Girl power is back: A new wave is reigniting the fight against sexist attitudes in music

They’re not 'super-girly', nor are they rabidly feminist. They just want to be in a band, the way men can just be musicians without having to fight for it

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The Independent Culture

This, as Brighton-based 1990s “riot grrrls” Huggy Bear once pronounced, “is happening without your permission”.

In 2015, (largely) all-female American bands Sleater-Kinney, Hole and Babes in Toyland are returning with new music or to tour. Meanwhile a slew of young outfits, formed by female musicians who were mostly not born during the original riot-grrrl movement, have emerged, to redress the balance in the still male-heavy area of guitar-based rock – and this isn’t even counting the likes of the already established Haim, Savages, Warpaint, Pins, Dum Dum Girls and Deap Vally.

Most of them come from the States, with Bully, Cherry Glazerr, Girlpool, Mannequin Pussy, LA Witch, Slutever and Sharkmuffin leading the noisy, shouty fray. In fact, there are so many new women-centric US bands that Los Angeles publication LA Weekly recently ran an article on “The Top 10 Rising Female-Fronted Rock Bands” while New York’s Village Voice ran a similar spread on their own city scene.

But this is a worldwide phenomenon, including as it does Mourn (Barcelona), Deers (Madrid), Wild Balbina (Vigo, Spain), September Girls (Dublin), Honeyblood (Glasgow), Slutface (Stavanger, Norway) and Skinny Girl Diet (London). They are all in their early twenties or younger, with a shared belief in the raw power of the three- or four-piece rock line-up.

“I was tired of going to punk shows and seeing guys,” says Delilah ‘Dee’ Holliday, the 18-year-old singer-guitarist with Skinny Girl Diet, who had been watching the likes of Cerebral Ballzy and Iceage and thought, “I can do that!”. “I had an epiphany: ‘Imagine if there were three girls playing this kind of music, it would be amazing.’ So I decided to form the band.”

“There have always been female rock bands, from Patti Smith to Sleater-Kinney,” attests Clementine Creevy, the photogenic 17-year-old frontwoman with Cherry Glazerr, whose music was used earlier this year by Hedi Slimane to soundtrack a Paris fashion show. “But they’re much more prevalent now.” She argues it is “still a male-dominated field, just as it’s always been”, but, “girls are just as good as, if not better than, men at playing instruments... All women,” she considers, “have the potential to be fantastic rock musicians, and they should exercise that.

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Sleater-Kinney, band photo (Brigitte Sire)

“I obviously saw the lack of female presence in the rock industry, but I didn’t really start making music to make a point about the gender imbalance; I started because it’s my natural urge to make music and it’s in my blood,” adds Creevy, who has two terms left at Wildwood School in LA, a top private academy also attended by Eddie Murphy’s children.

There might be a unity of purpose among the new girl bands, but they all have different sounds and visions. Basically, they vary in terms of volume, melodic quotient, and rage. Bully, for example, hark back to the tuneful grunge-pop of Juliana Hatfield, Breeders and Liz Phair: their music is more sardonic than savage, whereas Skinny Girl Diet, their name taken from a diet regime that encouraged already thin women to lose further weight, have various axes to grind, and it shows in tracks such as “Douchebag” and “I Hate You”.

“We wanted to offend people because we didn’t feel like anyone was pushing the boundaries,” says Holliday. “Has it pissed people off? Yeah, online people were, like: ‘What are they doing? Are they offending fat people?’ No, the opposite. We chose the name because we found it really sinister. It was a comment on society.”

“Our song ‘I Hate You’ is basically trying to encourage people to hate stuff,” she explains. “It’s needed these days. People are too complacent, especially this generation with their smartphones. Everyone is so morbid.”

She probably means “morose”, as in stupefied, and lacking in angry energy, but point taken. Spiky rock’n’roll is in her DNA: her father was a music promoter in the early 1990s, putting on bands such as Bikini Kill in various London venues, and her mother fronts a band today called Art Trip and the Static Sound.

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Glazerr (publicity image from Keong Woo)

Deers’ singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials’s mother was also a punk, in late-1970s London, although her band make more of a sweetly ramshackle racket than a fiercely insurrectionary one. In pop-historical terms, they’re more C86 – the free NME cassette from 1986 that immortalised a certain kind of shambling, amateurish melodicism – than 1976.

“All of our friends in Madrid had bands and we went to gigs every weekend and had so much fun and admired them so much that we wanted to make our own music,” Cosials recalls. Her heroines include women, but she’s not staunchly anti-male. “All the bands we admire are boy bands,” she says, adding that Deers were more likely growing up to listen to Britney Spears than Babes in Toyland. Theirs is, they insist, a third way: they’re not “super-girly”, nor are they rabidly feminist. They just want to be in a band, the way men can just be musicians without having to fight for it.

“Our fight is to be respected,” decides co-frontwoman Ana Garcia Perrote, from the back of a tour van in Leeds, where the band are due to play a gig. “Like, the other day we were rehearsing and this guy was, like, ‘oh, you’re all girls?’. People say, ‘as you are girls you have everything easier’. And it’s completely the opposite.”

“It’s hard to make people believe you,” furthers Cosials. “It’s like we’re playing characters who are musicians, instead of actual musicians.”

Alicia Bognanno called her band Bully – for whom the audio-engineering graduate is the singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer – “because bullying is something that everyone’s had to deal with at some point in their life. I’ve had to put up with a lot of crap from managers and stuff that I shouldn’t have, and when I got older I learned to stick up for myself. But it drives me crazy. I think women and men should be treated equally, no matter what industry they’re in.”

“Guys in bands don’t have to prove themselves,” she says, “and we kind of do. People try to take my gear in for me all the time, or they’ll be, like: ‘What? She plays guitar? I thought she was just the singer!’ You just have to take it with a grain of salt.” She laughs. “You know, I’m a pretty decently advanced guitar player,” she says, heading off to soundcheck for her band’s show in San Francisco. “Can I shred? Of course!”

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