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Riot Grrrl

Riot grrrl is a raw, incendiary brand of feminist punk that emerged from the early-'90s indie-rock scene and sparked a subculture that lasted well after the initial movement began to fade. Riot grrrl was a blend of personal catharsis and political activism, though most of the attention it drew was due to the latter. Many (but not all) riot grrrl lyrics addressed gender-related issues -- rape, domestic abuse, sexuality (including lesbianism), male dominance of the social hierarchy, female empowerment -- from a radical, militant point of view. The similarly confrontational music favored raging, willfully amateurish blasts of noise, with only a rudimentary sense of melody or instrumental technique. Riot grrrl's abrasiveness served several purposes: it ensured that the anti-corporate music would never achieve alternative rock's crossover success (the label that released the highest percentage of riot grrrl records was called Kill Rock Stars); it defied stereotypes of women (and female musicians) as meek, overly sensitive, and lovelorn; and it found a powerful expressive tool in noise. To most riot grrrl bands, the simple act of picking up a guitar and bashing out a screeching racket was not only fun, but an act of liberation. To outsiders, the musical merits of riot grrrl could be highly variable, but to fans, what the movement represented was arguably even more important than the music. The riot grrrl movement was mostly centered in the Seattle/Olympia, Washington area; several exceptions included England's Huggy Bear, as well as several grungier groups like Babes in Toyland and L7, who fit the spirit of the style but were more tangentially related to its ideology. It was mostly rooted in punk's DIY ethos and tradition of protest, but in terms of direct inspirations, Joan Jett was lionized in many quarters of the movement for her simple, punky hard rock, confident sexuality, and independent business sense. Riot grrrl's emergence coincided with an explosion of female talent in other wings of alternative rock, and the term was frequently misapplied in media accounts of the phenomenon, which incorrectly labeled more accessible alt-rockers like Hole and PJ Harvey as riot grrrls. True riot grrrl bands -- Bratmobile, 7 Year Bitch, the queercore outfit Team Dresch, and the center of the riot grrrl universe, Kathleen Hanna's Bikini Kill -- never even approached popular acceptance. Since most bands weren't very prolific, the movement's initial flash of enthusiasm faded after a few years, but it continued to enjoy a lasting impact in indie culture, where the original bands helped inspire countless feminist zines and were still looked up to as icons and role models. Kathleen Hanna continued to record with several different projects, and scene veterans Sleater-Kinney became critically revered indie stars several years later, thanks to their ability to blend riot grrrl's passion and ideals with hookier songs and intricate instrumental technique.

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