Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Bikini Kill)

Music

Six Definitive Songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to Riot grrrl

@notmyyaztattoo

Getting into riot grrrl can be as weird of an experience as it is an exciting one. I would know; I’ve been there. While the time period of the riot grrrl heyday was relatively short, it can also feel like there’s always a little more hiding below the surface, no matter where you start.

Sure, you can watch the documentaries, read the books, and even dig up some zines if you’re lucky, but there will always be a little hunger for more—which can, unfortunately, be the result of the plain fact that you weren’t there when it was all going down.

But fear not! There are so many ways to get into riot grrrl. It’s almost expected that queer and femme teens these days will have their riot grrrl phase, and there is nothing more in the riot grrrl spirit than accessibility and welcoming everybody.

Think of this list as a resource, your friendly neighbourhood guide to the beginnings of your own riot grrrl revolution. And what better place to cut your teeth than with the music itself?

Riot grrrl’s six definitive films:

6. ‘Deceptacon’ by Le Tigre

OK, my reasoning for placing this at the bottom of the list is because even though it’s pretty much required reading, it isn’t technically riot grrrl. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill fronted Le Tigre, and the sound is definitely reminiscent of riot grrrl elements, but technically, this one is new-wave.

However, it was featured in the riot grrrl documentary, The Punk Singer and just naturally became a fan favourite for the maturing riot grrrl population. But make no mistake, it was released in 1999 and features enough keyboard synth to set it apart from OG riot grrrl content.

5. ‘Terrorist’ by Heavens to Betsy

Oh, that unmistakable basic punk guitar and rage-filled vocal delivery. There’s truly nothing like it. Heavens to Betsy was an essential riot grrrl band, though they were only active until 1994. They featured guitarist Corin Tucker, who at that point went off to join Sleater-Kinney.

This song is a great place to start on their second and last album, Calculated. They’re an easy band to learn everything about quickly, making them a great jumping-off point for brand new riot grrrls in the making. 

4. ‘Herjazz’ by Huggy Bear

For all of our English riot grrrl fans! ‘Herjazz’ is a genuinely cool and creative song that can work in plenty of settings, but it is, by all accounts, as riot grrrl as it gets. Huggy Bear was to the UK what Bikini Kill was to the USA, spearheading the underground punk riot grrrl movement in Brighton and London. 

The two bands even did a split with Catcall Records and Kill Rock Stars the year after ‘Herjazz’ came out. When it comes to Huggy Bear, there’s a ton to dig into, and ‘Herjazz’ is just the beginning.

3. ‘Cool Schmool’ by Bratmobile

Bratmobile is another essential riot grrrl band. Although they initially called it quits the same year as Heavens to Betsy, they reunited in 1998 to tour with Sleater-Kinney. However, ‘Cool Schmool’ is as original as it gets, straight from their 1993 album Pottymouth. 

This song has the same fun spoken quality that many riot grrrl bands are known for, and it’s easily one of the fan favourites of the album, alongside their cover of ‘Cherry Bomb’.

2. ‘Call the Doctor’ by Sleater-Kinney

I have no qualms about being a purist. I know ‘Modern Girl’ and ‘Dig Me Out’ also deserve mention, but there’s something about their early albums that’s just essential to riot grrrl education. ‘Call the Doctor’ is a masterpiece and the perfect gateway to the album of the same title.

‘Call the Doctor’ has this perfectly sassy, heavy, energising feeling you want from a riot grrrl song. Plus, it tells you what Sleater-Kinney is all about.

1. ‘Rebel Girl’ by Bikini Kill

Here it comes, the song you’ve all been waiting for. Even if you are brand new to the riot grrrl world, it’s more than likely that this is the song that reeled you in. If it is, that’s great! Learn all the words and scream them till you’re tired of it. If this song managed to elude you, here comes the history lesson.

Released in 1993 on their split with Huggy Bear, ‘Rebel Girl’ is easily the most popular song of the riot grrrl movement. There are three recorded versions released in total: the EP, the LP, and the 7-inch. Fun fact: Joan Jett produced the single version, and even featured on guitar and background vocals!