Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rebel Girls

Always a firm believer in girl/woman culture made for women by women, as well as a kind of make-your-own-feminism, I'm a big fan of girl groups (if anyone takes offence to the designation, please substitute "girl" for woman, or lady, or chick, or whatever your appropriate term for humans with ovaries is. It is, in my humble opinion, our duty as feminists to reclaim definitions.).
While female singer-songwriters have never been as prominent as their male counterparts, they have done well in both in exposure and numbers compered to bands whose line-up is mostly, or exclusively female. And though I have nothing but love, respect and gratitude to the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Björk, Joanna Newsom and Mariie Sioux (just to name a few), this one goes out to women joining creative forces with other women.
From as early as the 60s, when The Shirelles, The Chantels and The Shangri-Las filled the airwaves, the girl group has been a controversial concept. Fast forward 10 years from the heyday of these prominently African-American chanteuses, and being a girl and playing your own instrument was still considered anomalous.
Whether one sees The Runaways as one of the first manufactured girl bands, or the first female rock'n rollers, they certainly lit the way for young women musicians everywhere. And not just in attitude, but in style. For better, or worse, girls in bands have always a tremendous influence on the fashions of their era and I for one believe in celebrating these stylish ladies.
The Raincoats certainly did not have fashion in mind when they wrote their seminal self-titled album, but one can't deny that these ladies had some amazing style.
That, and they did forever alter the course of history, along with the Slits. Without these post-punk women of far-reaching vision Riot Grrrl might have never happened.
It might be said that to go from the singular Raincoats to the somewhat forgettable The Like is something of a leap of imagination and perhaps it might be right. However, it can be argued The Like, The Tints and the other girl bands formed (and sometimes disbanded)during the 00s paved way for the current renaissance of female bands increasingly entering the mainstream.
Their hometown of Los Angeles seems to be a hotbed of hot girls who can play their own instruments and have the attitude to match.
And don't fault these girls for having amazing style. Rock 'n Rollers through out history have been style icons and it's about time us girls got in on the action. Whether or not nepotism helps you get there is another matter entirely. At least the Like has honed to perfection that revolving-door line-up policy of many rock supergroups of yore.
(check the awesome Spice Girls Poster!!!!)
Whether super chic or down-to-earth, girls who play music together always seem to be the best of friends. Until, of course, they're not. Hopefully in the case of Mountain Man, it will be a long, happy relationship, as the sweet, soft folk of these former college housemates is very close to my heart right now. Formed quite casually in their Junior Year, this band exemplifies the creativity that appears often around your like-minded peers, perfected at house-shows and road trips and sleep-overs. The quiet kind of revolution girl-style, now.


Friendship is also in the heart of another LA girl band, Warpaint, originally formed by two childhood friends and a pair of sisters.
Playing their own sweet brand experimental music, an equal mix of punk, psychedelia and pop, the band has a distinctive sound that has garnered them much notice in the music press over the last year. Always pushed into the margins, girl bands have had a tendency to create truly original music, marginal, independent in the best sense of the words.
Their music could not be further from the synthesizer chanson of Au Revoir Simone, but it seems the raison d'etre of girl groups always remains the same: hang out with your friends, create music together, travel the world with your best girls.
Cute dresses and professional styling may be a bonus, but fundamentally all true girl bands are about expressing your inner dork, freak, nerd.
Leave it to the popular girls to do synchronized dance routines and lip sync to tapes, the rest of us would rather sit in the dark room developing photos and listening to Bikini Kill 'till our ears bleed.
These queens of the Riot Grrrl-movement made my teenage self believe I could be in a band (the trouble was I couldn't convince anyone else to be in one) solely because they were so much like your outcast best friends: unbelievable cool, yet totally approachable.


Hailing from the same era and area Sleater-Kinney have left a permanent mark in the heart of most of us 90s girls. Though their music was danm near impossible to come by in the cold, dark North the few vinyls the library had to offer were totally life altering: fast, fun and feminist.
A Riot Grrrl group for more than a decade Corin Tucker & Co. were an integral part of the lives of tens of thousands third wave feminists and left a lasting imprint in our culture. I'm sad to miss that exit on this up-coming road trip, but will salute it extra hard next time around.
Every insult, put-down and patronizing statement ever levelled against girls with words and guitars has probably also been levelled against Hole. Its front woman may well be one of the most reviled (kinder)whore/madonna in the history of Rock 'n Roll. As the widow of the messiah of high school music nerds everywhere, Courtney Love has been called everything from genius to hack, from too controversial to sell-out, from unfit mother to tragic figure, and from feminist to proliferator of male fantasies.
And while Hole may not have been the trailblazer Love might have wished to see her band as, she has certainly fought valiantly the expectations and hypocrisies young women trying to brake out of their traditional gender roles face. It seems that Love's method has been to embody all of these stereotypes at one time or another, blasting through each one as she changes, yet somehow, mysteriously remaining true to herself.
On a more frivolous note: is anyone else as excited about this as I am?
No other modern girl group (can two be a group?-I say they can!) embodies all of the afore-mentioned virtues of muses and makers of music, as CocoRosie does.
Certainly the masters of letting your freak flag fly, these musical wunderkinds do things truly their way, never paying mind to the popular opinion, the gender rules, the music label bosses.
Fiercely independent and profoundly odd, CocoRosie make music that defies definitions and expectations, as well as mix up the boundaries between good taste and bad, male and female.
Their influences range from Native American ceremony to Opera and Hip-Hop and they never apologize or explain their own odd-ball concoctions.

Throughout history women artists have done as these sisters do, and made their art only for themselves, for most of the time no one else was listening (see:Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Judee Sill ad nauseam, ad infinitum...).

Now tell me: what girl groups rock your boat?

Further reading: Girl Power by Marisa Meltzer and Girls To The Front by Sara Marcus
You might also enjoy: Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. I sure did.

27 comments:

  1. I am super pleased by this post. I gotta add Heart to one of my favorite girl groups. Anne and Nancy Wilson rip it up AND have the most awesome style. Check it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gpNqB4dnT4

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  2. Wow what an amazing and thought-out post. Thanks for turning me on-to some new-ness here and for also honoring some of my favorite musical pillars! And your birthday looked so lovely!!

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  4. i love you. you must have read my mind. i was thinking last night that i needed 1. new music, 2. girl singers in said music 3. to revisit some of my 90's riot grrl bands. must be that aquarian thing. thanks so much for this post. be sure to shoot me an emal with your addy. i left my email in my comment in your last post. i have some birthday goodies to send your way.

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  5. Fantastic post! These are my favorite girl groups in order:

    1. The Ronettes
    2. Fanny: The first all-female hard rock band. (Some might argue that the first was actually Goldie & the Gingerbreads or The Liverbirds, but those ladies, as talented as they were, weren't exactly "hard rock".)
    3. The Honey Ltd.

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  6. loved this post so hard! i need more girl groups in my musical repertoire, which is definitely dominated by lady solo singer/songwriters. one of my friends just introduced me to cocorosie, they're so surreal and so sublime.

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  7. Honey child! You're amazing!

    Here's something else I've been meaning to say to you- for being a foreign born lassie your knowledge of American popular culture far surpasses my own. And I grew up with free reign over the television set! No, not true, I wasn't allowed to watch MTV. Maybe that's why.

    Your posts are always so thoughtful and informative, I appreciate you very much for making the effort (I know it takes a lot!).

    This reminds me of a cassette tape that my mom, sis, and I always listened to in the car. I can't find anything about it online but it was called Super Girls and it was all girl bands from the 50s and 60s. We LOVED it and belted our hearts out to My Boyfriend's Back, Johnny Angel, Leader of the Pack, The Locomotion, etc. Thanks for taking me back.

    I'm gonna alert Sasha to this post, I think she'll love it.

    Oh, and big thanks for pointing out the Spice Girls poster, love it :-)

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  8. I love all the bands here! I just bought an X-Ray Spex album yesterday - they are very cool - in the vein of Bikini Kill.

    Two New Zealand ones I'll recommend as well are The Coolies and Look Blue Go Purple.

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  9. super post! my favourite all girl group is electrelane, sadly they disbanded a couple years back before i got to see them. effie briest are pretty sweet too. and lights (new york band not the canadian solo with the same name) are lovely
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUfjPR4wCqQ

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  10. I love this post so so much! Girl groups, feminism, and riot grrrl are all such fantastic inspirations. I love that you combined riot grrrl groups with groups of today. LOVE!
    xoxo

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  11. holy moly! Thanks so much for the introduction to CocoRosie, i think i'm in love. I'm so excited now to google the heck outta them. I am always buoyed by celebrationofwoman-ness posts. You write about our magic so beautifully.

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  12. The whatcourtnyworetoday blog is friggin superboss btw.

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  13. ahhh! i just wrote this huge comment and the window shut and erased it!

    i guess i'll have to rewrite it.
    what a great and informative post! your knowledge on this subject is rad! thanks for sharing these gals with us.

    i was just talking about girl singers last night. and while they are not my favorite (i don't know why. i've spent some time thinking about it and can't come to a reason) there are a handful that i really really enjoy. not all "girl bands" but... siouxsie, exene, emmylou harris, billy holiday and neko case. i also loved hole and still do eventhough it's been a long time since i listened to them. the supremes rule and i use to listen to the cocteau twins and dead can dance back in the day. i like the go go's too. ok. so i guess there are more than i thought ;D

    i liked that mountain man song. and the spice girls poster! i immediately noticed it there on the mirror :D

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  14. You found some great shots!!! Fun to browse... I've been stuck on First Aid Kit- cute lil' Swedish sisters that harmonize like honey! I love singing along with women singers but guess they're not really groups- Norah Jones, Neko Case, Fiona Apple for old times sake, Tina Dico, Save Ferris, and the one girl group the Andrew's Sisters!!! (my musical taste is all over the place). Cool post!

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  15. Oh, you bet I enjoyed Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. I also really enjoyed Mountain Man when I first heard their stuff awhile back and meant to purchase some of their music, then didn't get around to it and promptly forgot. I was thankful for the reminder at the end of your birthday post!

    What an awesome line-up you've got here. Somehow, sadly, I kinda missed out on the whole riot grrl thing. My big punk loves back in those days were Fugazi and Bad Brains, nothing feminine going on there!

    Back in the early 90's when I was in my early 20's, I hung out with a group of girls and we were good friends at the time with a bunch of guys who played in local bands. We had this whole fantasy about how we were gonna start a band ourselves, though none of us could play any instruments. Our scheme was to get our guy friends to teach us. I was going to play base, ha! Of course, it never happened, just something to talk about while we were out at bars and parties. Ah, the good ol' days :)

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  16. You always amaze me with your thoughtfulness, which, let's face it, I should be used to by now. I'm such a rube when it comes to music, so naturally most of these gals are new to me. But they seem like they're definitely worth checking out :) Muchas gracias, chica!

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  17. Fantastic post--you've listed most of my favorites from the 70s-90s. LOve Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Hole...etc. Adore all the punks before them. An earlier group of a different genre I dig is ESG--their organic sound is heavily sampled still today. their songs make me happy.

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  18. yay! we're getting spoiled with all these great Milla posts! Thank you for the introductions to new girl bands too :)

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  19. Hey girl! Just wanted to let you know I am passing the Versatile Blogger Award on to you!

    I'm not sure all the ceremony that is usually involved with it, but my post about it goes up tomorrow (friday) and the rules and picture and stuff are on there.
    I love your blog and I hope you all have a great weekend!! <3

    -Ronda

    http://wakingupinwaco.blogspot.com/

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  20. GREAT post! I didn't even know CocoRosie consisted of more than one person, so thank you for enlightening me! I'll definitely be checking out the bands I hadn't heard of. If you don't know Best Friends Forever, they're a super fun girl group!

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  21. Excellent post! I'll have to check some of those out.
    One of the girl groups I'm really into is The Be Good Tanyas - excellent instruments, bluegrass and dresses!

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  22. love love love this post. totally brought me back to my web of Bjork, Fiona Apple, Patti Smith, Riot Grrrls, L7 ,Lita Ford, Heart, Blondie, Joanie and Stevie. Oh music, I love you..Ladies in music, I worship you.
    I remember I started a Riot Grrl band in high school. None of us gals knew how to play, but some how we acquired all these instruments. We would jam out , shreik about boys, ripped n' torn baby doll dresses and how much we hated this town..
    Thank you. I truely am inspired to dive back in time right now..Aaaand , here I gooooooo!

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  23. I got so excited for the Sleater-Kinney! Dig Me Out was a life changing album!
    Please try and dig up and listen to:

    The Need
    Dahlia Seed
    Cat Power
    Beach House (not all women but lead voc and damn eerie good)

    I can't wait to search out all these creative ladies!

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  24. Oh what a lovely post of these lovely ladies!

    CocoRosie is a super favorite of mine and Warpaint I "found" just recently and cannot wait to see them in Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona.

    ps. Terveisiä Berliinistä, sulla on mielenkiintoinen blogi. :)

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