20 bands keeping the riot grrrl spirit alive in their own unique way
The riot grrrl underground feminist punk movement began in the early ’90s in the Pacific Northwest before expanding to the rest of the world. Credited by some for kick-starting third-wave feminism, riot grrrl was a scene where women could express themselves through music.
Many bands were influenced and started because of riot grrrl, with the likes of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile leading the revolution. Other punk artists such as Sleater-Kinney, Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, L7, Babes In Toyland and more also heavily affected the scene.
Read more: 10 woman vocalists who brought a unique sound to 2000s alternative
Riot grrrl music addresses issues such as sexism, patriarchy, sexuality, classism, rape culture and beauty standards in a passionate and empowering way. As time went on and the new millennium began, feminism began shifting to the fourth wave around 2012. Utilizing new tools the internet provided, fourth-wave feminism mainly focuses on intersectionality and gender norms. Social media was a huge new playing field for the movement, and activism was able to expand out into the world at a much faster and more effective rate.
Well-known campaigns such as Free The Nipple, SlutWalk, Time’s Up and #MeToo all used the internet to gain support and spark change. In fact, TIME even named the silence breakers of the #MeToo movement its 2017 Person of the Year.
The original movement was often criticized for its lack of diversity and focus on middle-class white women. But while feminism changed in the modern world, so did riot grrrls. Now, the mentality stands for the same things but is more inclusive of those previously shut out.
Here are 20 bands keeping the riot grrrl spirit alive today while putting their own unique twists on what the movement means.
Bad Cop/Bad Cop
Southern California pop-punk four-piece Bad Cop/Bad Cop are all about finding happiness out of anger. Their raging sophomore album, Warriors, was recorded after the 2016 presidential election, but their latest album, The Ride, focuses on self-love and acceptance. Bad Cop/Bad Cop embody the riot grrrl mentality by spreading a message of empowerment through loving yourself before anything else. After releasing The Ride last year, the band recently announced that they are slated to play at Furnace Fest Sept. 26.
Rock ’n’ roll has never sounded as rebellious as it does with Seattle band BEARAXE. Fronted by the incomparable Shaina Shepherd, BEARAXE combine progressive rock with elements of soul, funk and jazz. The band’s debut EP, Last Call, was produced by Grammy winner Jack Endino and unapologetically rages about Black feminism and power. Hailing from the state where the riot grrrl movement began, BEARAXE are a welcome addition to the evolution of feminist punk music.
British post-punk trio Big Joanie are one of the pioneering Black feminist punk bands of the modern world. When they formed in 2013, London’s scene was overwhelmingly white, and they wanted to change that to make music for those who didn’t see themselves represented onstage. Almost a decade later, they have done just that and supported major players in the riot grrrl movement such as Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney on tour along the way. Big Joanie have a strong political and feminist message in line with the original riot grrrl movement but adapted to encompass intersectional activism and empowerment. Their debut album, Sistahs, was released in 2018, and more recently, Big Joanie shared a reworked cover of Solange’s “Cranes In The Sky” on Jack White’s Third Man Records.
What’s better than irreverent garage-punk music? How about an all-female band playing fun, catchy and energetic music with a message? The Coathangers personify the heart of the riot grrrl movement with their sharp takes on society and feminism. The phrase “coathangers” in itself is the band’s pro-choice commentary on female autonomy regarding abortion. Formed in 2006, the band have released multiple albums over the years. Their latest The Coathangers (Deluxe Edition) revisits their 2007 debut, The Coathangers, and adds a couple of new songs to the tracklist.
While riot grrrl music in the ’90s mainly stemmed from punk bands, in more recent decades, it’s included a wider scope of sounds. Daddy Issues are an indie-pop rock band who might not sound like what you think riot grrrl music should sound like, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving of being in that category. Formed in 2014 after singer Jenna Moynihan read the phrase “daddy issues” scribbled on a bathroom wall, Daddy Issues tackle topics of sexual assault, mental health and heartbreak through a modern gaze. In 2015, they released a split single with garage-punk band White Reaper through indie label Infinity Cat Recordings, and in 2017, they shared their sophomore album, Deep Dream. Before the pandemic stopped all live shows, the band performed alongside artists such as the Front Bottoms, Foxing and Now, Now. During quarantine, Daddy Issues have been outspoken about various social justice issues such as police brutality and anti-Asian violence and use their platform to encourage others to do the same.
Self-described “queer feminist punk witches,” Dream Nails are a staple in the new-age riot grrrl community. Brought together through their feminist activism in London in 2015, you might recognize Dream Nails from when they put a hex on Donald Trump with their song “Deep Heat” the following year. More recently, they released their self-titled album in 2020. These witches are a force to be reckoned with, as they’re exactly what riot grrrl music intends to be: feminist, political and assertive.
Heartfelt pop-punk trio Dream Wife formed in 2014 as a “fake girl band” for a school project before actually becoming a band soon after. Dream Wife are unapologetically riot grrrl as they sing about gender roles, body image and sexual objectification. Taking their name from the 1953 romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, they are known for being outspoken about the gender divide in creative industries. In fact, for their 2020 album, So When You Gonna…, the band worked with an all-female recording team as a way to practice what they preach. They were also featured on Rina Sawayama’s album SAWAYAMA (Deluxe Edition) with a remix of her hit “Bad Friend.”
Chicana punk rebels Fea are riot grrrl in the best way possible: fearless and furious. The quartet got together in 2015 and have toured with iconic bands such as Against Me!, Babes In Toyland and Agent Orange. Fea aim to continue the musical legacy of the likes of Joan Jett and Bikini Kill. They do so by confronting important issues head-on with a purposeful but fun sound. Their name is Spanish for “ugly” and stems from the female experience of being picked on and criticized more simply for being a woman. No Novelties, the band’s 2019 album was produced by Chicana rocker Alice Bag and released via Jett’s Blackheart Records.
According to the band themselves, Girl Friday make jarring music with an “unquenchable will to survive.” The California post-punk quartet sing about the distressing outlook the 21st century gives from a youthful perspective but in an optimistic tone. The world might suck, but at least they have each other. This empowering tone is what makes Girl Friday a modern riot grrrl-inspired band to add to all of your playlists. Their last album, Androgynous Mary, was released in 2020, and they released a video for “Earthquake” earlier this year.
Manchester-based post-punk trio LIINES have been taking over the scene in both the U.K. and Europe for several years now. Compared to the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Savages, LIINES use intense vocals and slamming drums to craft a sound mixing riot grrrl and post-punk. Started in 2014, the band released their first single “Never There” in 2015 before their debut album, Stop - Start, came in 2018. Since then, LIINES have dropped two new tracks with “On And On” in 2019 and “Sorry” in 2020.
Shoegaze grunge band Margaritas Podridas draw inspiration from the aggressive nature of ’90s music and the lo-fi moods of the 2010s to create their unique sound. The Mexican four-piece are whimsical, fun-loving and gritty. While not a punk band, Margaritas Podridas show that modern riot grrrl music can materialize in any genre as long as it has a message. Inspired by the founding women of the movement such as Hole, L7 and Bratmobile, Margaritas Podridas formed to challenge the masculine music industry that makes women fight for a place. After dropping their debut album, Porcelain Mannequin, in 2018, the band released their latest single “Ceremonia” in 2020.
PJ’s At Punkphie’s
Charming feminist punk rockers PJ’s At Punkphie’s make music that’s real and raw. Living in Mexico, the riot grrrl movement is only just gaining traction, and this three-piece hope to inspire Mexican women to start conversations about issues that directly affect them. Singing in both English and Spanish, PJ’s At Punkphie’s released their first EP, Sugar, Spice, I’ll Kick Your Ass!, in 2019. Since then, they rebranded themselves as Las Pijamas and shared “Cochina Crop Top” earlier this month.
One of the forefront leaders of the new resurgence of riot grrrl music, the Regrettes’ music is socially aware, unfaltering and sarcastic. Equal parts zealous and grating, most of their lyrics focus on love, heartbreak and relationships from a feminist lens. Frontwoman Lydia Night pulls inspiration from punk legends such as Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein and Kathi Wilcox with a modern, youthful taste. After touring with Tacocat, Sleigh Bells and Kate Nash throughout 2016, the Regrettes released their debut album Feel Your Feelings Fool! in 2017. Then, after opening for twenty one pilots on the European leg of the Bandito tour in 2019, they released their sophomore album, How Do You Love? More recently, Knight collabed with indie-rocker Lauren Hibberd on “How Am I Still Alive?” earlier this year.
Influenced by the grunge and anger of the Berlin punk and DIY scene, Riot Spears got their start in 2018. Vulnerability and angst are just two emotions they slide into their music alongside metaphors about love, self-hatred and more. Their recent singles “Park Song” and “Harvester” are the perfect additions to your headbanging playlists. Riot Spears fit right into place in the ’90s riot grrrl scene despite only starting this decade. While their discography is small right now, they recently announced the upcoming release of their debut album, Bad, which is sure to further cement their place in the scene.
New York riot grrrls Sharp Violet are one of the few all-female rock bands in the Long Island music scene. The five-piece take inspiration from the riot grrrls who came before them to give a voice to those who are still afraid to speak out. As long as society is sexist, Sharp Violet will be here to remind all women they are powerful. Their 2020 track “She’s So Strange” is a reminder that not being normal is beautiful. All of their music, from 2017’s “These Are The Rules Boys” to 2019’s “Domino Effect,” deserves to be endlessly looped in our minds.
Three siblings turned bandmates make up the punk-rock band Skating Polly. Formed when they were just teenagers, they were inspired by the ’70s punk and ’90s alt-rock their parents would play. Combining those sounds with indie-pop and DIY punk, Skating Polly are a force to be reckoned with in the modern riot grrrl movement. Applauded by members of the Flaming Lips, who they have toured with, the band even got to collab with Veruca Salt members Nina Gordon and Louise Post on a 2017 EP, New Trick. Their latest album, The Make It All Show, was released in 2018, and the siblings plan to tour Europe in 2022.
Skinny Girl Diet
Gaining traction throughout the mid-2010s, Skinny Girl Diet are as political as they are punk. Sisters Delilah and Ursula Holliday got their first big break opening for iconic punk rocker Viv Albertine of the Slits. The riot grrrls sing about feminist politics and sexism in their music and are also adamant about substance over aesthetics. Skinny Girl Diet want people to connect with their music because of the message, not because of the punk style or fashion fads of the riot grrrl movement. After Skinny Girl Diet released their 2018 album Ideal Woman, the duo went on a musical hiatus. In the meantime, both sisters have modeled for punk fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, and 2021 saw Delilah release new solo music with “Falling into Place.”
Indie punk-rock band Tacocat use witty humor and sarcasm in their songs to address various feminist issues such as menstruation and mental illness. Growing up as a band in a 2000s world where shows were booked on Myspace, Tacocat were always authentically themselves in a time where it wasn’t in style to write feminist pop-punk anthems. While they released This Mess Is A Place in 2019, its impact is still being felt to this day with the inclusion of “Grains Of Salt” in the 2021 Netflix original girl power movie Moxie. The empowering film follows a young girl navigating friendship, misogyny and revolution in high school, all while she listens to riot grrrl bands for inspiration.
The Txlips Band
The Txlips Band are a collective of women and nonbinary musicians who aim to challenge the boundaries the music industry places around them. Founded by Atlanta native Guitar Gabby, the touring group have brought together dozens of like-minded, mainly punk and riot grrrl, individuals to spread a message that women and Black musicians are an unstoppable force. They hope to push people to speak their truth and be themselves through music while raising up marginalized groups in the scene. The Txlips Band also release music together and recently shared a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Though influenced by the origins of riot grrrl music as well as post- and hardcore punk, White Lung aren’t your traditional riot grrrl band. With a more ’80s sound and structure, White Lung sing about feminism, rape culture, inequality and the messed up beauty standards imposed on women in many of their songs. Leader Mish Barber-Way studied communication and gender studies and credits that with further opening her eyes to how important feminist ideologies are. The band released their fourth and most recent album, Paradise, in 2016 and announced they are working on new music in 2019.