Top Five Riot grrrl Albums for Beginners

By Rummy Krasteva

Riot grrrl, a punk trend that rose to fame in the 1990s, is as much a music genre as it is a feminist political movement.

Many credit Bikini Kill, a band formed by Kathleen Hanna, for creating and popularising the genre. At the time, punk music was mostly ‘for and by boys’ according to musician Tobi Vail. As a result, women made their own place in the genre, speaking about issues affecting them.

The political movement involved fighting the patriarchy and rape culture, something that male punk rarely focuses on, so this genre was developed to cater to women and empower them to question and oppose the system. Nowadays there isn’t a music genre in mainstream media made to empower women to the same extent as riot grrrl; most people in Generation Z have not even heard of the genre – even those who listen to alternative music. So here are five riot grrrl albums that make it easy to be introduced to the genre.

1. Bikini Kill – P*ssy Whipped (1992)

Top 3 songs: Rebel Girl; Alien She; Speed Heart 

Kathleen Hanna is seen as the mother of riot grrrl. After several projects she formed band Bikini Kill with Kathi Wilcox, Billy Karren and Tobi Vail. Their radical feminist lyrics like “in her kiss, I taste the revolution” from Rebel Girl, and their excitable performances, paved the way for the genre. P*ssy Whipped was created in 1992 and alongside punk influences it also has grunge, and no wave influences, making it an easier listen despite the cutting-edge lyrics. Even the name of the album P*ssy Whipped, meaning to be dominated or controlled by a woman, shows the attitude of the band towards the patriarchy and the male dominated genre of punk. This is a must-listen when getting into Riot grrrl, or any alternative 90s music.

2. Bratmobile – Pottymouth (1993)

Top 3 songs: Cool Schmool; F*ck Yr. Fans; Love Things 

Along with Bikini Kill, Bratmobile are one of the big names in first generation riot grrrl. Pottymouth is their first album, and it was remastered in 2019. In 2020 Cool Schmool gained popularity on kids’ app TikTok, introducing Gen Z to this album.  In Cool Schmool, Bratmobile lead singer Allison Wolfe sings about not needing male validation on what is ‘cool’. She almost imitates how men talk and what they want to hear with the lyrics “I just want to be one of the boys, your little fashion toy”, juxtaposing with the real message of the song when she sings “I don’t want you to tell me what’s so cool”, showing women don’t need that validation from men. Bratmobile’s lyrics are simple yet effective in showing their agenda, and that mixed with Wolfe’s vocals make their music worthy of shouting into a hairbrush while jumping around the room – or in one word, enjoyable.

3. Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997)

Top 3 songs: Dig Me Out; The Drama You’ve Been Craving;  Buy Her Candy 

Like Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney is an all-girl band with feminist and left-leaning politics. Although the band was formed slightly later into the riot grrrl movement in 1994, this didn’t stop them from quickly becoming one of the big names in the genre, with their iconic third album Dig Me Out. Janet Weiss’ drums make this a perfect head-banging album, but Corin Tucker’s vocals are what really stand out in this album; her powerful voice, with even more powerful lyrics such as “do you get nervous to watch me bleed” in Dig Me Out, make their music dynamic and influential without overshadowing or ruining its meaning; it’s the perfect amount of chaos.

4. Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You (1997)

Top 3: Shutterbug; Venus Man Trap; Volcano Girls 

This is a personal favourite of mine, and definitely the easiest riot grrrl album to get into because of Nina Gordon’s soft angelic vocals, which differentiate this band from the rest of the Riot grrrl scene. While still singing about the political and social movement, their songs are easily ones you can both party and fall asleep to. The contrast between Gordon’s soft vocals and Post’s, Shapiro’s and Lack’s instrumental combine the punk influences of riot grrrl while making it a much easier listen and a lot less overwhelming than other bands. The lyrics of Veruca Salt’s music, while much less aggressive than other bands in the genre, still make their feminist agenda clear. Many could argue that Veruca Salt lean more to grunge than they do to riot grrrl, but because of how heavily each genre influences the other, I personally think it’s fair to say that Veruca Salt belongs on this list.

5. 7 Year B*tch – Sick ‘Em (1992)

Top 3: Chow Down; Dead Men Don’t Rape; In Lust You Trust 

This band is slightly different, as the punk influence is much more prominent compared to the other bands listed. By every definition, 7 Year B*tch are what riot grrrl is at its core, their politically fuelled lyrics and intense instrumentals putting them in the middle of the movement. They’re definitely not for the faint hearted and are more enjoyable in moderation, but the liberty you feel when listening to them is indescribable and irreplaceable. Sadly, this album was delayed due to the death of the guitarist Stefanie Sargent in June 1992, five months before the release of their first studio album.  Sick ‘Em changed the way that female dominated genres were seen, as the album’s heaviness was not considered ‘feminine’. But that’s what riot grrrl is about: challenging the idea of what women are supposed to do.