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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Grrrrr! Riot! Riot!

Yeah, that got your attention. The so-called Riot Grrrl scene received a lovely little smack on its cherubic red lips in yesterday's Guardian:

Their mere existence retooled feminism and punk for new generations of music-obsessed girls, showing young women they could start bands and put their lives, frustrations and inspirations into song - and that you didn't have to be a virtuoso for it to be powerful.

Er, maybe. Or is it that there's a bit of a lip-glossing of the past going on? Lipstick feminism adopts fun music scene from 20 years ago.

If girls and young women have been inspired to believe in themselves as a result of seeing or hearing (or even reading about) Huggy Bear or Bikini Kill, then great. In a live setting powerful music plus a strong stage presence can definitely do this: most famously the Sex Pistols' first Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, or Gary Lucas seeing Captain Beefheart in New York in 1971 (“It was the best music I’d ever heard performed by the most exciting and colourful group I’d ever witnessed, period”).

But .... the Riot Grrrl thing looks over-manufactured to me. Shouting a few "Girl revolution!"-type slogans (with plenty of Twitter-esque exclamation marks) over choppy guitars and fast-ish drumming is fine. Not necessarily brilliant though. Inspiring? Maybe.

Like a lot of writing about so-called "scenes", I reckon there's too much marketing in the mix. Yeah, we've got books to sell, theses to write (I read a PhD-based book by a US feminist a few years ago that kept citing the Riot Grrrl bands as major players in US feminism; I would have failed that PhD).

I'm not denying the individual impact of this stuff. That's what music - good, bad, and X Factor-y - is all about. But spare us the big claims and overly-neat packaging (especially if you're flogging a book).

But hey, Riot Grrrl may have spawned the vacuous "Girl Power" of the Spice Girls variety (you're never truly responsible for your children, are you?) but at least we've had some good shouty stuff from (say) Bis and (the excellent) Wet Dog. My personal faves were perhaps the (now-defunct?) Brighton band The Blue Minkies. Check out their You Make Me Blush single. It's a RIOT!!

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