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What ever happened to the Grrrl band?


Written by Evie Richardson (she/her) | @evi3m4y | Contributing Writer


Aotearoa is long overdue for a girl band. A hardcore, instrument-playing, ground-shaking, scene-altering, idolisation worthy girl band. 


Although upon inspection of our long male-dominated music industry, I’ll really take anything at this point. 

The issue is we’re not short on talent. I can name countless talented female Kiwi musicians. Whether they’re taking the big stage, the small stage or performing in their bedroom. They’re everywhere. It’s not only that festival lineups or the top charts are dominated by male talent, it’s the niche scenes too. Gig culture, not only in Tāmaki, but across the motu is still heavily male. Try to deny it but the conservative Kiwi attitudes of long ago still persist today - and they’re stubbornly hanging on to the music scene for dear life!


A couple of years ago for her first-year fashion assignment, my flatmate decided to make a pair of jeans inspired by punk music. Let it be noted that the most punk thing about this flatmate was her tendency to wear Doc Martens every day (albeit they’re mary-janes). For weeks she poured over the history of punk, getting so heavily into the project that she would only listen to punk music while she sewed. At this point in time, eighteen-year-old Harry Styles obsessed me decided to ask what she was listening to. “The Slits”, she said. That was the start of a slippery slope. I am by no means a huge punk fan - my Spotify Wrapped won’t feature it in my top five genres, but what really sparked my sudden and intense interest in The Slits and female punk as a whole was the entire philosophy around it. 


Misogynist attitudes towards women entering the punk scene in the 70s were so extreme that Ari Up, singer of The Slits, was stabbed while walking down the street. Why? She was a woman doing what she wanted. Bands like The Slits were an instigator for a much bigger movement to come. Although the band had a great impact in their short time, the success of female bands ebbed and flowed for the next decade. This pattern of girl bands rising and falling in popularity and number presents itself throughout time and continues today. That’s the stark difference between the typical male band, and their female counterparts doing largely the same thing. The maleness of the scene has been ever-present, and although genres come and go – gender remains staunch. 


For what the 80s lacked in girl-powered rock, the 90s made up for - big time. 1991 brought the emergence of Riot Grrrl. Riot Grrrl was a movement. A community. A mark on history for women to come. 

It’s New York, 1991. Women are tired (aren’t we always). Tired of not having a space to have their art appreciated. So, a group of feminist activists and musicians begin to form their own bands to go against the macho attitudes of rock. An independent record label, K Records, organises a punk festival. They take a chance and decide to feature an all-women line-up on the first night, dubbed ‘Girls Night’. History will anoint it as the beginning of a movement. 


The band Bikini Kill features as one of the headliners and they go on the become the face of the Riot Grrrl movement and the leading female punk band of their time. The movement spreads using zines. Women write, create, and distribute feminist zines that speak to each other throughout the country. They are beginning to spread overseas. Soon the movement has stretched its way up to Europe, the UK and is rapidly spreading itself all the way down under to Australia as well. 


Throughout the nineties, hundreds of bands sprung up across the world, associating themselves with the label of Riot Grrrl. Thirty years later, Bikini Kill visit Aotearoa for the first time. Thirty years after their peak, thirty years on from the movement that had the rest of the Western world in such a chokehold. 


This led me to wonder, did Riot Grrrl never quite make it over the ditch? 


1991, Aotearoa. Most of the music topping the charts isn’t even from New Zealand, and the stuff that is reeks of the lingering leftovers of 80s classic rock. After scouring the internet, music archives, books, and articles I thought that I had come to a complete dead end in finding evidence of the same Riot Grrrl movement. But in a last-ditch attempt to scrounge something up for this article, I cast my search back a little earlier. Only five years earlier, 1986, in Te Aro Wellington, a woman called Ania Glowacz had begun what would soon become a widespread craze back in the US. She had started publishing her very own feminist punk fanzine, with ‘a taste for hard punk rock’. A trailblazer if you ever heard of one. 


The sentiment was drawn from the seventies punk scene of the UK, and the execution was eerily similar to the way the Riot Grrrl movement operated. Four years earlier, in 1982, the ‘nexus of independent artists, feminism and the post-punk DIY ethos’ came together to form an album comprised of female artists. They became the Web Women’s Collective. Why? Because, in their words, “Women weave the world”. 


Despite this scene of empowered, talented women coming together to carve a place for themselves in Aotearoa’s music scene, a movement as established as Riot Grrrl never quite managed to flourish. But after my extensive googling, I had realised that it wasn’t that Aotearoa had any less talent than overseas, but instead, these women were living in an environment that had no idea how to embrace it.. I’ll circle back to it; this country is conservative as fuck. 30 years on, however, I hope that the scene is shifting. Perhaps Bikini Kill's willingness to finally set foot on Kiwi soil is a marker for big things to come? 

Because in my opinion, it’s high time all the incredible girl bands waiting in the wings are given the space and encouragement they deserve. To rip open the curtains and take to the stage!




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