On the Map: A Tangled Web of Riot Grrrl

Bear with me in my stream of consciousness... I promise it will come full circle.

I was turned on to riot grrrl my freshman year of college thanks to my best friend from high school, Jen. At that time, Jen was a train-hoppin' gutter punk who graduated early so she could live in Thailand for half a year before running around Europe for several months by herself at the age of seventeen. Jen didn't give a shit what anyone thought of her grimy clothes, greasy hair, hairy legs, and foul stench brought on by not having showered in days. She didn't care that she busted her ass for twelve hours a day picking blueberries with migrant workers for three months every year in order to save for her next excursion, or the sneers of disgust she got while spanging for meals on the streets of New York, Austin, Boise, Chapel Hill, or where ever else she happened to be. All she cared about was seeing the world and living outside of the whitesupremacistcapitalistpatriarchy.

At the time, I was in love with Jen's stories of riding freighters and drinking to excess with strangers in a different location night after night. I listened with the rapt attention of a disciple as she spun her yarns and introduced me to a world I thought you needed guts to me a part of, a world of political rebels and outsiders, a world I couldn't be a part of because in order to keep my college tuition scholarship I had to attend every semester consecutively, and in order to pay for books, food, and rent, I had to work a full-time job. (Jen disapproved of college and made snide remarks whenever possible about my being indoctrinated into "the system.")

In between Jen's trips back home, I listened to Kathleen Hanna's angry growl and Allison Wolfe's bratty whine as they sang about topics like incest and rape. Their rage fueled my own, and I sublimated it into my activism. Despite my satisfaction with the path I was on, I still imagined what it would be like to live like Jen, and romanticized her lifestyle as one of ultimate freedom... that is, until I got my radical feminist-centric undergraduate education on and realized that Jen's freedom didn't actually come from her lifestyle choices; it came as a result of her upper-middle class upbringing and ability to fall back on her family's wealth whenever she tired of a life of feigned poverty. (She now lives in New Orleans and practices alternative medicine.)

Jen was the first person I thought of when I read that feminist legend Kathleen Hanna donated her musical memorabilia (zines and other assorted correspondence) to the Fales Library & Special Collections' riot grrrl archive at New York University. The gift was prompted by Hanna's desire to provide verifiable documentation for current scholars of popular culture--a growing field in academia--who study feminism, punk activism, queer theory, and music history. Punk rock lifestyle meets the ivory tower.

Kathleen Hanna was the first person I though of when I read about feminist music newcomer Jenocide whose synth pop, distorted vocals, and political lyrics come together on her debut album, Machines That Make Us Wet, just as Hanna's Le Tigre leaves the stage. Jenocide's leading lady, Jen Clarke, isn't a newcomer to making music. She's been a mainstay of Halifax's indie scene in bands like Murder Sounds, Hotshotrobot and Windom Earle--not to mention a one-night Blondie tribute--but Jenocide is Clarke's first dip into the waters of kitschy, thrash-infused, dance pop with overtones of snarly grrrl power space reclamation. In an interview with Pink Triangle Press, she cops to the obvious influence: "Sleater Kinney and Bikini Kill changed my life. I've been criticized for aestheticizing riot grrrl. I don't think I am that radical. It's not the same time or the same place, though I certainly borrow elements."

She borrows a lot of elements, actually, and fans of the genre will no doubt love Jenocide. Although Clarke's music isn't inventive enough for my current musical sensibilities (that full-time college job I had was slingin' records in an indie music shop, and was its own form of education), I'll definitely keep my eye on Clarke's budding aural escapades. After all, I don't have to participate in them in order to enjoy the stories.

See, I told you it'd come full circle.

"Gutter Punk" Photo credit: wackycracka

by Mandy Van Deven
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

i'm on hiatus from college

i'm on hiatus from college right now, trying to figure out if that path will "indoctrinate me into 'the system,'" and i'm supporting myself by slinging records full-time. i've been building up our collection with the aim of equal representation for intelligent, talented, bad-ass female/feminist musicians & their male counterparts. sleater-kinney, tegan & sara, scout niblett, ani difranco, nina nastasia, pj harvey, bjork, & thao nguyen have all been recommended or spotlighted recently. next: jenocide. thanks for the tip.


I like Jenocide's music but it bothers me that she is compared to Riot Grrrl when her music is completely A-Political. Like the electro queer scene that followed Riot Grrrl, it seems that her music is more about looking cool and dancing. The beauty of Riot Grrrl was that it was supremely Third Wave in its feminist politics. Bikini Kill made connections between capitalism, sexism, and racism in their songs. Riot Grrrl may of been lead by middle class white girl but the current electo scene (queer or not) is just plain bourgeois.


Loved it, loved it. I've been bustin' my ass here in Eugene, Or. trying to keep the riot grrrl spirit alive. Thank you!

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