One of the queens of the original Riot Grrrl scene, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, came through the Bay Area this week on tour to promote her new memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. She might be known mainly as a writer and actor now -- she's a star on the hit comedy show Portlandia -- but she's still playing rock 'n' roll with Sleater-Kinney, who released a new album called No Cities To Love this year.
Though her Olympia-bred trio stands as one of the best all-female rock bands to ever grace a stage, they certainly weren't the first -- nor will they be the last. As a matter of fact, some of the most rocking all-girl groups have come from the Bay Area, and Brownstein's victory lap through the city is the perfect reason to celebrate them. Below are seven Bay Area-born bands that helped destroy the myth of rock as a club for boys only.
Straight outta Palo Alto, The Donnas are definitely the most well-known band on this list: Not only did they score a record deal with a major label (Atlantic Records), they made their way onto several movie and video game soundtracks, with band members even appearing in the 1999 teen comedy Drive Me Crazy as their alter egos, the Electrocutes. Though the majority of their song catalog represented their love of '70s hard rock and '80s glam metal, their early releases were buzzsaw punk rock -- records so good they deserve a spot next to the Ramones' first three albums on punk's Mount Rushmore.
Tribe 8 isn't notable just because they were a group of rockers who gave the grunge bands of the early '90s a run for their money. They were also proud lesbians who are credited as being one of the first "Queercore" bands, members of a genre that would help smash the prevailing homophobia within the American hardcore scene. Their impact can not be ignored, and their epic live shows, which typically featured lead singer Lynn Breedlove topless, will not be forgotten. (You can learn more about the band by watching the award-winning 2003 documentary Rise Above: A Tribe 8 Documentary.)
While the hardcore scene was obviously male-dominated, an even bigger boys' club was the '90s anarcho-punk scene that included groups like Aus Rotten and Disrupt and Resist. Spitboy were a shining light among the black clothing, butt flaps and face-jewelry, reminding the shower-hating members of the genre that women's rights were just as important as destroying capitalism. As you can hear, their musical output (especially their split LP with Los Crudos) sounds just as powerful as it did back then.
We can't write enough about the greatness of Frightwig, who started back in the early '80s and are still going strong today. They were Riot Grrrl before the scene existed, unabashedly feminist in a time when pop music was stating that "Girls Just Wanna To Have Fun" (a song written by a man, by the way.) Their sound is impossible to categorize, ranging from dirge-y proto-grunge to no wave to straight-ahead punk, and releases such as Cat Farm Faboo are must-haves for punk collectors. They've been playing out quite frequently in recent days with groups like Psychic TV and L7, and a recent performance backing LA punk legend Alice Bag shows they're just as vicious live as they were decades ago.
In the early '90s, San Francisco became home of the re-emergence of lo-fi garage music, which would brand itself "Budget Rock." Again, many of the bands attached to the scene were all dudes -- the Mummies, the Rip Offs, the Phantom Surfers -- but the Trashwomen put all the boys in their place with a blend of dirty surf and garage punk. Drummer Tina Lucchesi would go on to front bands like The Bobbyteens and Tina & the Total Babes, whose 2001 self-titled LP was a watermark in the neo-power pop scene, while shredding surf guitarist Elka Zolot had her young daughter, Natassia, make her singing debut on one of their records, "Boys Are Toys." Years later, Natassia would take the stage name Kreayshawn, and in 2011 she'd become a household name through the viral web hit "Gucci Gucci."
While labels like K and Kill Rock Stars capitalized on the Riot Grrl scene by signing up Northwestern groups like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill, Berkeley's Lookout! Records had Raooul. One difference? The members were in their early teens, so they described their music as being "Jail Bait Core" (also the name of their singular release on Lookout, a split LP with London's Skinned Teen.) They might not have had overly impressive musicianship, but they had spirit -- and their snotty, immature lyrics are also pretty damn funny.
The only band on this list that was founded after 9/11 -- they started in 2007 -- Grass Widow needed to be included on this list simply because they're absolutely fantastic. Though they could easily be grouped with the tons of other retro post-punk groups that have occupied the indie rock scene for the past few years, their musicianship and needlework melodies should never be forgotten. They released plenty in the six years they were together, and all of it is worth picking up. And if you're still jonesing for rocking-yet-pretty jams after you've gone through the entire Grass Widow catalog, I highly suggest checking out the rip-roaring shoegaze of Cold Beat, which features Grass Widow bassist Hannah Lew.