Mother Festival, the traveling wowmen’s music spectacle, took place over Berlin on the 22 and 23 September 2011 with a stellar line-up of female bands and DJs.
The second instalment of Mother Festival, three days of wowmen’s music, took place in London on the 20, 21 and 22 May 2010. Here’s a mixtape of some of the sounds of some of the bands (and some bands related to the bands). From no wave to new folk to soundscapes and noise explosions – it’s all there.
- Wetdog – Wymmin’s Final
- Maria and the Mirrors – From Egypt With Love
- Molly Nilsson – We’re Never Coming Home
- Rhythm King and Her Friends – Front of Luxury
- Iori’s Eyes – I Said You and I Grow Old
- Phoebe Jean & Kirikoo Des – Cover Girl
- PENS – B.I.L.K.S.H.A.K.E.
- Mary and the Baby Cheeses – Years
- The Konki Duet – Punk’s Dead
- Sonora – Brains
- Kelli Rudick – Darling
- Vera November – Our Last Night Together
- Music for One – Wind From the Irish Sea
image from “Born in Flames” publication by Kaisa Lassinaro
Cinenova is a London based volunteer-run, charitable organisation dedicated to preserving and distributing the work of women/feminist film and video makers. Visitors are invited to step into the archives and interact with its contents whether viewing a film or browsing the paper catalogs, posters and publications.
Another international female film archive of note is Bildwechsel which was started in Hamburg in 1979 and has since grown to include satellite groups in Glasgow, Basel, Nurnberg, Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest. Have a look at this charming video telling the story of Bildwechsel in pictures and narrated by Durbahn, one of the founders.
image from “Born in Flames” publication by Kaisa Lassinaro
As a teenager I was introduced to LiLiPUT (a.k.a. Kleenex) on a mixtape I received featuring early 80s female-led punk. I was immediately drawn to the band, firstly because they were from Switzerland, my familial homeland, but mostly because their music resonated deeply with me. The openness and delight in their songs evidenced a certainty of person and place that appealed to me as I was trying to find my own way in the world. They were punk in exactly the way I wanted to be punk.
Since that first listen I have returned to their music over the years, each time finding it as fresh and relevant as ever. So in Spring 2010 I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to talk with three former members of LiLiPUT – Marlene Marder, Astrid Spirig and Klaudia Schifferle.
It was clear from our conversation that something special happened in Zürich all those years ago and the bond between the women was still strong after thirty years. What I had sensed as a teenager was confirmed during the interview – they were not just a band and it was never only about the music – they were first and foremost a group of friends having fun together, playing their part in some greater experiment of creative production.
Here’s the synopsis of the interview that took place in Astrid’s flat in Zürich, transcribed and translated into English from Swiss-German.
Check out the the mital-u website for more info and a discography of the band. Required listening is the 2001 Kill Rock Stars reissue of a CD compilation of the band’s studio recordings. Diehard fans will delight at the double CD/DVD of live recordings and video clips that KRS released in 2010, while vinyl aficionados will appreciate that Mississippi Records released a 4x LP vinyl version of the studio recordings compilation in February 2011.
Concluding the three part series on my experience with riot grrrl, I talk with Sara Marcus, author of the recently released book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.
This book is necessary in so many ways. It’s necessary to me so that I could get a full picture of a “movement” that I was tangentially part of and remind me of my teenage passion, longing and adoration. It’s necessary for my family so that they can understand a bit of the angst I experienced as well as the happiness I sought. This book is necessary for all the young girls, boys and in-betweens – the freaks, geeks and dorks – still struggling with the same issues of misplaced emotion and frustration. And most of all it’s necessary as a documentation of a time and a fair account of a feminist history.
Sara was one of the many penpals I had throughout the mid 1990s. We exchanged zines – one of her Out of the Vortex for one of my Beri-Beri‘s – and traded banter between Gaithersburg, Maryland and Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. Now, fifteen years later I wanted to check in with her and find out about this whole book thing…
JW: What a gift you have given us by telling the story of the U.S. riot grrrl movement in a thoughtful, cohesive text. How did you end up writing this story? What made you think you could do it?
SM: My idea from the beginning was to write about Riot Grrrl as a whole—which is to say, people’s grassroots experiences of it, nonmusicians as well as musicians—before those histories got lost forever. Because they were already getting terribly attenuated, and I had this urgent feeling that some rock critic somewhere was about to write a history of Riot Grrrl that cast the young women as fans, consumers, and followers—as I had already seen in countless minor accounts of the movement—instead of as human beings acting with political agency against a backdrop of important historical and political forces. So that was the very polemical précis I started out with, and as I continued working on the book and grappled with feelings of personal grandiosity (e.g., how dare I be excited that a book written with the blood of hundreds of girls was going to be A Good Book and make me finally feel like A Good Writer), I kept regrounding myself in this mission.
As for what made me think I could do it, it was a combination of three facts:
a) I was already working as a writer writing for magazines about pop culture, rock music, feminism, and activism, so this fit—I knew that people, including me, would believe I was qualified to do it.
b) I was determined enough to write a book, and to write this book, that I was willing to devote my life to it for five years.
c) Perhaps most important, between my history in the movement, my experiences touring in bands, and my involvement in feminist art communities, I realized that I had a friend in common with nearly everybody I would need to interview for the book.
So I suppose you could say it was a crime both of passion and of opportunity.
JW: The Author’s Note was a sweet and touching introduction – I could absolutely relate to the awe and delight you experienced when you first discovered riot grrrl. However, the book then proceeds to document the rocky journey and ultimate downfall of the movement. This was difficult for me as a reader how was this for you as the researcher and writer?
SM: A year or two before starting to work on this book, before I even knew I would write it, I saw the great fiction writer Grace Paley speak, and I asked her during the Q&A how she dealt with writing about her activist communities and saying things people in those circles might not want to see written down. She said, “If you’re a writer—and I think that you are—you have to tell the truth.” I thought of that moment many times while writing this book. It’s a tactical fudge, of course—what is “The Truth,” anyway?—but giving myself license to access that sort of moral rectitude and fealty to What Really Happened was quite an empowering and freeing move. My experience of Riot Grrrl was pretty halcyon, so I wasn’t quite expecting all the tales of rancor and bitterness and mistreatment that I encountered. At first I felt a little protective of this movement that had, after all, really changed my life for the better; I wished I could just accentuate the positive. But the difficult aspects formed a part of the story that I couldn’t ignore or wish away—that “truth” thing again—and additionally, they presented a cautionary tale. If people read the book and drew inspiration from it to start new feminist revolutions, but then fell prey to the same tensions and shortsightednesses as in the ’90s because I had been too wimpy to say “Look, here are some of the pitfalls that come along with this kind of work,” that would be a marker of failure on my part.
JW: Sadly, I have seen many well-intentioned riot grrrl related projects fall flat due to a lack of interest, motivation and/or resources. What kept you going?
SM: I interviewed about 150 people for this book. But by the time I had interviewed the first two people, just those two people made me feel like I had made a commitment to see this through to the end. The more people I interviewed, the more people I owed a finished product to.
I have an old friend who never tells people what he’s working on until it’s done, so that if he abandons it halfway through nobody will be asking him about it. I’m the exact opposite: I always mouth off to my friends about projects I’m planning, in order to block off any escape hatch. There’s no shame in that game; in fact, that process of talking yourself up and then having your community say “Put your money where your mouth is” played a key role in the formation of both Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, as I relate in the book. It’s a very punk rock/Riot Grrrl tactic: recognizing how important a supportive community is in supporting creative production.
But it feels a little disingenuous to credit my production entirely to the support of others. It’s just as accurate to say that I was completely, fanatically, unwaveringly determined to make this thing happen, and I sought out whatever supports I felt would be helpful to me, while cutting out any detrimental influences. Lining up support for yourself is a creative act. Asking the right people for advice, recognizing good advice when you get it, and doing what it takes to follow that advice are all acts of intelligence and discernment.
What else helped? I feel it’s important to talk about the material conditions of production, because so often these things get mystified—like the boy who once told me “Don’t get a full-time job, your writing will suffer” while neglecting to mention that he was paying his rent by selling drugs. Above all, this project was made possible by a graduate program that gave me access to three extra years of federal loans, library and database (LexisNexis!) access, and health insurance after my classes had ended. Other things:
-A low-key work schedule: I work as a copy editor at monthly and bimonthly magazines, so I get weeks off at a time.
-Stints at residency programs that fed and housed me for six weeks at a time and enabled me to focus solely on the book.
-Roommates in Brooklyn who allowed me to sublet my room and move upstate for half a year, where I paid one quarter my rent in the city; generous upstate roommates who were willing to accommodate my uncertain schedule (and to lend me their car when I needed to get groceries).
These things were huge, but I also want to stress that I sought these things out; I insisted on them. They didn’t just drop into my lap. And I made compromises (e.g., $100K of student loans) and refused to settle for conditions that wouldn’t support my getting this done. I say this not to be all “I’m so great” but just to make clear that projects don’t simply happen on their own; they require great determination and, at times, a commitment to prioritize the work over everything else.
JW: The book is incredibly well-researched with loads of context and background information, obviously you know you are not speaking only to an audience of people who were there “in the moment.” So who is your ideal audience?
SM: Everybody should read this book. People our age, who were around in the ’90s and are now reassessing that period in our lives, asking ourselves what values and passions from that period are worth bringing into our current lives, albeit perhaps in adapted or updated form. People in their teens and 20s who are trying to figure out how to make things happen in their own generation. Feminists and rebels of every age and stripe. People who like music. People who care about young women. Parents of adolescents or of children who will one day be adolescents. People who were once adolescents themselves or still are. Did I leave anybody out?
Between 1992-1996, during my late teens, I published a series of personal ‘zines. The first three editions I called Busy Bea’s Bush, as a play on Beatrice, my middle name. But I then got a bit shy about the title and decided to change to the more aggressive, less personal Beri-Beri (after the song by the Swiss band Kleenex) for the next two issues.
At any one point, I was corresponding with hundreds of people from across North America. Every day, I could expect a zine or letter waiting in my mailbox when I came home from high school. Yet once I started college in 1994, I had less time and less need to publish a zine and by 1996 I stopped all together. Beri-Beri no. 3 never reached beyond the draft stage.
But now, with the aid of modern technology, here at last is the Beri- Beri lost edition!
It’s basically a look back at one year of my life (age 19) jumping from Antioch College to Boston to Pittsburgh to New York City before I disappear into ‘zine oblivion. Embarrassing as it is for me to share this now, some fifteen years later, I have to say I am proud of what I accomplished then and still carry myself with that riot grrrl empowerment in everything I do.
On a somewhat related note, ZineWiki has done a fantastic job collecting and cataloging zines from around the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find such comprehensive listings for both Busy Bea’s Bush and Beri-Beri. The Queer Zine Archive Project is a more genre specific web based project dedicated to archiving and sharing queer zines. Both are worthy of attention and support by anyone interested in independent publishing.
In a three part series I’ll explore my personal experience with riot grrrl, the mid 90’s American punk feminist movement. In this part I’m digging into the dusty boxes and overstuffed filing cabinets of riot grrrl and feminist punk zine archives around the world, including a digitized version of a scrapbook I put together back in 1996.
Riot Grrrl Archives
Fales Library Riot Grrrl Collection
Kathleen Hanna made big news when she donated her collection of riot grrrl related papers to the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University in early 2010. Here she is on GRITtv in February 2010 talking about the collection.
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture
Sarah Dyer, publisher of Action Girl newsletter and comics, donated her collection of almost 1900+ zines to the Duke University Library in North Carolina in 2000, accompanied by an essay about her life in zines. Sarah’s generous donation was followed by contributions from other former grrrl zinesters including Arielle Greenberg, Amy Mariaskin, Ailecia Ruskin and Sarah Wood. The entire zine collection also includes issues of Bitch, Bust and Rockrgirl.
p.s. here’s my entry!
Sophia Smith Collection
Tinúviel, of Kill Rock Stars Records and Villa Villakula Records, donated her collection of grrrl zines, a copy of every KRS or VV record she helped to produce, various correspondence and other papers to the Smith College Women’s History Archives in 2005. The Sophia Smith collection also boasts a Girl Zine Collection started by a donation from Tristan Taormino, author of A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World, in 1999.
The Sarah and Jen Wolfe Collection
The Sarah and Jen Wolfe Collection of Riot Grrrl and Underground Music Zines is housed at the University of Iowa Library and features grrrl zines and comics from ca. 1991 – 2003.
Barnard Zine Library
The Barnard College Zine Library in New York City features donations by Sara Jaffe, Yumi Lee, Lauren Jade Martin, and Celia Perez.
The Women’s Library Zine Collection
The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University in London features an ever growing collection of girl zines started by a donation from the Ladyfest London team in 2002.
Riot Grrrl Retrospective
The Experience Music Project with headquarters in Seattle, Washington, is host to this online exhibition of riot grrrl featuring the history of the movement told through text, interviews, audio and video.