Feminist Punk Icons: Patti Smith (Photo Credit: Judy Linn)
Hallmarked by a combination of punk rock and a desire to do things by their own admission, these feminist punk icons have changed the game. From the original trailblazer Patti Smith to up-and-coming noisemakers The Red Stains, their legacy remains the same – an intention to change the world, challenge socially-constructed norms and make their voices heard.
10 Feminist Punk Icons to Know about
Described as the “Punk Poet Laureate”, Patti Smith was a key player in the rise of punk-rock in New York City. Often regarded as the most ambitious musician in fusing poetry and rock since Bob Dylan, she distinctly created her own rules. She often sported an androgynous style, and consciously broke assumptions of what women in rock “should be”. She was a regular at New York’s CBGB nightclub and also the first to earn a record deal and release an album (out of her associates including The Ramones). Moving track ‘Jubilee’ features her signature vocals and perfectly executed guitar. From writing lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult to collaborating on track ‘Because the Night’ with Bruce Springsteen, Smith was at the forefront of the changing music scene.
Smith has earned global acclaim for her efforts. On 12 March 2007, Smith was inaugurated into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – with the likes of Van Halen and The Ronettes.
Cynthia Sley from Bush Tetras
Cynthia Sley, frontwoman of the early 80s post-punk outfit Bush Tetras, was an invaluable part in contributing towards the feminist movement in the punk scene. After guitarist Pat Place “coerced” her into joining Bush Tetras, they burst onto the scene with their debut single ‘Too Many Creeps’ (1979). It was a clear indication that the band’s penchant for jangly riffs and piercing vocals would set them on a path of their own making. They caught the eyes of several prominent people in the business. And after supporting The Clash, their E.P Rituals (1981) was produced by their drummer, Topper Headen. Their notable track ‘You Can’t Be Funky’ was another attitude-driven hit to add to their growing repertoire.
After forty years,their influence has never wavered. Sley has since retired from teaching, a career akin to inspiring others. However, she still collaborates with Bush Tetras. Their latest punk-rock E.P These Is A Hum (2019), proves that their music is undeniably timeless despite decades passing by.
Forming in 1976, The Slits were the brainchild of 14-year-old Ari Up, after she bumped into her friend Palmolive, at a Patti Smith concert. Their first big break was opening for The Clash on their White Riot tour of England in 1977. With a drive to create an interesting world with music, they set an example for other female bands. Pairing satiric lyrics with bouncing rhythm, The Slits’ debut album The Cut was purposefully provocative, the punky-reggae outfit was unstoppable.
Their most recent album Return of The Slits (2015) was equally as unpredictable. They consciously included ethnic music and continued to expand people’s perceptions of what makes a track punk rock.
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Originating in the early 90s, the Riot Grrrl movement saw PJ Harvey (AKA Polly Jean Harvey) leading the way. She began her journey in the music industry by joining Automatic Dlamini as a vocalist, guitarist and saxophone player. She continued to embark on a thriving solo career, tackling themes such as religion, sex and politics. She began with the powerful punk album Rid of Me (1993) and progressed to a softer but equally hard-hitting style – as heard on Stories from The City, Stories from The Sea (2001) – which notably earned Harvey a Mercury Prize.
Throughout her career, Harvey has made significant waves in the music scene and earned a dedicated cult following, including Kurt Cobain, who was an open advocate of her music. In 2013, she was asked by Dave Grohl to join the remaining members of Nirvana to perform ‘Milk It’. She may have declined the offer; however, it signifies the impact which Harvey has maintained throughout the decades.
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It’d be unwise not to mention Pussy Riot in our list of feminist punk icons. The unapologetic and spirited band formed in August 2011 by chance while participating in street art/performance group Voina, which protests against the government’s policies that discriminate against women. They have around eleven members on rotation, utilising pseudonyms and balaclavas. Their tracks are often short and crisp featuring hard-hitting riffs and are highly influenced by American riot grrrl.
Pussy Riot consciously distances themselves from the capitalist nature of the music industry by refusing to take part in ticketed events. Instead, their performances have taken place from the streets to Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. During their Punk Prayer performance at the church, they sang ‘Holy Shit’ to protest against Putin, in which three members were arrested leaving an outcry from organisations such as Amnesty International, at the 2018 World Cup Final, four members of Pussy Riot stormed the pitch to once again protest against Putin and the suspected Russian Orthodox church. Standing up for justice is perhaps the best definition of punk.
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Siouxsie Sioux (AKA Janet Susan Ballion) is the face of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The London-based punk band have easily stood the test of time. Their career has spanned over two decades, and their music has matured as a result. From their abrasive beginnings to their more recently refined offerings, their music is a lesson regarding endurance in the industry. With eighteen Top 40 hits in the UK under their belt, they have the accomplishments to prove their punk prowess.
During her career, Sioux also joined the band The Creatures and released her solo album Mantaray (2007). Throughout each of these projects, Sioux kept her creativity central. From Joy Division to FKA twigs, many artists have cited her music as part of their influences. Sioux’s significance to her successors in the music industry can only be understated.
Feisty and proud, PUSSYLIQUOR are unapologetically themselves and this authenticity is easily heard in their candidly direct tracks. They are directly influenced by past Riot Grrrl and punk bands, and are keen to bring the genres up to date. Check out the band’s self-love championing track ‘Lady Wank’, as well as ‘Hurtz’ which tackles the age-old premise of a boy pulling a girl’s pigtails because he likes her. They bolster each raucous track with snarling vocals and thunderous instrumentals. Their main intentions are to make sure they carry their vital points across, while giving their listeners a night they’ll never forget.
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Amyl and the Sniffers
Australian pub-punk band Amyl and the Sniffers create an energetic and plucky experience wherever they go. ‘I’m Not A Loser’, their leading track from Big Attraction & Giddy Up and ‘Got You’ from their self-titled album embody their rough-and-ready sound. Their music will take you by the throat and leave you wanting more. Frontwoman Amy Taylor’s powerful vocals accompany their perfectly upbeat guitar work and thumping drums in every track. Amyl and the Sniffers have certainly earned their place in our list of feminist punk icons.
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The Menstrual Cramps
The Menstrual Cramps boast a name as spunky as their sound. Their previous releases such as We’re Not Ovaryacting (2017) and Free Bleedin’ (2018), are reason enough to warrant their place one of the most adored feminist punk icons. The Bristol-based band’s ethos is to “make girls feel good” and “not take your shit”. They’re voicing their irritations with society, one album at a time.
The DIY-Punk band lets their view on politics be known, with biting track ‘Tory Scum’, and that they’ve updated the old ways of punk being associated with ‘Neo-Nazi’. Their modern approach is a reason for celebration as their track ‘No Means No’ reminds others that “you don’t get to touch me, just because you bought me a drink”, as well as defining the importance of consent. Without a doubt, an essential voice for our generation.
The Red Stains
This riotous Manchester-based band are already putting their mark on the punk music scene. The Red Stains combine a range of influences from 70s post-punk to 90s Brit-pop, to create their own ingenious sound. Their latest single ‘Mannequin’ tackles the issue of ownership, objectification and being more than “just a body”. It features pounding drums, gutsy vocals and a gritty riff for good measure. They may still be in their early stages, however, if they’re debut is anything to go by, we should keep our expectations high and their tracks on repeat.