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.