Article written by Kyla Wyllie
So here’s the deal, although there’s a good sized group of female musicians in the local San Diego scene, the number compared to the count of male musicians is extremely lacking.
This is only part one in our GRL PWR Series, leading up to the much anticipated GRL PWR Fest, headlined by The Aquadolls this August. Our goal with this new segment is to help inspire young women to become more involved in their local scene, or in anything they want to pursue. We need to start encouraging more of our female youth to get out into the world, to fight for what they’re passionate about and make people listen. Let’s shake things up ladies, because anything guys can do, girls can do better.
Here’s my count of four influential women in punk rock.
Kathleen Hanna is not only ever-present in the punk scene, but also an advocating feminist, filling the airwaves from 98′-99′ with feminist zines through her band, Bikini Kill.
Being raised with a strong influence in female equality and liberation from a young age, she considers herself a “radical feminist,” and is frequently credited with aiding in the push of “third-wave feminism.” Her social views are most commonly expressed in her diehard lyrics, and her fruitful attempts in making punk culture more accepting of female activists.
Releasing six albums and one EP with Bikini Kill, three albums and roughly four EP’s with later band, Le Tigre, and an entire lo-fi solo album under the name Julie Ruin, Hanna has been all over the punk scene since first entering it in the mid 90s. She is, to this day, still releasing new music.
Fun fact: Kathleen came up with the name for Nirvana’s hit single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (unintentionally, that is). On Cobain’s apartment wall, Hanna wrote, “Kurt smells like teen spirit,” referring to the women’s deodorant. He however, didn’t realize this was the context at the time.
Joan Marie Larkin, or more commonly known by her stage name, Joan Jett, entered the music world at the age of 15 with her first band, The Runaways. The group toured the world opening for Cheap Trick, Ramones, Van Halen, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
While they were a smash hit in Japan, this group just couldn’t gain the same level of popularity in the U.S. as they did in other countries. After Cherie Currie (lead singer) left the band, The Runaways released a few songs with Joan Jett on vocals, but broke up in 1979.
However, this wouldn’t be the last the world saw of Jett, going on to peruse a solo career, founding Blackheart Records with friend and colleague, Kenny Laguna, and co-founding and fronting the legendary band, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. In her later career she produced many successful bands, one being Kathleen Hanna’s very own Bikini Kill.
Fun Fact: After Joan dove head first into the world of vegetarianism, she soon became aware of the harsh effect on the environment that factory farming produced. With this realization, she became an extremely strong spokesperson for vegetarian and vegan living, working closely with advocate group, PETA, and partaking in many outreach projects.
Susan Janet Ballion, also knows as English punk icon, Siouxsie Sioux, has inspired many throughout her musical career. Dropping out of high school at the age of 17, after some fairly dramatic and life-changing events, Siouxsie and close friend, Steven Severin, devoted themselves to the support of the band, Sex Pistols.
Inspired by the group, she and Steven put together their own band, Siouxsie And The Banshees, which would soon become a household name. Nearly everything produced from this band had critics raving, starting with their debut single, “Hong Kong Garden,” climbing to number seven on the U.K. Singles Chart.
Her second band, The Creatures, also found large success in the music world. However, after both bands disbanded, as most usually do, she perused an also successful solo career, collaborating with many artists such as Morrissey, and Marc Almond. From her iconic cat-eye makeup, to her dark and enticing melodies, Siouxsie Sioux is a personality that will never be forgotten.
Fun Fact: Siouxsie was an honorary member of The Bromley Contingent, a group of passionate followers and supporters of the Sex Pistols. Known for their rebellious ways and “provocative” clothing, this group of punk activists made headlines more times than once.
Wrapping up my count, it was a necessity to include the face behind Blondie, Debbie Harry. However, before she was the icon we know her as today, she was a backup singer for folk band The Wind In The Willows, which only released one album during their time as a group.
She then joined the Stilettoes in 1974, but that experience was short lived. Harry left the group with future boyfriend, Chris Stein, and formed Angel And The Snake, the two later went on to create the band, Blondie (a name Debbie was frequently addressed by in response to her hair).
After the release of Blondie’s debut album in 1976, the group was quick to gain success. While their second album, “Plastic Letters,” did earn some buzz, third album, “Parallel Lines,” was a smash hit around the world. Their single, “Heart of Glass,” sold two million copies in the U.S. alone, rising in the charts and dominating the globe.
Like many leading ladies, Harry tried her hand at a solo career. However, it never produced the amount of popularity that she initially had hoped. In 1997, for the first time in 25 years, Blondie reunited and began making music again.
Fun Fact: Debbie Harry, before she found success in the world of music, was a waitress, a go-go dancer, and a playboy bunny.
This list is no way saying that these four women are the “most influential,” there are many other female icons in punk rock that I would love to name. Just a few examples, Kim Gordon, Carrie Brownstein, Lydia Lunch, Patti Smith, the list could continue endlessly. These are just four women out of hundreds, and a continued list may be headed your way in the future.
(Header photo Bikini Kill Live at Gilman Street, received via https://www.flickr.com/photos/8544465@N08/8410302844 )