8th Jun 2012 3:46pm | By Frankie Mullin
“’Feminist, dyke, whore,’ /I’m so pretty alien/ She wants me to go to the mall/ She wants me /to put the pretty, pretty lipstick on/ She wants me to be like her/ I want to kill her/ But I'm afraid it might kill me.”
So sang Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna in Alien She (1993) at the height of Riot Grrrl’s guitar-brandishing, underwear-exposing, female-fury-unleashing heyday. Like other female-fronted bands of the era – think Huggy Bear or Heavens To Betsy – Riot Grrrl’s brand of feminism was angry and outspoken, not filtered through marketing departments and, undeniably, cool.
Of course, feminism shouldn’t be about cool. Really, does any right-minded person not want women and men to have equal rights? But a common lament among those brave enough to label themselves 'feminists' today is that the word has off-putting connotations. Despite media-friendly movements such as the global Slutwalks that took place after a US policeman accused an assaulted woman of “asking for it“, feminism is often seen as dreary, man-hating and glamourless. For a while, though, Riot Grrrls changed that.
But wait! What is this we hear springing up in bars and music venues across London? The non-saccharine lyrics of bands such as Chasing Girls, Covergirl, Throwing Up, She Makes War, Hysterical Injury, Fear Of Men and Good Throb singing about life, love and being a woman in 2012. They’re feminists alright, but are they Riot Grrrls?
To understand the original scene that spawned the likes of Bikini Kill, you need to invoke the wider, punk-inspired DIY ethos of the Nineties. This was an era when zines emerged from bedrooms, bands shunned the record-label gloss of the Eighties and ‘outsider’ groups of artists like Beautiful Losers stuck their middle finger up at the elitism of galleries and collectors. From this, an honest, messy form of feminism arose that didn’t need anyone’s approval and encouraged women to write, draw or sing without waiting for the backing of the establishment.
And something similar is taking place again. In London, feminist collectives, Riot Grrrl-esque club nights, female artists, musicians and writers are once more making a noise about gender inequality, regardless of whether their work will be picked up by the mainstream.
Verity Flecknell, 29, who lives in Hackney, founded feminist collective Storm In A Teacup in 2009. “It was a flash of inspiration over a pint in a dingy Camden bar with [co-founder] Elizabeth Martin,” Flecknell says. “As musicians, Elizabeth and I both felt disillusioned with the mainstream music industry and the underground music scene, due to the lack of representation of alternative women.
“We noticed there were lots of female-centric art projects popping up around London and we wanted to create links and bring people together to create a scene.”
Since then, Storm In A Teacup has been involved in organising a zine workshop at Southbank’s Women Of The World Festival in March; helping found the VV Collective to promote women in art; and jointly organising a benefit night for jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Flecknell also regularly DJs at events, flying the female flag ever higher.
Girls Get Busy, another east London-based feminist collective, run by 23-year-old Beth Siveyer, holds club nights (expect handmade stickers and transfer-tattoos), workshops (such as video-making and skateboarding) and exhibitions, and publishes a monthly zine (girlsgetbusyzine.tumblr.com). Full of poems and drawings from unpaid contributors, the zine’s content varies in its brilliance, but that is part of the charm. This is DIY culture; anyone can have a go.
Against this supportive backdrop, feminist, girl-fronted bands are making a comeback. Siveyer is a member of instrument-swapping post-punk band Chasing Girls.
“We’re a self-consciously feminist, queer-positive band,” she says. “I hope we inspire other girls.”
Before Chasing Girls had played their first gig, the band had amassed a following through the network of artists who are part of the grassroots feminist scene.
A common thread amoung this wave of London’s feminists is a desire to engage with the movement on their own terms. “Sometimes when I meet what I call ‘senior feminists’ I feel like I’m being tested,” Siveyer says.