, large empty spots.
posted by gucci mane at 10:55 PM on August 12, 2016

I mean, no feminist punk during the entire Bush administration?
posted by gucci mane at 10:56 PM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

The gaps are obvious, but I like most of what was included. If I was grading this, I would say "great start, but please resubmit when it is complete." This is a genre I have always enjoyed and valued, but mostly it has gotten shamefully little recognition.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:06 PM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just listened to the Raincoats' self-titled album for the first time in many years the other day and was impressed to discover I still knew most of the lyrics. I'm glad I got a chance to imprint on a bunch of the listed artists, like a little punk feminist duckling.

Also Alice Bag has a new album out and what I've heard of it so far, I dig.
posted by the marble index at 12:43 AM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by Room 641-A at 2:35 AM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

They went with "Pretend We're Dead" for L7? Compared to literally anything off Hungry for Stink, that song is downright wreak.
posted by Dysk at 2:51 AM on August 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

YouTube playlist
posted by divabat at 3:38 AM on August 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Needs more Donnas. I know. They're not punk. But I don't care.
posted by mondo dentro at 5:54 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like the Donnas, but putting them on a feminist punk list is like putting Fall Out Boy on a list of great political punk.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:02 AM on August 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

plus I want Amy Ray's "Blender".

There, I said it.
posted by allthinky at 6:12 AM on August 13, 2016

Shouldn't X be in there somewhere?
posted by octothorpe at 7:06 AM on August 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Excellent. Looking forward to listening!
posted by Sophie1 at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2016

Of course there's tons of gaps, even trying to stick to bands with specifically feminst messages. As with any list. For the 2000-08 gap, I would nominate The Coughs, "Fright Makes Right". For the more recent gap, Criaturas were at their wicked peak.
posted by bendybendy at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of the things that strikes me about the Bush II regime was how bad music--feminist and otherwise--was. When Reagan and Bush I were in office, college rock and labels like Twin/Tone and SST were putting out vital music that addressed the horrors in the world. In comparison, I can think of a small handful of bands during the Bush II era that were making important music, and those bands were working on a smaller, more personal level. I know there are a bunch of cultural reasons for this, but I'm still surprised and disappointed at how bad music was during those years.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:22 AM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Because women’s contributions are so often hidden from herstory, when the riot grrrl movement began in America, those women were virtually unaware that their UK sisters had been fighting parallel battles two decade earlier. But the Americans were way better funded and organized than we had been, lurching through no-woman’s-land to make ourselves heard. It took awhile before Kurt Cobain championed the Raincoats and Sonic Youth bonded with the Slits."

This is super reductive and unkind to the women in Riot Grrrl. Riot grrrls were very aware of woman driven punk from back in the day. We knew our history. We traded zines and mix tapes as part of our community building and sisterhood. Guy led bands like Nirvana didn't get me or any of my friends into feminist punk. Kim Gordon, not Sonic Youth as a whole, was responsible for getting some of the word out about riot grrrl music and culture by doing the same thing the rest of us were: sharing music and zines and supporting feminist musicians.

Germ Free Adolescents was the first album that I ever bought. This was 1992. My best friend idolized Siouxsie Sioux. We existed. Just as it's important to acknowledge those who came before, it's also critical to honor those who kept the culture alive.
posted by batbat at 7:27 AM on August 13, 2016 [16 favorites]

I like the Donnas, but putting them on a feminist punk list is like putting Fall Out Boy on a list of great political punk.

I wouldn't even call them a punk band...more like garage rock
posted by thelonius at 7:36 AM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

(I made my comment as someone who was in middle school when Bush I took office and who actively sought out new music. The 2000s were not a good era for good new bands.)
posted by pxe2000 at 7:37 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Batbat: I can't speak for the punk scene on the whole, but I know that a lot of 1970s punk was out of print, not heavily bootlegged, or only available as expensive bootlegs in the states when riot grrrrl broke over here. When I read Ranters & Crowd Pleasers by Greil Marcus, I sought out the bands he reviewed, but the only one I could find was The Raincoats (since Nirvana had bankrolled reissues of their albums in 1993). X-Ray Spex and The Slits were only available as expensive imports, and Essential Logic and Kleenex/LiLiput were not available at all. This was pre-Napster, and $20 was a lot of money for albums I hadn't heard. I know Kathleen and Kim were talking up those artists, but for the average riot grrrrl, those albums were inaccessible (or only available due to the patronage of people like Kurt Cobain). That paragraph was inelegantly worded, but I agree with the point she was making.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:46 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

What I remember was just combing the used record shops for old UK punk, the little of it that was ever circulated here in any quantity - I have the Penetration album, the rare 90s Adverts rerelease on green vinyl, two Magazine albums, all the Au Pairs albums (which were actually distributed here pretty well, they were fairly easy to find) and a Shop Assistants EP and that was about it. (We didn't really distinguish punk/not-punk the way I think people seem to want to - it was more "music that is interesting and politically okay" and "music that is not".) I actually bought doubles of the first Raincoats rerelease CD because I was afraid it would get too scratched and I would never be able to replace it. God bless Kurt Cobain, really, those are such wonderful albums.

But there was lots of stuff I wanted but could never get - the Slits, for instance. You'd hear "Shoplifting", which was the one that was on all the compilations, but that's about it. Kleenex/Lilliput, more Shop Assistants, lots of stuff. And there were things that I never even heard of - the Bags, for instance, I didn't hear about until a few years ago. And I was reading everything I could back in the nineties - I literally read a copy of England's Dreaming to pieces.

If you lived in or near a city and you knew people (or if you stumbled on some of the swapping-by-mail stuff) you could get things taped off of records. I had no idea, for instance, that the Xray Spex rerelease was rare, because someone in my social circle bought it and we all had taped copies, so everyone listened to it all the time.

But my best find, oh let me tell you my best find story! The Mekons are a band with many iterations, some punk, all left wing. Sally Timms and and Susie Honeyman were in the band, so it seemed women-centering enough to me at the time (also, I have had dinner with Lu Edmonds and he is really nice, people). Anyway, you could not get any of their albums but an import CD of the first one and their 90s stuff. I kept hopelessly checking record shops for Honky-tonkin' and So Good It Hurts, and they were never there. Then one day I was in the late Oarfolk records in MPLS and I noticed that they had a tiny wall-mounted locked case of cassettes sort of stuck in the back (this was just as cassettes were really fading out). And there in the case were both albums!!! My heart started beating really fast and I literally thought I was going to die of joy, and I was all frantic while I got the woman at the counter to unlock the case, lest some other customer somehow spirit them away. Then I got them home and listened to them and they were even better than I had dared to dream. Every song was good - every single song!

That was winter of 93, and those were basically my most precious tapes for years and years. No one else really got their genius, but those are both brilliant albums with so much so say.
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on August 13, 2016 [20 favorites]

Also I saw Huggybear at Motor Oil Industrial Coffee/Speedboat Gallery in St Paul, and I still have the tshirt. (Bright aqua with "Huggybear" spray-paint stenciled on it.) Although it was a bit tight on younger thinner Frowner and hasn't fit in years. Huggybear were super aggro and I was kind of scared of them even when I was literally paying them for the shirt. I was so excited about that show, though; I really, really loved their EP and indeed made my own Huggybear t-shirt by tracing the cover.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

That paragraph was inelegantly worded, but I agree with the point she was making.

I don't really - the women making riot grrl music had access to all that "rare" vinyl and were very well read in punk and music history. "Virtually unaware" is a huge overstatement. "Somewhat removed from" might be better. I had access to all this rare vinyl and tons of publications on 70-90s music history in Tucson, AZ - hardly a big city - because I rolled the with music obsessive set.

I wouldn't even call them a punk band...more like garage rock

Sadly, garage rock was where anything radical or feminist about the early 90s went to die. (Still bitter.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:46 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like this list, but it could use some War on Women.
posted by sc114 at 9:05 AM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that a way to talk about this is to acknowledge that access to music and information during riot grrrl was uneven. I too hung around with music-obsessives, met some big-small zine makers (and made some zines), went to a few places and events that were...well, I didn't get to most of the legendary places or events, but I've been to a few. And music access was uneven - there were, as I say, many things I wanted that no one had and many things I never even heard of.

But there's another piece here - I think that riot grrrl was about music, but it wasn't some dude record-nerd enterprise, where everyone had to prove their status by knowing who recorded what 7-inch in what Camden basement in 1979. So in addition to the unevenness of access, it just....wasn't as important. I was in the same social circle with a couple of women who were MPLS riot grrrl scene people, although I didn't know them very well, and even the one who wrote about music as her whole thing didn't approach it from that angle. I was much more of a dude-style music obsessive than any other AFAB or cis woman person I knew. Basically, people were into the music they liked, and might know a great deal about a band or a label or a musician but you didn't have to be an expert if you didn't want to.

On another note: I remember how judgey everyone in that scene could be (not just riot grrrl, the whole 90s political punk scene) and how stupid it all was. I feel like I was really damaged by that social milieu and, as cool as the stuff I got to do was, I wish I'd stuck with the nerdy theater people who were my first real friends around that time. I also wish I hadn't been so hard on people. It was really unpleasant most of the time, much more so than any other part of activist culture I've ever been in.
posted by Frowner at 9:09 AM on August 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was only semi-joking about including the Donnas. For starters, they're not hoity-toity enough to make a Pitchfork list of anything. (And I say this as someone who adores much on this list.)

I think they should get some credit for their feminism, though. It's not overtly political, and certainly not highbrow, but it's hard to find a more aggressive inversion of the male gaze than in their kitchy take on crotch rock. I hate that male hair band shit, but somehow the Donnas transmute it into something I love blasting in my car.

But, yeah. Not comparing them to Patti Smith or P.J. Harvey or Bikini Kill...
posted by mondo dentro at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Frowner, I agree that information was spotty for fans and participants as the concept of riot grrl spread across the US, but I was referring specifically to women like Kathleen Hanna and other women musicians from the Olympia scene where "the riot grrrl movement began in America" as Vivien Goldman's intro states. I second-hand knew many of these women and they were not unaware of the legacy of women in punk, which is what Goldman claims. That's what I'm specifically refuting.

but it's hard to find a more aggressive inversion of the male gaze than in their kitchy take on crotch rock.

Mmmm, I was there at the time and the garage rock boys ate that shit up. The Donnas didn't do anything style-wise that the Runaways hadn't done decades earlier and were younger, possibly less gay Joan Jetts to drool over.

BTW, you know who can still shred it? Joan Jett. She is amazing live.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:29 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, it's no A Reference Of Female Fronted Punk Rock Parts 1,2 & 3, but I'll take it.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:43 AM on August 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

My initial response to your comment, Squeak Attack, was "cool story, boo", but I want to expand on why I sort of agreed with the writers' crediting Kurt Cobain for making the Raincoats more accessible. Riot grrrrl leaders were absolutely aware of how important the Slits, X-Ray Spex, etc. were--I first learned about The Slits because Kim Gordon name-checked them in Sassy--but their music was inaccessible to most music fans in the States until very recently. I lived in a city with several well-stocked record stores, and the few punk albums by women that made it to the bins cost $20--and I couldn't listen to them on a preview station to make sure I was going to enjoy them. I only had Germ-Free Adolescents and some Au Pairs singles because one of my friends dubbed them for me from his record collection. If I had that hard a time finding those records in the pre-Napster era, they were most likely inaccessible to some punk girl fans in North Dakota or somewhere.

In 1992/93, the only person with the pull to get the Rancoats' discography rereleased was Kurt Cobain. Kim and Kathleen could talk those bands up as much as they wanted, but Bikini Kill were on a tiny label in Washington that didn't have a budget to pay for reissues, and Sonic Youth were seen as an exotic prestige band on a big label. Since Kurt was an epochal talent and had the sales figures to back it up, he used his powers to get at least one band back in print.

I find White Male Savior stories as boring as the next intersectional feminist does, but Cobain making the Raincoats more accessible to a younger generation is one of the few times that old saw is accurate.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:00 AM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Super weird to see a feminist punk playlist and the Crass song isn't off of Penis Envy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

For folks who for whatever reason don't do music on YouTube, BTW, but are OK with Spotify, I made a playlist. It's more comprehensive than I thought it would be, but alas it is not complete per the original article.

A really interesting list, for whatever it's worth — as all such lists are, inevitably open to contestation, per all the things you've already noted. A couple-few bands I hadn't heard of, too. So, yeah, enjoy.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

There is plenty of regressive bullshit in garage rock of the late 90s-early 2000s to be embarrassed about, but there were some very feminist bands as well. The Red Aunts, the Chubbies, the Drags, Trashwomen, the Headcoatees (and friends), and lots more I'm forgetting.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:43 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of the things that strikes me about the Bush II regime was how bad music--feminist and otherwise--was.

Not if you like metal. Plus, a lot of what fueled feminist punk in the 80s and 90s took the form of writerly alt-folk in the 00's, like Jenny Toomey, Edith Frost, Tara Jane O'Neil, and so on. Even so, there was Tracy and the Plastics, Mocket, Electrelane. That these artists were decidedly not hardcore or punk-sounding probably has more to do with Green Day's ascendance than punk as a necessary component, and the time of the Bush II era was the time of democratized multitrack recording for home computers.

There is always an underground, and I think "punk" as a necessary genre vehicle for subcultural politics is an anachronism.
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2016 [16 favorites]

Rhizome: I just heard Electrelane for the first time yesterday, and I'm angry I didn't hear them sooner.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:26 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I do feel like something happened in the late 90s. In the first half of the 90s there were all kinds of female-fronted bands from all kinds of different types of styles, but then in the late 90s they all pretty much disappeared. It's like the record companies as s grip said "OK, enough of that- from now on, women's only role is to be the occasional pop or soul singer."

And I combine this with recent articles about how women's roles in movies and TV were less constrained in the 80s than today, and I can't help but think the War Against Women started 20 years ago, and it's mostly been lost.
posted by happyroach at 3:48 PM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The lack of Au Pairs is inexcusable.

Pink Pop:
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:49 PM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Really sad to see "Typical Girls" anywhere on that list. It's just four minutes of off-key internalized misogyny.
posted by sleepy psychonaut at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2016

I've always read those lyrics as a pretty pungent critique of essentialism and received notions of what it means to be a woman. Not that my reading is canonical, or that I mean to hold Ari Up...up as some kind of transcendent feminist icon, but I have a hard time seeing what you're seeing.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:35 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Red Aunts, the Chubbies, the Drags, Trashwomen, the Headcoatees (and friends), and lots more I'm forgetting.

What did you find very feminist about the Drags, Potomac Avenue?
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:04 AM on August 14, 2016

I'm new to MeFi, and wow, I love everyone in this bar.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 12:33 PM on August 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

Not to pig pile on Teh Missing but I am always listening for rawk to inspire my daughter. (To be doled out in age appropriate aliquots.) Slutever covering Girlschool's "blah blah blah" is ready for deployment at a moment's notice.
posted by drowsy at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I too was surprised at the omission of Au Pairs; they were highly visible so what's up with that?
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

What did you find very feminist about the Drags, Potomac Avenue?

Doh, I definitely remember the bass player singing on some tracks but looks like she didn't. How about the Shitbirds instead?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:10 PM on August 15, 2016

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