Friday, 19 August 2016

Girl Power | 6 Female-Fronted Bands You Need In Your Life

collage created by yours truly 

The 90s saw the rise of female infiltration into the alternative rock genre, which has continued well on into the 21st century. These girls knew how to rock, and they gave a whole generation the belief that they could too. 

Growing up, the only alternative female rockers I looked up to were Stevie Nicks and Avril Lavigne. It wasn't until I began my foray into the alternative rock scene when I hit double figures that I found a plethora of girls that stuck it to the male-dominated music scene and won. Not only did bands like Hole, L7 and Veruca Salt see immense popularity within the alternative genre, but a select few managed to create an underground feminist hardcore punk movement that originated in the state that also founded the Grunge movement of the same decade. 

Obviously, there were a vast number of influential and kick-ass women before the alternative girl power invasion, like Siouxsie Sioux, The Slits, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, The Runaways/Joan Jett, The B-52s, Sonic Youth/Kim Gordon and X-Ray. But it wasn't until the 90s where girls like myself were able to find musicians that emanated not only their views, but their style, aesthetic and ethos. 

That's what has spurred me on to write this list. These 6 musicians are ones that have been my goddesses throughout my teens up until now, and forever will be. Because I've only recently begun to delve deeper into the riot grrrl movement and alternative scene of the 90s however, these bands are like the go-to ones for discovering this bottomless pit of raw girl-rock power. 

Lead by Kathleen Hanna and hailing from Olympia, Washington, Bikini Kill are legends within the riot grrrl movement. They're often regarded as the pioneers of the feminist hardcore punk scene, known for their intense performances and Hanna's feminist infused lyrics. The group also consists of Billy Karren on guitar, Kathi Wilcox on bass, and Tobi Vail on drums. Together they created one of Washington's most abrasive genres, influencing countless misguided teen girls in the process. 

The band encouraged a female orientated audience, with Hanna jumping into the audience at times to remove men heckling the band and harassing the women. As the band were starting out, Hanna would frequently be verbally and physically assaulted during shows. Over time their music reached male audiences minus the assault and heckling. 

Bikini Kill were short lived, beginning in 1990 and ending in 1997. Those seven years saw Bikini Kill achieve godlike status within the alternative community, crossing over to other genres contained within the Pacific Northwest.

L7 were one of the first alternative girl bands I came across, thanks to Radio X (not the actual Radio X, so kudos if you know what I'm referencing). Out of the 6 listed here, L7 are definitely ultimate goals for me, especially through bassist Jennifer Finch. Can I just be her please. 

Singer Donita Sparks and guitarist Suzi Gardner founded L7 in 1985 in Los Angeles, California, making the band one of the earliest bands within their alternative underground movement. This lead to the bands influencing the riot grrrl bands of the 1990s, before that became a full movement. Eventually Finch and drummer Demetra Plakas joined the band in 1987 and 1988. L7 are often more associated within the grunge movement of the late 80s and early 90s, mixing the genre with hard rock, alternative metal and hardcore punk - much like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden did when they first started out. 

Sparks is also a personal hero of mine; her valiant effort at quelling an unruly crowd at the 1992 Reading Festival by removing her tampon live on-stage, yelling "Eat my used tampon, fuckers!" 


Kat Bjelland originated from Woodburn Oregon, eventually moving to Minneapolis to form a band. Eventually the trio of Bjelland, Lori Barbero on drums and Michelle Leon on bass. Leon was later replaced with Maureen Herman in 1992.

As is a common theme among these bands, Babes in Toyland only released three studio albums including the commercially successful Fontanelle in 1992. The band disbanded in 2001, but they became legends within the riot grrrl movement even though they never associated themselves with the movement. Similar to L7, the band were most known for being a massive influence within the grunge movement; inspiring girls to form bands within the riot grrrl movement.

Bjelland's babydoll/kinderwhore aesthetic helped greatly in propelling the band into mainstream success; contradicted with the bands aggressive lyrics and Bjelland's intense vocal range. It's a common belief that Bjelland first defined it, with Courtney Love popularizing it.

Hole are a tough sell. Courtney Love has a unique hatred directed towards her that she endures with such prowess; it's hard not to admire her in a sense. Formed in Los Angeles in 1989 by Love and lead guitarist Eric Erlandson, Hole went from a small no-wave band in the early 1990s to a mainstream alternative rock success with the release of Live Through This in 1994. Similar to Babes in Toyland, Hole were prolifically known through Love's assertive lyrics focusing on body image, identity, sexual exploitation, body image, rape, child abuse, addiction, celebrity, suicide, the inferiority complex and feminist issues. 

The band have released four records, their most successful being Celebrity Skin in 1998, earning four Grammy nominations. Their last album Nobody's Daughter was released in 2010, but they have been teasing of a reunion as recently as the spring of 2016. 

The most known line-up of the band consists of Love and Erlandson, Patty Schemel on drums, Melissa Auf der Maur and Kristen Pfaff on bass. Sadly, Pfaff passed away in June of 1994; her death being attributed to 'acute opiate intoxication'. 

Carrie Brownstein is a personal hero of mine. I first found her through watching one of my favourite comedies of all time along with Fred Armisen in Portlandia. From there, Sleater-Kinney came to me through reading her recent biography; enabling me to discover one of my now favourite bands. 

Sleater-Kinney is a huge part of the Olympia/Portland scene in Washington and Oregon, founded by Corin Tucker (vocals and guitar) and Carrie Brownstein (guitar and vocals). Both girls we heavily involved within the riot grrrl scene; Tucker formerly part of Heavens to Betsy and Brownstein in Excuse 17. Tucker and Browstein eventually found their current (and long lasting) drummer Janet Weiss formally of the Portland band Quasi. Much like Spinal Tap, Sleater-Kinney have gone through a number of drummers including Lora Macfarlane, Misty Farrell and Toni Gogin. 

Even though their whole discography is flawless, their two most recent albums The Woods and No Cities to Love are definitely my favourites. Since they came on the scene in 1995, they've continually refined their sound to the point they are at today. 

We're here. I know this isn't an numbered list, but Veruca Salt are totally my favourite band of the 6 mentioned here. I can't even remember how I came across them. I know it was through 'Volcano Girls', but it's as though they just appeared in my life out of nowhere; I'm forever grateful for it. 

Named after the character of the same name, Veruca Salt were founded in Chicago in 1993 by Louise Post (guitar/vocals) and Nina Gordon (guitar/vocals). Post and Gordon were introduced to each other through a mutual friend, and began playing music together before eventually adding Gordon's brother Jim Shapiro on drums and Steve Lack on bass. The unique thing with Veruca Salt is the songwriting; Post and Gordon would rarely collaborate, rather each submitting a song to the group and whoever wrote it would sing lead vocals, and the other would sing backup. 

I've listened to their second record Eight Arms to Hold You so, so much this summer, it has become one of those rarities that I can listen to the whole way through and not get bored of. In my opinion they're the best alternative female-fronted rock bands of the 90s; and today, since the band reunited in 2013. 

Lousie and Nina, if you're reading this, please come to the UK. I would kill to see you guys live. 

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