6 Song Series: Women In Punk
From post punk Marine Girls to noughties saviours The Distillers
We’re pleased to launch our brand new 6 Song Series, where each month we attempt to introduce you to a scene, style or sound through six key records that define it.
In our inaugural post, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, we outline six seminal records from cult figures that have come to personify the women in punk scene across the decades. Leathers on, let’s dive in….
X, ‘We’re Desperate’, 1978
In the mid-70s, when women really started to make a noise on the punk scene, the sound was playing out in a two-pronged fashion across the States. On the East Coast, Patti Smith – a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk scene, had just released her debut Horses infused with that signature Beat-poetry lyricism. Meanwhile on the West, spurred on by Smith’s efforts, songwriter and bassist John Doe was forming a punk band of his own in his new hometown, Los Angeles. X was far from the first punk band in LA but they did help to put the city on the map when it came to their signature off-kilter kiss-offs between founder Doe and vocalist Exene Cervenka. A natural reaction to the free love of the 1960s, our 70s punks were keen to save the world from corporate takeovers with their fierce fretwork and ferocity, an accurate response to the conservative push of Ronald Regan’s administration. As Cervenka herself explained to NPR, “We wanted things to be real. This is what real music sounds like. We don’t need corporate music, and we don’t need corporate culture”.
X-Ray Spex, ‘Bondage Up Yours’, 1978
It would’ve been easy to veer towards a landmark outfit like The Slits here but we’re giving a nod to a woman who stood against the typical sex object from the backstages of a 1970s dressing room. Instead, she was more likely to be sporting a gaudy Dayglo romper. Former X-Ray Spex frontwoman, Poly Styrene formed the band after watching the Sex Pistols perform on Hastings Pier on her 18th birthday and became known for her unpolished vocals and energetic rallying cries against consumerism and environmental destruction. All rather timely too in the wake of the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 which allowed women the same access to jobs as men. In this case, punk rock righteousness.
Lydia Lunch, ‘Atomic Bongos’, 1980
Meanwhile over in the States, a new kind of avant-garde scene was brewing. Already tired of punk’s recycled rock and roll cliches, no wave musicians were all about atonality and dissonance. A solid voice in NYC’s underground, Lydia Lunch was a founding member of the notorious Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and has since collaborated alongside Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and, similarly brooding, Nick Cave. A DIY punk trope, her work has maintained a strong anti-commercial ethic (Lunch operates independently of major labels and distributors). Now performing as Lydia Lunch’s Big Sexy Noise, her raw and fearless shows are littered with on-stage put-downs. Volatile, rude, and outspoken, Lunch proves that it’s not just the boys who can play tough.
Marine Girls, ‘A Place In The Sun’, 1983
You might not expect to find musician Tracey Thorne in our women in punk list but before her column writing for The New Statesman and massive chart hits with middle of the road museos Everything But The Girl, she was flexing her fretwork in a slightly more DIY output. Marine Girls were almost a second-wave of the post-punk principles set by her fore-sisters The Raincoats and, much like the art school experimentalists, were a big hit with Radio 1’s John Peel who invited the band in for two sessions. Still not convinced about Thorne’s spot here? Pick up a copy of Bedsit Disco Queen as the musician recounts some excellent tales of sheepishly sharing the stage with Mod king, Paul Weller.
Bikini Kill, ‘Rebel Girl’, 1993
Obviously, this list wouldn’t be complete without a nod towards the seminal sounds and defining feminist furor of the riot grrrl scene of the nineties. From the gut-busting smacks of the snare to the militant chugging-riff building headfirst into Kathleen Hanna’s caustic cry, Bikini Kill‘s ‘Rebel Girl’ was an ode to female friendship. This collectivity continued with the ‘girls to the front’ ideology that Hanna championed so vehemently. Its ethos has been instrumental in reshaping how women are perceived within the music industry; be that as keen front row fans or fret-heavy guitarists. Armed with a mission to carve a space for women in a world that saw them as groupies rather than musicians, Bikini Kill’s ideology still speaks to countless women creatives today.
The Distillers, ‘City of Angels’, 2002
It all got a bit male heavy in the noughties. If people weren’t goofing off to toilet punk humour from Bowling for Soup, they were getting emotional with the vaudeville theatrics of Panic! At The Disco. Thankfully, The Distillers’ guitarist and frontwoman Brody Dalle cut through some of that testosterone with her guttural growl and old-school punk pit sing-alongs. Late last year and almost twenty years on from their self-titled debut, The Distillers revealed new music and Stateside tour dates much to the elation of former Kerrang buying teen fans everywhere. Despite her fair share of setbacks (see her destructive first marriage with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong) Dalle is back and she’s not coming quietly.
Want to hear more? We’ve made a whole playlist of the other great artists – including the London DIY scene recapturing this sound today – for that very reason. Wrap your ears around it on Spotify.