A NEW WAVE: FEMINIST PUNK

by Mike Vinti

Feminism has been in the news a lot recently. Whether it’s Femen’s brand of topless demonstrations, protests at the premier of the film Suffragette or straw-man attacks on the movement in the Spectator, for a movement that’s been active for some decades now, its seems that 2015 was the year the cause really broke into mainstream circles.

Pop music in particular has been significantly influenced  by feminism this year. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj established themselves as sex positive feminists and two of the biggest musicians on the planet, bands like Catfish & the Bottlemen are publicly derided for the kind of indie-lad-band antics that would have been celebrated in the NME five years ago and Whirr pretty much just wrecked their career by slinging misogynistic insults at the trans-fronted, feminist punk band G.L.O.S.S on Twitter. Two years ago we had ‘Blurred Lines’ – now we have clearly defined boundaries of consent.

While feminism has undeniably shaped mainstream pop music, it also brought with it an underground of explicitly feminist influenced musicians and bands. This is particularly true of punk. Traditionally a male dominated genre, the modern punk scene is more diverse in terms of genre, and increasingly race, than many others fields of pop music. Not only have women gained a platform in punk, they’re running it.

Traditionally a male dominated genre, the modern punk scene is more diverse in terms of genre, and increasingly race, than many others fields of pop music.

The aforementioned G.L.O.S.S are one such band. Having only released a demo, they’re relative newcomers to the scene but the urgency of their music rivals that of any hardcore veteran. Their name stands for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit and their musical is heavily feminist and explicitly queer, with songs names such as ‘Lined Lips and Spiked Bats’ and ‘Masculine Construct’.

Like any good hardcore punk band their music is brutal, pounding drums and crushing guitars pummel listeners into a state of submission as lead singer Sadie stomps through aggressive and confrontational lyrics, championing the victims of patriarchy. ‘Outcast Stomp’ is a particular highlight, a rousing hardcore anthem that wouldn’t sound of place on a Black Flag, featuring a chorus of ‘this is for the outcasts, rejects, the girls and the queers, for the downtrodden women who have spent their last tears.’ It’s music birthed from a life on the outside, filled with pain but calling for solidarity, music that highlights the ignorance of those who claim ‘feminism is over’.

 

G.L.O.S.S hail from Olympia, Washington, a city known for its vibrant punk scene and in particular Riot Grrrl, a movement of feminist hardcore punk bands. This year saw the return of one of the scene’s most critically acclaimed and well-known bands, Sleater-Kinney.

While less heavy than many of their Olympia based peers,  dabbling mostly in rock and grunge rather than punk, their politics are no less hardcore. The band are known for exploring both personal and political issues in their music and are one of the most acclaimed all-female bands of all time, being labelled the greatest rock band of the last twenty years by Sterogum’s Tom Breihan.

The increased profile of female fronted, feminist and queer punk music is no accident

The success of their returning album, No Cities To Love, marked a shift in mainstream audiences reception to explicitly feminist music, earning them a slot on Letterman and countless column inches in press. While their later albums before the hiatus had seen them gain appeal outside of the Riot Grrrl movement, the fanfare over their decision to reform highlights the impact feminism has had on pop music.

Yet it’s not just Olympia where feminist inspired punk is thriving and back on this side of the Atlantic, Savages are making some of the most high energy, genre pushing music in punk. Sitting somewhere between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, their music is brooding and brutal, with a more art-world flair than their US contemporaries.

Debut album Silence Yourself won them instant success, breaking into the top 20 of the UK album chart. It’s mix of fast-paced, bass heavy riffs and lead singer Jehnny Beth’s soaring, dark vocals introduced the band as an uncompromising new force in British post-punk, with their live shows serving to cement this. Lead track ‘Husbands’ is the Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux collaboration that never happened, all driving guitars and Banshees-esque yelps, while second single ‘Shut Up’ deals with the distraction of the modern world, Beth’s opening monologue aimed directly at the listener, urging them to ‘recompose’ themselves asking ‘perhaps after de-constructing everything we should be thinking about putting it back together’. Since then they’ve gone on to make a collaborative album with Japanese experimentalists Bo-Ningen and recently announced their second album Adore Life and released new single ‘the Answer’, an equally fraught but seemingly more personal track tackling issues of love.

 

Feminist punk has always had strong DIY ethos and it’s finally starting to pay off, with bands such Savages and G.L.O.S.S receiving attention they probably wouldn’t have received ten or even five years ago.

The increased profile of female fronted, feminist and queer punk music is no accident; it is the direct result of feminist movements such as Riot Grrrl working to tackle the challenges women face and to carve a space for women in pop music. So to Emily Hill and those who agree that ‘feminism is over’, I dare you, go listen to G.L.O.S.S and tell them there’s nothing left to fight.

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