London-based punks Skinny Girl Diet are one of the most politically active bands in the country right now - not to mention the youngest. In an interview with Noisey last year, they spoke about riot grrrl's influence on modern feminism and punk so we asked them to write about whether they felt the genre has become all style over substance.
There are a lot of perpetuated fads that people try to cling on to in order to be “cool” or “edgy” without actually knowing their roots; the reasons behind them. The politics of punk in the 70s was to defy society’s expectations of young people and to go against the norm. Punks went through shit back in the day, getting spat at by people in the street, beating up by rival subcultures or worse. The 90s riot grrrl movement, which took inspiration from the feminism and girl punk of the 70s, was not a pretty thing either, and the modern day depiction is presented in a way which is highly idealised.
Skinny Girl Diet is often described by the media as a “riot grrrl” band, so it’s especially infuriating for us to see the modern day depiction of riot grrrl presented in a way which is highly idealised. It wasn't about dressing "punk" or "grunge", it was a movement, not a fashion fad. People nowadays are jumping on to the latest thing rather than standing for something they believe in.
We had an article written about us that was scrutinizing us on what we were wearing rather than what they were hearing, which defeats the whole object of us creating music. It was really frustrating, because male bands can roll up wearing something they've slept in the night before with no questions asked or wear a full head to toe glitter suit and be seen as eccentric rather than making an effort. They wouldn't be seen as a “fashion” band, which is what girls instantly get if they feel like expressing themselves in that way while making music. It just highlights how our society is so looks orientated still; it's about the art, not make-up we're wearing.
In a review of one of our shows, a music (not fashion) critic for the Guardian wrote, “The effort they’ve put into their clothes – Delilah wears a quirky trouser suit adorned with slogans and her sister a silver lamé jumpsuit, while Cutler goes for a regulation riot grrrl pinafore dress – suggests they are keen to impress.”
What is a riot grrrl dress and where can we buy one? Delilah was wearing a hand me down suit her dad gave her that she then printed on herself as part of an art piece. Sure, the choice of her making her own clothes could be associated with the DIY culture that made everything so unique in the riot grrrl and punk scenes of both the 70s and 90s, but we're in 2015 and we can wear whatever the hell we want to wear because music is not fashion. The two can intersect, but we didn't sign up to be fashionistas, we just want to make music. Of course we're going to be different to the world riot grrrl made back in the 90s, because that was an economically different time. People would buy boots that were two quid from a carboot sale that are now £80 in expensive vintage stores. The “90s grunge fashion”, as people love to call it, was not about style as much it was about going against the commercial uniformity of chain stores. It was more about convenience rather than a checklist of how to achieve a specific look.
There’s a big misconception on shoots that stylists dress bands with something they would never wear themselves. That is not the case. Most of them don't even listen to your music, so you’re usually stuck with pictures of yourself in clothes that you despise or that don't show who you actually are. It should be about what you feel comfortable in, and if we want to wear full-length silver playsuits, you just gotta take us as we come. People in bands are treated like they're barbies or models, but there are all these lovely clothes to choose from and yet they dress you up in something that’s far from anything you'd wear in your entire life.
We're all mixed race girls playing punk music; so we've also had stylists assume we're an R’n’B group before, which is weird, ignorant and pretty racist. Just because we like clothes doesn't mean we like your perception of what fashion is. But if you try to argue your back, you also face the imposed idea of girls that stick up for themselves in the music industry or have opinions are divas or have attitude problems. It’s a cyclical problem.
The key to being a female in a band is to have what is conventionally considered a “male attitude”. That is: to not to give a shit about all that stuff because it's irrelevant. At the end of the day, what fabric you wear doesn't change the music, it's playing up to the self absorbed capitalist bullshit that punk, grunge and riot grrrl was trying to go against in the first place. What was so good about those time periods was that people like Ari Up or Kat Bjelland were being themselves. They weren’t afraid of what people thought, and for people to worship them now by being a clone of them, by using them as a style bible, makes no sense.
Being a modern day punk or riot grrrl is to have the mindset, rather than a checklist of stuff they had back then. It is to incorporate that open-minded left-winged politics into today’s climate. There’s still a need for zines, but you can sell those zines online now. There’s still a need for the expression of anarchy through merging all these amazing revolutionary movements, but use them as an influence not a form of resurrection.
People love to get lost in the past. We are a stylised generation where our smartphones are more important than our real life issues; everything in our media is presented through an Instagram filter. You can tell why people are looking to escape in the “good old days” (hence why the next trend this summer is the 70s), but there are things we need to change now. Yes, equality is shifting, but it still has so far to go and all this materialistic focus is a brainless distraction. Brainless like how people still want women within the music industry to be, dressed in clothes that have been chosen for them, singing songs that have been written for them, and being an industry puppet. That’s what the punk and riot grrrl mindset was fighting against, and that’s why it’s just as if not more relevant than before.
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Skinny Girl Diet will play Sebright Arms on May 15. If you'd like to spend a fiver wisely, head here for tickets.