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Girl Power!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back in 1993, Liz Phair's debut album "Exile in Guyville" shook the rock music establishment. Then along came acclaimed records by PJ Harvey, The Breeders, and Hole. Yet these days, many women in rock are better known for their tabloid escapades than serious music-making. Joining us to discuss this phenomenon are Elisabeth Vincentelli, the arts and entertainment editor at Time Out New York; and Carlene Bauer, music critic from Elle Magazine.

Our Blog: John Schaefer on the search for rebel girls.

Weigh in: Are women are rocking as hard as they did 15 years ago? Why?


Carlene Bauer and Elisabeth Vincentelli

Comments [45]

Mark McKenna from Upstate NY

Swati is your girl - funny, powerful, angry, devil may care and a GREAT songwriter to boot AND one of the baddest women to ever pick up a guitar.

May. 23 2008 10:28 AM
catrinel from Ft. Greene

Oh, and there are loads of women who rock: I just found this band, RENMINBI, yesterday.

May. 21 2008 10:38 AM
catrinel from Ft. Greene

It think when we're talking about 'rocking' in this context, it's a lot about skill and a certain aggressive, unleashed feel to the music. This type of hard rock/metal were genres defined by men, so it would make sense that women do it differently. Additionally, society doesn't always find rough edges on women appealing. On top all this, hard rock isn't really getting much mainstream attention at all. Who is today's metallica?

May. 21 2008 10:37 AM
Concrete Blonde Fan from New York City

Johnette Napolitano is an often ignored and hugely underrated force. Her band Concrete Blonde is awesome, and she's a super-mean bass player and song writer.

May. 20 2008 11:55 AM
billy moon from manhattan valley

this was really a ridiculous discussion, not in it's subject or theme per se, but certainly in the substance that came out of it. i am an avid music listener and would say that the majority or the performers or bands that i'm currently listening to (some of them mentioned on the show, some not) are women or have women members. M.I.A., amy winehouse, lily allen, kate nash, duffy (all british) plus jesca hoop, the ting tings, feist, rilo kiley... maybe none of these are "rock" musicians, but rock isn't what i used to be either, nor is as important anymore. i agree with Raj - these woman "rock".

May. 19 2008 03:05 PM
Nick Gaunt from Birmingham UK

Hi my name is Nick Gaunt, live in Birmingham in the UK. I am listening to your radio stream regarding women in Rock.
I am co-organiser of a National Rock and Pop festival held at a major venue in the UK. The festival is for youngsters aged between 11 and 19 years old.
We have around 50 to 60 bands over 4 shows each year, having to turn away about 50 performers due to restrictions of finance and time.
The youngsters are given a professional stage, lighting, video and sound (including the a professional sound engineer who does the FOH sound for Lost Prophets)
We do not charge them to take part.
The aim of the festival is to encourage those presently making music to continue and to inspire those watching to take up an instrument.
Over the past 10 years I have seen a large rise in the amount of girls forming rock bands, where they used to just sing or play keyboards they now play all of the traditional Rock instruments they are equally as good as the boys and are received in the same enthusiastic manner as them.
I hope that this is the start of the rise of the female rock performer!

May. 19 2008 02:43 PM
professorF from Brooklyn

We are veering very close to Sasha Frere Jones territory in this conversation. There are a number of black and other women of color artists who have gone unmentioned in this conversation. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings is considered soul, even though they rock out. M.I.A. who's had success as a rap artist definitely veers into rock territory. These are the first two that come to mind. Admittedly, someone like Tamar-kali who has a strong following in Afro-Punk circles has yet to be discovered in mainstream circles.

May. 19 2008 02:42 PM
antonio ferrera from evillage

Exene Cervenca is one of my favorite artists but I don't think of her in terms of being a "her" and why she is not more known or if she can rock as hard. She is great. Rocking as hard is a jive question. I think time is opening new avenues for people to express their music and new ways for people to find and appreciate the new ideas and music that were once overshadowed by the victimhood of corporate interests. When I think of Exene and why she inspires me is because she has perservered and continues to connect with her work. She really rocks and live the life to boot. That's what I dig most.

May. 19 2008 02:40 PM
al oof from brooklyn

simple answer: there are women rocking everywhere.
what you fail to address: if there are women rocking everywhere, which is a fact, WHY AREN'T WE HEARING ABOUT THEM.

and john, when was the last time you had a real rocking female musician on the show?

May. 19 2008 02:39 PM
Nico from brooklyn

Thank you for the list, Caryn!!

May. 19 2008 02:38 PM
Henry Lewis from Hackensack, NJ

Why does rock always have to be about electric guitars? What about acoustic rock which is just as political and defiant of the culture? Think of Joni Mitchell, and Laura Nyro, from the 60s and 70s. And consider other instruments like the flute, which rocked in the hands of Ian Anderson.
Now listen to Tiffany Sen, from Inner Gypsy, who definitely rocks the flute, albeit in an acoustic band, but one that definitely has a social satement to make.

May. 19 2008 02:37 PM

I think the problem here is the definition of "rock" being used. "Rock" is such an empty term. Its all just music.

May. 19 2008 02:37 PM
Caryn Havlik from Brooklyn

And the adults!





TEAM DRESCH (reunited)




Broadband (RIP)








Female Fronted:




May. 19 2008 02:37 PM
Caryn Havlik from Brooklyn

Yes, the lady-rockers are out there!

The standard formula of guitar, bass, drums - when it's coming from women/girls who want to play them heavily - feels like it's not being pushed right now. It's been replaced by women who dance, or are sculpted/painted/retouched/over-produced, or who are not as um - scary and powerful? Instead, there are a lot of pop tarts and indie waif beauties with their acoustic guitars and glockenspiels.

Because, we lady-heavy-rockers are out there. There's just no more attention coming our way. Maybe if we could dream up a movement for this third wave - oh wait - ROCK CAMP!

But here are the young ones!



May. 19 2008 02:37 PM
"little Alex" from Riot Grrrl from Jersey City & NYC

ah, where to begin! music most clearly reflects the economic & cultural realities of an era. in the early 90's there was such negativity all around, and that heaviness weighed down the nyc music scene too- naturally the reaction of young positive people pissed off at the problems is to use music as an outlet. hopelessness ruled on the male side but hope bloomed from the riot grrl and overlapping L.E.S. music scene. i was there and saw it almost from the start and saw it from many angles.

But that's the local scene, friends from other cities and towns were going through the same thing, using rock as an outlet for their frustrations, opinions.

Were we to have similar economic & socio-political situation mirroring that gloomy era, we'd see a new scene pop up overnight... angst+youth+guitars=true rock & roll!

How can an authentic edgy 'scene' exist if the kids are happy, well adjusted, living in cute apts w/3 roommates, have credit cards, are 'soft' and for many under 30 were weened on anti-depressants, lame music, aimless causes. Girls turn to rock when they have the desire, time and no better outlet. I see it's not a priority in their lives, that there's more equality and freedom in their lives, less to be angry about. that to me is a good sign in a way... their energy's found other homes. Ditto for the guys for that matter.

Just some off the cuff thoughts, i could talk about this all day...

May. 19 2008 02:37 PM
Nico from brooklyn

AAAAmen for Joan Jett and Patti Smith....I mean, come on guests...can't you address misogyny and homophobia and yes, ageism more directly??? It's pretty oversimplified to just mention starts so early in a girl's life!!

Racism is not called an "excuse" but claiming to be discriminated against based on gender and sexuality are??? Come ON!!!

May. 19 2008 02:37 PM
Will from Oakland

THings haven't been the same since Wendy O Williams died. :(

May. 19 2008 02:35 PM
nick from brooklyn

brooklyn is chock full of women making interesting music. to say there are no women 'rocking' is to tether them to an idiom [of the early 90's] which is totally outdated.

May. 19 2008 02:31 PM
Pat from Manhattan

As a male rock fan I am more than ready for as many female rockers as I can get. I've played rock music since I was a teen in mostly all male bands, and the one thing we always agreed upon was that female singers were the best. We want chicks rocking, just muster the guts and give it to us.

May. 19 2008 02:29 PM
Eileen Powers from Nantucket, MA

I just think women are rocking out in a different way. The guitar isn't at the forefront of music anymore, rap is more accessible. More guys rap, more chix rap. I think of bands like Northern State...catchy, smart, angry and wry....

May. 19 2008 02:27 PM
Nelson from NYC

A perfect out come of the Rock Camp...Jemima from Be Your Own Pet. She rocks!

May. 19 2008 02:26 PM
Erin M. from New York

This conversation was stale a decade ago. The discussion needs go no farther than to examine why fewer women get coverage in rock music--appearance! If Beth Ditto weighed 130 pounds, the Gossip would sell out stadiums. Women in rock are judged by their appearance far more than their male counterparts. Carrie Brownstein plays better than almost any male rocker out there, but she doesn't have hair extensions and chihuahua, so she goes unnoticed while idiots who can barely play get magazine covers.

May. 19 2008 02:25 PM
Raj from Queens

Hello, M.I.A anyone???? It doesn't need to be rock to ROCK!!!

May. 19 2008 02:25 PM
al oof from brooklyn

this discussion is starting from the wrong place. it has -nothing- to do with whether or not women are rocking out, it has only to do with who is talking about women rocking and in what contexts. because there is -no- lack of women rocking. there is lack of publicity.

May. 19 2008 02:25 PM
A.L. Steiner from Brooklyn

Why bother talkin about this subject in a historical context? It's absurd to ponder if grrrls and women still rock. Women were screaming and crying centuries before men were. Yes, maybe men capitalised on this but whatever. Buy Chicks On Speed's "Girl Monster" compilation, put your Tracy + The Plastics CD into your player or buy a Scream Club song on iTunes. Or SOMETHING. It's America's continual obsession to question the validity or existence of feminist and female artwork...

May. 19 2008 02:25 PM
al oof from brooklyn

john, talk about willie mae on air! do it!

May. 19 2008 02:23 PM
al oof from brooklyn

oh, and not for nothing, but maybe this would be a good time to talk about that band from last week who was going to work with ike turner? how do women in rock feel about that? how do the women you're interviewing feel about that?

May. 19 2008 02:21 PM
mary beth from nyc

katell keineg is terrifc, but she is not that well known.

May. 19 2008 02:21 PM
Brennan Cavanaugh from chelsea

Yes of course the women rock as hard, but there seems to be a third wave feminism now, perhaps post gender, more mixed groups...Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Be Your Own Pet, Bloc Party etc...Perhaps the late 80's (don't forget L7, Babes in Toyland, and Scrawl who paved ways for the Riot Grrrls) early 90's gave way to more gender-integrated bands we see today.

May. 19 2008 02:20 PM
Dan Jagendorf from brooklyn

Heartless Bastards are about as guitar rock as you can get. This seems to be more about the riot grrrl movement than about women in rock.

May. 19 2008 02:19 PM
E from Brooklyn

And the "girls" AREN'T waiting for a record contract! Look at all of the amazing volunteers at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, the Portland Girls Rock Camp, the Southern Girls Rock 'n' Roll Camp in Tennessee -- Most of those volunteers are amazing rockers who are gigging all over and distributing their music however they can. Not to mention the upcoming generation of female rockers who are campers! Maybe the point about not having a record contract is just about visibility.

May. 19 2008 02:19 PM
al oof from brooklyn

notice you don't have any musicians talking on this show.

May. 19 2008 02:18 PM
wiredgirl from NYC

If you're gonna be talking about women rockers, you really should mention Patti Smith, who spans all genres and art forms, is her own person, and is still rocking and speaking her mind at age 61.

May. 19 2008 02:18 PM
Jeff from The New Manhattan

I remember my first encounter with Polly Jean: I'd been asked to review her album Rid of Me by the student newspaper at my uni. I put the CD and sat back in my chair ready to be unimpressed (the low man on the totem pole, I always got the CDs no one else wanted). The title track came on. Spare, quiet, menacing intro. It sucked me in. And then, nearly halfway through the song an explosion of drums and guitar and the protean rage of Harvey's vocals. It transformed me. It restored me. After years of wandering through the wilderness of classic rock and crappy jam bands, PJ showed that rock was still a vital, plastic form, capable of change. She was a pioneer and a visionary. I'm not sure if women rockers have disappeared (The Breeders last album, Mountain Battles, is reputed to be one of their best), but it may more be a matter of true musical geniuses—early Phair and Harvey both qualify—don't come along very often.

May. 19 2008 02:18 PM
al oof from brooklyn

you know, lady, you've never been to see my band. and we play in nyc all the time. so don't act like you are all over the place with trying to see women who rock.

May. 19 2008 02:17 PM
al oof from brooklyn

wait, what? they aren't being stopped. that is the whole point. you just aren't hearing about them. this time out lady should not be working in music journalism.

May. 19 2008 02:16 PM
FlatFoot Fete from Brooklyn

look on the underground scene!!! the consolidation of media over the past decade means that exposing artists that push the envelope (women who rock, not purrrrr) generally rip off the packaging often found through the mainstream (pop, R&B, etc)

locally -- check the scene of black rock Mammas like Tamar Kali and Shelly Nicole

May. 19 2008 02:16 PM
Jennifer Larson from South Orange, NJ

I still listen to Liz Phair. I also listen to Madonna. The thing I like about both women is their ability to adapt and change. We all do that as we grow (hopefully). The sad thing is that I haven't found any NEW women to join these two in that Rockin' out way.

May. 19 2008 02:15 PM
al oof from brooklyn

and i mean, where's today's nirvana?

May. 19 2008 02:14 PM
Jo from ny,ny

beth ditto is totally political.

May. 19 2008 02:14 PM
al oof from brooklyn

the problem isn't that these women aren't out there doing these things. the problem is that those women aren't the ones anyone is talking about. indie rock is going through this elevator music phase, with stuff like cat power and death cab for cutie. and rock music in mainstream culture is even worse, with emo pop which is really a boys world because, let's face it, it's hard for women to come off that wussy.

May. 19 2008 02:14 PM
memorexe from brooklyn

I know plenty of girls rocking out-- most of them don't have record contracts. the execs seem to be focusing on the chicks who do red carpet and wear those silly zac posen dresses.

May. 19 2008 02:11 PM
Jo from ny,ny

what about le tigre?
the donnas?

May. 19 2008 02:09 PM
al oof from brooklyn

man, and you aren't even gonna talk about riot grrl?

May. 19 2008 02:07 PM
al oof from brooklyn

who are we talking about here? did liz phair really "make headlines"? isn't this all just part of the same lack of real indie rock issue that plagues rock in general?

and isn't that an issue of capitalism, both on the part of the 'artists' who engage in 'escapades' as well as on the part of the 'news' outlets who know that escapades sell and talking about how great an album is doesn't?

May. 19 2008 02:03 PM

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