Thirty years ago, a movement was born in the Pacific Northwest that combined feminism, punk music, and politics. It came to be called riot grrrl – it’s meant to be pronounced with a growl. It was a new form of expression for young women who were traditionally left out of male-dominated genres of punk, grunge and alternative rock – but it was much more than music.
In the early 1990s, a group of young women from Olympia, Washington who were involved in local underground music scenes used their platform to articulate their feminist beliefs and desires – addressing issues like rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, classism, anarchism, and female empowerment. Riot grrrl quickly expanded to become a DIY subculture involving art, zines and political organizing.
“Starting a Riot,” a new podcast from Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and She Shreds Media, digs deep into the history of the riot grrrl movement – what it is and what it isn’t. It explores the lasting impact it has had on music and culture and its complicated legacy. It also tells the stories of the BIPOC and queer musicians who have been largely left out of the riot grrrl narrative but played an important role in the movement.
Hosted by musician Fabi Reyna (Reyna Tropical), who is also founder and editor-in-chief of She Shreds Media, the first two episodes of this six-part podcast are available now on Apple Podcasts, the NPR One app, opb.org and wherever podcasts are available. Additional episodes will be released weekly on Thursdays.
“Starting a Riot” features dozens of musicians and others with a connection to riot grrrl including Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill, Corin Tucker of Heavens to Betsy and Sleater-Kinney; Wendy Yao from Emily’s Sassy Lime, Ramdasha Bikceem of Gunk, all members of the Linda Lindas and Katherine Paul of Black Belt Eagle Scout.
Podcast episodes include:
Episode 1: “They are our revenge”
Host and She Shreds Media founder Fabi Reyna introduces us to the movement known as riot grrrl. It started in Olympia, Washington in the early 1990s and it was more than just music – it was zines, feminism and community. Riot grrrl kicked open a door that women had been prying open for decades. But the histories of riot grrrl that have been told before haven’t felt fully representative of BIPOC and queer people. We’re leaning into that gap and listening to people on the margins, people who felt left out, people who insisted on being part of the conversation anyway.
Episode 2: “Well I went to school in Olympia”
Come with us to Olympia, Washington. This little town perched on the Puget Sound is known as the birthplace of riot grrrl. We’ll hear about what it was like in the ‘90s, what it meant for the movement to start there and how the town’s history affected riot grrrl.
Episode 3: “Start a zine!”
In the early ‘90s, when riot grrrl was just gaining momentum, zines played a crucial role. At first, zines were the only form of media reporting on riot grrrl bands, meetings and political organizing. And for many young women, self-publishing was a lot more accessible than starting a band.
Episode 4: “Revolution Girl Style Now”
The DIY spirit of riot grrrl gave women and girls space to create their own version of feminism. They were making connections with each other through zines, music and riot grrrl meetings. And at the same time, they were exposing sexual violence and harassment as systemic problems. As more and more women felt empowered both collectively and individually, they faced pushback from mainstream culture and even within punk scenes.
Episode 5: “Aerating the soil”
BIPOC and queer fans and musicians didn’t always feel welcomed by riot grrrl. But some managed to claim space in the movement anyway. We dig into what it was like for people who were “aerating the soil” of punk for the next generation, and why some efforts to make riot grrrl more inclusive failed.
Episode 6: “Don’t call me that”
Riot grrrl left a legacy…and it’s complicated. A lot of the bands that were inspired by the movement don’t want to be directly associated with it any longer. We’ll dig into that and hear from bands that are carrying on the legacy and the spirit of riot grrrl today.
“Starting a Riot” is hosted by Fabi Reyna, produced by OPB’s Julie Sabatier and edited by OPB’s Sage Van Wing. All mixing and mastering for the series is provided by OPB’s Sound Supervisor Steven Kray and Audio Engineer Nalin Silva. The podcast theme song is performed by musician Ray Aggs of the bands Trash Kit, Shopping and Sacred Paws. “Starting a Riot” and other OPB podcasts are made possible by the generous support of OPB members. For more information, visit opb.org.