Girlschool 2010

FALL ARTS: Fall is here, and women are ruling the Bay Area rock scene

Grass Widow dodges rock conventions while making the leap to Kill Rock Stars

FALL ARTS/MUSIC When I last looked at the state of all-female bands in 2006, Sleater-Kinney, Destiny's Child, and Le Tigre had hung up their guitars, mics, and samplers. Since then, the Bay Area has produced a motherlode of female-dominated rock outfits — including Grass Widow, the Splinters, Brilliant Colors, the Twinks, the Sandwitches, the Sarees, the Glassines, and Shannon and the Clams — while frontperson Dee Dee (née Kristin Gundred) of the Dum Dum Girls has moved back to SF, where she grew up.

Is there a girl band revolution on the horizon? Mainstream charts don't reflect a change, despite the rising national profiles of the Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, Frankie Rose and the Outs, and the all-female band backing Beyonce during her last tour. Yet since 2007, waves of all-female bands have been breaking locally — outfits often informed by girl groups, as well as garage rock and generations of punk. Jess Scott of Brilliant Colors told me she recently broached this subject with riot grrrl vet Layla Gibbon, editor of Maximum Rocknroll: "I think people are writing about the music itself, which is exciting. I'm always for new music, and I'm doubly for girls in music."

But just because girl bands are becoming more of a norm doesn't mean that sexism has evaporated, much like the election of Barack Obama hasn't dispelled racism. "When we go on tour in the South or Midwest or anywhere else, you realize how different it is," says Lillian Maring of Grass Widow. "You're loading into the venue and hearing, 'Where's the band?' 'Heh-heh, it's us — we're the band.' 'You're traveling by yourselves?'" She looks flabbergasted. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Intriguingly, the very idea of foregrounding gender, above music, chafes against some musicians. "There's definitely a history of women being objectified in all kinds of visual culture," says Grass Widow's Hannah Lew. "We're thoughtful people who work hard at writing songs and are trying to challenge that whole system of objectification, so it would kind of be an oxymoron if we were to capitalize on the idea of being a girl group. Our gender is an element of what we do, but the first thing is our thoughts and our music."

Still, others see gender as an inextricable part of writing music, often collaboratively, about their own experiences. "I think it's a powerful thing to be a troupe of women together writing music," says the Splinters' Lauren Stern. "The lyrics are totally different, and there are certain things that a woman writer conveys differently." Her bandmate Caroline Partamian believes the popularity of all-female combos like the Vivian Girls may be "subconsciously giving girl bands more power to keep writing songs and keep playing shows."

The Girlschool class of 2010, would probably agree that a new paradigm is in order. Scott, for instance, confesses she'd rather align herself with politically like-minded labels like Make a Mess than simply other all-female bands that "want the same old things tons of guy bands have wanted." The same old won't get you a passing grade.



The dilemma of so many women's bands — to be on the CD or LP cover, or not to be — is beside the point when it comes to SF's Grass Widow, hunkering down over burgers and shakes in the belly of a former meatpacking building at 16th and Mission streets, in a onetime-meat locker-now-practice space jammed with drum kits, amps, and gear.

"I think it's annoying to try and sensationalize girl groups, but at the same token maybe it's cool because it might normalize, a bit, the idea of gender," says bassist-vocalist Hannah Lew. "But it's definitely the thing we don't like to talk about first. I almost don't want to use our image in anything. People are automatically, 'They're hot! Omigod, that one is hot!'"


C'mon....we've been waiting..what..thirty years for a real chick band that can actually play--er..invoke--real music. Not just some whiny garage band thrash pumping, And we're still waiting. Period.

Posted by Guest Nick Stuart on Aug. 25, 2010 @ 1:06 am

I am absolutely in awe of your ignorance, Nick.

Posted by Mike on Aug. 25, 2010 @ 10:48 am

Which I thought this article was going to be about.

The Headcoatees were good too.

But as 95% of bands suck, it's not a chick thing in that there is so much sucking in general.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 25, 2010 @ 11:00 am

"People are automatically, 'They're hot! Omigod, that one is hot!'"

Really? Ahem...

Anyway, if these bands are the best the Bay Area has to offer, no wonder the current music scene is at best a joke, and at worst non-existent to anyone outside of the Bay. Wow, guitar, drums, bass and singing- but wait- they're girls! OMG, how unique!

You know, there is a ton of music that isn't centered around the same old rock instrumentation, song structures, and clichés but I guess The Guardian couldn't be bothered to do a bit of research on that. Instead they focused on the same old boring stuff, the same types of groups who will have no lasting impact on anything because they are imitating a form of music that was perfected about 25 years ago. But, OMG, they're girls! In costumes! How unique!

How about an article on Bay Area musicians who are actually trying to do something interesting with their music instead of marketing themselves and their gimmicky music and image?

Posted by David on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

I'm very interested to know.

Keep in mind techno isn't music.

Another great band that happened to be women was Yellow Machine Gun.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 26, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

Barn Owl. Moon Duo. The Alps. Jonas Reinhardt. Other local artists on the Root Strata label. Check out the On Land Festival next weekend to see some of them. Or just stroll through Aquarius Records and ask for recommendations if you are really serious and don't have some built-in excuse not to consider them as "real" since they don't package their music into the verse/chorus/verse format.

Posted by David on Aug. 27, 2010 @ 10:42 am

extensively, David. Also, maybe you should actually listen to some of the bands Kim is writing about above, like Grass Widow, who go far beyond the lame stereotype of rock you say we're aping. And what's wrong with writing an article about the fact that there are a lot of female garage rock bands coming to prominence at the moment, anyway? You seem to want to read an article about bands you like. Obviously, this isn't that article. This is this article.

PS lol at "perfected 25 years ago" in your earlier comment -- what, do you mean like Bryan Adams and Huey Lewis & the News?

Posted by marke on Aug. 30, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

And how ignorant can you be?

Next you'll be telling us that the Kronos Quartet are "un-listenable"?

1960 called, it wants you to criticize "Jazz"

Posted by Frank McGee on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

smart drugs lost popularity, and the water & air bars closed up.

Too bad techno didn't die an equally 90's death.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

that's when your aesthetic sensibility and adventurous aural spirit did as well.

Posted by marke on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

I love the Twinks and you guys suck a$$.

Posted by Guest Carebear on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 7:37 am


Posted by Guest Beth Loudmouth on Aug. 31, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

your only good band

Posted by loudmouth? on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

Given: the author likes her music and the specific bands she has on her IPOD, but GIRL don't go steppin' on the ladies toes that don't have a place on your IPOD. You caused a riff which I am sure you can relish in and slap on a hotdog and be like fuck yeah; or you'll be having a light bulb moment and redo the article. Alot of people have never heard of any of those bands you featured in your article seems like the title was not the right fit.. Cinderella moment. Yes eveyone, Kim had one.

Here's a thought why don't you redo the article and really break it down by genre. Dude you gotta get out more and go to more shows with girls in bands if you wanna do a girlschool article. And just because some bands practice in an old wannbe gentrified meat locker don't make them about burgers n' shakes.. I wanna job writing BS in the Guardian

Posted by Guest Scarlet on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 10:37 am

Where are my girls The Hot Toddies at?! They've been rocking SF with their original fun, all female indie garage pop since 2006... pretty similar to the bands you're describing. Seems to me like u left out the band that started the trend...


Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

Yeah, I agree with Robyn! The Hot Toddies were one of the only bands around doing an all-female garage indie pop band when they started around 5 years ago, and now it's kind of a thing and they get no mention? C'mon!

Posted by Ryan on Sep. 14, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

I love the Twinks! How could you not love surf-y garage pop?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 20, 2010 @ 10:22 am

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