Part One of Interview here
Part Two of Interview here
If you could put together a riot grrrl compilation CD what would be the essential songs you would put on it?
I think essential songs would have to include 'Double Dare Ya' by Bikini Kill, also two obvious choices: Huggy Bear's 'Her Jazz' and Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl', also Bratmobile's 'Make Me Miss America', the Frumpies 'Frumpies Forever', Voodoo Queens 'Supermodel Superficial', Mambo Taxi's 'Push That Pram (Under The Train)', Pussycat Trash's 'Blessing Mix Up' and 'Girlfriend', Helen Love's 'Formula One Racing Girls', Heavenly's 'Atta Girl', God Is My Co-pilot's 'I Surrender Complete Control to Ann', Sister George's 'Janey's Block', Delicate Vomit 'Popstar', Skinned Teen 'Geometry of Twigs' and 'Nancy Drew', Tsunami 'Sometimes A Notion', Sleater-Kinney 'Turn It On', Growing Up Skipper 'Abby'.
It'd be great to really fuck with people's heads on this, really challenge people's perceptions by including bands that weren't riot grrrl bands, but were singing of similar themes, so that you could have stuff like 'Daisy' by The Nelories or 'Father, Ruler, King, Computer' by Echobelly and perhaps include stuff like '20 Years In the Dakota' and 'Awful' by Hole, because they make valid criticisms and challenge people's complacency.
What did you think of the more mainstream bands that co-opted some of riot grrrl's message and perhaps dumbed it down such as the Spice Girls and Girl Power. When Julie Burchill did a programme on them, several feminists appeared on there defending the Spice Girls as bringing a more popular but still positive message to young girls.
There's actually a piece on the F-Word site at the moment that is looking at the Spice Girls and their comeback tour, and her description of the crowd at the gigs makes it sound like a hen party on a mass scale, she also defends the Spice Girls by claiming that they were less insipid and more affirmative in message than a band like Girls Aloud. I kind of get annoyed by this because, leaving aside the point about Girls Aloud, who I personally have more affection for than the Spice Girls (I think the songs are better, certainly more innovative musicially, and also Sarah Harding is a Stockport girl). I think the case has yet to be made convincingly that the Spice Girls were more radical or liberating than every other girl group ever to come before them, which was, after all, the key point of their manifesto.
I think their management took a lot from Malcolm McLaren in that respect i.e. 'Let's declare it year zero, everything that came before is shit, we are now, and we are great and far more important' there's a supreme arrogance that goes with this approach, which McLaren only just pulled off, and it's certainly not an exercise you can repeat all that often and expect it to work. In the case of the Spice Girls, it's a bit like being the Conservative Party today and claiming you care about the poor and disadvantaged. People's memories aren't that short, well, in politics they are... I don't think it neccessarily follows with pop music though.
Besides, they weren't the first girl band to come along and be a bit stroppy, they just made more money out of it than their predecessors did. If they changed things so much, why were critics so surprised when Girls Aloud achieved immense commercial success and One True Voice, their boy band competition, flopped? Surely, post-Spice it would have been a no-brainer that there was a market for girl bands. There has always been a market for girls bands, it's just that record companies decided in the case of the Spice Girls to market them at women specifically, or at little girls. There were plenty of little girls buying records by girl bands before them, it's just that those girl bands had a smaller marketing budget and weren't marketed on a girl power manifesto. That doesn't mean that bands like Bananarama, En Vogue, Salt N' Pepa, Shakespear's Sister, Voice of the Beehive and many others in the eighties and nineties weren't speaking to girls as an audience, and in many ways, songs like 'Robert De Niro's Waiting', 'Free Your Mind', 'Tramp', 'Goodbye Cruel World' and 'Monsters and Angels' were more feminist or more challenging, than the sort of songs the Spice Girls were writing. And it doesn't start in the eighties or nineties, it goes right back to the birth of popular music, before that even, to people like Rose Murphy in the forties and before her, to people like Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday... it's insulting to not acknowledge any kind of heritage, and it's dishonest as well.
What annoys me about the Spice Girls is the sheer arrogance of their approach, the dishonesty of their message, the artifical, aspirational lifestyle they reinforce, the way they seem to enforce the message that sex and plastic surgery sell records, and the way that they claim to be superior in message to every woman in the music industry, past or present. At least Girls Aloud don't pretend to be anything other than Girls Aloud.
Do you still think of yourself as a riot grrrl today? What are your favourite memories of the scene --- what do you love/hate most about it?
I am a little cautious about calling myself a riot grrrl today: it feels a little bit dishonest and slightly irrelevant. Because I have been massively influenced by riot grrrl, it's still very important to me, but at the same time I'm aware that I'm older now, and that, whilst I don't feel I belong as a feminist, I also don't feel I fit in with the current crop of riot grrrls, or ladyfesters, so I'm kind of between worlds a bit, in my own bit of ground. That's not a bad place to be, so saying, and I'm not bitter about it, but I do think there comes a point where you have to step aside and let the next wave of girls get on with it.
My favourite memory is of going to the first day of the Piao! Festival in 1994, probably because it was my first ever gig, but also because everyone was so friendly and nice, and the bands were great and a real mixture too. You had Pussycat Trash, Th' Faith Healers, Prolapse, but you also had Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, a very early Coping Saw, and The Frantic Spiders, alongside Jacob's Mouse, and it didn't feel odd at all. There were regular indie kid types, some crusties, a couple of rastas, and these beautiful Japanese punk girls ..
I loved the openness, friendliness and accessibility of riot grrrl, the fluidity, the space to recreate yourself... I think that all diminished in varying degrees over the years, but it's inevitable. It happened with other scenes, so I'm not surprised it's happened with riot grrrl, just a bit disappointed.
THIS E-MAIL INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE IN APRIL 2008.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2008.
COVERS OF RIOT GRRRL FANZINES FROM MY OWN COLLECTION.