Oregon Public Broadcasting and She Shreds Media’s New Podcast “Starting a Riot” Tracks the History of Riot Grrrl

“Riot grrrl changed everything about music and culture.”

Starting a Riot (Courtesy OP)

For all the energy that continues to be expended tracking the history of popular music, it’s disappointing to learn how little of it has been devoted to riot grrrl, the punk subgenre and feminist art movement born in the ’90s that soon spread globally via the music of Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, and Bratmobile. That’s what makes the arrival of the new podcast Starting a Riot so very welcome.

Co-produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and She Shreds Media, the six-episode series looks at the full scope of riot grrrl, from its beginnings in Olympia, Wash., and Washington, D.C., to its lasting impact on new generations of artists, like U.K. trio Big Joanie, Russian activist ensemble Pussy Riot, and L.A. teen punks The Linda Lindas.

Along the way, the podcast touches on the importance of zines—self-produced publications like Chainsaw and Gunk that explored sexism, domestic abuse, gender dysphoria, and other issues often reflected in the lyrics of the artists associated with riot grrrl—while also providing some crucial criticisms of the movement.

“We’re keeping these two ideas in your mind at the same time,” says Julie Sabatier, one of the producers of Starting a Riot. “On the one hand, riot grrrl changed everything about music and culture. It was this huge shift that happened whether you’re aware of it or not. Then on the other hand, it was a product of its time and place, and it was not as inclusive as it could have been for people of color and queer people, specifically.”

Guiding listeners through each episode is Fabi Reyna, an artist and founder of She Shreds, a media company devoted to covering women and gender-nonconforming guitarists. She is the ideal host. Reyna works her history as a music-obsessed teen from Texas who found liberation through the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls into the podcast and draws out key insights about riot grrrl through her interviews with Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail, Team Dresch’s Kaia Wilson, and many others.

“Hearing [Fabi’s] personal story and how it intersected with riot grrrl even a generation later was so fascinating to me,” Sabatier says, “and was very eye-opening to the ripple effects of the movement itself. Yes, it’s a genre of music, but it’s also so much bigger than that.”

See the rest of Willamette Week’s Best of Portland 2023 here!

LISTEN: Episodes are available at opb.org/starting-a-riot.

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