Covers of Riot Grrrl

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Sep 062019
Revolution Girl Style Now

This post brings our week of riot grrrl to a close. Although not everyone featured in these posts may even explicitly identify with the riot grrrl movement, and certainly not everyone who does identify with the movement could be featured, I hope that these posts have given a brief overview of the era and given enough additional references to allow interested readers to further explore on their own.

Although I missed the original riot grrrl movement, I felt it was important to learn its lessons myself through the writing of these posts and embark on my own year of the riot grrrl. Maybe, dear reader, you will feel called to do the same. The riot grrrl movement remains relevant today, not just politically, but musically. The often brutally honest lyrics and the powerful instrumentals have inspired another wave of musicians. It’s no wonder that riot grrrl anthems have been revitalized through covers. Did I miss a cover of a riot grrrl song that really speaks to you? Share in a comment!

Kisses Dickens – Axemen (Heavens to Betsy cover)

If anyone can successfully listen to this song without it getting stuck in their head for hours, I applaud you. This acoustic, heartfelt, and at times haunting cover comes from an indie film, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town. The song doesn’t just feature on the soundtrack; it is sung as part of the plot line, so we get to see Mackenzie Davis and Carrie Coon play feuding sisters who once were bandmates, implored to play together once again. The original song comes from Heavens to Betsy’s only studio album, Calculated. The band, Corin Tucker’s first before Sleater-Kinney, had a brief run in the beginning of the ’90s. The simple acoustic guitar fits the fairly simple instrumental style of the original, and the stand-alone vocals for the “here we go axemen, here we go” verse match the stripped aspect of Heavens to Betsy’s delivery. The more controlled harmony, instead of over-sweetening this cover, actually yields a darker vibe, subtler than the original’s dissonance. The acoustic guitar never overpowers the vocals, so the listener is focused on the irony of the lyrics given the sisters’ past, “Do you wanna live this teenage dream? / The punk white privileged scene.” We also get a close up of the performers, revealing the emotions felt by the sisters reuniting musically for the first time in a while.

The Applicators – Good Things (Sleater-Kinney cover)

The Applicators is a pop-punk band from Austin, Texas that just so happens to be all-female; in the spirit of riot grrrl we won’t label them as an all-girl band. Choosing from an early Sleater-Kinney album, Call the Doctor, The Applicators released this cover on their debut album What’s Your Excuse in 2002. Their version has heavier electric guitar and an added bass, which Sleater-Kinney famously doesn’t have. There are moments throughout that have a slightly dissonant key change from the original, but it all works as part of the punk-ified version.

SOAK – Modern Girl (Sleater-Kinney cover)

A recent cover doesn’t dive as far back into the Sleater-Kinney discography. SOAK, a relatively new Northern Irish artist, chooses “Modern Girl” from The Woods. Is there any set of lyrics more relatable than “Hunger makes me a modern girl. I took my money and bought a donut. The hole’s the size of this entire world.” SOAK does a good job of juxtaposing the chipper tune with the soul-crushing lyrics. This cover misses the harmonica action of the original, but otherwise remains true to the essence of the song.

Broken Lingerie – Fast & Frightening (L7 cover)

Broken Lingerie, a metal band – again, all women, but who is counting – from Spain take on a song from L7’s second album, Smell the Magic. In this cover, the trill on the “r” in frightening is subtler, but Broken Lingerie stays true to the original enunciation, “fright-en-ing” at the end of the chorus. This cover’s metal style works well with the heavy drums and guitar beat of the original song. The vocals on the verses are a little bit muffled by the instruments, but the chorus rings out, multiple voices coming together: “She’s fast, she’s lean, she’s frightening.”

Oak Park School of Rock – Pretend We’re Dead (L7 cover)

There has yet to be a riot grrrl tribute album, which seems like a missed opportunity. Free idea: instead of Punk Goes Pop we get Pop Goes Revolution Girl Style Now. Would Taylor Swift cover Bikini Kill’s “Double Dare Ya”? Asking for a friend…

However, the Oak Park School of Rock performed a riot grrrl tribute concert, and I’m obsessed. If you are sold on this L7 cover, check out more by these students. The original’s keyboard line, synth-style, is spot on in this version. The keyboard is especially highlighted in this version, and the chipper tune provides a nice juxtaposition to the purposefully monotone vocals.

There is something a bit unsettling hearing these young students perform such a dark song. However, the original riot grrrls were plenty youthful when they were clamoring for revolution. In the wake of activists getting younger and younger, from Greta Thunberg to the Parkland survivors, this cover feels less like a stretch.

Pussy Riot featuring Sasha Koklova of Jack Wood – Deceptacon (Le Tigre cover)

The pairing of Le Tigre and Pussy Riot works so well because both use music to drive their political message. Le Tigre became one of Kathleen Hanna’s new musical ventures, formed post-breakup of Bikini Kill. More comfortable being overtly political, Le Tigre released a new song, breaking a lull that was over a decade long, to support Hillary Clinton, after the “Rebel Girl” snafu. Pussy Riot, a much newer band formed in 2011, is a Russian protest band with a punk rock sound and a feminist message. They are critical of Putin, and it’s no surprise they take on Trump (warning: this video is intense) as well, pulling no punches. Pussy Riot’s M.O. is the “guerrilla-gig,” performing in public spaces without permission and tackling controversial topics. This strategy has even led to jail time. Their cover stays true to the original, from the signature bass line to the diverse vocal style, yelled verses and a sing-song chorus.

Schrott IRR – Freewheel (Team Dresch cover)

Team Dresch was founded by Donna Dresch in 1993. Dresch had already been a major player in the queercore scene, part of the punk scene dedicated to making the LGBTQ community feel seen and heard, since the late ’80s. She was the creator of the fanzine Chainsaw. Zines were part of the political riot grrrl movement, but musical riot grrrls were also involved in their production and part of their readership. We even have a zine to thank for the origin of the triple “r” in “riot grrrl.” For more insight into how zine culture was connected to the riot grrrl movement check out the book edited by Lisa Darms, The Riot Grrrl Collection.

Dresch and the other band’s members (Jody Bleyle, Kaia Wilson, and Marcéo Martinez) had taken part in other musical groups before they joined this team. They also had experience running labels and booking tours. Their first album was released by two independent labels, one run by Dresch and one run by Bleyle.

When Team Dresch disbanded in 1998, Dresch continued running her record label, Chainsaw Records; hers launched Sleater-Kinney’s first album. Team Dresch reunited for shows intermittently in the 2000s, but it wasn’t until this year that they released new music and announced a full tour, covering the west coast this summer and moving to the east coast in the fall. Team Dresch also reissued their two albums and a collection of singles earlier this year.

Despite their major role in music and social movements, Team Dresch is not often covered. This one shows dedication; a one man show provides his own harmony and back up music. The pace, kept by the steady drums in the original, is slower in this acoustic version. This version also softens the overall sentiment of the song with its guitar style. The original sounds more like an assertion, pumping up the singer to remember: “I do what I do, and I don’t need you.” This cover sounds more like a lament: “half of this is me and I’m not sure who the other is / She maybe came from all of you.”

Can’t get enough of Riot Grrrl? Listen to more originals.

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  2 Responses to “Covers of Riot Grrrl”

Comments (2)
  1. Thanks for this series on Riot Grrrl Some great covers (Sleater Kinney on Boston L7 doing Guns & Roses. Many of them were new to me. That Appicators cover is fantastic and I always liked the Broken Lingerie cover too

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