Sunday, 28 November 2010


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.




Part One of Interview here

How did you become involved in the riot grrrl book?  How easy or hard did you find to write your chapter?
I was emailed and invited to submit a brief for one of the chapters (I was allowed to pick one) by the book's editor, Nadine Monem, in late 2006/early 2007.  She had read my essay on riot grrrl on The F-Word website, and got in touch with me on the back of that.  I was rather cynical about it because they weren't a publisher I'd heard of before, and I thought it was highly suspect that they would want to invite me to write for it because I'm not a published author, or a professional journalist, so my first thought was that they were a vanity press or an author mill.  I had a brief look around the Author Beware site online, but couldn't find any reference to them, so thought I'd submit a brief on the off chance. 
I figured that they would invite loads of people to submit briefs, then narrow it down, then invite several people to write first drafts, then pick the best first draft, pay everyone else the first draft fee, and commission the best one to complete a first draft.  That wasn't what happened, and I did end up turning it down at one point because I thought the deadlines were ridiculous, but then I decided to take a chance on it.  I made sure I had a clear plan of how to do it, how to go about it, how much time it was going to take, what it was realistic to research and include, what it wasn't, but I knew it wouldn't be perfect, and that there was no way I could include everyone.  I did it because I figured that the chance of being offered another chance to write about riot grrrl for a book was highly unlikely, and as such it was like dangling a big carrot in front of a rabbit.  I think they knew that when they commissioned the book actually, because we were all a bit like that.

It was very hard to write and research, but mainly because of the time constraints involved, by the time I had a definite commission for a first draft, I only had six weeks to write and research it, so it basically meant I had no life for six weeks.  I got up early, went online, researched, went to work, came back, had my tea, researched, went to bed, then got up and it started all over again ... for six weeks.  After that, it was pretty much a waiting game, so I got on with other things and got my life back again.  By the time they'd published it, I'd pretty much forgotten about it, and was giving up hope of it ever being published.

One of the things I liked about your chapter was the way it broadened riot grrrl's influences beyond the usual reference to punk bands like The Slits.   When you did your e-mail interviews, what were some of the lesser known influences that were cited?
Quite a lot of the email interviews focused on punk actually, which was fine, there were some mentions of the sixties groups like the Shangri-Las and the Girls In The Garage stuff, and one or two people mentioned C86, Beat Happening... Grunge was mentioned quite a few times, but I decided not to go there in the end because it would have meant doing a whole section on Courtney Love and her relationship with riot grrrl at various times, and it would have taken up too much room, plus I think it's old ground, and it's been gone over a lot already, so it would be a bit like re-hashing the Sex Pistols on the Grundy Show in full detail, which I was also keen to avoid.   There are certain aspects of punk's cultural history, and of riot grrrls where you tend to think 'Oh God, please don't make me discuss this again, it's so boring, and everything has already been said so many times already' and Courtney Love was a bit like that.  There are lots of interesting things that can be said about Hole, in their own right, but there's also a lot of unneccessary bullshit, and I didn't want to clog my chapter up with episodes such as her thumping Kathleen Hanna.
I had a section on riot grrrl lyrics, which I scrapped in the end, where I did discuss Hole and the lyrics to songs like 'Awful' and '20 Years In The Dakota', but they were the interesting bits in a very weak section of the chapter so they got scrapped.
Another influence, which was only mentioned by one person, but was very interesting, was Olivia, and the impact of lesbian singer songwriters and the independent spirit established by Olivia as a label on later singer/songwriters of a riot grrrl ilk.  This would have been very useful to refer to had I been doing the singer/songwriter tradition, and I knew what they meant when they brought the connection up, because there perhaps is a connection between those acts, on that label, at the time, and someone like Ani Di Franco, or possibly even the earlier material of Cat Power.  I think of riot grrrl singer/songwriters, people like Lois Maffeo, or The Crabs, come out of more of a punk background or performance art background, but that doesn't mean there isn't a link because someone, somewhere, must have made them pick up an acoustic guitar, but establishing that link would have taken a lot longer than I had, unfortunately, so I went for the easier to prove option.

What kind of response have you had to the book?  What was it about riot grrrl that you think continues to inspire people?  How do you think riot grrrl will evolve in the future?
We haven't had a massive amount of coverage of the book, so what little coverage there's been has been broadly supportive, but some of it has been slightly tinged with a slight patronising edge, so there's been a lot of summaries of riot grrrl that have been breathtakingly simplistic, but that's tended to be in things like listings for the book launch event that the publishers did in conjunction with Ladyfest London.  The feature we had in the Independent was OK, and I got a interviewed by a very nice lady for a show on a Dublin radio station called Access All Areas, which is on Phantom FM on weekday mornings.  There was something strangely surreal but very satisfying about hearing Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl' going out on daytime radio at 11am.

I have had some comments about my chapter being badly researched, or covering the same ground as the earlier chapter by Julia Downes, which focused on the history of riot grrrl, but I think a certain amount of overlap was inevitable because the history of riot grrrl is so bound up in music anyway.  As to the bad research, I'd draw people's attention to the fact that I only had six weeks to write and research the chapter, which was well over the 10,000 words asked for.  In the end, I also have job and have to do such neccessary things as eat and sleep, so clearly it was never going to be perfect.  I'd accepted that before I took on the chapter, but it can still grate when people pick you up for making tiny mistakes that you wish you'd time to double check the detail on, but simply couldn't cram into an already overloaded schedule.

I think riot grrrl continues to inspire people because it was matriarchal, but in a gentle, easy, slightly passive way, it was matriarchal but very, very pissed off.  Also, I think it spoke to girls who in earlier generations might have got into feminism through something like 'Spare Rib' or Reclaim the Night or Greenham Common, but who didn't have those opportunities and outlets, and who, in the early nineties, were probably finding feminism something of a closed shop.  It was something you studied at university, it wasn't something you could own or feel a part of it you happened to simply be thirteen and pissed off with being groped in the classrooms and corridors ast school because you had to first engage with all these other issues like equal pay, work and children, things like that ... which, whilst important, tend not to feature very highly on the day to day agenda of the average teenage girl because they are, or seem at the time to be, years away.  Issues like sexual harassment in schools, sexism in advertising, public safety, they were rarely addressed by feminism in the nineties, and still aren't really because I think feminism is still fixed on the whole careers and kids thing, which is fine if you are a woman with a career and kids, but to those who have jobs rather than careers, and who either don't have or don't want children, it's somewhat less pressing as an issue.

How riot grrrl will develop in the future will depend very much on how it continues to be written about, if it does continue to be written about, and on who the next wave of girls will be.  For many people, riot grrrl died out in either 1993 or 1994, but I think, even if you believe that, you can make a very strong case for a post riot grrrl diaspora, which is now essentially in it's Ladyfest age.  Where it will go next, post Ladyfest, I don't know.  I have a feeling it's going to become increasingly academic in tone, increasingly middle class, and increasingly inaccessible, but I would like to be proved wrong on this.

Part Three of Interview here