Cecilia and Mari Trini are the first punks in Spain

"Bitch". Or, less abruptly, "prostitute." That's what the word punk meant when it was first written. The year was 1623 and it had been the hand of William Shakespeare who had calligraphed it for his play Measure for Measure. So it had nothing to do with music, it was just one of the many synonyms for courtesan. A feminized term. Punk, as we know it, would be born 352 years later, on November 6, 1975, in an English art school where some boys gave their first concert. They called themselves the Sex Pistols, and their career, which barely lasted the length of a pregnancy, spawned a movement that spread globally and that has never stopped giving tail.

At first it was them, but soon they would arrive: protesters, revolutionaries, feminists —often, without being fully aware of it— and very noisy. The girls also wanted to have a good time. "When I was a teenager, I was crazy about YouTube and everything was Nirvana, The Clash, Ramones or Screaming Trees. A lot of groups of that punk and grunge that dazzle us when we are 13 or 15 years old", explains Laura Sagaz (Madrid, 1997 ), author of the essay Girl=Dumb, Girl=Bad, Girl=Weak, identity politics of the riot grrrl movement (Uterzine/Orciny Press, 2022). "At that time, I did not have many notions of feminism or wonder where the women were, but there was a moment when I realized that all I listened to were men", she adds to concede that yes, there was a bassist in some group —such as the Smashing Pumpkins— but that they were always secondary figures. "I did not see that representation that is evident in pop groups. You leave the great divas and it is difficult to find them," says the essayist.

She then decided to start looking. And she started with what she had closest at hand, which was Courtney Love. The Hole frontwoman, a controversial figure known especially for her romantic relationship with Kurt Cobain, was her gateway to a new world; punk made by women. At 14 years old and with rudimentary English, he managed to dig behind the shadow of the great groups of the scene of the 70s, 80s and 90s. "I only had YouTube, Google Photos and my imagination at hand," he jokes when he remembers it.

Years later, between her genuine interest in the western female punk scene and her Master's Thesis (TFM), which explored the identity politics of riot grrrls —a mix between girl in English and the onomatopoeia of a roar— in the music and feminist subversion, Sagaz drafted the essay that is the subject of this article.

The book, which is based on the illustrations of Carolina Cancanilla, proposes an approach to several of the key figures and bands of the riot grrrl movement in the United States and England from a historical and political perspective. Thus, she wonders if women had an important place in the American alternative scene in the 90s or how the ethics and sounds of this movement came to Spain. She also delves into her organization to make herself heard at a time when the internet was not yet the medium or if there are shared characteristics that relate them to each other over the decades. Like the lyrics, attitude, the rejection of the mainstream or an incipient feminism. A guide through time that includes recommendations for songs to listen to, from Bikini Kill's Rebel Girl to Las Odio's Vitaminas, Pussycats' Fuckin' Bitch or 7 Year Bitch's wild Dead Men Don't Rape among many other bands. "The objective of the book", explains Sagaz to this newspaper, "is to get closer to what I would have liked to read in Spanish when I began to be interested in punk and grunge".

In this way, the essay is peppered with fragments of philosophical texts, other essays, quotes from the riot grrrl manifesto —from which the title is taken—, verses from many songs and even complete interviews conducted by the author with veterans of the scene, such as Allison Wolfe, singer-songwriter for Bratmobile; or Corin Tucker, guitarist, singer and songwriter for Heavens to Betsy and Sleater-Kinney.

Sagaz maintains that, to understand the punks and everything they did, you have to go to the root. See where it all started. And one of the lines that she traces is the one that starts from the birth of Bikini Kill, the best known band among the unknown. It was composed at the end of the 80s by the young Kathleen Hannah, Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox thanks to the breeding ground that had been the third wave of feminism in the United States, which expressed part of its claims through the riot grrls; a movement of young feminists associated with the force of punk rock music. "They were much more than girl groups," says Sagaz, "they were activists and were fighting against oppression inside and outside the music industry."

Kathleen Hannah, one of the founding mothers of riot grrrl, when she became interested in punk music, she was a photography student who worked as a stripper to make ends meet, as well as volunteering at an organization that supports women who had suffered violence. domestic. A context in which she, by force, was charged with political overtones. Then, on those dates (1989), Sagaz writes that she discovered the fanzines of whom she would be one of her companions; Tobi Vail, drummer for Go Team. Vail, tells the book, translated and recounted his entire life in this type of publication, among which Jigsaw stands out. There she lamented and exposed the situation of women in a musical genre that did not accept them. "I feel completely out of the realm of everything that's important to me [...] I know this is partly because punk rock is made by and for boys," Vail wrote in one of the fascicles.

They met, became friends, and channeled their anger into music. If there were no others, they would be the ones who grabbed a guitar, a bass and a drum kit. After them, many more, such as Bratmobile, who followed a very clear slogan contained in the riot grrrl manifesto, published in 1991 in the second issue of the fanzine promoted by the Bikini Kill themselves and which would bear the name of the band: "We girls long for records and books and fanzines that speak to us, in which we feel included and can understand in our own way" and "we are angry with a society that tells us Girl = Silly, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak", prayed the text collected by Sagaz in his work.

From English, 'Do it Yourself' was one of the premises that moved these groups of women. If someone hasn't done it before, I'll be the one to do it. "That was the predominant attitude in many of the bands and also what has pushed me to embark on this study," says Sagaz to explain that all the girls imbued each other, they were a community. "There were words of encouragement going from town to town, blocking the boring rock of boys, appropriating more ways of saying our things, which have been ignored for centuries," picks up one of the fanzines cited by Sagaz. The expansion methodology was simple, as the publication itself explains: "Photocopy + distribute until your heart is content."

The fuse caught on in the underground, from the United States to the United Kingdom —especially England— without ever ceasing to go out. "Miley Cyrus has recently covered Rebel Girl and there are young girls, teenagers, on TikTok talking about this movement and what it was. It's still alive," says the author, excited. As alive as some of the lyrics on songs that are over 26 years old, like Lunachicks' Fallopian Rhapsody: "Is procreation what you think we're for? / You support the death penalty / But who will support for my baby and me ?" ("Is procreation what you think we're worth?/You support the death penalty/But what's gonna keep me and my baby?").

In Spain, things were different. Continent and content were far from converging. "You can be punk while maintaining that musical sweetness that is attributed to women," argues Sagaz. Examples of him are Cecilia and Mari Trini. "They don't follow the line of aesthetics or the type of sound, but it doesn't matter because punk is not that, but having a conscience, a disruptive way of doing things, and they had it," she says.

The irreverence of the former is attested to by the uncensored verses of "My dear Spain/ this Spain alive/ this Spain dead". The rebelliousness of the second is endorsed by the anthem I am not that, which, in Sagaz's eyes, "was a full-blown declaration of punk spirit from someone who refused to be left in the shadow or at the mercy of any man": "I'm not the one you imagine / a calm and simple lady / that one day you leave and always forgives, / That girl yes... no.../ That's not me".

Then he talks about them, Las Vulpes; long-running shooting stars who were canceled after covering The Stooges' I wanna be your dog. The critics and the public were fierce and did not forgive them for their audacity. Today, her "I like being a bitch" plays normally in any joint, without consequences. For them, however, acceptance came late. "We just wanted to play. I've always thought that they killed my dream," declared her guitarist, Loles Vázquez, in an interview replicated by the essayist.

You can't miss Dover, of course, even if its lyrics lack political weight. "There were also other bands whose material was mostly playful," says Sagaz to underline that the importance of Dover lies in its triumph. "It was a group that went to the front line and the leaders were women. They were not in the second row, half hidden, without the public knowing very well who they are. They were visible," she adds to remember that they said they suffered a lot of machismo on the part of the industry and the public of the moment. "It seems to me that, although the lyrics don't have to be political, it's very important to think of them as a group that has suffered what Kathleen Hannah might have suffered as someone who did have those lyrics", he ditches to point out that today, in Spain, more similar to a riot grrrl can be found in the music of Las Odio, Heksa, Wake Up, ¡Candela!, Ginebras, Hinds, Mourn or Estrogenuinas.

One of the problems that women encountered in these spaces of shouted songs and furious guitar playing was the line that separates brute and joyful contact with physical violence. It counts Rebecca Solnit in his autobiography, quoted by Sagaz: "At the early slam dances people bounced and bumped into each other harmlessly. The jocks pushed the clumsies aside later when they took over in what became hardcore or thrash [...] In the end it seemed like another place where I no longer belonged."

"It has happened to me sometimes too. It depends a lot on the environment and the type of show," says Sagaz. "I'm going to a Black Flag concert in a few months and I don't really know how I'm going to feel in the audience either," he explains. "This type of behavior - hogging the space of others - is something that continues to be reproduced. Of course there are pogos in which everyone feels welcome, there are strong pogos in which you know that others have your back . We also love to push each other!, but there are certain types of spaces that are still hostile, "he concludes.

On the other hand, Laura Sagaz believes that today the old canon is beginning to be challenged, where all the names that resonate are masculine. "I do not want to say that they do not deserve it, many groups are great, but they are missing. Now, at least, we know that they are missing," she comments to criticize that many of the most recognized are still associated with their male colleagues. "Patti Smith, with all that she is, is not left out of being associated with her husband, Fred 'Sonic' Smith, or with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe", she protests to attack the treatment given in the general media to the so-called female gangs. "Still today they are grouped as if they were a phenomenon, when they are simply a band. We are not talking about male bands, right?", he develops to add that, in the cultural press it is something flagrant, "You see how in one article they put in a potpourri of girl bands while then they dedicate a full and detailed article to a single boy band, why? What is the criteria for doing that?

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