Since the early '90s, the riot grrrl movement has served as a guide for music that addresses socio-economic issues and the exclusion of women in punk. Decades later, a new wave of female-fronted punk bands embody the attitude and ethos of riot grrrl.
In the early 1990s, a group of women in Olympia, Washington, came together to address the pervasive sexism and male-dominated nature of their local punk scene. These women decided to spark a "girl riot" and gave birth to the riot grrrl movement, providing a platform for female-fronted bands in a male-dominated genre.
Approximately 60 miles north in Seattle — where the grunge scene was dominated by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden — female-led groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were experiencing the same challenges and were determined to break into a largely unwelcoming scene.
While often categorized as a punk subgenre, riot grrrl is more about implementing messages about social activism within a song than a particular sound. Riot grrrl's do-it-yourself ethos promoted both artistic expression and activism — often seen through independently published and zines socially progressive themes in music. As a result, riot grrrl infiltrated mainstream media and captured the attention of a broad audience.
Although no longer in its heyday, riot grrrl's influence persists. Young, female-led bands continue to use the movement as a blueprint to address injustices, center the talents of women (and non-cis men), and make noise. Read on for eight bands that continue to embody the spirit of riot grrrl today.
Since their debut in 2016, Dream Wife has made their mark in the punk scene with politically-charged music and a feminism-motivated agenda. Unapologetically embracing the DIY mindset of the riot grrrl movement, Dream Wife cites the New York-based band Le Tigre as one of their biggest influences.
"The sense of community in the riot grrrl movement is something that we take to heart," Rakel Mjöll, lead vocalist from Dream Wife, told Buzz Mag earlier this year. "If you have a platform, you have to share it, however big or small it is."
On their 2023 album Social Lubrication, Dream Wife explores the patriarchal expectations and pressures that weigh upon women. The conflict is laid out clearly in songs such as "Who Do You Wanna Be?": "When the movement becomes part of the patriarchal system we swore to tear down/So what do we do?" The answer, of course, is to forge their own path.
Los-Angeles based band The Regrettes may not entirely consist of female-identifying members, but they are still renowned for the riot grrrl influence in their music. Lead singer Lydia Night has been touring since she was 12 years old, and made waves for her age and outspoken nature.
With three studio albums and countless tours under their belt, the Regrettes has found its way into mainstream media — and for all the right reasons. The band blurs the lines between indie-pop and punk, producing a genre-fluid sound that is coupled with empowering lines about feminism.
On their popular 2017 track "Seashore," a then 16-year-old Night owned her youth. Proudly, she sang about not allowing herself to get belittled by older people: "You're talkin' to me like a child/But my words are growin' stronger/And my legs keep gettin' longer."
Skating Polly has perfected the raw DIY aesthetic, from being self-taught musicians to their homemade-looking music videos The band is a family affair, with sisters Kelli and Kurtis Mayo joined by their stepsister Peyton Bighorse.
While the band still addresses political inequality within their songs, those themes don't dictate their entire identity. "I think girls deserve to be able to write songs that aren’t just simply about politics," Kelli told Alternative Press in 2018. "Not everything should be about standing up for your rights. Girls should be able to write songs about whatever the hell they want, the same things that men want to write about."
From performing at SXSW to opening for Yard Act, the Welsh band Panic Shack has been making noise in the indie music scene. Although their music fits the general definition of a punk band, with raw vocals and loud, stripped-down guitar riffs, they reject the label. Panic Shack unapologetically promotes feminism and aim to inspire younger female-identifying artists and increase the representation of girl bands.
"When we were younger all you saw were men in guitar bands, so it didn’t cross our minds that it could be something we, as girls, could ever do," guitarist Romi Lawrence told Guitar.com. "If us being a band that other girls can look to and be inspired to pick up an instrument by or write a song, then our job is done."
In their song "I Don't Really Like It," Panic Shack convey a powerful message succinctly: "When you look at me like that/I don't really like it/Hey, when you talk to me like that," which are repeated for nearly four minutes straight. The track underscores the importance of promptly acknowledging and respecting someone's feelings when they express their dislikes, without the need for repetition, with the central message overall protesting catcalling and the objectification of women.
From crafting a monthly zine to writing and producing their own music, the Canadian duo Softcult epitomizes what the riot grrrl movement stood for.
While citing Bikini Kill as one of their greatest influences, Softcult infuses shoegaze and dream pop into their punk sound. In their latest EP, See You In The Dark, Softcult illuminates several pressing subjects, from sexism to climate change. In standout track "Drain," Softcult channels their frustration toward corporate and political entities who prioritize capitalism over environmental concerns.
The duo recently wrapped a U.S. tour opening for Movements, but their current trajectory suggests that they’ll be headlining venues in no time.
Hailing from Colorado, Cheap Perfume fearlessly confronts and critiques patriarchal systems. Importantly, within their feminist values, the group preaches intersectionality.
Through their track "Fight Like a Girl," Cheap Perfume reclaims the term "girl" as a source of empowerment, challenging the notion that women should remain quiet and submissive. The song dismantles the criticism women face when they speak out against injustice, highlighting how women are often unfairly judged for their actions, and reinforces the need for change.
"To us, feminism is believing in the equity of all people, especially those who are oppressed or viewed as lesser in society," Cheap Perfume’s guitarist told Westword in 2021. "I really think that feminism is for anybody who wants to fight for the rights of women, and that’s all women. So that's including trans women and all kinds of different folks from different backgrounds."
Founded in 2012, Seattle band Tacocat emerged as a refreshing force within the contemporary riot grrrl movement. What sets them apart is their inclusion of pop elements, which bring a catchy and infectious quality to a genre known for its raw, unapologetic sound.
One of the band's standout moments was when their track "Grains of Salt" was featured prominently in the Netflix film Moxie. The film follows a young protagonist as she kickstarts a feminist zine to empower her female-identifying peers. Tacocat's music, with its roots firmly planted in social consciousness, serves as a perfect complement to the movie's empowering message. Their songs are also thought-provoking, characterized by witty lyrics and a lighthearted sound.
While Tacocat is currently on hiatus, their legacy lives on through their three studio albums. Filled with guitar-driven melodies and lyrics that make listeners ponder, their music is a testament to riot grrrl’s everlasting influence.
Mommy Long Legs
Proudly dubbing themselves as a barf-core and brat-punk band from Seattle, Mommy Long Legs takes jabs at sexism, racism, and gentrification throughout their discography.
On "Ditched You," the quartet casts the spotlight on an individual who claims to be a feminist, yet in reality, is a performative activist. Behind the facade of allyship, the character speaks down to women, exhibiting the traits he once claimed to oppose. Thus, Mommy Long Legs leaves the character behind and "ditches him." The catchy song critiques inauthentic efforts, and pushes for genuine commitment to social change.
Mommy Long Legs also use glitter as their weapon of choice, decorating their faces with it, in efforts to reclaim and redefine the idea of femininity in a society that has also determined their idea of what femininity is.
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