The expansion of punk rock: riot grrrl challenges to gender power relations in British indie music subcultures

Downes, Julia (2012). The expansion of punk rock: riot grrrl challenges to gender power relations in British indie music subcultures. Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 41(2) pp. 204–237.



In Britain, punk culture introduced the DIY (do it yourself) ethic to a generation of young people who seized the impetus to create subversive art, music, and culture. In particular, women used this moment to open up sub cultural space for the transgression of gender and sexual hegemony. However, the political importance of women’s contribution to punk culture has been undermined in retrospective accounts of British punk that focus on male performers and entrepreneurs (Myers; Savage; Marcus 2001; Lydon et al.; Adams). In the 1990s riot grrrl responded to the cultural and political marginalization of young women and girls. An American import, riot grrrl used punk sounds, sights, and productions to challenge and resist the gender power relations of music subcultures. In this sense riot grrrl has been described as “an expansion of punk rock” in its explicit intention to disrupt gender power relations and encourage the politicized participation of girls and young women in independent punk music culture. Riot grrrl created a series of sonic moments to create punk-feminist community and provoke young women and girls’ subcultural resistance and exploration of radical political identities. In this article I draw on my doctoral research on British riot grrrl which encompassed the analysis of 17 oral histories and 5 interviews with riot grrrl participants alongside 18 secondary interviews, 5 taped interviews, 3 films, personal involvement in 3 panel discussions, and an extensive archive of fanzines, records, and media articles. In particular this article explores the strategies employed in the live music gigs of riot grrrl associated bands Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill, to discuss how these young women attempted to disrupt the spatial and sonic norms of the indie gig to incite feminist community and provoke change in their subcultural situations.

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