Women don’t get to be angry. In a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2020, participants who were asked to estimate the competence level of fictional job applicants and determine a starting salary consistently saw angry women as less competent and deserving of lower pay. For angry women who weren’t white, the penalty for not conforming to the gender norm was even harsher.
Outside of the workplace, the expectation that women bottle up their anger and remain polite in the face of inequality persists. Even in the punk scene that began to take shape in the 1970s, where every song was a lyrical Molotov cocktail of rage, this sexist double standard of the larger society it was trying to resist still seeped in.
Women were sidelined, ignored, and their music (especially when it was loud and angry) was not taken seriously. That is, until women in the scene decided they’d had enough.
Riot grrrl and Sista grrrl riot (which emerged in response to the lack of intersectionality in riot grrrl) were each a movement before they were a sound. The name itself is meant to disentangle the meekness and smallness associated with the word “girl” by replacing it with a growling “grrrl.” In doing so, it wasn’t about rejecting femininity in favor of a masculine version of anger, but about breaking the restraints of traditional gender norms that decided anger wasn’t ladylike.
As a genre, riot grrrl is only loosely defined. As long as the lyrics explore feminist issues or female empowerment and the sound falls somewhere between blood-curdling rage and blood-thirsty joy, it’s probably safe to call it riot grrrl. Even that loose definition doesn’t always fit, especially in the 2010s wave of riot grrrl, where we’re seeing some bands blend a more melodic, indie sound with their empowered punk roots.
But this week’s mixtape is ultimately about female rage so it’ll focus on bands with a decidedly aggressive sound and angry female vocals. While this list isn’t strictly made up of all-women bands — which may irk some of the more orthodox riot grrrl fans — it is a glorious celebration of loud, angry, rambunctious women.
This is a mix for anyone who struggles with the pressure to be polite, be quiet, and make themselves smaller; a mix for anyone who needs a reminder that sometimes smashing things is the only rational reaction.
Fea formed with the intention to pay homage to the riot grrrl movement and their Chicana roots. The name is Spanish for “ugly” and calls attention to the way women are typically judged and valued for their physical appearance.
The San Antonio-based band puts out catchy, danceable punk tracks with some of the most explicitly feminist lyrics you’ll hear. Maybe the best example of that is “Feminazi” which is a response to the way “feminist” is often weaponized as a derogatory term, to characterize opinionated women as aggressive, man-haters who complain too much.
In “La Llorona,” the band retells a popular folk legend in Mexico about a woman named Maria who falls in love with a rich man (sometimes said to be a wealthy rancher, sometimes said to be a conquistador) and bears two illegitimate children. The man decides to cast Maria aside and take the children to be raised by his wife as legitimate heirs.
Rather than let him get his way, she drowns her children in a fit of rage. Consumed by guilt and grief soon after, she drowns herself, too. But, because of her crime, she’s cursed to roam the earth forever, looking for her children.
Their latest album, No Novelties, gives us more empowered tracks with complex themes that merge the political with the personal.
Take “Ya Se,” for example, which is about the struggle of living paycheck to paycheck and the sense of guilt and failure you often put on yourself for indulging in pleasures or buying non-essentials — when in reality, the root of the problem is that you’re underpaid and lack the same opportunities that past generations had. The line between personal responsibility and systemic issues is blurred.
Then you get songs like “Girl Band,” with lyrics like “What’s it like to be in a girl band? Is it anything like being in a regular band?”
Witch Fever also lives in that border space where personal and political intersect. The Manchester-based four-piece has a grungier sound with heavy metal elements and sludgy guitar. The band’s name is a reference to the witch hunts in which women were targeted and often executed simply for not conforming to the norms of their gender.
You can get a feel of the darkness and gravity that saturates Witch Fever’s sound in songs like “Bully Boy.”
“In Birth” is another great example with unyielding lyrics like “You pressed me, undressed me/ Telling me I was your wet dream/ But get out of my cunt, I’ll fucking eat you alive.”
The Linda Lindas
If you’ve seen the Amy Poehler movie, Moxie, you’ve seen The Linda Lindas. The LA-based band appears in the film playing at a high school party. The name is a reference to the 2005 Japanese film Linda Linda Linda which is about a group of teenagers who form a Blue Hearts cover band.
With members’ ages ranging from 10 to 16 years old when the band formed in 2018, the trio is as fierce and empowered as I only daydreamed of being at that age.
You can hear their faster, upbeat but still aggressive rhythm in songs like “Oh!”
In “Racist, Sexist Boy,” the band calls attention to the rise of anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic, by responding directly to a boy who told Mila (drums, vocals) that his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people and then began avoiding her when he realized that she was Chinese.
Pleasure Venom layers atmospherics and haunting soundscapes into tracks that often skew hardcore. It’s a really unique and highly emotive sound that perfectly matches Audrey Campbell’s melodic yet aggressive vocals.
In “We Get What You Deserve,” Campbell screams, “somehow we get what you deserve” to explosive drums and gritty guitar riffs. It’s calling out the fact that working class communities, especially ones of color, usually bear the brunt of the consequences for what the wealthy do.
For a taste of the more haunting tracks from Pleasure Venom, check out “I Can’t Find My Black Lipstick.”
This hardcore band hails from different parts of Europe: Italy, France, and Portugal/Spain but can be found playing shows around the UK. The name is a reference to the expression “shooting daggers,” meaning to look angrily or spitefully at someone.
It’s an apt name given the seething rage and aggression that drips from each track. You can hear it in their latest single, “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” with lyrics like “I’m your free therapist/ Your vapid Ramona Flowers/ I’ll give your miserable life a purpose.”
In “Missandra,” you can feel the sheer frustration and bitterness at being repeatedly ignored and overlooked when Sal repeats “I am someone/ I am someone/ I am someone.”
London-based Dream Nails is an energetic and unrelenting riot grrrl band with fast-paced drums and rage-fueled lyrics. With a commitment to feminist activism, every song is a scathing critique of issues ranging from rape culture to homophobia.
“Vagina Police” is a case in point with lyrics that explore the different ways that women’s bodies are controlled.
In “Kiss My Fist,” the band takes on the hypocrisy of a society that fetishizes queerness in porn and on-screen but condemns actual LGBT+ folks in real life through discriminatory laws and homophobic prejudice.
This four-piece from London is inspired directly by 90s riot grrrl bands and every song is explicitly and intentionally focused on feminist issues. The self-produced recordings have all the raw, authenticity of an underground riot grrrl band, too, so it hits all those nostalgia chords.
In “Faux Feminist,” for example, the lyrics touch on the problem of men who claim to be feminists but don’t actually stand behind their convictions when it counts.
Then you have empowered songs like “Bad Bitch” which is the anthem you need to be singing whenever you’re debating whether or not to stand up for yourself, particularly the chorus “I’m nothing but a bad bitch/ a motherfucking witch.”
Based in Mexico City, Las Pijamas first appeared under the name PJ’s at Punkphies, releasing an EP with the thoroughly riot grrrl title, Sugar, Spice, I’ll Kick Your Ass! It’s firmly punk but with more melodic vocals.
In “No Me Hagas Querer Hacerte Brujeria,” for example, the singer gently warns listeners not to make her want to practice witchcraft on you (the English translation of the song), ensuring that the quieter tone is no less fierce than a blood-curdling scream.
As Las Pijamas, they have an even more riot grrrl sound with the screaming heard on tracks like “Mosca Muerta” (Dead Fly).
Fuck U Pay Us
LA-based Fuck U Pay Us are confrontational, experimental, and completely mesmerizing to watch and listen to. The name is a reference to the fact that, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery, reparations still have not been paid, not for the 400 years of chattel slavery or for the decades of segregation and institutionalized racism that followed.
In songs like “Don’t Touch My Hair,” the lyrics touch on issues specific to black women, like the dehumanizing and patronizing treatment they’re often subjected to.
An equally heavy and sludgy track, “Night Queen,” is about sex workers, trans women, and any other women who aren’t welcome or safe in most spaces and, instead, create home and family underground and in the margins.
In it, Jasmine Nyende grunts, growls, and screams while Uhuru Moor sings, “I’m a night queen. I’m a fucking night queen. I have to crawl and creep.”
You won’t find them on Spotify (as far as I know) so if you want more, listen to the live album on bandcamp.