Women in punk rock
Women have made significant contributions to punk rock music and its subculture since its inception in the 1970s. In contrast to the rock music and heavy metal scenes of the 1970s, which were dominated by men, the anarchic, counter-cultural mindset of the punk scene in mid-and-late 1970s encouraged women to participate. This participation played a role in the historical development of punk music, especially in the U.S. and U.K. at that time, and continues to influence and enable future generations. Women have participated in the punk scene as lead singers, instrumentalists, as all-female bands, zine contributors and fashion designers.
Rock historian Helen Reddington states that the popular image of young punk women musicians as focused on the fashion aspects of the scene (fishnet stockings, spiky blond hair, etc.) was stereotypical. She states that many, if not all women punks were more interested in the ideology and socio-political implications, rather than the fashion. Music historian Caroline Coon contends that before punk, women in rock music were virtually invisible; in contrast, in punk, she argues, "It would be possible to write the whole history of punk music without mentioning any male bands at all – and I think a lot of [people] would find that very surprising." Johnny Rotten wrote that "During the Pistols era, women were out there playing with the men, taking us on in equal terms ... It wasn’t combative, but compatible." Chrissie Hynde echoed similar sentiments when discussing her start in the punk scene, "That was the beauty of the punk thing: [Sexual] discrimination didn't exist in that scene."
Others take issue with the notion of equal recognition, such as guitarist Viv Albertine, who stated that "the A&R men, the bouncers, the sound mixers, no one took us seriously.. So, no, we got no respect anywhere we went. People just didn't want us around." The anti-establishment stance of punk opened the space for women who were treated like outsiders in a male-dominated industry. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon states, "I think women are natural anarchists, because you're always operating in a male framework."
Patti Smith (born 1946) is a groundbreaking New York City punk rock singer/songwriter, poet and artist, whose first album, Horses (1975), significantly influenced the New York City punk rock genre. Smith's work went on to receive international recognition. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was born Patricia Lee Smith in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Born Susan Janet Ballion in 1957 in Southwark, England, Siouxsie Sioux is best known as the lead singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees, releasing eleven studio albums. She continued to tour with The Creatures before embarking on a solo career.
Catharina Hagen (born 1955), known as the German singer, Nina Hagen, was born in East Berlin, German Democratic Republic. After working with the band, Automobil, she became a solo artist, and released her first solo album NunSexMonkRock in 1982. This was followed by the 1983 album, Fearless and in 1985, Ekstasy.
Exene Cervenka co-founded the band X in 1977, with John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake. Their album, Los Angeles (date) established her as a presence as a powerful vocalist in the punk rock movement.
Joan Jett, born Joan Marie Larkin, and her all-female band, The Runaways was started when she was still in high school, and had several "hits" such as Cherry Bomb and American Nights. In the 1980s she founded her own independent label, Blackheart Records. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Lydia Lunch, began her career as the frontwoman for the band, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and went on to collaborate with numerous other musicians and bands, including Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, among others.
Ari Up (1962-2010), was born Ariane Daniela Forster in Munich, Germany, and was a vocalist and member of The Slits a British punk rock band. It is written that she took guitar lessons from Joe Strummer of The Clash.
British born Gaye Advert, also known as Gaye Black, was the bass player for The Adverts. She has been called, "one of punk's first female icons", and the "first fema[le] punk star."
Paloma McLardy (born 1955) is known as the drummer and songwriter for The Slits, as Palmolive. Born in Spain, she moved to London in 1972 to live in the squats with other counter-cultural youths. In London, she befriended Joe Strummer of The Clash who introduced her to Sid Vicious, bass player for the Sex Pistols. Through these alliances she joined the band The Flowers of Romance with guitarist Viv Albertine. Having met 14-year old Ari Up at a Patti Smith concert, they formed the all-women punk band, The Slits, playing gigs with The Clash, the Sex Pistolsthe Buzzcocks and others. In 1979, she joined the all female punk band, The Raincoats who recorded an album for Rough Trade Records.
Poison Ivy (born 1953) is Californian who is known for her work as a guitarist and songwriter who co-founded the American punk-rockabilly band, The Cramps. Also known as Poison Ivy Rorschach she was born Kristy Marlana Wallace. She also provided vocals, as well as arranging songs and producing records. At Sacramento State College she met Lux Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) in 1972, who became the singer for The Cramps, whose work gained a cult following as well a course of European commercial success.
Debbie Harry is one of the most commercially successful musicians of punk rock/new wave. Her band, Blondie, often performed at CBGB in New York City, and their 1978 album, Parallel Lines, is considered a punk-pop classic. Harry's band, Blondie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Lene Lovich is an American-born English singer, known for her idiosyncratic vocal style. Although active in 1978 & 1979, much of her success was in the 1980s. Her debut studio album Stateless (1978), which produced the single "Lucky Number". She released two more albums, Flex (1979) and No Man's Land (1982), on Stiff Records. In 1989, she independently released the album March, before her 15-year hiatus.
The American bassist and singer, Kim Gordon (born 1953) and her band, Sonic Youth were formed in 1981, establishing her as an important presence in the downtown New York City music scene. She wrote and performed music with Sonic Youth through 2012. Her memoir, Girl in a Band was published in 2015.
Lydia Lunch (born 1959) is a US punk rock and No Wave singer. Her career was established with the founding of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks in collaboration with James Chance. In the mid-1980s she formed Widowspeak, a recording and publishing company.
Wendy O. Williams
Kathleen Hanna (born 1968) and Tobi Vail co-founded the band, Bikini Kill, establishing the feminist riot grrrl movement. Hanna has also released an album under the name Julie Ruin, which developed into Le Tigre.
The Breeders are an American band formed in 1990 by Kim Deal of the Pixies, her twin sister Kelley Deal and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses. The band has experienced a number of lineup changes; Kim Deal has been the band's sole continual member. Their first album, Pod (1990), though not commercially successful, received wide critical acclaim. The Breeders' most successful album, Last Splash (1993), is best known for the hit single "Cannonball".
Republica are an English band formed in 1994, featuring their lead singer Saffron. Republica are best known for their hit single, "Ready to Go". Their music is described as dance punk or technopop punk rock.
Hole was formed Los Angeles, California in 1989 by singer and guitarist Courtney Love and lead guitarist Eric Erlandson. The band had a revolving line-up of bassists and drummers, their most prolific being drummer Patty Schemel, and bassists Kristen Pfaff (d. 1994) and Melissa Auf der Maur. Hole went on to become one of the most commercially successful female-fronted rock bands of all time, selling over three million records in the United States alone.
List of other women punk musicians
- Viv Albertine
- Patricia Morrison
- Tessa Pollitt
- Pat Place
- Alice Bag
- Caroline Azar
- June Miles-Kingston
- Sara Lee
- Little Annie Anxiety Bandez
- Honey Bane aka Donna Tracy Boylan
- Bif Naked aka Beth Torbert
- Christina Billotte
- Kat Bjelland* Sugar Babydoll aka Jennifer Finch
- Cinder Block aka Cindy Morgan
- Corin Tucker
- Patti Smith Group
- The Pretenders
- Siouxsie and the Banshees
- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- The Slits
- X-Ray Spex
- Au Pairs
- The Nips
- The Raincoats - Gina Birch (bass, vocals), Ane de Silva (guitar, vocals), Palmolive (drums) Vicki Aspinall (violin)
- H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. - Holly Brewer
- Wild Flag
- Delta 5
- Babes in Toyland
- Rubella Ballet
- Kim Deal
- Kelly Deal
- The Breeders
- The Pixies
- Suzi Gardner
- Donita Sparks
- Jennifer Finch
- Dee Plakas
- Heavens to Betsy
- Fabulous Disaster
- Tilt - Cinder Block
- Becca Albee
- Excuse 17
- Romeo Void
- Retching Red
- Dolly Mixture
- The Gymslips
- The Belle Stars
- Fifth Column
- Men They Couldn't Hang
- Poison Girls
- Fatal Microbes
- Essential Logic
- Marine Girls
- Shanne Bradley
- Beki Bondage
- Lora Logic
- Suzi Gutsy aka Suzi Webb
- Kate Korus aka Katherine Korris
- Katastrophy Wife
- Brody Dalle
- Le Tigre
- Courtney Love
- Mia Zapata
- Laura Jane Grace
- Excuse 17
- Cherie Currie
- Jemina Pearl
- Penelope Houston
- Kim Shattuck
- Heavens to Betsy
- Cherry Vanilla
- Marie Currie
- Kaia Wilson
- Yanka Dyagileva
- Patricia Morrison
- Regina Zernay Roberts
- Brix Smith
- Theo Kogan
- Jody Bleyle
- Nomy Lamm
- Phew (singer)
- Bleach (Japanese band)
- Subway Sect
- the Subversives
- London (band)
- Chelsea (band)
- Generation X (band)
- Sham 69
- Penetration (band)
- Pauline Murray
- Elli Medeiros
- Debora Iyall
- Mecca Normal
- Jackie Fox
- Beth Ditto
- Bush Tetras
- Pat Place
- Jayne County
- Lene Lovich
- Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie Shirley Manson
- Free Kitten
- Lorna Doom
- Kira Roessler
A designer associated with early UK punk fashion in the 1970s was Vivienne Westwood, who made clothes for Malcolm McLaren's boutique in the King's Road, which became famous as "SEX". Other designers included Wendy Gawitz and Kate Buck of "Eccentric Clothing" in Collingwood; Melbourne, Australia designers Julie Purvis and Jillian Burt, and fellow Australians Kate Durham and Sara Thorn.
Women in the hardcore punk scene typically wore army pants, band T-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts. The style of the 1980s hardcore scene contrasted with the more provocative fashion styles of late 1970s punk rockers (elaborate hairdos, torn clothes, patches, safety pins, studs, spikes, etc.).
The Mexico City-based punk rock collective, Hijas de Violencia (the Daughters of Violence) conduct street performances to combat harassment of women.
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