an interview with The Weekly Volcano about Riot Grrrl
Jason Baxter sent me the following questions as part of his research for an article he was writing for the Tacoma/Olympia alternative weekly, The Weekly Volcano. The article has since been published, under the title Revolution Girl-Style: Then and Now.
How did you hear about Morgan And The Organ Donors and Weird TV? Do you make an effort to stay on top of Olympian and Northwest bands that take their musical or ideological inspiration from early-‘90s Riot Grrrl groups? Are there any other Olympia bands that you think qualify as contemporary article (apart from Son Skull and Hell Woman)?
I asked. I write a regular column for Bust magazine, called Everett True and his First Ladies of Rock. The week before I write it, I usually go onto Facebook and ask folks if they have any recommendations. The last time around I was sort of overwhelmed with suggestions, so I thought I’d make it a little more fun and posted 21 of them up on my blog, and invited folk to vote for their favourite – the idea being, the four most voted for would be featured in the Bust column. Tobi Vail at thebumpideereader.com, among others, helped spread the word, and it ended up being an immensely popular – and Oly-centric – post!
I don’t make a particular effort to stay on top of any form of music. I go where my friends and peers take me. It so happens that many of my friends and peers know of me, and stay in touch with me, because of music I’ve previously written about. So it’s a natural process. As for Oly bands that may or may not be contemporary, you’d be best checking that original post, or asking someone who lives there.
The story of the origins of Riot Grrrl has been told and re-told numerous times, but the details seem to differ in each telling, with participants from “back in the day” (yourself included) disagreeing about certain details. Do you think these variations help “mythologize” the story of Riot Grrrl for younger fans who are acquainting themselves with it, or are the discrepancies in these accounts ultimately irrelevant?
Mythology is important: so is demystification. The story of Riot Grrrl varies because the people telling it vary. They are all individuals, and they all have their own story to tell. This story might well differ from someone else’s: that’s not to say one version is any more or less accurate, just that it’s different. Riot Grrrl was never meant to be about a fixed moment in time anyway… according to my take on it! The ‘origins’ story will differ simply because… well, where do you start with anything? I just interviewed a band called Talulah Gosh for some sleeve-notes for a new retrospective and they remain convinced that Huggy Bear was all their doing – I’m not sure that side has been told yet! -> -> ->
You wrote in The Guardian that Riot Grrrl is far from “over”. Would you care to expand upon that? Do you see Riot Grrrl as more of a set of ideals or philosophy of empowerment than a musical genre or moment in time? Is it ongoing because of the ways in which its core values continue to be embraced and communicated by contemporary bands?
Riot Grrrl was never a fixed set of ideals. It was never a fixed set of values. All ideals and values are necessarily fluid over time. I believe you might have answered some of your own question with that final query.
Do you feel as if the term “Riot Grrrl” should still be applied to musicians or activists who are following in the footsteps of groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, or did the media’s distortion of the movement, and capitalism’s co-opting of some of its language and exploitation of its audience take some of the “riot” out of it, as it were? Is it more useful to think of contemporary Riot Grrrl-inspired musicians/activists as “feminist bands” or “punk feminists” instead (not that these are necessarily less powerful terms)?
The term ‘Riot Grrrl’ is a very emotive, evocative one. It immediately brings to mind imagery that may or may not rightly be associated with the ideal of female empowerment. Some latter-day feminist commentators have criticised folk like myself for playing up on the ‘riot’ side of ‘Riot Grrrl’ at the time, pointing out that it leads to stereotyping. Folk can choose to use the term as they want. If someone is to all intents and purposes a feminist but refuses to categorise herself thus, does that mean she isn’t one? I – and most of the original Riot Grrrls I suspect, although I really can’t (and shouldn’t) claim to speak for any of them – never wanted the term Riot Grrrl to signify a particular form of music not least because it was supposed to be much broader than that. If females find it useful to apply the term Riot Grrrl then why not use it? It is a powerful term. But so is ‘punk feminist’, as you rightly point out.
How has the advent of new media and things like social networking changed the way Riot Grrrl philosophy and music can be spread? It seems to me that many groups (locally, anyway—and Cascadian DIY bands in general) are sticking to physical medium like short-run cassettes and homemade ‘zines, etc. (things that are rad and have a lot of value and tradition in the punk community, but which are often limited in terms of how many ears and minds they can realistically reach). With virtually everyone online now, it seems as if it should be easier for young women to discover Riot Grrrl, network, and share ideas.
Riot Grrrl was originally often derided for being far too insular and exclusionary. I see nothing wrong with this. Often, it’s necessary to draw a line in the sand through your actions; and necessary to give artifacts value that is no longer automatically conferred upon them. The Internet is wonderful, isn’t it… but remember, it is only a tool, same way as cassettes and fanzines are a tool. It’s what you do with that tool that matters, not that you’re seen to be using it.