Whether this is because of media misinformation or simply because it means different things to different people, the original intentions of riot grrrl's founders are often overlooked.
When we asked you “What comes to mind when you think riot grrrl?”, the majority of responses mentioned Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, L7, Babes In Toyland, Courtney Love and Hole. Not all of these bands would consider themselves riot grrrl, however.
In a 1994 essay titled 'Bikini Kill Is', Tobi Vail wrote that her band Bikini Kill never claimed to be the definitive riot grrrl band.
"We are not in any way 'leaders of' or authorities on the 'Riot Girl' movement. In fact, as individuals we have each had different experiences with, feelings on, opinions of and varying degrees of involvement with 'Riot Girl' and though we totally respect those who still feel that label is important and meaningful to them, we have never used that term to describe ourselves AS A BAND."
But Bikini Kill's influence in rock music cannot be denied. Their part in the riot grrrl subculture was hugely significant and has gone on to inspire so many artists, including some who had initially influenced the band.
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Very early in the 1990s, Kathleen Hanna was frontwoman of Olympia band Viva Knievel. They released an EP and embarked on what Hanna described as "the craziest two-month North American tour ever".
At the same time, the concept of “post-feminism” had become popular, insinuating that sexism was dead and feminism was no longer needed.
But there was a backlash against this idea. It grew into a new wave of feminism - one that not only sought to empower women, but to make it cool to do so. Riot grrrl was a big part of that, using songs to highlight the issues that women faced.
"I sang about rape and domestic violence because I worked at a rape and domestic violence shelter at the time," she told Natasha Mitchell on Radio National last year.
"I needed a way to get out my fury and all the feelings I had about what I was seeing at that shelter. So many people were telling me sexism doesn't exist anymore and I was seeing the shelter fill up over and over again and answering the rape crisis line."
After Hanna returned from that tour, she hooked up with drummer and zine-maker Tobi Vail to form the zine and band Bikini Kill. They wrote the initial Riot Grrrl Manifesto, developed in direct reaction to the male-centric indie and punk rock scene of the 1980s.
While the hotbed for riot grrrl activity was Olympia, Washington – a university town an hour out of Seattle – it actually began in Washington D.C. in the American summer of 1991. Issue two of Bikini Kill zine tells the story of riot grrrl's beginnings when Olympia bands went to Washington D.C. and "connected with this radsoulsister Jen Smith who wanted to start this girl network and fanzine called Girl Riot. (This was also inspired by the Cinco de Mayo riots occurring in her neighbourhood at the time.)"
"So that summer a bunch of us Olympia kids (Bratmobile and Bikini Kill) lived in D.C. to make something happen with our friends there. Tobi [Vail] (Bikini Kill, Jigsaw) had been talking about doing zines in the spirit of angry grrrl zine-scene, and then one restless night, Molly made this little fanzine stating events in the girl lives of the Oly-D.C. scene connection - and Riot Grrrl was born."
The manifesto focused on empowering women in the punk rock scene, calling for women to be free to express themselves, and to be acknowledged as equally talented and as powerful as their male counterparts.
This manifesto was put into practice at rock shows, where the bands would tell women to come to the front of the stage and own the room.
"We want the girls to come up front and watch how easy it is to play our instruments," Hanna said. "That's what made me feel confident about playing in a band was watching other women who were really learning in public."
In a 1993 interview, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon told Richard Kingsmill about the then-burgeoning riot grrrl movement.
"These pretty-young girls who come out of Olympia, Washington and model themselves somewhat on bands like The Nation Of Ulysses as far as their political stance," she said. "A lot of their mothers were radical feminists so they sort of grew up with that and it's second nature to them."
But, while her mother did have feminist tendencies, Hanna says they were largely held in secret.
"There wasn't a lot of feminism in my house," she told Natasha Mitchell. "My mom read one feminist book and my dad proceeded to take it out of her hands and tried to explain it to her. So she had to be secretive about doing anything feminist because it brought up problems between the two of them."
Not all feminists believed what Hanna and Bikini Kill were doing was right, which made the movement more nuanced and perhaps more powerful. Gordon was a supporter, but admitted Hanna's antics were extreme.
"Kathleen, the singer of Bikini Kill, she's pretty sensationalist," Gordon said. "She works as a stripper and she likes to take her shirt off and write 'slut' on her stomach and sing songs about how she was abused by her father's friend and stuff like that. There's a lot of contradictory things. It's not like 'wait a second, if you're a feminist you're not supposed to do that', it's more punk rock, it's more anarchistic."
"I like it when feminists argue, because that means something's happening," Hanna told Mitchell. "We had women who were telling us that we were messed up and sexist towards men and that we were man haters and we had men tell us the same thing. We had a lot of things thrown at our heads."
But Hanna felt change happening in those early days and was buoyed by the small amount of support that women would give her and her band mates.
"Watching other girls get it was what really validated me," she said. "Even if it was only two girls who got it and the rest of it was guys who were throwing eggs at us, I knew we were on the right side of history and I knew that two girls was enough."
While Bikini Kill remain the most iconic of the bands from the Olympia scene, there was no shortage of other riot grrrl bands emerging.
Molly Neuman and Alison Wolfe began making the Girl Germs zine in 1990. Soon after, they formed Bratmobile and played their first show in February 1991. The band was initially a two-piece, but by July had enlisted guitarist Erin Smith (who co-wrote the zine Teenage Gang Debs) to complete the line up. The band released just one record, Pottymouth, in 1991, then they split up on stage in 1994 before reforming again in 2000.
The important issues i felt as a young gay man were being finally being addressed in the Riot Grrrl movement. I finally felt that being intense was ok and i could write what i felt and it being valid.Bryce Roberts via J Files comments
"There were so many pressures, with riot grrrl getting so exploited and played out, with expectations from without and from within of what it meant to be a girl, a punk girl, a girl in a band, an all-girl band, etc," Wolfe said in an interview with the Line and Ink zine. "We had become stressed out, not comfortable with what was happening to us, distrustful of each other."
Riot grrrl hit the UK in a big way thanks to Huggy Bear. The band rarely revealed much about themselves to the mainstream media. On one rare occasion they agreed to perform 'Her Jazz' on Channel 4 program The Word, but the band were involved in a violent altercation with security. Their performance was followed by a feature on twin pin-up models The Barbi Twins, which offended the band. Huggy Bear vocally objected to the segment and were violently ejected from the studio.
In 1993, Huggy Bear released a split LP with Bikini Kill. The bands then toured the UK and US together, further spreading the riot grrrl message and sound and cementing their reputations as leading players in the movement - whether they liked it or not.
Despite bands popping up in cities around the world, Olympia remained the predominant focus of those looking to riot grrrl. Bands like Excuse 17, Heavens To Betsy and The Frumpies, as well as local labels Kill Rock Stars and K Records all played a part in making that scene the centre of the riot grrrl universe.
Riot grrrl wasn't the first time politicised and disenfranchised women took the stage to preach about inequality, abuse and issues affecting women. The riot grrrl movement was inspired by strong female artists like Siouxsie Sioux, The Slits, Patti Smith, The Raincoats, Joan Jett and Lydia Lunch.
"The Slits were really influential to us. You know, the sound of The Raincoats and the attitude of the Slits were really influential," Hanna told The Fader in 2010.
In the case of The Raincoats, at least, the feeling was mutual.
"[Riot grrrl] inspired us because we just thought what we did actually did have some kind of effect," The Raincoats' frontwoman Ana da Silva told The Village Voice.
"The way it seemed was that everybody was creative, doing fanzines and records. It seemed to us there was a lot of a fun side to it, as well—very serious but fun at the same time. Not fun in a superficial way, but there was a joy in all of it."
The Slits' vocalist Ari Up said riot grrrl also made her band realise the extent of their influence.
"When the riot grrrl movement came out in the early '90s, I was made aware of what an impact that The Slits really had over the years," she told triple j’s Jay and The Doctor in 2007. "[The Slits] became a legend because of all these girls that came out in the '90s. I was really proud that there was a mythology carrying on. We're bigger than life now."
The mainstream media became fascinated by the riot grrrl movement at the time. Bands in the scene considered much of the coverage to be sexist, condescending and ill-informed. There were incorrect reports that Hanna's father had raped her. In opposition to the nature of this new publicity, Bikini Kill called for a media blackout.
Another source of frustration was the inaccurate ‘riot grrrl’ label applied to any band with a female presence. A slew of heavy, empowered female rock bands were coming through, and whether or not the bands were influenced by what the riot grrrls had started, not all of them related to the term.
Legend has it that Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore came up with the tongue-in-cheek term "foxcore" to describe these bands, which included the likes of L7, Hole, Babes In Toyland and Veruca Salt.
While there's no clear indication as to why this wave of female-centric bands emerged at the same, there are theories surrounding it. Courtney Love told Richard Kingsmill in 1999 that she felt a hatred of the male-dominated LA rock scene in the 1980s.
"In the hair band world there was no room for girls," Love said. "Girls were like their prime exploitation and prize out of it. Hair bands were anti any involvement that I could have.
"[It was] a sick, oppressive time of my life in terms of music. I moved to Los Angeles in the middle of Guns N' Roses. All I wanted to do was fuck them up, because they made me mad. There was no room for girls."
Speaking with Minnesota Public Radio, Babes In Toyland's Kat Bjelland said that gender played no part in her decision to form the all-girl trio.
"It’s just kind of one of those things, you know, universal consciousness, all of a sudden everybody gets the same idea at once," she said. "I didn’t really think about purposefully making it all girls in a band. I wanted musicians who didn’t know how to play very well so then you could create a sound together, you know, all together at once."
Adalita tells Double J that in the '90s, when she fronted Magic Dirt, she found riot grrrl appealing but didn't identify as part of it.
"I was a girl, I was loud and angry. I was definitely attracted to it," she says.
"The grunge movement definitely helped, I guess it was just the right time and place music-wise. I wasn't a fanatical riot grrrl person, but I definitely related to the movement, to support women in music. The loud, alternative scene was the perfect genre for all that yelling. "
Adalita admits she has conflicting views on the celebration of women in music. While she finds the need for demarcation frustrating, she embraces the support women can get from such a label.
"It's such a glib, hackneyed, seemingly irrelevant banner. Women in music, it just sounds wrong to me. It's just people playing music, why should I be singled out because I'm a woman. But, in another sense, it's a positive thing and it makes us stronger. It's a talking point and it does turn heads when you walk into a room and you see a woman playing drums or guitar. It's a double-edged sword and it continues to fascinate me and frustrate me to this day.
Women in music, it just sounds wrong to me. It's just people playing music, why should I be singled out because I'm a woman. But, in another sense, it's a positive thing and it makes us stronger.Adalita
"People like Kat Bjelland, Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna were just such strong figures and they just did what they wanted. That's a really strong position for a musician in general, but they just happened to be even more present and even more in your face. I really enjoy that."
While Courtney Love separated herself from the riot grrrl movement, she was the female figure Adalita admired most in '90s rock.
"She was herself. She came from a broken home and she went through hell and she sang about it and didn't give a shit," she says.
"She was really vulnerable and it was really beautiful to see that. She was so vulnerable that she was impenetrable; she was protected by her vulnerability. I think some magic happens in that when you're so honest and out there on a limb. I really respect that about Courtney."
"It's a manifestation of feminism and it's still very present and still going, but in different forms," Adalita says.
Players from the original riot grrrl scene have remained hugely active in music, despite their original acts disbanding.
Kathleen Hanna formed Le Tigre with Johanna Fateman in 1998 and released their third album This Island on major label Universal. In 2005, she left Le Tigre citing health reasons, and only revealed in 2013 documentary The Punk Singer that she has been battling Lyme disease. She formed The Julie Ruin in 2010, which is currently touring off the back of their 2013 debut album Run Fast.
Excuse 17's Carrie Brownstein and Heavens To Betsy's Corin Tucker formed Sleater-Kinney in 1994, during the twilight years of the Olympia scene. The band became a hugely adored indie-rock band, playing through to 2006. Brownstein then formed Wild Flag (who have since split), while Tucker still performs in The Corin Tucker Band. One of the most prominent feminist musicians in the 2000s was electro-clash artist Peaches.
None of this would be possible without riot grrrl.Beth Ditto, Gossip
"People get misled. 'Oh, she's running around in a bra and underwear, what is she trying to do?'” Peaches told Myf Warhurst in 2004. "What I'm trying to do is just be myself. I'm not trying to be sexy. I'm not a typically sexy-looking person. For God's sake there's a beard on the cover of my album."
The title of that album was another example of Peaches subverting the norm.
"This album, Fatherfucker, it's about evening things up," she said. "We use the word motherfucker all the time."
Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto says riot grrrl was a huge inspiration to her. Ditto was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and lived in poverty for much of her life. She looked to her fellow Olympian musicians as she embraced her sexuality and her need to be heard and respected.
In one interview with Time Out London, Ditto linked the movement to how empowered present-day female pop singers are.
"I think this is exactly what riot grrrl was setting itself up to do," she said.
"None of this would be possible without riot grrrl. The xx couldn’t exist, Florence + the Machine couldn’t exist – even Adele couldn’t exist without that movement. They paved the way for genuine women to become powerful and have a place within pop culture. We wouldn’t have made any progress if we were still a punk band playing to the exact same crowd. That’s not change, that’s preaching to the choir."
The fact that Russian punk rock agitators Pussy Riot were inspired by the riot grrrl movement ought to come as no surprise. It's right there in the name, they say.
"Obviously you can tell that from the name of the band which has basically been incorporated from the riot grrrl movement itself," band member and former prisoner Nadya Tolokonnikova told ABC TV's 7.30.
"Now we’re very lucky and very proud because we have a lot of direct contacts and collaborations with some of the original founders of the riot grrrl movement. So this is obviously very amazing and interesting for us.
"We hope that it is also to some extent beneficial for the people who have been at the foundation of the riot girl movement itself. For them it’s probably quite fun to look into the new generation of punk."
Hanna is one such supporter. In a post on her website entitled ‘Seriously they are in a fucking cage’, she called for solidarity with the Russian group and for more people to adopt the Pussy Riot. Tobi Vail has been a very vocal supporter of the group as well. She recorded the slow-burning anthem 'Free Pussy Riot' in their honour and released it last year.
When Pitchfork interviewed Hanna about Pussy Riot in 2012, she shared her views on the band, and the future of the movement.
"Everyone is always asking me, ’How do we restart riot grrrl?’ And I'm like, ’Don't.’ Because something's organically going to happen on its own; you can't force it. Who wants to restart something that's 20 years old? Start your own fucking thing. This could be a part of a lot of people starting their own fucking thing.”
While Bikini Kill didn't want to be considered the leaders of the riot grrrl movement, their empowering brand of punk rock ended up being hugely influential on musicians and disenfranchised women around the world.
Not only did they give third wave feminism a soundtrack, but they made big leaps by calling out injustice in music scenes and giving many others the confidence to follow in their footsteps.
Riot grrrl in its purest form might just relate to the scene in early ‘90s Olympia, but its spirit continues to live on.