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Castration Squad: The unsung heroines of Alice Bag and Dinah Cancer’s early deathrock band

Back in the Canterbury Apartments days of Los Angeles’ punk scene Alice Bag, of the Bags, met neighbor Shannon Wilhelm whom she eventually ended up living with. After the end of the Bags—and more or less the end of the seedy Canterbury Apartments—Alice Bag was recruited to play bass for a new band called Castration Squad.
Castration Squad
This early deathrock band was made up of Shannon Wilhelm (vocals), Mary Bat-Thing (vocals), Tiffany Kennedy (keyboards), Alice Bag (bass), Tracy Lea (guitar) and Elissa Bello (drums). The fairly unknown band was comprised of some quite legendary female rockers. All female bands were still quite a novelty at this time so it’s noteworthy that not only this was a proto deathrock band but also that there were six women in it. Mary Bat-Thing was known as “Dinah Cancer” as part of 45 Grave; Elissa Bello joined after a brief stint in the Go-Go’s and Tracy Lea was in Redd Kross. Lesbian folksinger Phranc (who’d been in Nervous Gender) also played with the group.
Castration Squad Manifesto;
If you want to talk about badass “squad goals” for Halloween…. you and your gal pals should consider dressing up as Castration Squad. These ladies, led by the late, ever so stylish Shannon Wilhelm all donned uniquely goth outfits adorned with crosses and religious medals. You could even play “Wild Thing” on the jukebox and change all the words to “Bat Thing”!


Alice Bag’s portraits of the members of Castration Squad. Clockwise from bottom left: Shannon Wilhelm, Mary Bat-Thing (aka “Dinah Cancer”), Alice Bag, Elissa Bello, Tiffany Kennedy, Tracy Lea (bottom center).

In all seriousness, Castration Squad was an extremely original group during their era. As Alice Bag said in her book, Violence Girl:

“Castration Squad anticipated the styles of death punk, goth and riot grrrl.”

Mary Bat Thing and Shannon’s deadpan vocal performances created a spooky aura that paired well with Bag’s gothy bass lines. This live performance of “A Date with Jack” really captures their overall vibe well. While they never released an album, their song “The X Girlfriend” is on the Killed By Death #13 compilation and “A Date with Jack” was released on Alice Bag’s Alice Bag: Violence Girl compilation in 2011.

Posted by Izzi Krombholz
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