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Top 10 Riot-Grrrl Records

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Long before the internet made making connections easy, the riot-grrrl movement was an astonishing web of grassroots networking. Initially growing out of a community of like-minded women authoring feminist fanzines, riot-grrrl marked the moment in which these polemicists put down their pens and picked up guitars. Drawing from punk's original spirit, they used do-it-yourself idealism and progressive politics to create their own form of protest music. Though the riot-grrrl movement only really lasted for the first half of the '90s, here are ten albums from across a quartet of century that fly under the one feminist flag.

1. X-Ray Spex 'Germ Free Adolescents' (1978)

X-Ray Spex 'Germ Free Adolescents'
EMI

In 1991, when the riot-grrl movement was just kicking into gear, the debut album by snotty UK punks X-Ray Spex was released on CD for the first time ever, with their all-time killer single "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" tacked onto the end. Though it came from an entirely different era to riot-grrrl, Germ Free Adolescents serves as a spiritual forebear to almost everyone below. X-Ray Spex's lead singer Poly Styrene —all charismatic caterwaul and anti-establishment sloganeering— was a huge influence on Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna and Heavens to Betsy's Corinn Tucker. Listening to sarcastic songs as "I'm a Cliché" and "I'm a Poseur" from the vantage of hindsight, it's like Poly Styrene is sowing the seeds of a whole sound in every pissed-off yelp.

2. Bratmobile 'Pottymouth' (1993)

Bratmobile 'Pottymouth'
Kill Rock Stars
Bratmobile vocalist Allison Wolfe and drummer Molly Neuman first collaborated not on stage, but in print. Initially authoring the feminist fanzine Girl Germs, the pair struck on a name that stuck with their next fanzine: Riot-Grrrl. By the time Bratmobile issued their debut album in 1993, riot-grrrl was a bonafide movement, and these unlikely, dorky, self-consciously uncool ladies were its poster-girls. On Pottymouth, they showed themselves as one of the more fun-loving, pop-influenced, non-belligerent acts of the genre, with Wolfe speak-singing a slew of quotable, funny lyrics. Though they were steeped in gender studies, Bratmobile honed in on one untouched vestige of patriarchy: the annoying persistence of cool.
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3. Huggy Bear 'Taking the Rough with the Smooch' (1993)

Huggy Bear 'Taking the Rough with the Smooch'
Kill Rock Stars
The most riotous of riot-grrrls, calamitous English outfit Huggy Bear were hardly subtle in their provocation. Knocking out cuts called things like "Shaved Pussy Poetry," "Katholic Kunt," and "Pansy Twist," the ramshackle rockband shouted sing-song tunes steeped in punk scene politics; delivering critiques of hypocrisy at whoever dared cross their paths. On the amazing "Herjazz," they mock the punk dudes who forget about their supposed feminism when it comes to bedding girls. Going out of their way to stir up trouble in a staid UK scene, it was no surprise that Huggy Bear found their closest allies not at home in London, but across the ocean; sharing an iconic split 12" with Bikini Kill that would become a defining document of riot-grrrl.

4. Bikini Kill 'The CD Version of the First Two Records' (1994)

Bikini Kill 'The CD Version of the First Two Records'
Kill Rock Stars

"We're Bikini Kill," yelped Kathleen Hanna, "and we want Revolution Girl Style Now!" So opened the band's self-titled 1991 EP, and so opened the floodtides of the riot-grrrl sound. Sounding obnoxiously angry and provocatively amateurish, Hanna and her cohorts thrashed out disenfranchised anthems fast and furious. Their revolution recast punk anew; rage amplified via three chords, cheap fidelity, and irrepressible energy. The noisy, distorted, rough-as-guts recordings —first their debut, then a split EP with Huggy Bear, Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah; the two then compiled onto 1994's The CD Version of the First Two Records— show a band bristling with a sense of righteous indignation; mad as hell and out to change the world.

5. Heavens to Betsy 'Calculated' (1994)

Heavens to Betsy 'Calculated'
Kill Rock Stars

Anyone who considers Heavens to Betsy as some historical footnote —merely the band that Corin Tucker was in before going on to form Sleater-Kinney— clearly hasn't listened to Calculated. The one and only LP for the Olympia-born duo is dragged along by Tucker's red-raw, wildly-untrained wails; which pull the slow, sludgy, often-dirgy songs along in all their crunchy, over-driven guitar noise and hard-pounding drums. Eventually, in Sleater-Kinney, Tucker would hone her voice to a sharpened, precision weapon, but here she wields it as blunt instrument; literally yelling at the establishment, at injustice, at the patriarchy until she's red in the face. Sure, it's a little adolescent at times, but, then again, so is rock'n'roll itself.

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6. Team Dresch 'Personal Best' (1995)

Team Dresch 'Personal Best'
Chainsaw
'Queer-friendly' was a term often used to describe the riot-grrrl movement and/or bands therein, but 'unfriendly queers' may work better for Team Dresch. The Olympia-based band seemed more utterly enraged at the state of the hetero-centric world than any of their peers; their swift, vicious, kicking debut featuring such middle-finger-raised anthems as "F**k the Catholic Right!" and "Fagetarian and Dyke." Co-vocalists Kaia Wilson and Jody Bleyle take aim at a host of things grinding their gears, from the Pope, to small town America, to confused straight girls, to violence against women, and the phallocentric nature of the police. Personal Best is tighter, nastier, harder, and meaner than most other discs on this list.
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7. Sleater-Kinney 'Dig Me Out' (1997)

Sleater-Kinney 'Dig Me Out'
Kill Rock Stars

When 'alternative music' was mired in its post-Nirvana, major-labels-cutting-ranks malaise, Sleater-Kinney burst out of the Pacific Northwest with this, their third LP; finding effusive critical praise and a rapidly-growing crossover profile. Where early albums, including 1996's awesome Call the Doctor, found former Heavens to Betsy leader Corin Tucker and foil Carrie Brownstein making mad tangles of detuned guitars, on Dig Me Out their songs went from off-kilter to anthemic. The third S-K LP came blessed with straight-up pop-songs as catchy as "Little Babies," "Dig Me Out," and "Words and Guitar," and its invariable success lead it to being regarded by many as the end of riot-grrrl as self-contained, insular movement.

8. The Frumpies 'Frumpie One-Piece' (1998)

The Frumpies 'Frumpie One-Piece'
Kill Rock Stars

Made up of members of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, The Frumpies consisted wholly of riot-grrrl royalty, even if their run of singles —collected, together, eventually, on the posthumous CD Frumpie One-Piece— flew well below the pop-cultural radar. Essentially a songwriting vehicle for Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail, The Frumpies played a scuzzier, looser, more raggedy form of rock'n'roll than even their riot-grrrl peers (who were hardly a shrine to tightness to begin with). Where their musical day-jobs were steeped in fury, The Frumpies seemed like the downcast flipside; cuts like "Fake Antagonism Rules, Okay" unspooling with a smirking lethargy that suggested a group of musicians tired of forever fighting the good fight.

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9. The Gossip 'That's Not What I Heard' (2001)

The Gossip 'That's Not What I Heard'
Kill Rock Stars

When they arrived in a sweaty heap of belted-out blues vocals and scrappy Southern riffs, all recorded at levels well into the red, dancefloor-friendly garage-rockers The Gossip introduced themselves as the first of a second wave of riot-grrrl acts. Growing up in backwoods Arkansas, powerfully-piped vocalist Beth Ditto and weird hipster guitarist Brace Paine (stage names, natch) obsessed over old Huggy Bear records and K Records singles, and, come 18, they moved to Olympia like pilgrims heading to Mecca. After a debut EP for K and a stint opening for Sleater-Kinney, the trio's first LP, That's Not What I Heard, introduced a band boldly crusading for female/queer rights a decade after riot-grrrl's first flourish.

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10. Erase Errata 'Other Animals' (2001)

Erase Errata 'Other Animals'
Troubleman Unlimited

Though Erase Errata were clearly influenced by the riot-grrl movement —by its feminist agenda, its queer politics, its DIY ideals— they sound unlike anyone else on this list. Instead, they drew from the hectic, herky-jerky, atonal ways of no-wave; making a spastic, scratchy racket whose compositional dissonance created a sense of permanent tension. Where early riot-grrrl records were wholly committed to their crusades, Other Animals was a different beast; the surety of the '90s lost in a new-millennium seemingly defined by its unceasing anxiousness. Refusing to rest and rarely daring to stick to either traditional meter or harmony, Erase Errata's debut disc delivered a set of songs to keep listeners on eternal edge.

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