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Clip: Garage Grrls

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2002/10/31/D D239245.DTL&type=music Female trouble The women of garage rock struggle for
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2002

      Female trouble
      The women of garage rock struggle for visibility

      Neva Chonin, Chronicle Pop Music Critic Thursday, October 31, 2002

      When the Strokes released their debut album last year, the uproar was
      deafening. The media declared a new musical era, in which tired
      arena-rappers would crumble before an onslaught of younger, more exciting
      garage rockers.

      But are the Strokes, who play the Bill Graham Auditorium tonight, really as
      fresh as all that? True, their blend of retro influences is flawless, and
      their innovative energy welcome after five years of sluggish, cookie-cutter

      But for female rockers and their fans, there's something distinctly old
      school about New York's finest quintet and other rising garage bands, such
      as the Hives and the Vines. With the exception of Detroit's White Stripes,
      they feature all-male lineups.

      Boys with guitars are par for the course in mainstream music. But the
      garage movement's roots lie in the rock underground, where bands have been
      blurring gender lines for decades. When Nirvana broke in the early '90s,
      the ensuing grunge era included numerous high-profile, women-led groups,
      from Hole and L7 to riot grrrl originators Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

      There are indeed girls in the new garage -- they're just not getting the
      same sound-du-jour push as their male counterparts. Besides White Stripes
      drummer Meg White (and genre forerunners like the Donnas and the Gossip),
      the female garage roster includes Sweden's Sahara Hotnights, who score well
      on college radio but are often reduced to an adjunct of fellow Swedes the
      Hives; England's Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who boast a formidable female singer and
      have generated a modest buzz stateside; and Detroit underground acts the
      Von Bondies, the Gore Gore Girls, the Come Ons, the Detroit Cobras and Ko
      and the Knockouts.

      So why no equal hype for equal work? Blame the Britney Spears syndrome. The
      pop epoch conditioned labels, press and public to view women solely as eye-
      candy vocalists, not musicians.


      "All-girl acts are seen as novelties taught to play songs written by men,"
      says Gore Gore Girls guitarist Amy Surdu. "Women are not accepted as the
      creators or directors of talent, just the cute things that act out what men
      want them to."

      Rockrgrl magazine Publisher Carla DeSantis holds what she calls "the Lilith
      Fair backlash" equally responsible.

      "After Lilith, it seemed that suddenly all the 'angry young women' once
      ascribed to riot grrrl were co-opted into folk music by the media. It was
      as if all the girls playing loud guitars had vanished; suddenly it was all
      Sheryl Crow. Media likes trends, and 'women playing fill-in-the-blank' is
      always a trend."


      Ko of Ko and the Knockouts, a one-woman, two-man garage band that released
      its debut LP on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label this year, adds,
      "You're always going to be perceived as a gimmick. The girl bass player,
      the girl drummer. I know Meg White has felt a certain amount of self-doubt
      about that.

      "But when I toured with the White Stripes, I noticed that both sexes
      responded to her. The guys loved her, but the girls loved her, too, because
      she's what they want to be -- a beautiful woman who's strong and confident
      in what she's doing."

      That crossover appeal cuts both ways. It shows that rocker girls attract
      both male and female fans, but it also lets rock magazines like Rolling
      Stone have their cheesecake and eat it, too.

      "Women buy these magazines for articles about women, and men buy them to
      look at pictures of women," DeSantis sighs. "That's why you're not going to
      see pierced, tattooed, in-your-face girls on the covers."

      Soft-porn-style magazine covers aside, coverage of female musicians, garage
      and otherwise, is often unconsciously "lame and sexist," notes Erin Smith
      of Bratmobile. "Every article on the Sahara Hotnights talks about how one
      of them dates the Hives' singer, and they're called the female version of
      the Hives. It drives me nuts."

      Yet Smith, for one, remains optimistic that changes set in motion by the
      garage-rock revival will eventually be a boon to female musicians. The
      Strokes might be steeped in tradition, but they're revolutionizing rock
      culture the way Nirvana did a decade ago. And revolutions are good for


      "The Strokes have launched a new era that's really opened up the market,"
      Smith says. "It's a different climate: There are more girls in indie rock
      now and a whole new scene of people in their early 20s. The underground is
      cool again, and ultimately that's going to help everyone who's on the
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