This is a big year for musicians who grew up with the Riot Grrrl movement. In this episode, we talk with iconic musicians Kathleen Hanna and JD Samson about their new albums and writer Laina Dawes provides a different perspective with an essay, “Why I was never a riot grrrl.”
The Julie Ruin just about burned down the stage at Portland's Time Based Arts festival last Thursday night. The group kicked off the contemporary arts festival as part of a national tour to celebrate their album Run Fast and as frontwoman Kathleen Hanna launched into their raucous playlist, the room suddenly felt hot, sweaty, and electric.
It's a big deal for Hanna to be on stage at all. The singer who brought seemingly boundless energy to Bikini Kill and Le Tigre has spent the last six years dealing with the effects of Lyme Disease, which hinders both physical and neurological abilities. When we spoke in early September, Hanna talked about living with an invisible disease, how vulnerability can create true confidence, and how the best thing that ever happened to riot grrrl is critique.
A couple of years ago I saw ex-Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna speak in New York City, right before she donated her musical archives to New York University's Fales Library. I was struck by her acerbic wit, her 'I don't give a fuck' attitude.
While I was a teenager during the grunge and Riot Grrrl era, for some reason I was (at the time) more drawn to hyper-masculine, testosterone-saturated grunge and metal bands and was not that interested in what was happening on the other side of the scene. As Hanna's talk was intriguing, I took the opportunity to check out The Punk Singer, part of the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
About 10 minutes into the documentary, I knew that I had made a colossal mistake.
JD Samson is certainly no stranger to Bitch; a significant voice in the Riot Grrrl movement, and a more than prominent queer and feminist icon, it only makes sense to let you know what she's up to this summer. Last week, while attempting to figure out exactly what to write for this post (because leaving you with just a list of tour dates would be boring), a dear friend deemed me a "JD Samson connoisseur." While I gladly accepted this title, there's definitely a bit of a difference between knowing a lot about someone and having a mild obsession* with (read: giant crush on) that person, and you can probably guess where I stand within this spectrum of connoisseurship. Though, with this giant crush, comes a great deal of respect and admiration for JD as both an artist and an activist.
Reception is important when thinking about movies. So far, the titles I've selected played in a theater at some point, whether on a festival circuit or during a theatrical run. This wasn't always the case with the work of Toronto-based queercore pioneer G.B. Jones. Though her movies were screened at festivals, some also played in galleries or make-shift event spaces.
Jim McKay's 1996 feature Girls Town came out at an interesting time. It was released a few years after riot grrrl was co-opted by the mainstream and Sassy folded, but a year before Spin Magazine attempted to capitalize on a cultural moment with their problematic Girl Issue and Alex Sichel's coming-of-age drama All Over Me received a limited theatrical release. It made its stateside cinematic debut two days before Annette Haywood-Carter's Foxfire, an adaptation of Joyce Carrol Oates' novel that also focused on a teenage girl gang, which helped launch Angelina Jolie's career, attempted to do the same for Calvin Klein model Jenny Shimizu, and represented a liminal period for former child actress and Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. While Foxfire is better-known, I'd argue that Girls Town evinces more progressive gender and racial politics.
You've heard about Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, and now you can hear directly from the author, Sara Marcus. Ellen Papazian (of Page Turner) interviews Marcus about what Riot Grrl meant today and now, how the internet compares to zine-swapping, pushback against Riot Grrl from both within and outside the movement, and why narrative ended up being the best choice for the book.