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: