Boston did an awesome thing. Along with the statement that “girls need to see other girls picking up drumsticks, basses and microphones”, the city declared 9 April ‘Riot Grrrl Day’ in honour of Kathleen Hanna (who was visiting the city on a speaking gig).
So we got to thinking – what were our favourite riot grrrl songs, growing up? Who were the feminist badasses we held up as icons? We chose our top 5: who else would you have included?
5. Her Jazz – Huggy Bear
Huggy Bear, Britain’s Brighton-based riot contingent, erupted onto the scene in a teasing, leering, snarling maelstrom of fury and it felt fucking amazing to witness. They talked of filthy revolution, of gender and of class; their gigs were sweaty, girls-to-the-front, moshpit-occupying, confrontational flights and their songs a delicious mess of scratching, shouting mess stirred through with magnificent stompy riffs and lyrics which sought to agitate and educate. Their triumphant, crashbangwallop performance on tragically awkward youf TV show The Word felt like something monumental and monolithic was shifting, as all good pop counterculture appropriation of the mainstream should. Lucy Cage
4. Cool Schmool – Bratmobile
Bratmobile’s sing-songy take-down of macho hip boy posturing is one of the cornerstones of riot grrrl music. Formed by Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, Bratmoblie sprang out of a collaboration on the equally influential zine Girl Germs. Bratmobile stood alongside Bikini Kill and Heavens To Betsy at the onset of the first wave of riot grrrl. Proclaiming,“I don’t want to sit around and talk about the Wipers/Weren’t those the good old days” and, “I don’t want you to tell me what’s so cool/I don’t want to go back to junior high school,” Bratmobile flashed the bird at the conventional cooler-than-thou posturing they observed in the Olympia, Washington punk community. By rejecting the Disease of Cool, Bratmobile helped establish an atmosphere that valued sincerity over cynicism, and liberation from judgmental one-upmanship. Megan Beardsley
3. Pretend We’re Dead – L7
Less political than contemporaries Bikini Kill or Bratmobile, L7 are the jewel in the scowling, angsty crown of riot grrrl. Pretend We’re Dead (which was originally penned as a breakup song) veers between heavy-metal pop and grunge to be one of the best examples of sticking it to cultural normalcy. Donita Sparks holds together the clash of sounds with her tough-as-nails growl. Veritably spiteful and sugary in equal measure, this is the standout track from 92’s album Bricks Are Heavy – while it may not have the same political clout as many of the other Olympia acts, Pretend We’re Dead more than delivers a stinging blow in vitriol. Faye Lewis
2. Dig Me Out – Sleater Kinney
Just before newly-reunited Olympian alumni Sleater Kinney step onto the stage at London’s Roundhouse, we whisper animatedly to one another: “Top three wishlist; go!” Without hesitation, I gush: “Dig Me Out”. Whether it was blaring from bedroom speakers or propelling a sea of girls quite literally to the front of the pit, the lead track from the Portland trio’s third studio album sent out a message to its contemporaries: this is a band that delivered the punch their words would go on to describe. The album also saw percussive powerhouse Janet Weiss join the fold and this track’s relentless snare snaps and shuffles only hint at their more political forthcomings in the Bush-bashing One Beat. As Brownstein slams down on the fret board to eek out those frantic first chords, we raise a vitriolic fist and surge forward; let’s call this love. Cheri Amour
1. Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Yes, it’s an obvious choice. Rebel Girl is pretty much the soundtrack to everything riot grrrl, the sheer ferocity of Kathleen Hanna’s squalling, churlish vocals demanding revolution, grrrl-style now. But its raw production and bleeding, beating heart are not the only things that lend the track its anthemic quality – the message is the most powerful thing about it. The media has pitted women against one another for decades, and in an era dominated by manufactured feminisms (Spice Girls, anyone?), here Kathleen Hanna raised her glass to another woman in all her imperfect glory: “When she talks, I hear the revolution / In her hips, there’s revolutions”. Riot grrrl is more than an era, a genre or a group of artists – it’s an ideology, a womanifesto, brought to life by larger-than-life Hanna. Rebel girl, you are the queen of my world. Annette Barlow