Category Archives: Sound Off

[[SOUND OFF]] The Mother of the ‘Riot Grrrl’ Movement

By Beth Brown

Why Joan Jett proves that rock isn’t just for men

Often described as the ‘Original Riot Grrrl’, Joan Jett paved the way for the feminist ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement to emerge in the 90s and produce some of the most memorable female- fronted grunge-punk bands such as Bikini Kill, and Babes In Toyland. Her iconic grunge look and ‘F*ck the world, feminist attitude’ is what makes Jett so memorable, it also doesn’t hurt that she’s famous for her cover of The Arrows’ I Love Rock.

Flashback to Los Angeles, 1975 to the popular clubs on the Sunset Strip; the Whiskey A Go Go, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. In the misty, smoke-filled clubs amongst the Bowie wannabees and 70s go-go girls; you’d find 15-year-old Joan Jett, and notorious record producer Kim Fowley (Thompson, 2011). Together, they would change the future of Rock and Roll by creating one of the first all-female bands The Runaways. (Thompson, 2011)

Fronted by the blond -Bowie fanatic Cherie Currie, and sporting the names of future stars such as Joan Jett (rhythm guitar), Lita Ford (lead guitar) and Sandy West (drummer). The Runaways gained attention in a world where Suzi Quatro was the only other female worth giving any thought too (Thompson, 2011). Not all of the attention was positive; in fact much of it was not, they were often branded as ‘Jokes’ and “the best parade of jailbait you could find” (Ron Asheton in Thompson 2011: 41). Despite the negativity, they continued to prosper and even opened for bands like The Ramones, and Cheap Trick. (Currie, 2010)

Whilst the success of The Runaways didn’t amount to as much as they had hoped at the time, although their legacy would be realized at a much later date; “they were still one of the most popular bands on the sunset strip. Because they were all teenage girls.” (Cogan, 2008: 281)However, the novelty of a teenage girl rock band soon wore off, and they didn’t last as long as any of them had hoped or expected. Yet the Rock and Roll bug had bitten Joan Jett square on the ass, and she wasn’t about to give up her dreams of being a Rock and Roll star.

Leaving the dreams of fronting a world famous all-girl rock band, Joan Jett went off in search of something else. She formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and proceeded to conquer the Rock and Roll world with her explicit lyrics and sexual provocativeness on stage. She got the ball rolling for the ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement, the 90s feminist music ‘agenda’. The rolling ball, so to speak, began with The Runaways who were playing venues like CBGB by 1977. Their dominating ‘sexual stage presence’ and ‘rebel-girl anthems’ like Cherry Bomb lay the foundations for young girls everywhere to grab their guitars and create the new generation of Riot Grrrl’s (Coogan, 2008). And withy lyrics like ‘Have you, grab you ‘til you’re sore’ who can blame the younger fans of the band for grasping Rock and Roll music and making it their own by adding their own ‘agenda’ and image to the genre.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Jett’s music reached millions of fans. Her music, published on her own record label, reached millions. Her publicity and preaching that ‘rock wasn’t just for boys’ didn’t stop there. After the brutal rape and murder of Seattle punk band The Gits singer Mia Zapata, Jett collaborated with the remaining members of the band to create the song Go Home. They played a series of shows all along the west coast in order to raise money to keep Zapata’s case open. Joan preached the importance of safety to women, and good self-defense knowledge. The death of Mia Zapata brought the Riot Grrrl movement into the spotlight. It is described as the starting point to ‘third wave’ feminist movement and often focuses on combining music with the non-music themes of rape, sexual abuse and other violence against women, as well as sexual power and sexuality. These references can be found in many of Jett’s songs such as ‘Fetish’ as well as in her covers of ‘Do You wanna touch?’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ which emanate the sexual power of the singer. (Fere-Jones, 2012)

Joan Jett’s tough, rocker ensemble is really what emanated the ‘its not about the boys’ vibe. Leather jacket, dark hair and heavy makeup have been the staple look of Jett since the 70s (Oldham, 2010). And whilst she has experimented with her hair and looks, she has always returned back to these key features. Jett herself has said, “The tough image was put upon me. I don’t think I’ll ever shake it. But personally I don’t care, I just want to play rock and roll.” The image has certainly not been shaken, and now thanks to the 2010 film The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart, new generations of young girls have been introduced to the ‘rock is for girls’.

With thanks in large part to the commercial success of The Runaways movie, increasing the interest in the band, and in Joan Jett herself. New generations of female rock musicians such as ‘The Dollyrots’ and ‘Girl In A Coma’, female bands that are signed to Joan Jett’s record label, have been able to carry on the Riot Grrrl legacy. Joan Jett’s own commercial success has helped keep her music known and her messages as a feminist, and female Rock star in the know. The fact that Joan Jett is still so popular with numerous generations perhaps proves that she has helped to change the face of the previously male dominated world of Rock and Roll. Her induction into the Rock and Roll hall of fame does show that Rock and Roll is not just for boys.

 

Sources

Cogan, B (2008) The Encyclopedia Of Punk. Sterling Publishing Co. USA

Currie, C (2010) Neon Angel. IT Books, Harper Collins Publishing. New York.

Daly, S (1994) Joan Jett Lives Up to her Bad Reputation. Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/joan-jett-lives-up-to-her-bad-reputation-19940324 Accessed on: [27/10/2014]

Fere-Jones, S (2012) Hanna And Her Sisters. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/11/26/hanna-and-her-sisters Accessed on: [27/10/2014]

Oldham, T (2010) Joan Jett. Lagunatic music and Film works. USA

Thompson, D (2011) The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett. Backbeat Books. Milwaukee.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[SOUND OFF]] The feminism of Peaches

By Abigail Jenkyns

Peaches, feminist superstar or gender-bending freak show? Is it all in the music or the performance?

With her brash, lycra clothing and ‘don’t give a crap’ lyrics, Merrill Beth Nesker, better known as Peaches, is a force to be reckoned with. The Canadian ex-teacher turned electronica queen has completely overthrown the dominant ideologies upon how women should behave and what they should sing about. Peaches’ lyrics, performances and videos are often grotesque and sexually suggestive and it has often been remarked that going to see the performer live on stage is more like watching a feral dominatrix performing a burlesque act. Peaches is, however, unapologetically herself in doing so which has further cemented her as a prominent figure in the Electroclash/Synthpunk genre and with five studio albums and twelve singles, Peaches has definitely made her mark.

Nesker took her stage name from Nina Simone’s song ‘four women’ and has cited the films Tron and Grease as influencing her showy performances. Similar feisty lyrics are often replicated in other artists from the electronica genre such as Robyn, Le Tigre, M.I.A and Gossip. The pumping beats and synthesised sounds provide the perfect backdrop for the politically/feminist charged lyrics that appear in the genre. Contrasted with the mellow tones of manufactured pop, electronica artists like Peaches are able to surpass the expected and express themselves in ways that shock and astonish. Katy Perry can cavort around the stage wearing a cupcake bra but Peaches takes it a step further, in one of her early 2011 performances, Peaches performed an entire set wearing a costume made out of material breasts and Barbie doll heads. Peaches doesn’t take her performances lightly, although she portrays herself as a woman who has fun at all costs, there is the undercurrent of sincerity within her acts and the idea that she is trying make a stand.

Peaches first album Teaches with Peaches from 2000 really secured her as a ‘two fingers up to society’ type of artist. The album’s most popular and opening track, ‘Fuck the pain away’ sounds electronic in sound but the bold and punchy lyrics suggests more punk/rock and roll undertones. The song opens with the lyrics: ‘Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me, callin me, all the time’ which really confirms that Peaches is certainly not a warbling wallflower of a singer. The extreme introduction to Peaches and her music way back in the start of the millennium really set her up for subsequent years, in which her lyrics and performances only became more extreme and outrageous. In her video for ‘Diddle my Skittle’, Peaches appears in a brash, pink, lycra outfit and spends the first half of the performance crudely emulating the notion that she has male genitalia, whilst in the second half the singer daintily tiptoes up the street whilst the camera focuses on aspects of her female body. It often feels that Peaches’ performances and music videos detract from the lyrics she is trying to convey.

Peaches is celebrated for subverting traditional gender norms and caused mild controversy upon the release of her 2003 album ‘Fatherfucker’ after appearing on the album cover with a beard. The distortion of gender binaries really made listeners question whether Peaches was really serious about her music or whether her input into the industry was more centred on her obsession with sexual politics. The name of the album itself questions the typical connotations of feminine insults, playing on the typically used phrase ‘motherfucker’. In her 2006 album ‘Impeach my bush’, Peaches again pushes the boundaries of ‘socially acceptable’ and completely dispels any beauty standards we typically see in the videos of mainstream pop artists like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Peaches’ track ‘Boys wanna be her’ challenges a patriarchal society by celebrating the notion of the androgynous male. In ‘two guys for every girl’, Peaches uses the lyrics ‘I wanna see you work it guy on guy’, which challenges the porn industries’ obsession with ‘girl on girl’ and how the act of lesbianism becomes a form of titillation for the male viewer. Through using the male body, Peaches aims to challenge the male gaze and ultimately turn it on its head.

It could be argued that Peaches’ apparent form of feminism is just a crass way to objectify men, further propagating the issue of inequality, rather than solving or helping the issue. However, Peaches also objectifies herself, her videos are overtly provocative, she performs on stage in her underwear and she is ‘willing to be as raunchy as a man.’  Peaches doesn’t play up to the sexually provocative female image, she dresses like a woman, sort of, but more importantly, to make her point, Peaches acts like a man. There is a feeling that Peaches’ performances and general personality takes precedence over her musical talent and it’s unusual to see a stripped back, acoustic version of her songs. Peaches is a performance artist and doesn’t make any apologies for that, stating “My work gets misunderstood all the time but I actually love that. I get everything from ‘angry man-hater’ to ‘porn-performer’.” It begs the question as to whether or not Peaches can be taken seriously as an artist, her music definitely isn’t something you would listen to if you were feeling melancholic, everything is too punchy and salacious for that. Although her music can be viewed as a breakthrough of female dominance, it also becomes distasteful and tacky in doing so. Whilst Peaches attempts to challenge the patriarchy, her hyper-sexualisation of her own body only further promulgates the issue.

Does Peaches fully empower women? Is she a pioneer of music? I’m not so sure, but she does make a stand. Peaches and other performers from the Electroclash genre have a certain edginess about their performances that unsettle the status quo of genres such as pop, where dainty, self-indulgent princesses sing about former lovers. Peaches successfully goes beyond that, she may not have impressive vocals or morals but at least she attempts to highlight issues so many other singers so very often fail to address.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out