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Don’t Need You - The Herstory of Riot Grrrl documentary

As an introduction to a brief but important music movement, or even just a simple nostalgia piece for people who were around at the time, Kerri Koch’s 2006 documentary Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl makes for interesting and compelling viewing.

For a brief while in the early 90s it seemed Riot Grrrl was everywhere. It was a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated grunge landscape, though some of those grunge bands did their best to promote it and more pro-feminist ideals (the ghost of Kurt looms into view in a flowing, floral-print dress). But Riot Grrrl was met mostly with derision in the mainstream media, what with its core values of fanzines and localised press, not to mention of course feminism, self-expression and the forcing through of female self-determination in a male-oriented world.

Looking back now It’s hard to believe how much of an uproar some female musicians simply being angry could cause, but then as has been mentioned numerous times no-one wants to see women being angry (supposedly). Pretty soon Riot Grrrl was reduced to a simple concept of being merely “angry girls”, and made easy to dismiss. UK Riot Grrrl contingent Huggy Bear famously got ejected from the studios of tacky yoof program The Word (on which they had just performed) for heckling the presenters about their Barbie doll-imitating porn star guests. This got the band into the national media, but also sealed their fate as mere rabble-rousers while ignoring their efforts to create alternative spaces and dialogs. But still, Riot Grrrl was oppositional, it was dramatic, and it was fucking exciting. 

Just as quickly as it bubbled up however, Riot Grrrl seemed to fizzle out. I guess my perception of this was skewed hugely by the mainstream UK music press, which was my only port of access to alternative music and culture in those pre-internet days. It was a mutual love/hate thing (more hate/hate I guess) with the performers and the scene itself withdrawing from the mainstream attention and the negative associations it brought. In a very interesting read called Riot Grrrl - the collected interviews on Collpase Board, Everett True (the editor of Melody Maker at the time, and the person chiefly responsible for breaking the scene in the UK music media) explains his own role and that of the press:

Riot Grrrl was basically about female empowerment – females doing stuff on their own terms, separate from men, making up their own rules and systems and cultures. Sure, men were welcome, but they had to understand that for once they weren’t going to be automatically given first place. (One of the reasons my own role in the gestation of Riot Grrrl as a popular cultural movement became so confused was that after a certain period of time I began to listen to those around me – female musicians, activists, artists, human beings – who felt that having such a high-profile male associated with a fledgling female movement was absolutely counter-productive. This is almost the first time I’ve spoken to anyone since then.)

Don’t Need You - The Herstory of Riot Grrrl is important because it lets the creators of the movement speak for themselves. The editing may be rough in places, and the story may jump around in chronology a wee bit, but you get to hear first hand from the original Riot Grrrls themselves what informed their third-wave feminist views and what inspired them to start their own scene. Featured interviewees include Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Alison Wolfe of Bratmobile, Corin Tucker of Heavens To Betsy / Sleatter-Kinney and Fugazi’s Ian McKaye:

That’s part one - part two and part three are after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
01:01 pm
A girl’s best friend is her guitar: L7 on Letterman
08:56 am

One of the best bands of the whole “grunge” era, here’s L7 rocking the fuck out of Letterman (and his band) in 1992 with their stone cold classic “Pretend We’re Dead”. For no other reason than it’s very cool and they look like they’re having a blast:


Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
08:56 am
Wendy James wants to blow your mind

In the late 1980s, Wendy James was the goddess of choice for many a teenager’s bedroom. She was sexy, beautiful and her band Transvision Vamp dominated the UK charts with their post-punk pop. Wendy was everywhere, a teenage wet dream, which kinda overlooked the singer’s real talent and incredible energy.  

It was her unacknowledged talent (and a fan letter from Wendy) that led Elvis Costello to write the pop princess her first solo album, Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears in 1993. It was a bloody impressive recording, which kicked even her harshest critics into touch. But let’s not forget, the pop world is fickle, and riddled with jealousies, which means, sadly, there are always those who will not think about Wendy beyond the pull-out posters that once decorated their bedroom walls.

Now, this should be about to change, as Wendy James has released the best album of her career so far, I Came Here To Blow Minds, which she has written and produced herself. I spoke to Wendy over the ‘phone last week and asked her about the process of writing the album. 

Wendy James: ‘I wrote it in summertime in New York. I went up onto the roof of my apartment, with my guitar and worked on my songs up there. I write all the time, and have notebooks full of writing and songs all around. Then one day it just starts, and I have an outpouring of these songs and ideas, for about two months. And when I write I have to lock myself away. I just can’t enjoy other things. It’s kind of like a pressure cooker, and you put a lid on to stop it boiling over, but then you can’t stop it boiling over.

‘For me, it’s a very solo outpouring. It takes everything you’ve got for that moment in time. But it’s the ultimate thing for being an artist.’

It’s a cathartic process, and writing the last song, is like ‘waiting to exhale.’ On I Came Here To Blow Minds, Wendy’s songs range form the punky “New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby”, through “Municipal Blues” and the jangly indie pop of “One Evening in a Small Cafe” and “You Tell Me” to the sixties’ Marianne Faithfull-like “Where Have You Been, So Long?”. The musical references are all there, and have developed over Wendy’s twenty-plus year career, from teenage pop star to older, wiser solo artist.

It started in her teens, when Wendy saw Joe Strummer of The Clash in concert and thought “I want his job.” Her wish soon came true, when she formed Transvision Vamp with Nick Christian Sayer in 1986. Sayer wrote the songs and James supplied the image. Three albums and a slew of hit singles were released, including “I Want Your Love” and “Baby, I Don’t Care”.

Wendy James: ‘Without really knowing, I was in Transvision Vamp. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But you learn really quickly, it was a fast track, you learn how to rehearse, how to deliver. It all came together so quickly. On the first album, I was just singing. By the second I wanted more.’

Their second album, Velveteen was a massive hit, but Wendy was growing up.

Wendy James: ‘Something in my soul was telling me I had to live in my own world. I had to do my own thing. Something was going on inside, and by the third album, it wasn’t enough.’

Then Elvis Costello wrote an album for her. 

Wendy James: ‘But still there was this inner voice, you know, these were Elvis Costello’s songs, and not mine.’

It took time. In 2004, James returned as Racine - ‘...the name I called myself for two albums…’ - and then began writing the songs for I Came Here To Blow Minds, which she recorded in Paris. Now, Wendy has plans to tour the UK, Europe and the US later this year. She is also working on songs for her next album.

An initial pink vinyl pressing of ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’ is now available

Wendy James: “New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby”

Posted by Paul Gallagher
05:45 pm
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