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Riot Grrrl Then and Now

Shawna Lipton

Bikini Kill, the feminist punk band from Olympia, Washington formed in 1990, recently announced that they would reunite after over twenty years to play a select number of shows. When the tickets sold out online after one minute fans were disappointed, but drummer Tobi Vail responded with the tweet, “Start yr own band!!!!!” Singer Kathleen Hanna had similar advice for people at the lecture she gave at Revolution Hall in Portland in 2015 titled “Riot Grrrl Then and Now.” She cautioned the crowd to be wary of nostalgia for riot grrrl, pointing them to resources and critiques about what the movement got wrong, primarily lack of inclusion of women of color.

At the TBA festival in 2017, Portland-based Diné transdisciplinary artist Demian DinéYazhi´ curated an event featuring bands that show the evolution of riot grrrl and speak out about contemporary issues of racial and gender justice including Albuquerque, New Mexico’s pop punk trio, Weedrat, and San Antonio’s chicano punk band, FEA. DinéYazhi´ asserted this event was “dedicated to honoring the labor and intelligence of Indigenous and brown punk energy that continues the fight against heteropatriachy, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.” In 2018, She Shreds magazine founded by Fabi Reyna, and NXT LVL, a collective dedicated to creating events and fundraisers for BI/POC Femmes/Women/GNC folk and community members hosted a J20 rally and party at PICA. The featured bands included FUPU (Fuck U Pay Us), Guayaba, SassyBlack, Blossom, and Sávila. All of the proceeds benefited local organizations Queer Rock Camp and Brown Girl Rise. Both of these events featured the best of what the PNW feminist punk ethos has inspired, along with fresh musical innovations, and intersectional politics.

Kathleen Paul, who performs under the moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout, has also taken up this mantle. Paul grew up in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and her music is animated by memories of the Pacific Northwest. Both the singing and dancing at family powwows, as well as VHS tapes by Nirvana and Hole given to her in her youth inform her debut record Mother of My Children. The song “Soft Stud” is a standout with earnest lyrics and an infectious hook. It is a love song, expressing longing and heartbreak in language specific to queer embodiment and desire. A video for the song recently released online was made in collaboration with Demian DinéYazhi´, a loving tribute to queerness, and to the sacredness of water and land, to native identity, resistance, and resilience. The video begins with Paul singing “need you, want you, I know you’re taken” wearing a shirt made by DinéYazhi that says “Radical Indigenous Queer Feminist.” Although it begins softly and plaintively, Paul grows joyful as the video goes on, running, dancing, and smiling animating the sparse landscape with irrepressible energy. Paul wrote about filming the video with DinéYazhi: “One thing that was super prevalent in the filming of this video was to see an indigenous woman smiling and dancing and being happy. We had fun this day.”

Watch the video here: