Modern post-punk female musicians strive to uphold a sexually and politically empowering attitude and style in their music. The Punk Revolution was an era that gave women the chance to redefine themselves, and push against the stereotypes that confined them in society and music.
Provocative behaviour was encouraged, people lived for self-expression, and the youth culture gave the revolution the power to change the way women are represented in society. Strong female musicians made waves, and became known as punk artists for their sexual and musical freedom that transcended the underground scene. Artists such as Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry fronted punk bands and garnered a large audience, empowering women from the 1970s onwards.
However, bands immediately associated with punk are, more often than not, male musicians. Who do you think of? The Clash and The Sex Pistols, or The Pretenders and The Runaways? Since the 50’s and before the music industry has been predominantly patriarchal. When the 1970s revolution came around changes increased women’s opportunity for involvement in the music and influence within the scene, but chauvinistic attitudes and the male powered management of the industry prevented as much exposure and publicity for leading female artists.
MTV was launched in 1981, and had a ripple-effect on popular music and culture. As the 1980’s front-line music took a different turn with more pop-focussed bands (i.e., Duran Duran & ABC) getting the attention from mainstream publicity, the punk scene began to go underground. While it caused the emergence of new scenes such as the gothic and grunge rock scenes, the scene was no-longer dominant and social progression began to slow down.
Riot Grrrl was the next big feminist punk movement to get the ball-rolling. It originated from the Washinton D.C., USA underground scene in the 1990s, by bands such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. The movement changed the idea of trying to break female oppression using music to simply rewriting the rules and creating new female institutions; beginning the DIY feminism ethic that still prevails in the punk scene today.
The New York Times described the movement as, ““A boy-girl revolution,” (inspired by a riot-grrrl lyric) that allowed women to be sexually free and simultaneously open about harassment and sexual assault, that encouraged them in pursuits traditionally thought of as male, like dancing in the mosh pit or thrashing on guitar, without having to give up their spirited girly-ness.”
Despite punk-rock’s reputation for activism and rebellion, from Siouxsie & The Banshees to the modern day post-punk revival Savages, female musicians have fought with guitars raging to get their voices heard for decades.
Following March’s National Women’s Day, I ask some feminist punk-spirit artists how they feel they are treated within the music industry, and by the public, today. London-based band DOLLS, and Norwich-foursome, The Peach Club, explore their experiences on the matter.
DOLLS, formed in 2014, credit ‘female led nights such as Loud Woman and We Can Do it’, and other collaborative opportunities like recording with Rock-veteran Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) as an important element allowing them to break into the music scene. While the grunge, girl-power duo is well-established in the underground scene now, during their rise they encountered discriminative behaviour showing how remnants of the inequality of the 1970s-punk scene endure. “We would get a few remarks from male bands thinking we would be opening the gig for them, when we would actually be headlining… or be surprised that we would actually be as good as we are,” says DOLLS.
Similarly, The Peach Club have also gained the majority of their fan base from all-female led gig nights, and from ‘other female punk bands lifting us up.’ In this way, female punk-rock bands have learnt to thrive, and have been praised for their on-stage energy and musical talent. The group, who started rocking professionally in January 2016, say how “some male bands and most male sound technicians we’ve had assume we can’t play our instruments and are always shocked when we put on a good show… ‘wow you were actually really good’ seems like more of an insult than a compliment.”
The music industry is known for being competitive, with statistics showing “live music was the fastest growing area of the music sector in terms of GVA (Gross Value Added) during 2015, increasing by 37 per cent,” and that the “total audience for live music in the UK was 27.7m.” Like all bands trying to make a name for themselves, DOLLS take the challenge onboard and comment, “We work hard to make sure our live shows and songs that we release are the best they can be.”
However, The Peach Club highlight that while the underground DIY punk-scene has welcomed them with open-arms, they feel it’s always a struggle to break into the mainstream music scene. They call attention to the fact that many long-time female acts rarely gain the same recognition as male bands.
Media, and the support of industry specialists play a vital role in the continuity and growth of successful female punk music. The future of punk-rock should be representative of the female population, allowing social issues to be expressed and given awareness in society (as was the purpose of punk). London’s underground punk-rock music scene is a large stage, and as DOLLS describe the industry as ‘constantly changing and becoming more inclusive,’ we can only hope for equality to develop further.