Punk once stood for freedom of expression — an iconoclastic form of rock music that influenced generations of metalheads, hip-hop heads and fans of new wave and alternative music. In retrospect, during punk’s formative years in the late 1970s, it’s easy to pay homage to the females who were ahead of their time, before there was a Me Too Movement, hashtags or social media.
Women like Alice Bag, Exene Cervenka, Dinah Cancer, Nina Hagen, Wendy O Williams, Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry and bands like The Runaways paved the way for females to be taken seriously in what was otherwise a testosterone overdose of angry young males.
Naturally, that baton was picked up. The past two decades have seen several prominent women pummel the punk patriarchy, armed with a ton of great tunes and a belly full of punk-rock attitude. Here are 10.
1. Brody Dalle (The Distillers, Spinnerette)
During the late ’90s and early 2000s, when Epitaph bands like Rancid, Bad Religion and other male-dominated groups were at the center of the punk scene, young, talented Brody Dalle managed to make a name for her L.A.-based band, The Distillers. Dalle was then involved with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, and The Distillers made three great albums that highlight not just a typical punk-rock sound but a musical form of poetry, thanks to a talented singer who gave a voice to many disaffected youths, especially women. When Dalle’s divorce from Armstrong went down in 2003, things turned sour. The Distillers disbanded within three years, but soon the rock band Spinnerette was born, and Dalle met and eventually married Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, with whom she has a family. In 2009, Spinnerette released its self-titled album, and in 2014, Dalle released her solo album, Diploid Love, which features guest collaborations from members of Warpaint, Garbage and QOTSA. The Distillers reunited in April and have played several shows in L.A. and San Diego.
2. Kirsten Patches (Naked Aggression)
Formed in 1990 in Wisconsin, this ultra-leftist, anti-authoritarian punk band are led by the energetic, in-your-face singer Kirsten Patches, who displays equal parts compassion and aggression. The band were put together by Patches and guitar player Phil Suchomel, to protest the first Iraq War.
A few years later, the band relocated to California, and today, almost three decades later, despite lineup changes and the tragic, sudden death of Suchomel in 1998, Naked Aggression still rage on, touring the country and unleashing their fury over the current political state of the world. The band have earned street cred and respect in the punk scene and have toured with such fellow punks as Subhumans, MDC, Los Crudos and many more over the 20-plus years. Naked Aggression also appeared in Penelope Spheeris' 1998 film The Decline of Western Civilization III. With a very staunch anti-war, anti-fascist, anti-racist, pro–women’s rights agenda, Naked Aggression’s punk rock is perhaps more important now than ever; with Trump in power, we need bands like this to challenge the status quo. Kirsten Patches has led the way, as one of the most furious women in punk, with an urgent message that she has been screaming since 1990.
3. A Pretty Mess
A Pretty Mess came to be in 2006, and ever since the band have become one of the most exciting, hard-working punk bands to emerge from Los Angeles. Featuring Meghan Mattox on bass, Aaron Austin on drums and guitarist Dirty Dan, it's rounded out with the passionate and distinct vocals of Dee Skusting. A Pretty Mess have paid their dues, playing the clubs and dive bars all over L.A. and throughout the Southern California region, even touring the country and making it overseas to play in the U.K. The band have shared the stage with legends like T.S.O.L., D.I., 45 Grave and The Adolescents.
4. Aimee Interrupter (The Interrupters)
As frontwoman for L.A.-based punk/ska band The Interrupters, Aimee Interrupter (aka Aimee Allen) is a talented, charismatic singer and performer. But her reach goes far beyond the world of punk rock. Aimee has been a singer-songwriter since the early 2000s, and collaborated with members of Unwritten Law, Sublime with Rome, The Black Eyed Peas, Jimmy Cliff and Tim Armstrong of Rancid.
With the Interrupters, she fronts a solid band, also featuring guitarist Kevin Bivona, Justin Bivona on bass and Jesse Bivona on drums. The Interrupters have toured with everyone from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Reel Big Fish, Bad Religion and the English Beat. The Interrupters’ latest album, Fight the Good Fight, was released this year on Hellcat /Epitaph.
Although F-Minus are no longer an active band, the cult status and legacy of this Huntington Beach hardcore punk group still lives on. The band were known for their dual male and female vocals and bursts of fast, caustic songs. First, punk musician Brad Logan shared the mic and lyrics with Jen Johnsen, who left the band before they recruited Erika Daking. F-Minus’ last album was their most critically acclaimed. Produced by famed grunge producer Steve Albini, 2003’s Wake Up Screaming saw F-Minus at their most raw and urgent — a collection of songs showcasing the band’s raw ’n’ ugly sound, which is reminiscent of Black Flag, Discharge and The Exploited.
6. Despise You
Though not necessarily punk in sound, L.A. underground powerviolence legends Despise You have the DIY punk ethic to fit the bill. Since 1994, this group were putting out very violent, dark and brutal music, which ushered in the sound and genre of powerviolence, an extreme mesh of punk and grindcore metal that was caustic and not for the faint of heart. Early on, Despise You didn’t even play live shows. But they always had the dual male and female vocals. Initially Lulu Hernandez was the second singer, next to Chris Elder, but in 2007, when the band reunited and began to perform live, Cynthia Nishi stepped up to the plate to sing. The band’s music is dark and violent, loud and abrasive, often touching on tough subjects such as drug abuse, suicide, gang violence and life on the streets of L.A. Despise You have come a long way, now headlining shows and performing at extreme underground punk and metal fests across the country.
7. Adri (The Voids)
Hailing from various parts of L.A., The Voids have been at the forefront of the underground street punk scene since at least 1999 and can be found through social media and their label, Dr. Strange. Frontwoman Adri has led the vocal attack both on record and at live shows — she delivers powerful, urgent performances that are full of energy and rage. This frontwoman has a uniquely high-pitched tone, but overall The Voids have a sound heavily influenced by bands like Subhumans, Ill Repute, Vice Squad and The Varukers. The Voids tour and play shows throughout the year in and around L.A.
8. Go Betty Go
As part of the Los Angeles Chicano punk scene in the early 2000s, Go Betty Go began as a group of young female musicians out of high school forming a punk band with aspirations of making it big. Almost 20 years later, Go Betty Go are still going, despite numerous lineup changes. The original lineup of guitarist Betty Cisneros, singer Nicolette Vilar, bassist Michelle Rangel and drummer Aixa Vilar is going strong, having just completed a tour of the West Coast and appearing at several punk festivals alongside bands like The Dwarves, Guttermouth, Lower Class Brats and Naked Aggression. After all these years, Go Betty Go show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
9. The Donnas
Northern California all-female rock group The Donnas formed in 1993. Taking cues from bands like The Runaways, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and AC/DC, The Donnas soon were an up-and-coming force; they played rock music that was about being young, partying and sex, rather than depression or self-hate. Over the course of 10 years, The Donnas reached critical acclaim; released seven full-length albums that fuse elements of classic rock, metal, hard rock and punk; and even appeared on SNL, TRL, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Late Show With David Letterman.
Their music has been featured in several movies, including Dodgeball, Mean Girls, Detroit Rock City and The Hangover. The Donnas have shared the stage with everyone from Dokken to Pat Benatar, even Blondie.
Although not known as a punk band, the women of L7 play an important part in the history of punk, alternative metal, riot grrrl and the dawn of grunge. When the band formed in 1985 in Los Angeles, the new punk movement was in full effect. Members of L7 had ties to bands like Black Flag and Bad Religion. But by the early '90s, the band were more in tune with bands like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. The recordings of L7 have been released on labels such as Sub Pop, Epitaph and even Warner Bros.
In the '90s, L7 were part of the Lollapalooza era, and toured with everyone from Ministry and Beastie Boys to Rollins Band and Gwar. L7 were featured in several movies in the '90s as well, including Tank Girl, Natural Born Killers, Pet Sematary 2 and Serial Mom; in the latter they portrayed the fictional female rock group Camel Lips and killed a man onstage using fire. Now, after a hiatus of more than 15 years that lasted until 2014, the women of L7 are back, and the band's message in support of women's rights and equality, especially under a president like Trump, is more important than ever.
In 2017, L7 were featured in the documentary L7: Pretend We're Dead. The band now includes original members Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner on vocals and guitars, as well as drummer Demetra Plakas and bassist Jennifer Finch. A new album will be released this year, and L7 have already completed successful tours of Europe and the United States.
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