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Alice Bag and Friends Perform a Pussy Riot Tribute at L.A. Zine Fest

From left to right: Allison Wolfe, Drew Denny and Alice Bag perform an homage to Pussy Riot.
From left to right: Allison Wolfe, Drew Denny and Alice Bag perform an homage to Pussy Riot.
Photo: Jennifer Swann

Yesterday's jam-packed L.A. Zine Fest ended with an ode to punk and riot grrrl music, via a panel featuring L.A. punk legend Alice Bag, former Bratmobile front woman Allison Wolfe and musician, filmmaker and Weekly scribe Drew Denny.

See also: Henry Rollins on Alice Bag's punk legacy

The multi-generational trio emerged from The Moth Theatre stomping and wearing balaclavas (above) an homage to imprisoned Russian punk band Pussy Riot. In an impromptu acoustic concert, they sang a song that began, "Bright colors / These pussies don't run / They scratch edges and ruffle fur," and ended with "We stand with Pussy Riot. Set them free!"

This wasn't the first time 54-year-old Alice Bag has performed with a mask, of course. More than 35 years ago, Bag was known to perform with a paper bag over head while singing in the first-wave punk band The Bags.

She explained that it was common for punk lead singers to adopt the same name as their band, making their identity synonymous with their music and erasing gender and racial connotations from their name. "You might have an ethnic sounding name, but people would know you by the name of your band," said the singer, born Alicia Armendariz in East L.A.

"We wore paper bags over our head and it was very liberating because there was a certain anonymity in our performance," she went on. "I didn't think that anyone was looking at me as a Chicana or a woman or someone who grew up poor [when I was wearing the bag.] At that point in my life, that was how I wanted to connect with people."

Bag later learned to embrace her female identity in the 1980s all-girl band Castration Squad and the '90s band Cholita! The Female Menudo, in which she still performs and sings in Spanish.

Whereas Bag started out as a singer and turned to writing later in life (her memoir, Violence Girl, was published in 2011), Wolfe says she found punk music with Bratmobile band mate Molly Neuman by way of co-authoring the zines that eventually spawned a feminist movement: Girl Germs and Riot Grrrl.

 

"I had something to say and I knew how to say it, but I didn't know how to play music yet," she said, citing her friend and Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hannah as a huge influence. "I saw my role in music in talking about how the personal is political. I write songs about who I wish I could be."

Bag no doubt helped paved the way for bands like Bratmobile and Denny's new band Bon Bon, but she wasn't thinking in terms of politics at the time. "There was a level of incompetence that leveled the playing field [between male and female musicians]," she said. "[Women] were just playing, not thinking it was a political act. We were just thinking, we finally get a chance to play."

Now a mom who runs the blog Diary Of A Bad Housewife, Bag also archives interviews with women of the early punk days on her blog site, L.A. Punk Archives and is still inspired by a new wave of punk bands around the world.

"The whole reason I came out wearing the Pussy Riot balaclavas is because I'm so inspired by them," she said. "I think they're more punk than 90% of the bands I see."

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Alice Bag: She Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk

Henry Rollins: The Column! Alice Bag's Punk Rock Legacy

From Bratmobile to Manga Grrrl: Indie Icon Alison Wolfe on Nana

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Moth Theatre

4359 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

323-666-6684

www.moththeatre.com


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