By Zane Warman
While there’s an abundance of adoration for female pop stars, the idea of rock in all its forms being a boy’s club still needlessly exists. While women do take a leading role in bands, they are often expected to be a pretty, throwaway distraction for the band’s “real sound.”
The response to this terrible stigma has been an flood of female-fronted bands making music that takes control. The women at the helms of these four bands have made the identities of their band transcend their gender: from using their glamor as a form of defiance to outright nihilism. Although there are countless talented musicians representing this front, here’s a look at some of the most iconic and passionate female-fronted bands of recent times:
This Glasgow’s meteoric rise in the saturated electronic scene is due to their hard work. Like many bands, their catchy synth-pop grew out of a weekend session between longtime musician friends and into critical triumph. Sadly, coverage of the band’s success has been competing with, and sometimes overshadowed by, front-woman Lauren Mayberry’s public struggle with grotesque comments made towards her by male fans.
Recent Release: “The Bones of What You Believe,” the group’s self-produced their debut record, was released in Sept. 2013. Immediately, critics found the album irresistible for taking an 80’s inspired pop sound and modernizing it with fresh synthesizer sounds and sampling.
Best Feminist Quote: “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification, whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to just deal with.” – Lauren Mayberry writing in the Guardian, 2013
tUnE-yArDs is, undoubtedly, one of the most idiosyncratic bands out today. Primary songwriter (she refers to herself as the ‘coach’), Merrill Garbus loops tribal drum, ukulele and vocal loops while bassist/multi-instrumentalist providing a consistent, winding low end to their songs. Together, the duo creates elaborate harmonies and fascinating rhythms that some bands three times their size never achieve.
Recent Release: “Nikki Nack,” the group’s third album, was released in May to widespread acclaim for being thoughtful without lacking dance-ability, as well as its sophisticated, off-kilter songwriting.
Best Feminist Quote: “As a woman performer, it’s sort of suggested to you that you look good. So if you look bad or foolish on purpose, or act really grotesque on purpose, you’re really going against the grain. I would proudly stand in the brave ranks of those women.” ~ Merrill Garbus speaking to The Rumpus blog, 2012
This Washington trio stands as the most visible of a strong lineage of empowered bands, with their members also playing other notably progressive groups such as Wild Flag and Heavens to Betsy. The band, a crowning jewel of the riot grrl movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s, gained a renewed following through guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein’s involvement as a creator of the hit show “Portlandia.” Despite their increased exposure to a new audience, the group’s new music promises to maintain its punchy riffs and angered lyricism.
Recent Release: Their first new song in 10 years, “Bury Our Friends,” was released earlier this month, with a full album “No Cities to Love” coming out on Jan. 20.
Best Feminist Quote: “People would often ask, ‘what does it feel like being a woman playing music?’ and I would say ‘this is what it is like; you asking this question is exactly what it feels like to be a woman playing music’.” ~ Carrie Brownstein, speaking to PBS MAKERS series in 2013
With lead singer Alice Glass’ departure effectively dissolving the band, Crystal Castles’ glitchy coarseness leaves a void in the electronic music community. While others were more tame with their messages, the band followed in a punk tradition, both sonically and ideologically, that valued fierceness and outspokenness over embracing individuality.
Recent Release: Their third self-titled album (often referred to as “III” ) came out at the end of 2012, featuring some of their most politically charged work. The band had been viciously vocal about the subjugation of women all across the world, especially their treatment in Middle Eastern countries, which was an influence on its hopeless tone.
Best Feminist Quote: “I know what its like to feel powerless. The freedom that comes with doing what you want and saying what you want because you have nothing to lose is intoxicating. I would like to encourage anyone to speak their mind and question authority, especially young women.” ~ Alice Glass, writing on the band’s blog in 2013
Zane Warman is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com