Untypical Girls

Untypical Girls is a celebration of women in punk and indie, looking back over 16 years, from 1977-1993, and featuring hundreds of images of the key players in Britain and the US.

The book features famous names, from Siouxie Sioux to Ari Up, Kim Gordon to Courtney Love, as well as lesser-known bands and female indie music fans. It documents the way that the UK and US interacted via punk, and also follows author Sam Knee’s own journey through music, as a fan and regular gig-goer.

“The UK and US have constantly fed off each other musically and stylistically since punk’s first wave,” says Knee. “[The book] also follows my life’s path as I spent the 80s going to indie gigs in London, fully immersed in the scene here but always obsessed by the American underground, which led me to then relocate to San Francisco in 1990 as the whole Riot Grrrl phenomena was blowing up.”

Untypical Girls
Top: The Bodysnatchers, 2-Tone ska outfit, Hope and Anchor, London, 1980. Photograph by Neil Anderson; Above: Ari Up of The Slits, Edinburgh, 1979. Photograph by Graham Macindoe
Untypical Girls
Indie record store new wave fashions, Houston, 1980. Photograph by Ben Tecumseh DeSoto
Untypical Girls
Rachel and Gaye Bell of The Twinsets, Edinburgh, 1981. Photograph by Simon Clegg

Untypical Girls’ 16-year timeline tracks the development of the female indie scene, and comes to a close in 1993, when Knee felt the scene was fizzling out. “The vibrancy of the scenes was winding down,” says Knee of why the book ends at that point. “A lot of the groups so vital in the 80s had broken up or were fading into repetition. Riot Grrrl had peaked. Groups were selling out to majors and so on. It was a time of change. I feel like punk’s thread had constantly evolved from ’77 right through to ’93 where the last gasps were heard.”

In researching the images for the book, Knee went direct to the bands that he’d liked from the scene. “I made a list of all the girl bands I liked, or bands with female members, then set about locating unseen shots of them. I really enjoy picture researching more than anything, so for me I loved watching the book gradually fall together. Over time I accumulated over 1,000 indie girl shots, so making the final edit was the hardest thing.” The book also features interviews with some of the musicians, including Debsey Wykes of Dolly Mixture and Julie Cafritz of Pussy Galore.

Untypical Girls
Debsey Wykes of Dolly Mixture on bass, Hope and Anchor, London, 1979. Photograph by Rich Gunter
Untypical Girls
Clare Grogan of Altered Images, London, 1981. Photograph by Neil Anderson
Untypical Girls
Indie record store assistant, Canterbury, 1985. Photograph by Maria Harris

While Untypical Girls features some bands which had a mixed line up of men and women, Knee decided to focus just on the women, resulting in a book that demonstrates the vibrancy and importance of the female music scene. This is an area that is often woefully under-reported, at least within the mainstream music press.

“I think they did [get recognition] within the underground scenes and press but not by the mainstream music press,” says Knee, “who in their Luddite rock-ist outlook perceived girl groups as a novelty, not the serious musician workmanship that was only achieved by males. Back then the weekly music press had a huge influence on any band’s success, and often blinkered, middle-aged male journalists governed these groups’ destinies.”

Untypical Girls
DC hardcore punk style – a cool, tough, uniquely East Coast urban amalgamation of UK skinhead via US hardcore nihilisims. Washington DC, 1981. Photograph: Lloyd Wolf
Untypical Girls
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth at Maxwells, Hoboken, NJ, 1984. Photograph: Dave Rick
Untypical Girls
Huggy Bear, London, 1992. Photograph by Mick Mercer

The book is a joyous reminder of the attitude and individuality of the women’s indie music movement (even though a definite ‘look’ can be discerned). Knee hopes this may inspire generations to come, even his own daughters.

“I’m a father of two young girls and feel immense worry for them as they grow up into this manufactured, conservative, dross society where everyone looks the same in branded sportswear or Topshop type chain junk, and individuality is out of vogue,” he says.

“I hope the book will be something they can look at and see that they don’t have to be like everyone else, they can wear and say whatever they like and not feel this state of oppressive uniformity which shadows the world we live in today. I’m also selfishly hoping they’ll seek out and rediscover the indie scene and take me to gigs when I’m in my 60s!”

Untypical Girls
Spreads from the book
Untypical Girls
Book cover

Untypical Girls: Styles and Sounds of the Transatlantic Indie Revolution by Sam Knee is published by Cicada Books, priced £19.95; cicadabooks.co.uk. Sam Knee can be found on Instagram @sceneinbetween

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