Women Of Punk
Many women found a new voice and musical identity in the punk rock explosion of the '70s. “It rearranged my molecular structure,” says Linder Sterling, lead singer/conceptualist of Manchester band Ludus, and the woman who designed all the early Buzzcocks'sleeves. “In a symbolic sense, with punk, women were destroying the established image of femininity, aggressively tearing it down,” adds Liz Naylor, manager of ’90s riot grrrl band Huggy Bear. And according to Viv Albertine from seminal female band the Slits, “We'd be dressed half in bondage fetish gear, half in Doc Martens with our hair all out there, scowling at everybody. People didn't know if we were a pin-up or what. It freaked them out.”
Women of punk jettisoned power chords for more innovative structures, fiddling with tempo and voice — whether it was the Slits 'circular, dub-heavy rhythms or Poly Styrene's operatic shriek. I found the ’70s punk scene explosive enough to form a female band with my schoolfiriends called the Catholic Girls. Based in Southampton, we played numerous gigs, and the inspiration for our scratchy, funk-meets-Joy Division riffs lay in bands like Delta 5, X-Ray Spex, Ludus and Siouxsie & the Banshees.
Over ten years later, the fanzine-led Riot Grrrl movement ushered in a new phase, with a fresh set of heroines. Groups like Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland took over where punk had left off, hauling noise-rock and sardonic sloganeering to a new level, while other artists like PJ Harvey and Cat Power explored the power of the blues in a fragmentary, almost disturbing way. Through the '90s anarchic Berliners Chicks on Speed delved into the developing electro scene, while punk godmothers like Kim Gordon and Patti Smith veered off into unexpected directions.
Many latter-day female bands, from Sleater-Kinney to the Rogers Sisters, pay homage to ’70s punk. Their sound is rooted in the punk ethos of rigour, diversity and playful experimentation.
There have been so many illustrious women of punk, from Chrissie Hynde to Poison Ivy to the Modettes to the B-52's girls, too many to include here. So what follows is a very partisan selection of women who have inspired me from the '70s to the Noughties. All that they have in common is a ferocious commitment to independence and musical adventure.