Revenge Of The She-Punks
A feminist music history, by someone who has the background and skills to do it properly.
The full title of this fascinating, detailed book is Revenge Of The She-Punks: A Feminist Music History From Poly Styrene To Pussy Riot. This is what it is. Do not expect to read the same faces venerated as have been venerated countless times before, although some (Bikini Kill, The Slits, ESG, Au Pairs) will be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention. What you have here is an examination of between-the-lines, gaps that previously have gone unexplained or unexplored, acknowledged and filled in (The Bags, Skinned Teen, Big Joanie, ace Chinese punk band Hang On The Box). Maybe it’s not even that. What you have here is discussion, in all its worrisome glorious detail, of some of the greatest music of the past 40-plus years, full stop.
Vivien Goldman was one of the earliest female music critics operating within the British music press. Unusually, she also focused on female artists (and reggae!). Unusually, she also released music that became a cult itself (as part of the Flying Lizards; the trenchant dub post-punk 1981 solo single Launderette). Brilliantly, her criticism always flew off the page; here she is on Smother Love, a ‘hate’ song written by Gee Vaucher, co-founder of late-1970s British anarcho-punks Crass:
“A devastating dissection of the hypocritical pap used to peddle marriage, its jet energy and scathing verse rained down on the patriarchy like boiling oil poured from castle battlements. Crass spit on marriage as a one-sided microsystem of societal control.”
Goldman interviews and coaxes – not truth, but (more importantly) trust – from many of her story’s main protagonists; acknowledging the importance of Spice Girls’ faux feminism on Pussy Riot’s Nastya Mineralova, singing the praises of ‘punk fringedweller’ Chrissie Hynde, linking through directly to present-day insurrectionists Skinny Girl Diet and The Dissidents. Little is glossed over and no one is sold short.
Here she is in her introductory paragraph to a section on Rhoda Dakar/ The Special AKA’s chilling Top 40 hit The Boiler: “Is a woman safe on the street late at night, anywhere? Have we ever been? Does the way we walk attract attack, and is there any ‘right’ way to handle it? […] In the early 21st century, More magazine found that only five per cent of British women felt safe walking alone in the city after sunset.”
Some of the greatest music writing of the past 40 years, full stop. ■■■■■■■■■■