Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern


Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern excavates the hidden story of the all-girl band: from country belles of the 20s-40s and girl groups of the 60s, to prog rock goddesses, women’s liberationists and punks of the 70s-80s; from riot grrrls and queercore anarchists of the 90s to radical protesters Pussy Riot and the most inspiring all-girl bands today. These aren’t the manufactured acts of some pop svengali, these groups write their own music and play their own instruments.


Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern

Edited by Julia Downes

Contributions by Victoria Yeulet, Elizabeth K.Keenan, Sini Timonen, Jackie Parsons, Deborah Withers, Jane Bradley, Rhian E.Jones, Bryony Beynon, Val Rauzier, Elizabeth K. Keenan and Sarah Dougher

 A celebration of girl bands in all genres: girl bands who make music on their own terms.  With a unique focus on the talented girl bands of the past 50 years rather than casting female musicians in the typical solo ‘singer-songwriter’ mode.

  New perspectives on each genre – from 1960s Motown groups to 1970s prog rock and punk to 1980s protest music, 1990s queercore, riot grrrl and beyond – written by musicians, performers, journalists, promoters and fans.

  Check out our Women Make Noise facebook page


As more female solo artists hit the mainstream, will the all-girl bands be granted their legitimate place in rock history?

Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern excavates the hidden story of the all-girl band: from country belles of the 20s-40s and girl groups of the 60s, to prog rock goddesses, women’s liberationists and punks of the 70s-80s; from riot grrrls and queercore anarchists of the 90s to radical protesters Pussy Riot and the most inspiring all-girl bands today. These aren’t the manufactured acts of some pop svengali, these groups write their own music and play their own instruments.

All-girl bands have made radical contributions to feminism, culture and politics as well as producing some influential and innovative music. It’s time to celebrate the outspoken voices, creative talents and gutsy performances of the all-girl bands who demand we take notice. Including commentary from members of the original 1960s girl groups, classic outfits like The Raincoats and The Slits, as well as contemporary Ladyfest heroines like Beth Ditto, and household names like Björk, this timely exploration shows the world that sidelining all-girl bands, is a major oversight.


Introducing the All-girl Band: Finding Comfort in Contradiction | Julia Downes

1. Female Pioneers in Old-time and Country Music | Victoria Yeulet
2. Puppets on a String? Girl Groups of the 50s and 60s | Elizabeth K. Keenan
3. Truth Gotta Stand: 60s Garage, Beat and 70s Rock | Sini Timonen
4. Prog Rock: A Fortress They Call ‘The Industry’ | Jackie Parsons
5. Feminist Musical Resistance in the 70s and 80s | Deborah Withers
6. You Create, We Destroy: Punk Women |Jane Bradley
7. Post-Punk: Raw, Female Sound | Rhian E. Jones
8. Subversive Pleasure: Feminism in DIY Hardcore | Bryony Beynon
9. Queercore: Fearless Women | Val Rauzier
10. Riot Grrrl, Ladyfest and Rock Camps for Girls | Elizabeth K. Keenan
and Sarah Dougher
Epilogue: Pussy Riot and the Future | Julia Downes






“Tales of race riots, intimidation and abuse by male music fans and management, and inspiring moments of in-your-face activism provide fascinating background to some of your favourite bands (and many you’ve never heard of). The greatest strength of Women Make Noise is that many of the contributors were themselves part of the bands they are chronicling. These women offer up inspiring, funny and enraging stories of being radical activists and prolific musicians in a world that worked constantly to push them down.” – Gender Focus

“Women Make Noise is a wonderful collection of essays, taking the reader from the days of Sassy country and Western women carving out a place in a horrendously sexist fledgeling music industry, all the way up to the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s and beyond. Each chapter is written with such boundless enthusiasm for the subject matter that it’ll keep you enthralled until you drift slowly out of your comfort zone without even realising it. Read the book cover to cover, have your eyes opened, discover your next favourite band and perhaps think about the role of Women in music a little differently from now on.” – Intuition, review by Owen Chambers

“Fascinating, diverse and, most importantly, inspiring – the title alone is as much a rallying cry as a joyous statement of the truth.” – Zoe Street Howe, author of Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits, and other music titles

“It’s exhilarating to learn about different generations of female musicians from such diverse, strong voices.” – Kathleen Hanna, American singer, musician, artist, feminist activist, pioneer of the feminist punk riot grrrl movement

“A very important and timely contribution to the debates about “women in rock”. All-girl bands have too often been written off as novelties, and this exciting book sheds new light on an under-researched area.” – Lucy O’Brien, author of She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul

youtube iconFeatured bands

Featured bands: Trash Kit | Vivian Girls | WETDOG | Plug

About the Editor

Julia Downes completed her PhD in British queer feminist music cultural resistance at the University of Leeds in 2010. She has lectured on popular music and society, feminist cultural activism and queer girl cultures at the University of Leeds, University of Derby, University of Birmingham and Durham University. Julia has been active in DIY queer feminist cultural activism for over ten years within Manifesta, Ladyfest Leeds, Ladies Rock UK, Star and Shadow Cinema and even clean hands cause damage and as a drummer in the bands The Holy Terror, Fake Tan, Vile Vile Creatures and the Physicists. Julia has previously published work on queer feminist cultural activism and contributed to Riot Girl: Revolution Girl Style Now! Julia currently works for Independent Domestic Abuse Services and plays drums in Vile Vile Creatures.

About the authors

Victoria Yeulet is a musician, film-maker and music historian specialising in the history of women in music. As a musician she has performed in The Television Personalities and Congregation, and her film work has been shown internationally. Her specialist interest is 1920s-1940s American Roots music. She holds a BA in Media and Communications and an MA in Gender and Culture. She has been involved in much activist and feminist cultural activity since the late 1990s including organising Ladyfest London 2002, Homocrime queer club and Girls Rock Camp UK. She is currently working on a book of oral histories of women musicians and an all-female gospel record. See www.victoriayeulet.com

Elizabeth K. Keenan (co-author of chapter 10 also) completed her doctorate in ethnomusicology at Columbia University in 2008 and is a lecturer at Fordham University. She is working on her first book, Independent Women? Popular Music, Cultural Politics and the Third Wave Feminist Public, which investigates the intertwining of cultural politics and identity-based movements in the United States since 1990. In 2008, she won the Wong Tolbert Prize from the SEM Section on the Status of Women, and in 2007, she won the Lise Waxer Prize of the Popular Music Section of SEM. She has published in Women and Music, the Journal of Popular Music Studies and Current Musicology and has presented her research at a variety of conferences, including the Society for Ethnomusicology, Society for American Music, the Experience Music Project Pop Conference, and Feminist Theory and Music 9 and 10.

Sini Timonen is a PhD student in Music at City University London, working on an AHRC-funded research project on women musicians’ contribution to popular music in England between the years of 1962 and 1971. She is active as a seminar speaker and guest lecturer at various universities in the UK, and she was awarded an MA by Research degree for her thesis ‘Girls in the Garage: Gender and Tradition in Garage Rock’ at Kingston University in 2008. She also plays in a band and runs a monthly 1960s club night in central London.

Jackie Parsons played, sang and composed with several bands during the 70s and 80s, including Mother Superior and Snips and the Video Kings, touring the UK, Europe and USA and supporting The Ramones on their 1978 UK tour. She also looked after live sound in clubs and ran Bonny Street Studios in Camden. Together with her husband Stephen Parsons she went into the production of music for TV, film and commercials, which ultimately led to them making their own movies – Wishbaby and Rough Magik. She currently has a music publishing company, is writing songs and singing with the North London Community Choir. For further reading visit her blog: http://jackiebadgersblog.blogspot.co.uk

Jackie would like to thank: ‘Audrey Swinburne, Deirdre Cartwright, Elli Dorman, Ingrid Schroeder, Jackie Crew, Judy Costello, Lesley Sly, Maggie Vail, Rosie Parsons, Simon Etchell, Snips, Tedra Jeffries and Verity Susman for their time, input and assistance and all the women who continue to work so hard to maintain a strong presence in the music industry.’

Deborah Withers is a researcher, writer and curator who lives in Bristol. She is the author of Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory and several academic articles. She is the curator of two exhibitions about feminist cultural history, Sistershow Revisited in 2011, and Music & Liberation, 2012. She is a co-curator of the online Women’s Liberation Music Archive. For more information about her projects please visit: www.debi-rah.net

Deborah would like to thank: ‘All members of Jam Today, Ova and The Fabulous Dirt Sisters for their feedback on this article, and for the music they made. Particular thanks to Frankie Green for her attention to detail and for the hard work she has done on the Women’s Liberation Music Archive. This article is dedicated to her.’

Jane Bradley is a freelance writer and secondary school English teacher from the north east of England. In addition to writing for an educational blog, she runs a copywriting business and has her own blog ‘Life After the Storm’, dealing with domestic abuse, escape, survival and recovery. Jane initially became interested in punk through her older siblings, but describes discovering riot grrrl as ‘life changing’, triggering her enthusiasm for fanzines, feminism and female musicians. After moving to West Yorkshire to study print journalism and watch hardcore bands, Jane was inspired to start the Armley of Darkness DIY collective, putting on gigs around Leeds. She provided the vocals for the Magic Finger, Team Rocket, the Radical Possibilities of Pleasure and Late Night Dog Fight and played records at feminist disco, Pussy Whipped. She now lives with her family by the North Yorkshire seaside.
Jane would like to thank: ‘Paul Wheatley; Sarah Wheatley; Julia Downes; Alistair Billam and Rob Chapman (at the University of Huddersfield); Caroline Coon; Zillah Minx; Helen McCookerybook and Arlo, Henry, Elsie and Luke Bradley.’

Rhian E. Jones grew up in South Wales before studying at Goldsmiths College and Oxford University. She now lives and works in London where she writes on music, history, politics and popular culture. Her writing has appeared in Wears the Trousers magazine, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, New Left Project, Red Pepper, the New Welsh Review and the Morning Star. Her first book will be published by zer0 Books in 2013. Her blog is Velvet Coalmine. See http://velvetcoalmine.wordpresscom

Bryony Beynon is a writer and community organiser originally from South Wales, and has been involved in DIY punk for ten years. She plays or has played in Back Stabbath, The Sceptres, Good Throb, Tortura and Croup, while running Dire Records. She is a columnist for Maximum Rocknroll, publishes Modern Hate Vibe zine and crops up trumpeting for radical feminism in The Guardian and on the BBC as co-director of Hollaback London. Bryony is a graduate of Sussex University and the Culture Industry MA programme at Goldsmiths, writing and researching on knowledge hierarchies in volunteer-led radical cultural practice and international secret punk histories, as well as gentrification, psychogeography and creative economy. As a promoter she has taken gigs out of the pubs and into abandoned buildings, railway arches and the roof of the Hayward gallery with the Big Takeover project, and is currently working on setting up a permanent autonomous DIY space for London.
Bryony would like to thank: ‘Adrienne Droogas, Jenn Twigg, Stephie Cristol, Mish Bondage, Wick Bambix and Jessica Skolnik for their contributions, and to Charlotte Percival, Layla Gibbon and Angela McRobbie for continued support and inspiration.’

Val Rauzier is a strong believer in DIY cultures and their power to change the world and save lives (and the other way around). In her struggle against the hatred perpetrated by patriarchal and capitalist powers, she has been involved in zine-making (co-editor of Barbie Kills Ken, OvAryAction and the Laugh of the Stri(p)ped Hyena) and DJing (as ovARyAction SoundSystem, DJ Garcons ManquEes and rAdiOrAgaZZa). She also has hosted shows dedicated to women in music on independent radio stations (Babes in Boyland on radio Clapas, France, OvAryAction on RadiOrakel, Norway and RadiOgAgaZZa on l’eko des garrigues, France) for the past fifteen years. She currently lives and works in Oslo and is a PhD candidate in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Montpellier. Her thesis focuses on Diamanda Galàs and Kathy Acker.

Val would like to thank: ‘Her Noise archive for fixing everything, including the VCR for the archive still in the analog format. Anne Gidde for driving so I could write and for asking the right questions … and then patiently read the rough draft … on her holiday. Chrystel Dg for support, encouragement and knowing when/how to kick my lazy ass. To Lynnee Breedlove and artists and queer activists for answering my questions and being ready to go through hours of discussion.
And of course, last but not least: to the bands then, there, here and now for writing the songs and for the passion of performance, to the zinesters and the power of the pen, of the words, of the lines: a massive thanks!’

Sarah Dougher was active as a musician in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Portland, Oregon and put music out both as a solo artist and in the bands the Lookers, Cadallaca and the Crabs (records were released on K, Kill Rock Stars and Mr. Lady). Although she was not involved with riot grrrl, she helped organise the first Ladyfest in 2000 and was very involved with the development of the Rock Camp for Girls in its first years (she still volunteers at the camp). Her research now is focused on contemporary tween music-making and consumption, and she teaches the history of women and popular music at Portland State University.

Elizabeth K. Keenan first heard about Ladyfest when a band in her master’s thesis attended the first Ladyfest in Olympia, and, within a year, she began volunteering for Ladyfest*East in New York City. For her dissertation, she conducted long-term, ethnographic research on Ladyfests in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco, and interviewed organisers from around the world. Since finishing her dissertation, her research has expanded to cover a wide variety of issues, from the historiography of popular music to masculinity in indie rock. Elizabeth plays bass in the NYC indie rock band Faulkner Detectives.



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