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  • Not Playing ProperlyAmateurism as Generic Choice in Three Postpunk Case Studies: The Slits, Lora Logic, and the Raincoats

At the Hammersmith Odeon on October 22 and 23, 1976, New York punk-poet Patti Smith played her second round of London concerts. In her review of the performance for the weekly UK music magazine Melody Maker, critic Maureen Paton noted how Smith’s appearance was especially captivating for the female members of the audience: “A lot of women present clearly got off on the idea of having someone up there to identify with (an attitude with which I have a great deal of sympathy), and there were more yells of encouragement from women than I’ve ever heard at any other concerts.”1 The “yells of encouragement from women” demonstrate how exceptional Smith’s performance must have seemed: here was a woman who derived her stage persona from channeling male icons such as Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and poet Arthur Rimbaud and who was not only participating in the hitherto male-dominated field of rock but actually leading a rock group. In the rest of her review, however, Paton wrote scathingly about Smith’s reliance on her exceptional status as a woman in rock in lieu of displaying conventional musical skill: “But it’s precisely this kind of freak originality that Smith exploits so mercilessly by playing the rock and roll hero. The guitar that she hadn’t even bothered to learn to play properly was toted around the stage as a symbol, nothing more. And that just isn’t good enough.”2

Paton thus implied that Smith was using her gender—her exceptional status in the rock field—as her primary means of winning approval. Paton appears to have judged Smith according to mid-1970s classic rock criteria, in which notions of musical virtuosity (i.e., a display of conventional musical skill) were prized, and does not appear to have been au fait with the emerging enthusiasm for the self-consciously [End Page 159] amateurish, DIY approach that characterized punk, where you didn’t have to be able to “play properly.” In fact, Paton’s review of the Smith concert appeared only months after Caroline Coon’s often-cited Melody Maker article “Rebels Against the System,” in which Coon christened punk and championed its “anyone can do it” approach. For Coon, punk defined itself in opposition to virtuoso instrumentalists and “gentlemen rockers” such as Yes and ELP and instead “stripped [rock] down to its bare bones” by using minimal equipment and performing fast songs with no solos and “no indulgent improvisations.”3 Furthermore, Allan Jones’s article “But Does Nihilism Constitute Revolt?,” which appeared underneath Coon’s two-page punk special, referred explicitly to the Patti Smith Band as a punk group and argued that “Smith and the like” were part of a lineage of groups from the 1960s who prioritized “physical energy and passion” over “technique or musical competence.”4 Thus Paton’s review, which framed Smith as a rock poseur, appeared concurrently with propunk articles such as those by Coon and Jones.

Paton’s opinion was, however, not atypical in its assessment of women performers in guitar-based groups in the mid-to late 1970s rock press. While it is true that punk and postpunk’s irreverence for conventional musicianship and gender normativity created a space in which women artists could participate,5 certain critics evidently ran against this “anyone-can-do-it” ethos and implied that it wasn’t “good enough” for women to be onstage making music and participating in the new wave / punk moment; they had to be able to “play properly.” Indeed, Helen Reddington stresses how notions of punk amateurism in fact worked to both advantage and disadvantage female instrumentalists: on the one hand, punk amateurism offered women who lacked experience an opportunity to participate in rock; but on the other hand, punk’s rejection of conventional musical skill and celebration of amateur aesthetics left women musicians vulnerable to the critical gaze of both male and female “gatekeepers” in the rock media.6 [End Page 160]

In this article, then, I am interested in exploring the double bind highlighted by Reddington as it relates to three female postpunk acts: the Slits, Lora Logic, and the Raincoats. While analyzing the music composed and performed by these women, I became distrustful of punk history’s emphasis on amateurism as an “in” for women performers—much in the way that Marie Thompson has recommended caution when applying the terminology of “noise” to women’s music making owing to noise’s positive and negative valences.7 Indeed, Simon Frith and Howard Horne have suggested that punk’s close associations with the fashion departments of UK art colleges may have played an important role in attracting women into punk, and thus it wasn’t just a matter of an amateur musical aesthetic.8 Nevertheless, the extent to which (post)punk women “could play” was an important discursive thread in the 1970s music media and is, of course, an important aspect of punk aesthetics for both male and female bands. I am therefore interested specifically in how the status of amateurism mutates according to the rules of musical genre and wish to highlight the ambiguity between amateurism as a generic choice and performative mode (in the Butlerian sense) and amateurism as unfamiliarity with certain playing conventions and techniques as it relates to women performers in particular.

My methodology combines a close analysis of the late 1970s music press discourse (primarily in Britain) with detailed musical analyses that are designed to illuminate—even “transcribe”—what were perceived as gendered and amateurish musical characteristics. The article comprises five main sections. First, I discuss punk’s aesthetics of amateurism in relation to second-wave feminism, both the extent to which the defiant identities offered by punk expressed some of the tenets of second-wave feminism and yet how postpunk women chose to push against the “feminist” label. In the subsequent three sections I analyze specific songs by the three acts. In all three cases I highlight aspects of musical composition and performance that were considered both amateurish and gendered by the media. I focus specifically on approaches to rhythm, analyzing the way discourse produces criteria for cultural appraisal and understanding. In the fifth section, I look outside of the (post)punk paradigm to draw lateral comparisons with other mid-1970s female musicians who operated in different discursive spaces, namely, hard rock and pop, to assess how the nonavailability of an amateurish aesthetic restricted nonpunk performers in both a musical and gendered sense.

Punk Defiance and Second-Wave Feminism

In spite of—or perhaps because of—what Paton referred to as her “freak originality,” Patti Smith inspired some of postpunk’s most well known female musicians. For Ana da Silva, vocalist in the London-based group the Raincoats, Smith’s first London performance at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in May 1976 was particularly [End Page 161] captivating. Da Silva was impressed with “Smith’s defiance,” the fact that she spat a flower out onto the floor and appeared not to be “taking shit from anyone.”9 According to the Slits’ biographer Zoë Street Howe, Smith’s performance at the Roundhouse was on a par with the Sex Pistols’ now-legendary concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in the sense that “[everyone] who was anyone on the early London punk scene was there.”10 Indeed, the Sex Pistols themselves were also a prominent influence on Slits guitarist Viv Albertine: “Having seen the Pistols, I knew; I immediately got it. It wasn’t about how well you play; it was about how you’ve got something to say that no-one else is saying. And I utterly got that: otherwise I’d never have thought in a million years of buying a guitar because I couldn’t play, and I’d never played, and I didn’t consider myself a musician.”11

The irreverent attitude of acts such as Smith and the Sex Pistols therefore appealed to prominent postpunk women such as da Silva and Albertine. In both accounts, the women emphasize the sense of freedom they felt on seeing Smith and the Sex Pistols perform, highlighting the performers’ irreverence (“not taking shit”) and originality (having “something to say”). What these role models represented, then, was an opportunity to experiment with performing aggression and irreverence. As Mavis Bayton highlights, women had hitherto been left out of the circles in which musicians typically acquired rock techniques, thus the kind of music played by Smith and the Sex Pistols presented an opportunity to work within the rock idiom but without the prerequisite knowledge.12 Bayton also suggests that second-wave feminism exerted a significant influence on punk because it encouraged women to move into hitherto male-dominated terrain and to assume male-associated positions.13 Another of second-wave feminism’s fundamental ideas that emerges in connection with the postpunk women is the idea that women’s personal lives were political. Along these lines, Simon Reynolds and Joy Press describe the women musicians of the postpunk era specifically as the “demystification” set.14 This group comprised (but was not limited to) the Slits, the Raincoats, the Au Pairs, and Delta 5, most of whom sung about—or “demystified”—taboo subjects such as sex, menstruation, female masturbation, being followed home, rape, eating disorders, domestic life, and anxieties about physical appearances.15 [End Page 162]

Despite these connections to second-wave feminism, however, it is worth noting the way members of both the Raincoats and the Slits chose to distance themselves from the feminist movement as they perceived it. When asked about the prospect of the Raincoats playing a then-forthcoming Women in Rock concert at which every band was either an all-female band or had at least one female member, da Silva said she had “mixed feelings” about the prospect, stating she did not “like the idea of putting male and female groups into separate categories.” Rather, da Silva valued the idea of “[showing] people that there are a lot of girls in rock bands” but also stressed that she “[hated] all this feminist idea.” Having recently returned from giving concerts in Poland, she also remarked that audiences in the UK seemed to be comparatively more fixated on the idea of gender than those abroad: “Straight after we had done a gig in Reading [UK] the other night, a girl came up to us and said, ‘You were quite good for a girls’ band.’ I mean either you’re good or you’re bad, it shouldn’t matter what sex you are. I really loved the way that Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex shaved off all her hair as a kind of anti-glamour stand. Glamour has always been an over-exaggerated cliché, anyway.”16

Da Silva’s reflection on the Raincoats’ concert in Reading and her disregard for what she referred to as “all this feminist idea” raise two important issues. First, in a similar vein to Paton’s comments about the 1976 Smith concert, the female audience member’s surprise that the Raincoats’ were “quite good for girls” is an illustration of how female audience members, like critics, had internalized rock discourse’s mistrust of women’s playing abilities. Second, the fact that da Silva admired musician Poly Styrene’s “anti-glamour” head shaving reinforces the argument that postpunk women were invested in the idea of “demystification,” which can indeed be construed as an implicitly feminist stance that asserts the personal as political, even if the Raincoats chose to reject “all this feminist idea.”

Punk and postpunk’s well-documented connection with reggae and other nonrock, avant-garde genres introduces intersectional issues that further complicate connections to the feminist movement; reggae introduces the issues of both race and class, as well as potential misogyny and homophobia; and the aesthetic politics of the avant-garde have the ideals of shock, nonconformity, and the undermining of the status quo at their core. These women perhaps resisted “feminism” as a way to articulate some of these complexities. As Reddington has illustrated, some postpunk women found the feminist movement too middle class,17 an idea that is echoed by Sherrie Tucker, who notes the extent to which the US women’s movement in particular came under attack during the 1970s and 1980s from “women of color, working-class women, lesbians, and other women excluded from the [End Page 163] narrow confines of white middle-class US women’s experience.”18 Furthermore, many female musicians on the punk scene saw punk men as close allies, as boy-friends, as friends, and as musical mentors.19 Performers such as da Silva, then, may have been suspicious of what she perceived as the feminist movement’s attempt to promote or entrench gender segregation. Allegiances with men in the punk scene arguably offered an alternative expression of feminism against the widespread interpretation of the movement.

Certain public stereotypes about the feminist movement may have also dissuaded bands such as the Raincoats from explicitly allying with it. In the UK, publications such as Spare Rib, founded in 1972 and the UK’s longest-running feminist magazine, provided a point of reference for contemporary understandings of feminism. According to Joanne Hollows, Spare Rib adopted a stricter socialist-feminist identity after 1975 and defined itself in opposition to lifestyle choices that its contributors considered not feminist, such as participation in domestic consumerism.20 Citing the work of Krista Cowman, Deborah Withers highlights how Spare Rib’s histories of feminism presented a restricted view, largely owing to the demands of the publication itself: the short columns restricted the amount of information writers could provide.21 In addition to resisting the feminist movement’s perceived middle-class associations, race limitations and potential gender segregation, then, musicians such as da Silva may have also reacted to the mainstream media’s depictions of the feminist movement as staunchly anticonsumerist (as in Spare Rib) or bra-burning, according to widespread clichés generated by the US media.

Like the Raincoats, the Slits were also keen to assert their disregard for the feminist movement or at least the label “feminism.” In a 1977 interview, music journalist Kris Needs introduced the topic of gender: “There’ve been girl members in male groups but never before has a group of girls like this come along and threatened the male domination of rock.” Needs continued: “The Slits are determined not to get involved with the feminist women’s lib stance,” [End Page 164] noting that the band had recently turned down an interview with Spare Rib.22 The band’s lead guitarist, Albertine, declared outright, “We don’t want to do all that feminist stuff.” And, echoing da Silva’s resistance to the perceived male-female segregation, Albertine argued that the kind of feminism purveyed by Spare Rib was “discrimination,” since the magazine “shouldn’t have just girl groups in there,” and compared Spare Rib to “those yank magazines” that have the “girlie issue.”23 From the Slits’ perspective, the problem was less to do with proequality and more to do with what the band perceived as entrenching the already-in-place segregation between male musicians and female musicians. The US publications with gender-segregated issues and magazines such as Spare Rib arguably served to further embed the exceptional status that women rock musicians were accorded at the time by both fans and critics. Furthermore, Albertine’s anxiety about “yank magazines” that published a “girlie issue” highlights a possible tension between UK and US presentations of gender in the music industry, one that conflicted with her valuing of male-female allegiances.

Like the Raincoats, however, the Slits’ overall attitude in their songs and in interviews accorded with feminist principles. For example, they openly criticized the “conditioning” effect that teen magazines had on young women, and they took a dim view of the kind of “typical guy who wants to have the woman under his thumb like his housewife and all that.”24 Therefore, even though both the Slits and the Raincoats resisted the labels “feminist” and “women’s lib” and were skeptical of all-female rock events and publications, the kinds of principles or ideas that their songs communicated suggested a broadly feminist sensibility. These women were most likely reacting to a public stereotype about what feminism was, not the movement’s aims or theoretical concerns.

The Slits: From Palmolive to Budgie, from Punk to Postpunk

Kris Needs, the journalist cited above who interviewed the Slits about their feminist leanings (or lack thereof), was one of the group’s biggest media proponents. His features on the Slits in the monthly UK music magazine ZigZag followed the band from their earliest incarnations until at least the release of their first record, Cut, in the summer of 1979. Needs’s writing reflected an awareness of the extent to which the Slits may have seemed like a “novelty”; he also chose to depict the Slits’ presence on the new wave / punk scene as something that had the potential to disrupt the masculine associations of rock.25 The opening commentaries to these [End Page 165] interviews were always enthusiastic, yet he perhaps overcompensated for the fact that the Slits were (in their earliest days) an all-female group.26 In a description reminiscent of Paton’s disappointment that Smith relied on her “freak originality,” Needs wrote in 1978: “The Slits are out there on their own, proving almost single-handedly that girls can form a group and play hard, vital music without relying on their attributes to get away with musical murder.”27

Needs’s insistence that the Slits played “hard music” participates in what Norma Coates has called the “technology” that “reinforces and reinscribes” the idea of rock as a masculine genre. Coates uses the word “technology” in the Foucauldian sense to describe the systems and processes through which power replicates itself, referring specifically to the hegemony of the masculine encoding of the rock genre.28 It could be argued, in other words, that Needs was using the word “hard” in a way that is comparable to using the word “rock” as a verb (as in, “these girls rock”) and was therefore implying, just in case anyone was worried, that the Slits could play as “hard” as men. The word “hard” also implies a degree of physical strength and stamina that may be assumed to be lacking in female musicians (especially female drummers) and evokes stereotypical images of male virility.

In addition to highlighting the Slits’ tacit accordance with the male-gendered expectations of rock (playing “hard, vital music”) and thereby abating the (male) reader’s inclination to dismiss them, Needs drew attention to the Slits’ gender by noting their ability to compose “strong, personal songs.” As Bonnie Gordon argues in her work on 1990s singer-songwriter Tori Amos, the association of women and personal songs has meant that the media has often given female songwriters the (negative) label “confessional,” a label that not only alludes to the emotional and introspective content of a song by a female composer but also subtly criticizes an approach to song writing that provides “too much information” about the kinds of issues mentioned above (including menstruation, masturbation, sex, rape, etc.).29 The vocalization of such topics can, furthermore, be considered as participating in a broadly feminist political agenda; Needs’s description of the Slits’ music as “personal” may have also been a reference to the “personal is political” slogan associated with second-wave feminism. While Amos’s so-called confessional style obviously postdates the punk and postpunk era by some years, it is worth bearing [End Page 166] in mind the extent to which personal and autobiographical song writing had been pinned to earlier 1970s acts such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell.

Needs discussed the Slits’ musicianship in a way that exemplifies the double bind that punk’s amateurish aesthetic presented for female musicians of the era. Even though Needs was largely positive about their presence on the new wave / punk scene, his comments about the band’s grasp of the rock idiom also appear to have been gendered. He remarked, for example, “You know they can improve, which they are in leaps and bounds when their equipment works and the sound is right,” and concluded his interview with, “What the Slits need is their own sound mixer, who knows the songs and can get the balance which’ll bring out the best in the songs.”30 Although well intended and perhaps redolent of the kind of male mentoring discussed by both Reddington and Albertine, Needs’s comments have a tone of condescension, especially given the way in which women have traditionally felt alienated from the technical side of music production and given that the “sound mixer” was likely to have been a “sound man.” As Bayton suggests with regard to the comparative dearth of female electric guitarists in the history of popular music, women instrumentalists have often been affected by “the ‘black-box-with-chrome-knobs’ syndrome,” owing to their lack of familiarity with and access to certain kinds of sound equipment, as well as the jargon that often unnecessarily mystifies such “boxes.”31 It is possible that the Slits knew that the sound at their live performances was bad but did not have the necessary jargon or confidence to request for it to be changed.32 Still, Needs reports that the Slits’ performances would sometimes “screech to a halt” because their lead singer, Ari Up, “can’t hear the guitar,” which is about as technical as anyone ever is when asking for the balance to be adjusted during a live performance.33 Furthermore, this is punk; bad sound is the aesthetic.

By suggesting that the Slits “can improve” in “leaps and bounds,” Needs was also highlighting the Slits’ (lack of) skill as musicians. Their drummer, Palmolive (Paloma McLardy), was reported to have been playing “high-speed metronomic jungle drums” but significantly had not “been playing for more than a year.” Similarly, the group’s bassist, Tessa Pollitt, had only “learnt the bass two weeks before.”34 By noting the short amount of time that Palmolive and Pollitt had been playing their instruments, Needs could be interpreted as doing one of two things: either he was foregrounding an essential characteristic of punk (its conspicuous amateurism), or he may have been apologizing for the Slits’ shaky musicianship.

Notably, Palmolive, whose signature drumming was an important characteristic [End Page 167] of the Slits’ early sound, left the group before the band had recorded their debut LP, Cut, in the summer of 1979, after they signed with Island Records. A male drummer known as Budgie (Peter Edward Clarke) replaced Palmolive. Although Palmolive purportedly left for political reasons—feeling more at home with the small-label ethos of the neighboring Raincoats, whom she joined after she left the Slits—Palmolive’s drumming was not, according to Needs, “up to the increasingly stringent demands imposed on it by the Slits’ wildly rhythmic new songs.” After asserting that Budgie was “obviously . . . technically better than Palmolive,” Needs asked the remaining members, “But do you reckon he’s made a lot of difference to the band?” Both Up and Albertine affirmed that Budgie had made a “musical” difference to the band in the sense that they were able to “experiment more” because “he [could] keep the beat.”35

What is interesting here is the way in which Needs’s framing of Palmolive’s involvement with and then departure from the Slits presents something of a paradox. On the one hand, the Slits were part of a genre (punk) that was characterized by the questioning of conventional musicianship, as evidenced by Albertine’s enthusiasm for the fact that the Sex Pistols were not a virtuoso rock group. On the other hand, both Needs and the remaining members of the Slits considered Palmolive’s limited musical capabilities a restriction, and she was eventually replaced. Furthermore, in the case of the Slits specifically, the dynamics of musical skill are gendered such that they reproduce essentialist ideas about the difference between male and female musicianship in the rock idiom: Palmolive was replaced by a (more competent) male drummer.36 This change of personnel from Palmolive to Budgie, from female drummer to male drummer, also coincided with a change of genre for the Slits, from the conspicuous simplicity and amateurism of punk to a more polished, complex, studio-based style of postpunk.

The difference between the two drummers’ playing styles can be illustrated by two performances of what is ostensibly the same song, “Newtown,” recorded with Palmolive for a 1977 session on John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show and recorded again with Budgie for Cut, their 1979 LP.37 Up’s vocal melody is effectively the same in both performances, as is the basic idea for the backing vocals, but most other aspects of the song have changed. On the LP version, produced by Dennis Bovell, the texture is enriched with the addition of occasional organ and piano parts, as well as musique concrète, including (what sounds like) the shaking of a box of matches, the striking of a match, and a dropped spoon, all of which accord with the song’s overall message, which equates innocuous-seeming pleasures (such as [End Page 168] reading the newspaper and following a football team) with getting a heroin fix. These sounds are “sampled” in such a way that they become part of the song’s new rhythmic fabric; the shaking of the box of matches and the striking of a match function as additional percussion. Albertine’s guitar part is also quite different, having switched from playing mostly power chords in the 1977 Peel session to playing single, high-register punches on the second half of beat 4 in every other measure on the LP version.

Example 1. The drums, percussion, electric guitar, and bass part to the 1977 John Peel version of the Slits’ song “Newtown” with Palmolive on drums (mm. 1–8).
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Example 1.

The drums, percussion, electric guitar, and bass part to the 1977 John Peel version of the Slits’ song “Newtown” with Palmolive on drums (mm. 1–8).

One of the most striking aspects of the changed song is the rhythmic groove. The pitches of the bass line are the same in both 1977 and 1979, though the bass line on the 1977 version is a continuously looping two-measure phrase in an A-minor pentatonic that awkwardly obscures the song’s sense of rhythm. Here, beat [End Page 169] 3 of measure 2 could almost be perceived as beat 1 of measure 2 owing to the way the phrase begins and ends with the repetition of the same two pitches, C to A; in other words, it almost sounds like a measure of four followed by a measure of two (see ex. 1). By contrast, in the 1979 version Pollitt turns her bass part into a line that progresses additively: the line has been broken up so that a quarter note is added every two measures, beginning with C in measure 1, then adding C to A in measure 3, and so on and so forth (see ex. 2). On the 1979 version the bass line is therefore not heard in its entirety until Up’s vocal line comes in at approximately 0:22.

Example 2. The drum and bass parts to the beginning of the album version of the Slits’ song “Newtown,” with Budgie on drums. Note that the drum notation is as before (reading in treble clef): F, kick drum; A, floor tom; and C, snare, but in this performance the snare is disengaged. The crosses on the G line indicate the closed hi-hat.
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Example 2.

The drum and bass parts to the beginning of the album version of the Slits’ song “Newtown,” with Budgie on drums. Note that the drum notation is as before (reading in treble clef): F, kick drum; A, floor tom; and C, snare, but in this performance the snare is disengaged. The crosses on the G line indicate the closed hi-hat.

The drumming in the two performances is also very different, and in the 1979 version, the band and Bovell leave more space at the beginning of the song in order to foreground the drums and the taped sounds. As example 1 illustrates, Palmolive favors an alternation between the floor-tom plus kick drum and snare drum (a quarter note each and then two eighth notes each), although her drum part is complicated by the sound of continuous sixteenth notes (emanating from an unclear, drum-like source), which produce an additional percussive line, indicated in example 1 on the third staff. Budgie’s drumming on the LP version is, however, more syncopated and intricate. His part includes offbeats on the hi-hat and a snare part (with the snare disengaged) that involves more elaborate subdivisions and arguably more dexterity owing to the use of “ghost” notes (see ex. 2). The 1979 version with Budgie also has a stronger reggae character than the 1977 version with Palmolive. In fact, Needs noted how Budgie’s drumming gave the band “a new rhythmic treatment” that brought the group “galloping much closer to the girls’ beloved reggae.”38 Not only is Budgie’s drumming in this song more redolent of the reggae style, but it is also more in time, since Palmolive and Pollitt tend to speed up on the eighth-note passages in the 1977 version. [End Page 170]

The question is, How does this illustration of the Slits’ change of drummers bear on discussions of female amateur musicianship in punk, as well as on the transition from punk to postpunk? As I indicated earlier, Palmolive did not necessarily leave the Slits because the other three members were dissatisfied with her playing. In fact, Palmolive’s playing—and many of the Slits’ earlier, more amateur-sounding recordings—rose to the DIY challenge of punk precisely by exhibiting or performing the kind of amateurism that journalists such as Coon and Jones celebrated and a guitarist such as Albertine admired in the Sex Pistols. As exemplified by the 1977 Peel version of “Newtown,” the instrumental parts were simple and performed haphazardly, with an unstable sense of meter. But, as illustrated by the 1979 version of “Newtown” from Cut, later recordings were more polished and showed more intricate attention to detail. It could be argued, then, that the Slits’ transition from Palmolive to Budgie in fact marks a turn in genre: from punk to postpunk, from a rough, amateurish, DIY style to a reggae-inflected, more polished performance with a solid groove, foregrounding studio techniques and complex drumming. This change of drummer and of musical genre, therefore, illuminates the ambiguity between amateurism as a desired performative mode and amateurism as an unwanted lack of musical skill.

But what makes this transition from one genre (or style) to another problematic is the fact that it was accompanied by the replacement of a female drummer by a male drummer. Of course, Palmolive’s drumming does not represent the epitome of female musicianship, but it seems nonetheless significant that her idiosyncratic approach was desirable in punk but problematic when the band changed their musical style; to recall Needs’s comments, Palmolive’s drumming “wasn’t up to the increasingly stringent demands imposed on it by the Slits’ wildly rhythmic new songs.” Still, it is not absolutely clear whether the idea for the stylistic shift came before Palmolive was replaced or whether this stylistic shift came about because Palmolive was replaced.39

Significantly, the notion that a male pair of hands was necessary to deliver the Slits from punk to postpunk can also be traced in some of the press reviews of Cut. For example, journalist John Orme at Melody Maker suggested that it was the “wisdom” of Bovell, their producer, that had brought the Slits’ music to full fruition: “The tireless patience of producer/control-king Dennis Bovell has freed depths of musical resource that only the Slits’ most ardent admirers would have recognised.” Orme concludes that the Slits and Bovell had made Cut “together” but nevertheless implied that a significant amount of creative control was in Bovell’s hands.40 Despite replacing Palmolive with Budgie and despite the fact that journalists such as Orme put Bovell in the role of the clear-headed genius come to sort [End Page 171] out the women’s “rabble,” the Slits remained an all-female-identified group, keen to emphasize that Budgie was “not a full-time” Slit.41

Thus, the kind of unintentional skepticism about Palmolive’s skills expressed in Needs’s interviews and Orme’s insistence that Bovell saw through the Slits’ unwieldiness exemplify the caution with which male writers in the media approach punk women. Furthermore, they highlight the complex and ambiguous mutation of amateurism in relation to both gender and genre: for the Slits, Palmolive’s unconventional drumming was part of a generic choice and performative mode as a punk band; but when the Slits became a postpunk band, this aesthetic was less desirable, and Palmolive’s unconventional drumming style therefore fell silent.

Taming Lora Logic’s “Chaotic” Polyphony

The Slits’ groove became male-associated as they moved from punk to postpunk, from a female drummer to a male drummer, which also occurred with other postpunk bands. This male gendering of rhythm and groove in postpunk influenced the way in which critics understood postpunk women’s creativity. In her work on female musicians in the Montréal independent music scene, Vanessa Blais-Tremblay has observed a pervasive assumption or prejudice that women cannot “groove.”42 Indeed, it is not uncommon to encounter descriptions of female musicians as having no sense of rhythm. For example, John Cale of the Velvet Underground famously said that giving Nico a tambourine to play was a terrible decision because of her “unique” (read: poor) sense of rhythm.43 The gendering of rhythm and groove can also be traced in descriptions of music by postpunk vocalist and tenor saxophone player Lora Logic. Richard Cook’s review of Logic’s 1982 solo album, Pedigree Charm, credits the male rhythm section with taming Logic’s excessive femininity: “Perhaps the credit can be claimed by This Heat’s Charles Hayward on drums and the guitars of Phil Legg; their no-nonsense refusal to be led down the blind tunnels in Logic’s palindromic set of songs keeps things in shape while staying chipper enough to negotiate all the sharp bends and angularities.”44

As in Orme’s review of Cut, in which he regarded Bovell as the one to bring out the Slits’ hidden talents, Cook suggests that if Logic were left to her own devices, her music would be too structurally and rhythmically wayward, perhaps even “nonsense.” Throughout his review Cook also drew on tropes of woman as nature and woman as chaos, presenting Logic as a siren in danger of leading the male rhythm section down “blind tunnels.” In this particular instance, Logic’s amateurism [End Page 172] figures as a kind of excess—an unwanted spilling over that the male rhythm section has to contain.45

Example 3. The vocal part for the chorus section of “Brute Fury” by Lora Logic, accompanied by two tenor saxophones.
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Example 3.

The vocal part for the chorus section of “Brute Fury” by Lora Logic, accompanied by two tenor saxophones.

Indeed, listening closely to one of the songs that Cook praises on Pedigree Charm, “Brute Fury,” one might hear a simplistic gender binary in the song’s texture. The song opens with a minimalist-sounding chorus of three tenor saxophones, which begin homorhythmically before breaking out into a quasi canon. Following the opening saxophone chorus, Hayward and Legg’s tight disco groove fades in. Then, juxtaposed against the bouncy disco backing, two tenor saxophones accompany Logic’s vocal. The two saxophones play different, at times dissonant, ostinato-like melodies, providing counterpoint to Logic’s vocal (see ex. 3). Logic’s sax-voice polyphony therefore contrasts Hayward and Legg’s tight rhythm playing. Following Cook’s heavily gendered logic, we might argue that Logic’s polyphonic, [End Page 173] chaotic-seeming amateurish excess is tamed by strict, on-beat male musicianship. Logic’s lyrics, particularly those of the B section, contribute to a gendered reading too, as they describe a domestic dispute and therefore articulate a broadly feminist politics. Logic appears to be singing about her male partner’s inability to control his temper, while her partner is depicted metaphorically (and ambiguously) as her “empire” or “emperor,” and she sarcastically bemoans the fact that he now “has a headache.”

Of course, an interpretation of “Brute Fury” wherein Logic represents the wayward polyphonic free spirit and Hayward-Legg represent the rhythmic grounding of the song relies on essentialism and reinscribes a simple gender binary drawn from discursive tendencies that emphasize women’s lack of rhythm or sense of “groove.” As with the Slits, then, is it more productive to see the song in terms of genre rather than gender?

The 1979 song “Death Disco” by the all-male group Public Image Ltd. presents a similarly characteristically postpunk blend of groovy disco and chaotic-seeming punk. In “Death Disco” singer John Lydon screeches over a frantic disco beat, and his lyrics, with their evocations of Lydon’s mother’s death, run contrary to the connotations of hedonism that disco held in the mainstream imaginary at the time. Both Lydon and Logic, therefore, bring “alien” subject matter into the “hegemonic” frame of disco, death in the case of PIL and the sarcastic recollection of a domestic dispute in the case of Logic. Running against the grain of Cook’s New Musical Express review by highlighting the similarities between these two songs allows us to see “chaos meets groove” as more of a decision at the level of genre rather than a fact of essential gender difference. With Logic, chaotic polyphony figures as amateurism as technique (or even texture), as opposed to being an essential condition of her female sensibility.

The Raincoats against Rock Convention

In my final case study, the Raincoats, the rhythm section is similarly gendered in music press discussions. In 1980 a ZigZag interview described their live performances as follows:

To see the Raincoats on stage for the first time is to see beauty emerge out of apparent chaos. I mean, they all seem to start at different times and they all seem to be playing something different, and the rhythm never seems to stay constant for half a minute at a time, and it’s not your average everyday platic [sic] mac sort of rhythm to start off with.

But then, if you listen, everything suddenly clicks into place, and you realise how remarkable it really is. Careful thought that develops inspiration rather than being a heavy-handed substitute for it. An abandonment of the traditional rock structures that, unlike with a good many other bands, does not lead to tedium and superficial would-be freakiness.46 [End Page 174]

Example 4. “Adventures Close to Home,” by the Raincoats (mm. 4–6).
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Example 4.

“Adventures Close to Home,” by the Raincoats (mm. 4–6).

In addition to the unnamed reviewer’s comments about the rhythm (they “start at different times” and “the rhythm never seems to stay constant”), it seems as though the reviewer also thought that the Raincoats’ lack of conventional musical skill was their most appealing feature, because from here, imaginative musical inventions could emerge.47 The ZigZag commentary therefore brings together three aspects of our discussion so far: first, the Raincoats’ music displayed a lack of or a disregard for rock conventions; second, this lack of rock convention was heard as inaugurating new approaches to playing rock and punk; and third, their approach to rhythm in particular was highlighted as an important divergence from rock expectations. In this section I outline how the Raincoats’ music may have at times sounded like “apparent chaos,” identify some of the ways in which they “abandoned rock structures,” and consider how this squares with my larger argument concerning the tension between amateurism as performative mode and amateurism as a lack of conventional technique.

The Raincoats’ song “Adventures Close to Home” from their 1979 self-titled LP is one of their least conventional-sounding songs, and, most importantly, it exhibits a number of the characteristics that were described in the 1980 ZigZag review. In place of a continuous groove, the song might be better understood as divided into blocks or units, each of which has its own rhythmic profile (although this is not to be confused with the Western classical description of “block form”). [End Page 175] The effect of these juxtaposed rhythmic units is one in which, recalling the review, “the rhythm never seems to stay constant.”

Example 5. “Adventures Close to Home” showing the drums, electric guitar, bass, and vocals playing a similar lilting rhythmic pattern (mm. 7–9).
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Example 5.

“Adventures Close to Home” showing the drums, electric guitar, bass, and vocals playing a similar lilting rhythmic pattern (mm. 7–9).

Example 6. “Adventures Close to Home” (m. 10).
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Example 6.

“Adventures Close to Home” (m. 10).

The first groove is established with the bass guitar and rhythm guitar. The bass plays straight eighth notes, which are punctuated by the rhythm guitarist’s quasi-reggae “skank,” alternating measure by measure between D-major and B-minor areas. After two full measures, Palmolive enters with her idiosyncratic tom playing: a very on-beat pattern beginning with a group of sixteenth notes (see ex. 4).

This groove breaks off at measure 7 as the vocal part enters, and the first verse begins with the lyrics “Passion that shouts, I’m red with anger.” The syncopated groove that was established at the beginning changes: the rhythm guitar becomes more difficult to hear but nevertheless mirrors the kind of rhythmic pattern played by all the instruments, including the bass, which has changed from playing continuous eighth notes (see ex. 4) to a line that is rhythmically similar to both the vocal line and, to some extent, the lead guitar line. In other words, all of the parts [End Page 176] (vocals, electric guitar, bass, and drums) are characterized by the same rhythm pattern: a lilting rhythm that emphasizes the second half of beat 3 (see ex. 5).

Example 7. “Adventures Close to Home” showing the drums, electric guitar, bass, and vocals (mm. 11–12).
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Example 7.

“Adventures Close to Home” showing the drums, electric guitar, bass, and vocals (mm. 11–12).

Example 8. The chromatic bass line and return to 4/4 in “Adventures Close to Home.”
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Example 8.

The chromatic bass line and return to 4/4 in “Adventures Close to Home.”

After three measures, the rhythmic focus shifts from lilting syncopation to a measure that almost feels as though we’re hearing two measures of 2/4, where the bass player plays exactly the same rhythm as the drummer (see ex. 6).

The next phrase or unit is nine beats long. In my illustration, however, I have divided this phrase into two measures, one in 4/4 and the other in 5/4, since the bass part seems to articulate a downbeat into the measure in 5/4 (1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5). This could also be heard as a phrase in 9/4, especially because the drums confuse the meter by dividing the nine-beat phrase differently, into a group of 3 + 4 + 2 (ex. 7).

The song returns to a less ambiguous sense of 4/4 meter at measure 13 (the beginning of the chorus) with a wispy-sounding sixteenth-note cymbal roll and a chromatically ascending bass part (see ex. 8) that catalyzes a kind of vocal canon before the song eventually returns to the offbeat rhythmic groove heard at the beginning (see ex. 4).

Even though, ostensibly, the Raincoats use a conventional rock structure in “Adventures Close to Home”—that is, they use verse-chorus alternation—the song’s structure is not immediately obvious, nor does it sound at all conventional. Indeed, the song sounds more like “apparent chaos,” to recall the ZigZag review. This sense of “apparent chaos” is owed in large part to the additive character of the song’s composition: the song is assembled using brief “units” of unequal length, each one characterized by a distinctive sense of rhythm or groove despite the fact that, interestingly enough, units 1, 2, and 6 have exactly the same drumming pattern (played on different parts of the kit each time). The addition of a measure in 5/4 (or 9/4) also contributes to the song’s rhythmic eccentricity. The ZigZag reviewer’s comment that “the rhythm never seems to stay constant for half a minute at a [End Page 177] time” when applied to this particular song, then, seems like a bit of an understatement: in fact, the rhythm does not remain constant for more than a few measures at a time.

What these irregular time signatures mean at the levels of both gender and genre, as well as the mutating status of amateurism, is an issue I shall return to shortly. First, I want to stress another important point concerning the role played by the individual instruments. Unusually, in both the verse and the chorus sections, the bass, the guitar, and the vocal parts sound less like individual voices serving a particular function and more like fractals of a single idea. As I have already indicated, for example, all the “voices” in the verse have a similar rhythmic profile: all “aim” for the second half of the third beat (see ex. 5), creating a kind of rhythmic homogeneity with only minor variations in each part. Furthermore, the pitch content of the bass line and the voice part especially are very similar in the verse; and in the chorus, the bass plays along with the vocalist(s). Therefore, the bass not only functions as more of a melody instrument but also mirrors the role of the singer(s).

This approach to the different musical lines interfaces with issues of gender, genre, and musical amateurism in several ways. First, there is something amateur-seeming about this approach to the individual instrumental lines, a sense of “if we all play the same notes, then it will sound OK.” Furthermore, this amateurishness seems more exaggerated, more unconventional, than other autodidact rock, punk, and postpunk musicians whose rhythmic structures followed more straightforward divisions of 4/4 meter. Second, the division of instrumental roles could be heard from a feminist-political perspective: the Raincoats eschew the conventional sense of hierarchy associated with rock music (where the lead guitar leads, the bass supports, the vocalist sings the melody, etc.) by choosing to distribute the same basic idea more or less equally among the band members. Third, by abandoning punk or rock conventions, the Raincoats’ music falls more easily within the eclectic ethos that has come to be associated with postpunk rather than punk.

In her article “The Raincoats: Breaking Down Punk Rock Masculinities,” Caroline O’Meara acknowledges that the Raincoats resisted the labels “female” and “feminist,” but she argues nevertheless that the Raincoats’ music exhibited a broadly feminist sensibility. She asks “how the Raincoats’ interest in feminism resulted in music that questions masculine assumptions and formulations in rock music.”48 Her answer echoes ideas discussed by Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie in their 1979 essay, “Rock and Sexuality.” Frith and McRobbie note that “[some] feminists have argued that rock is now essentially a male form of expression, that for women to make non-sexist music it is necessary to use sounds, structures, and styles that cannot be heard as rock.”49 O’Meara argues that the Raincoats’ departure from generic conventions and expectations (such as those illustrated in my [End Page 178] analysis of “Adventures Close to Home”) are “crucial to an understanding of how their music can represent gender difference,” arguing that the Raincoats’ music “generally eschews common badges of musical masculinity” such as guitar solos and the “pounding thrusts” of a rock beat.50

This interpretation, however, depends on a limited and homogenized understanding of what constitutes female identity in rock subgenres and the way such identity is expressed in (abstract) musical terms.51 It risks aligning amateurish, unidiomatic music making with female identity and a competent grasp of idiom with male music making. I would therefore like to look laterally at postpunk’s generic neighbors, to their female contemporaries in other genres, to examine how the use of so-called masculine rock codes did not necessarily entail musical drag but was an “always already” aspect of female-identified musical performers. To do so is to suggest that the unconventional approach to song writing and performance displayed by the Slits, Lora Logic, and the Raincoats owes more to their postpunk genre than to their gender.

“Female Masculinity” in Nonpunk Genres

In his work on glam rock, Philip Auslander takes a queer-informed look at the argument that rock’s gestures have come to represent a stereotypically Western view of masculinity and an attendant misogynist politics. Auslander highlights several female musicians of the mid-1970s, such as Suzi Quatro, who participated in what he (after scholar Jack Halberstam) calls “female masculinity.” Auslander describes “female masculinity” as not simply the emulation of masculine-coded musical gestures but more “a refusal on the part of masculine women to repress that aspect of themselves in favor of the masquerade of normative femininity.”52 This notion of “female masculinity” could also be looked at in the context of the exclusion of important black women musicians from rock histories; the “aggressive” style of musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe is integral to the history of guitar-based genres and yet often overlooked.53

In terms of postpunk contemporaries, the mid-1970s LA group the Runaways is one example of an all-female group who participated in the so-called masculine codes of the hard rock genre. The rhythmic profile of the Runaways’ 1977 song “Queens of Noise,” for example, features the “pounding” eighth notes that O’Meara (with reference to Robert Walser) interprets as masculine.54 The lyrics [End Page 179] are also simpler than the anecdotal and metaphorical style cultivated by the Slits, Logic, or the Raincoats. “Queens of Noise” contains an oblique reference to the lyrics of Marc Bolan’s “20th Century Boy” (“Twentieth-century boy, I wanna be your toy”) in its chorus, “We’re the queens of noise, come and get it boys. Queens of noise, not just one of your toys,” and arguably, this chorus articulates defiance in the face of objectification. The song has a limited harmonic palette that is more characteristic of the hard rock style than any of the songs by the Slits, Logic, or the Raincoats mentioned above; it is based entirely upon power chords moving by intervals of seconds, fourths, and fifths. The band’s onstage performance style included the kind of pelvic thrusting and flying kicks that are associated with hard rock, and their clothes (at least for some live performances) borrowed from glam and hard rock, with the performers sporting long hair, silver jumpsuits, and knee-high platform boots.

Significantly, the Slits in particular rejected comparisons with the Runaways. When Needs asked them what they thought of their female contemporaries, Up stated that the Runaways in particular were “full of shit,” though she did not elaborate as to why.55 Up may have dismissed the Runaways because she did not like the music they played, which was not only a different genre from the reggae-styled postpunk the Slits favored but, as highlighted by Frith, McRobbie, and O’Meara, could also be construed as an antifeminist capitulation to and collusion with male-associated modes of musical expression. Up may also have been aware of the Runaways’ reputation as objects of male desire, something that the so-called postpunk demystification set explicitly fought against in interviews and songs, thus framing the Runaways’ “female masculinity” as fake or, indeed, “full of shit.”

In his review of a Runaways’ concert at Sheffield University in 1977, for example, Chris Brazier noted the Runaways’ reputation as having been manufactured for their sex appeal by manager Kim Fowley: “It says a lot about current attitudes to women that the only all-girl band to make it on any significant scale has been the Runaways, chosen by former mentor Kim Fowley as much for their jailbait rating as for their musical prowess.”56 Brazier’s review not only highlights the way the Runaways were objectified but also reminds us of the pervasive anxiety (critiqued throughout this article) about whether or not female musicians can exhibit “musical prowess.” In another Melody Maker feature from November 1977, an interview with Harvey Kubernik, guitar players Lita Ford and Joan Jett discussed the recent departure of bassist Jackie Fox and singer Cherie Currie, with Jett having taken over the lead vocal responsibilities. Ford was “upset” because audiences and the media often failed to take the band seriously and treated them as a mere “novelty.” At the same time, however, Ford noted that Fowley had told their new bassist, Vicky Blue, to “lose weight if you wanna be in this band. No one [End Page 180] wants to see a female version of Randy Bachman.”57 Fowley’s insidious “advice” to Blue, which implied that the Runaways’ main appeal was physical attractiveness, was also contradicted by Jett, who remarked in the same interview that the “band wasn’t put together for sexual purposes, we play music, we give good shows and work real hard.” Furthermore, Jett not only was frustrated with the assumption that women could not play rock music but also, significantly, seemed to want to realign herself with the emerging punk scene. In the same interview, she suggested that she felt “an affinity with the new wave bands” because they also “wanted to be heard” (rather than seen).58 She is pictured wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt, further underlining an allegiance with punk / new wave.59

Turning from LA hard rock to mid-1970s mainstream pop, similar kinds of gender and music policing were operative. Given that the confluence of second-wave feminism and punk allowed women to assume nonfeminized musical roles, Karen Carpenter’s somewhat secret history as a drummer provides an example of a contemporaneous female musician whose genre (gender?) did not permit her to pursue her musical interests.60 The mid-1970s saw Carpenter perform a number of televised novelty-style drum “workshops.” The workshops were intended to showcase Carpenter’s drumming and to tell the story of how she came to learn the instrument. The television workshops function as a testament to the perceived deviant nature of Carpenter’s affinity for and deftness with such a male-associated instrument.

In these television appearances, Carpenter’s skills are framed as a novelty, and comments in the narration, delivered by her brother Richard Carpenter, highlight the extent to which women have been systematically excluded from such activities. Richard’s commentaries included soundbites such as “girls don’t play drums,” and in the footage Karen seems palpably frustrated at being made to perform in such an obvious novelty fashion.61 That Carpenter is better known as a singer questions the extent to which her musical preferences were disciplined according to the gender norms and expectations of the pop genre, and her anorexia and early death further illustrate the fatal demands imposed on women’s bodies by mid-1970s mainstream culture. The later adoption of Carpenter as a tragic icon by the alternative-noise/indie act Sonic Youth is further evidence that Carpenter should have been or was in fact punk. [End Page 181]

The examples of Carpenter and the Runaways demonstrate how women musicians in the non-punk-derived genres of the mid-1970s were discursively “prohibited” from realizing their “rock” aspirations: Carpenter’s drumming was seen as a cute novelty; and the Runaways, particularly Jett, could not be taken seriously as musicians, even though, like Quatro, they did not suppress their female masculinity or their masculine musicality. Punk, by contrast, was a space in which these kinds of creative possibilities could be realized. Notably, rock history and the music press at this time seem to have overlooked the genealogy of other “female masculinities” or women rockers, occluding precedents such as Tharpe, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, and Wanda Jackson, as well as the amateurish style purveyed by 1960s female garage bands such as the Luv’d Ones and the Shaggs. In short, it is insufficient to claim that (post)punk amateurism opened the door to women (and others) who couldn’t play idiomatically because its aesthetic was experimental, haphazard, and nondisciplined. Rather, punk and postpunk women may have performed amateurism as a way to resist the disciplining of the female body and voice; these genres reinstated a space for women to perform the hap-hazardness that had become male dominated in rock and was off-limits in other genres.


In the song “Come Again” by mixed-gender postpunk group the Au Pairs, female lead singer Lesley Woods and fellow band member Paul Foad play the role of a “couple who are attempting to make sex more reciprocal and mutually satisfactory, only to find themselves entrapped in another set of expectations.”62 On two occasions during the album version of the song (from Playing with a Different Sex, 1981), Foad shakily seeks assurance, asking: “Am I doing it right?” and “Do you like this, like it like this?” Cutting Foad short, Woods, in a strident voice, poses the potentially devastating question, “Is your finger aching? I can feel you hesitating,” hollering and repeating, “Is your finger aching?” at the song’s three-quarter-mark climax as the band careens toward the instrumental break.

Woods’s lyric is significant for the way in which it reclaims power and agency over the female body, putting female sexual pleasure back into the literal hands (fingers) of women and blowing open the hitherto unspoken truth that some may not be able to “master” female genitalia. Woods’s lyric, accompanied by a deft grasp of the postpunk idiom in her guitar playing, serves as an effective analogy for the reclamation of power that punk and postpunk’s female musicians enacted, specifically by assuming the positions of drummer and guitarist and by creatively performing to or within the expectations of aesthetic amateurism.

As Reddington has illustrated, male rock critics mocked postpunk bassists Tina Weymouth for “worriedly” checking her fingers and Gaye Black for watching where she put hers.63 Thus, stealthily inserted into the hitherto masculine world [End Page 182] of rock, which has both covertly and overtly insisted that female musicians will always be amateurs in certain fields or genres, Woods’s lyric playfully suggests that there are other skills that require comparable degrees of manual dexterity, precision, patience, stamina, access to, and familiarity with the right equipment and that some may never acquire. The sarcastic, symbolic castration enacted by Woods’s lyric is a powerful metaphor for understanding the kind of humiliation experienced by musicians such as Weymouth and Gaye, as well as Patti Smith, the Slits, Lora Logic, the Raincoats, the Runaways, and even Karen Carpenter, who cultural gatekeepers (male and female) either implied were incompetent or whose implicitly natural musical whimsy—such as an inability to keep time—became the key to new artistic terrain.

The fact that these women did not use conventional rock or at times even punk approaches should not necessarily be heard as an expression of their essential femininity or female incompetence or even as a resistance to “masculine” rock convention; instead, it should be heard as a realization of the kinds of possibilities afforded by conspicuous amateurism in the (post)punk field. The crucial nuance here is that punk amateurism did not call to women musicians because of their biological inability to play or perhaps solely because of their history of systemic exclusion; instead, the aesthetic and performative language of amateurism offered an important space of play for women whose musical voices and bodies had hitherto, and in other genres, been so stringently policed. [End Page 183]

Mimi Haddon

mimi haddon is lecturer in music at the University of Sussex. Her work focuses on experimental popular musics, particularly on issues of genre and identity. She holds a PhD in musicology from McGill University, and she has published in the journal Popular Music. Her book What Is Post-Punk? Genre and Identity in Avant-Garde Popular Music, 1977–1982 is forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press.


1. Maureen Paton, “Patti Smith,” Melody Maker, October 30, 1976, 21.

2. Paton, “Patti Smith,” 21.

3. Caroline Coon, “Punk Rock: Rebels against the System,” Melody Maker, August 7, 1976, 24–25. In another article from November 1976, Coon noted how punk was a genre that valued women’s participation: “For the first time ever, a culture is developing which is not, like mods and rockers, dominated by males. Post-hippie equality and trans-sexuality are a nearly fully-realised fact of life.” She listed as notable punk women Judy Nylon, Chrissie Hynde, Vivienne Westwood, Viv Albertine, and Siouxsie Sioux. See Caroline Coon, “Punk Alphabet,” Melody Maker, November 27, 1976, 33.

4. Allan Jones, “But Does Nihilism Constitute Revolt?,” Melody Maker, August 7, 1976, 24–25.

5. According to Bayton, punk “opened up a space in which women could play” because it challenged rock’s conventions. Punk’s celebration of musical ugliness, she has argued, encouraged women who may have previously lacked confidence and/or had no prior experience of playing a musical instrument that they too could be in a band. See Mavis Bayton, Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 63–65. Caroline O’Meara has argued that the female postpunk group the Raincoats “took advantage of punk’s unskilled performances in order to shatter the traditional (read: masculine) subjectivity in rock music, using punk’s ideology of passionate amateurism to express feminine possibilities” (“The Raincoats: Breaking Down Punk Rock’s Masculinities,” Popular Music 22 [October 2003]: esp. 299–300).

6. Reddington discusses the way in which female journalists often disparaged female musicians as a result of male pressure. See Helen Reddington, The Lost Women of Rock: Female Musicians of the Punk Era (Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2012), esp. 21–22, 178–79.

7. Marie Thompson, “Feminised Noise and the Dotted Line of Sonic Experimentalism,” Contemporary Music Review 35, no. 1 (2016): 92.

8. Simon Frith and Howard Horne, Art into Pop (London: Methuen, 1987), 129.

9. Alan Anger, “The Raincoats,” ZigZag, August 1978, 36.

10. Zoë Street Howe, Typical Girls? The Story of the Slits (London: Omnibus, 2009), 14.

11. Viv Albertine quoted in Reddington, 46.

12. Mavis Bayton, “Women and the Electric Guitar,” in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Sheila Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 37–40. For more on the ways in which popular musicians learn, see Lucy Green, How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002), esp. 5.

13. Bayton, Frock Rock, 68–73.

14. Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock ’n’ Roll (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 233, 291–306.

15. For a complete list of the women musicians and bands included in Reddington’s study, see Red-dington, 8. Indeed, the artists that Reynolds and Press have chosen to include may reflect their antipop biases as identified by Reddington, 115.

16. Anonymous, “In a Warm Kitchenette with the Raincoats,” ZigZag, May 1980, 19.

17. Reddington, 182–83.

18. Sherrie Tucker, Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 168. According to Debra Baker Beck, the women’s movement in the United States in particular “was basically ignored by the mainstream press with the exception of a few high-profile incidents such as the protestof the 1968 Miss America pageant,” from which the image of the feminist as a “bra-burner” emerged. According to Beck, “a few protest participants did throw some bras into a trash can. However, no lingerie was singed” (“The ‘F’ Word: How the Media Frame Feminism,” NWSA Journal 10, no. 1 [1998]: 142). See also Susan Faludi, who has also noted that the bra-burning incident is a myth in Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women (New York: Crown, 1991), 75–77.

19. Reddington, 32–33, 187.

20. Joanne Hollows, “Spare Rib, Second-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Consumption,” Feminist Media Studies 13 (May 2013): esp. 269–72, 281.

21. Deborah Withers, “Theorising the Women’s Liberation Movement as Cultural Heritage,” Women’s History Review 25, no. 5 (2016): 851. See also Krista Cowman, “Carrying a Long Tradition: Second-Wave Presentations of First-Wave Feminism in Spare Rib c.1972–80,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 17, no. 3 (2010): 193–210; and Jane Purvis, “The March of the Women,” History Today, November 2014, 5.

22. Kris Needs, “The Slits,” ZigZag, July/August 1977, 20. Reddington has also cited a 1976 letter from a female reader to Sounds magazine in which the letter writer expresses an interest in playing the electric guitar. Significantly, the writer seems to have found it necessary to disassociate herself from the women’s liberation movement, stating, “I’m no women’s libber.” The Raincoats’ and the Slits’ attitude therefore appears to have been part of a more widespread distrust of the feminist movement among young women who were interested in rock and punk. See Reddington, 24.

23. Needs, “The Slits,” 20.

24. Needs, “The Slits,” 20.

25. Needs, “The Slits,” 20.

26. The Slits were in fact only an all-female group until 1979, when their drummer, Palmolive (Paloma McLardy), left and was replaced by male drummer Budgie (Peter Edward Clarke). This will be discussed in more detail shortly.

27. Needs, “The Slits,” 18. See also Kris Needs, “The Slits: School Hall 5pm—5p,” ZigZag, January 1978, 31.

28. See Norma Coates, “(R)Evolution Now? Rock and the Political Potential of Gender,” in Whiteley, Sexing the Groove, , 52–54. The image of folk music specifically as one of the few genres available to women was in fact echoed by Slits guitarist Albertine, who remarked in 1979 that Chrissie Hynde was the first woman to show women “they could play guitar without being a ‘wimpy folkie’” (quoted in Vivien Goldman, “What’s So Good about Natural Primitivism?,” Melody Maker, September 8, 1979, 36).

29. Bonnie Gordon, “Tori Amos’ Inner Voices,” in Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds, ed. Jane A. Bernstein (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 192–94. Bayton, Frock Rock, 66, has also discussed the kinds of topics that appear in punk and postpunk women’s songs.

30. Needs, “The Slits,” 21.

31. Bayton, “Women,” 42. For more on women musicians’ relationship to music technology, see Tara Rogers, Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

32. An interesting anecdote from bassist Gaye Black confirms this speculation, at least with regard to her own experience of not having the right (male) jargon. She told Reddington that she was always frustrated by her bass sound, how it never sounded the way she wanted it to, because she did not know “technically” how to ask for it to be adjusted. See Reddington, 62.

33. Needs, “The Slits,” 19.

34. Needs, “The Slits,” 18.

35. Needs, “The Slits—Now,” ZigZag, April 1979, 7. For more on the role played by John Peel and his colleague John Walters, particularly concerning their promotion of the Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees, see Reddington, 57.

36. The fact that the drums are particularly male-gendered undoubtedly introduces ideas of the body and physicality into the discussion. For a critique of the gendering of physical or bodily skill, see Iris Marion Young, Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

37. For the 1977 version of “Newtown,” see “The Slits—Peel Session 1977,” YouTube video, 9:41, posted by Vibracobra XXIII, December 1, 2013,

38. Needs, “The Slits—Now,” 6.

39. It is worth noting that Budgie also became the new drummer with Siouxsie and the Banshees, which may have signaled a shift in musical genre/style for that group, too. An analysis of this change in personnel is beyond the scope of this article but is certainly worth considering.

40. For more on Bovell’s role on Cut, see John Orme, “‘Cut’ (album review),” Melody Maker, September 1, 1979, 23.

41. Needs, “The Slits—Now,” 8.

42. Vanessa Blais-Tremblay, “‘Montre moi c’que t’as dans les culottes!’: A Review of the Scholarly Literature on Gender and Groove” (paper, McGill University, 2011). See also Ingrid T. Monson, Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

43. Richard Witts, Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon (London: Virgin, 1993), 140.

44. Richard Cook, “Where’s the Logic in That Then?,” New Musical Express, March 6, 1982, 33.

45. Thompson, “Feminised Noise,” 90–92.

46. “In a Warm Kitchenette with the Raincoats,” ZigZag, May 1980, 19, emphasis added.

47. This connection between musical naïveté and musical invention wasn’t only noted with the Raincoats. In August 1978 journalist Neil Spencer described how the Slits surprised him with their “new forms.” “It was my first and (admittedly late) Slits gig,” wrote Spencer, “and I was expecting some trashy 3-chord dole queue ramalama dressed in shocking pink female guise.” But what Spencer heard was a band who had “evolved a long way from the primal punk mud of ’76” and whose “musical naivety perhaps encourages a refreshing willingness to explore new forms” (“Some Girls Do It Pretty Good,” New Musical Express, August 12, 1978, 43). See also O’Meara, “The Raincoats,” 299. Similarly emphasizing the male/female binary, Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts, 309–10, argue that the Raincoats turned to “non-phallocentric” genres such as reggae in order to challenge the masculinity of rock-based musics. The gender politics and gendered meanings of reggae have yet to be extrapolated. What seems interesting, however, is the way in which Reynolds and Press implicitly disregard Jamaican culture’s history of homophobia, which arguably disturbs the assumption that reggae is a “non-phallocentric” genre.

48. Caroline O’Meara, “The Raincoats: Breaking Down Punk Rock’s Masculinities,” Popular Music 11, no. 3 (October 2003): 299.

49. Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie, “Rock and Sexuality,” in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (New York: Pantheon, 1990), 372.

50. O’Meara, “The Raincoats,” 302–3.

51. For more on expressions of gender in abstract musical terms, see Susan McClary, Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), esp. “Sexual Politics in Classical Music.”

52. Philip Auslander, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 212. See also Jack (Judith) Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998).

53. For more on this topic, see Gayle Wald, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Prehistory of ‘Women in Rock,’” in This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project, ed. Eric Weisbard (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 56–68.

54. O’Meara, “The Raincoats,” 303. See also Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover, NH: University of New England Press, 1993), 109.

55. Needs, “The Slits,” 20.

56. Chris Brazier, “The Runaways,” Melody Maker, November 19, 1977, 68. Auslander, Performing Glam Rock, 211–12, discusses the objectification of teenage girls in 1960s rock culture, which may help contextualize Brazier’s “jailbait” comment.

57. Harvey Kubernik, “Catching the Runaways,” Melody Maker, November 5, 1977, 35.

58. Kubernik, “Catching the Runaways,” 35.

59. The comparison between the Runaways and their British contemporaries might also elucidate differences between US and UK gender politics, as indicated earlier with the Slits’ complaints about the US magazines with the “girlie issue.” Indeed, the Runaways’ origins in California differ quite significantly from the British bands’ roots in DIY London. I am grateful to my anonymous reviewers for highlighting this tension, which is certainly worthy of further exploration.

60. Significantly, Carpenter was cited by one of Reddington’s punk interviewees as an inspiration and as somebody who made playing the drums look “fun.” See Reddington, 30.

61. See, for example, “The Karen Carpenter Drum Workshop,” YouTube video, 6:22, posted by Magik-Makyll, June 29, 2009,; and “Karen Carpenter Drum Solo—1976 First Television Special,” YouTube video, 5:42, posted by CrescentNoon, March 17, 2007,

62. Reynolds and Press, The Sex Revolts, 312.

63. Reddington, 49. See also Chris Salewicz, “Review of the Adverts,” New Musical Express, June 11, 1977,

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