When I was 8 my elementary school band teacher told me “girls don’t play drums,” and so I began my 9 year stint as the world’s most apathetic clarinetist. Set aside were fantasies of drumming like the cool dudes I met backstage when my mom took me to meet the drummers her factory sold drumsticks to. The year was 1998, Riot Grrrl was already in its death throes and, aside from a 6 month obsession with the film Josie & the Pussycats, so were my thoughts of ever being a girl in a band.
Att 16 it wouldn’t have been strange to hear me say “I just like male voices better,” or “I just think guys write more relatable stuff” when what I meant was “none of the music I’ve heard in this town north of nowhere has made me think girls ever get to be angry and fucked up, and I am so angry and fucked up.” I was so sure I was NOT like other girls, and it was a dark time for angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion anyway. I mean I was stuck in the early 2000s, sandwiched between Riot Grrrl in the 90s and the tumblr wokeness of the ‘10s. A time for boys in girl jeans and “guyliner,” for the cis-boy no-homo genderbend, but not a time for loud angry girls who couldn’t admit they liked girls at all. Maybe it didn’t matter, I was too busy smashing down my inner girl to care, reading Jack Kerouac and suffering from a nameless shame that I didn’t know was directed at my girl-ness and my loving-girls-ness, but which it was. It would be a long time before I could look directly at any of it.
In 2012 I moved to Seattle, 22 and hurling myself across the country in a move that I knew stank of desperation and a sadness that I could feel oozing out of me in all directions, making me vile. At the time I had barely heard of Riot Grrrl, nor had I been to Seattle). I’d seen 10 Things I Hate About You and my mom had brought them up off-hand while threatening to hold me down and shave my armpits, but the aesthetics of indie girl music, it sound, its joyful, angry, wonderful, desperate desire to be heard was still outside my grasp. I’d spent college discovering music in new ways, but never quite jumping across that wide gap between me and action, me and forming relationships, me and screaming and dancing and letting myself feel.
I came late to the Seattle party, spending my first few years stumbling in and out of local shows not sure if I was looking for something, or just bored as hell. Those years were long, and I was desperate for connections I couldn’t find, for the kind of fun other people were supposedly having…. and then I found it. Not a religious experience, truthfully I’ll pass on those, but something so grounding it took my breath away. There I was, standing alone at the back of a show, and I wasn’t feeling weird or lonely or alienated. The only thing I could feel was a desire to fucking dance until I was so sore I couldn’t ever forget my body.
Turns out there are tons of girls, who are angry, and irreverent and funny as hell- and some of them are making music. I’ll say right now I can’t talk about all of them, I’m going to try to narrow my focus the the loud, irreverent, sometimes pretty, sometimes dirty, music that feels like the obvious successor to Riot Grrrl and narrow that focus to the music scene here in Seattle that I know best. The music that first taught me to dance as and to yell and that these things didn’t need to be divorced from my ideas of girlhood.
One of the first bands that crossed my path out here is Tacocat and they are arguably the biggest, most grrrl pwr act around. The first show of theirs I went to was a daytime all-ages show, full of little girls in big pink hearing protection ear muffs dancing their hearts out and I was dancing my heart out along with them. Theirs is a glitter heavy girly aesthetic, with exactly the amount of tambourine I require for true grooving and shaking. This is mixed with a fun, often funny, lyricism that invites women to dance out the grinding bullshit of catcallers, 9 to 5 assholes at bars, hookups, shitty exes, and the endless Seattle winter.
I saw Mommy Long Legs first opening for Tacocat, but they are something else entirely. They take all that glitter, and trash it up. “Be a little grossed out by me,” they seem to say “be a little afraid, because I’m not here to make you happy.” The high pitched yelps and dirty mean lyrics give them a grungier more riotous edge, and make their live shows into sweaty yelling dance pits- though they still have to yell at men up front for ruining everyone’s nights sometimes.
From all of this I worked backwards. I found my inner teen, I read up on the 90s, and saw every part of myself flayed open in Kathleen Hanna’s amazing zine “My Life With Evan Dando”. It was like a doorway opened to being one of those little girls dancing their hearts out, to being a teen who is okay yelling about being a “weird girl,” and dealing with wanting what boys have and not rejecting girls because of it.
And there are so many more groups and solo artists that I want to talk about, to create zines about, to dance to and connect- there’s Sleepover Club, and Hardly Boys, and CHILDBIRTH (the side project band of a member of half the bands in Seattle it seems), and Lisa Prank. There are so many other women making music who aren’t part of this specific niche too.
I wouldn’t say I’m part of any scene- for one thing I’m 27 and I can only play 6 chords on guitar (a much better option than the drums for a broke apartment dweller with no rhythm). The only band I’m in is super fake, a list of song titles in an iPhone note. But, now I listen to music by girls, and I connect to words written by girls. I’m connected to a part of myself I always wanted to cut out and make disappear, and I’m constantly watching these young girls and women and nb folks and queer folks create loudly, and take up as much space as they can. It’s rad as hell. •
Allison Hamilton is a Seattle transplant, but swears she’s not a tech bro. She writes for fun, but wishes it was for profit, and is most easily spotted lurking a local shows. You can find her on twitter or subscribe to her newsletter on TinyLetter.