From Patti Smith to Sonic Youth: 33 songs that define feminist punk
For as long as punk has been in existence, the music has brought with a message, a philosophy and a spirit to champion a certain ideology that spoke directly to those who followed the movement.
An expression of nonconformity, a counterculture actively moving against the mainstream society norm, punk emerged as an act of rebellion and individualism through music, fashion and anti-establishment movement which swept through independent record labels, music venues and the rock music industry as a whole.
Trying to define the formation of punk, Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone once said: “In its initial form, a lot of [1960s] stuff was innovative and exciting. Unfortunately, what happens is that people who could not hold a candle to the likes of Hendrix started noodling away. Soon you had endless solos that went nowhere. By 1973, I knew that what was needed was some pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll.”
To Joe Strummer, the snarling and uncompromising frontman of the Clash once said, “Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We’re meant to be able to do what we want to do”.
Off the back of punk’s rise through the 1970s with bands like New York Dolls, Suicide, The Ramones and The Clash, punk was developing numerous and wide-ranging messages through its music. No longer was the simple message of anti-establishment being the prominent force, but sub-topics of that wider consideration was gaining momentum.
Major female voices of the genre like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bikini Kill have made their mark on the scene with a series of hit records. In a wide-ranging exploration of the prominent female figures in punk, Vivien Goldman writes in Pitchfork that “punk freed female musicians”.
“Because women’s contributions are so often hidden from herstory, when the riot grrrl movement began in America, those women were virtually unaware that their UK sisters had been fighting parallel battles two decades earlier,” she added. “But the Americans were way better funded and organised than we had been, lurching through no-woman’s-land to make ourselves heard. It took awhile before Kurt Cobain championed the Raincoats and Sonic Youth bonded with the Slits.”
As part of Goldman’s exploration of feminist punk, Pitchfork created a playlist which consisted of 33 songs which, in their own words, “defined punk as some kind of raw expression, not only an attitude”.
With the likes of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey and more, the playlist includes “songs that make their feminist messages clear—not just songs by punks who are feminists, and not songs that were ‘punk’ or ‘feminist’ in spirit alone.”