As a teenager in the mid-90s I was introduced to LiLiPUT (a.k.a. Kleenex) on a mixtape I received featuring early 80s female-led punk. I was immediately drawn to the band, firstly because they were from Switzerland, my familial homeland, but mostly because their music resonated deeply with me. The openness and delight in their songs evidenced a certainty of person and place that appealed to me as I was trying to find my own way in the world. They were punk in exactly the way I wanted to be punk.
Since that first listen I have returned to their music over the years, each time finding it as fresh and relevant as ever. So in Spring 2010 I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to talk with three former members of LiLiPUT - Marlene Marder, Astrid Spirig and Klaudia Schifferle.
It was clear from our conversation that something special happened in Zürich all those years ago and the bond between the women was still strong after thirty years. What I had sensed as a teenager was confirmed during the interview - they were not just a band and it was never only about the music - they were first and foremost a group of friends having fun together, playing their part in some greater experiment of creative production.
This is a synopsis of the interview that took place in Astrid’s flat in Zürich, transcribed and translated into English from Swiss-German. I will publish the interview in three parts over the next three weeks. Full audio of the interview and a PDF download of the transcript will also become available over the next few weeks.
Check out the the mital-u website for more info and a discography of the band. Required listening is the 2001 Kill Rock Stars reissue of a CD compilation of the band’s studio recordings. Diehard fans will delight at the double CD/DVD of live recordings and video clips that KRS released in 2010, while vinyl aficionados will appreciate that Mississippi Records is releasing a 4x LP vinyl version of the studio recordings compilation in February 2011.
Jenny Woolworth: How did the recent compilation and reissues come about?
Marlene: A few years ago, I was approached by Kill Rock Stars asking if we had any further material to release. So we started thinking about what we could offer without just repackaging the old CDs and LPs. Then I remembered this road movie that we’d made on tour in 1982, but since that film is only about 15-20 minutes long we added tv-clips that a colleague of ours dug up from the archives of Schweizer Fernsehen (SF1) to get enough material for a full DVD.
Klaudia: Before Kill Rock Stars asked us someone else had approached us about a vinyl reissue so we knew it was time to got together over dinner and take note of what we had yet to release.
Astrid: And once we started digging around we uncovered things that we’d forgotten about.
Jenny Woolworth: What did you find?
Klaudia: Once, late at night, after we’d already started working on the project, I was bumbling aroung my flat, bumped into my bookshelf and a pile of cassettes came tumbling down. One of them had “Kleenex Live” written on it and I was so surprised because I didn’t think I had any of those old cassettes anymore! So there I was at four in the morning, sitting on the coach, listening to this tape, completely shocked!
Marlene: The tape that Klaudia had was a Kleenex gig recorded at Gaskessel in Biel. We also had this live recording from TonModern at the Rote Fabrik in 1983, recorded for DRS3 Swiss Radio, and so we used those two recording for the CD part of the Live & Clips release.
Klaudia: There are several things we don’t have anymore, like a video from Cologne… But we still found some great stuff. Videos had started to pop up online and that reminded us of this or that clip so we went and sought out the high-quality original version.
Jenny Woolworth: Who designed the Live & Clips cd/dvd? It looks great.
Marlene: Peter Fischli, like earlier. He’s let us use the catfish design woodcut from the cover.
Klaudia: Peter did all the designs for Kleenex – flyers, LPs, posters the later, I did some of the LiliPUT covers. Peter’s daughter actually worked with Marlene and I to design the booklet for the 4x LP set. We did it all in one day, Marlene and I chose the images for the collage and she glued it all together and stuck a few of her own odds and ends in. It was great to have a young woman as part of the process.
Jenny Woolworth: Back in the day, when you yourselves were young women, how did you become part of the punk scene? Did it find you, did you find it?
Astrid: When I was part of LiLiPUT the founding principal was that this was an opportunity, for the first time and perhaps the last time, when you could make music even if you had not been playing an instrument for years. There was this opening there…
The punk influence came from England and that stimulated a different kind of access to music, encouraging us to act spontaneously and then see what works. It was actually really audacious for us. The attitude was punk with an impulse to just get up on stage even if you only had one song to play but still to just play that one song three times. It wasn’t like that before or after.
Klaudia: Punk was a welcoming initiation when you heard it. It was so accessible and easy, we didn’t even think about it before jumping in and getting involved saying “I’m going to do that too!” Then other people around you would jump in and say “ok yeah, let’s do it!”
I was working at a clothing store with Lislot [Hafner] at the time and one day Rudi [Dietrich] came around and suggested we form a band together. Lislot immediately said “I’m playing drums!” and I said “I’m playing bass!” That’s just how it was. So Rudi played guitar with us for a bit but then he suggested we ask someone else - he must have been frustrated because he was better then us! He said he knew a women, a guitar player or rather a saxophonist, but in any case he would asked her if she wanted to join us…
Astrid (to Marlene): You were the only one who could actually play an instrument, weren’t you?
Marlene: Yes, thank god! Otherwise nothing would have happened! Someone had to know a little bit at least.
Astrid: We desperately wanted to do something so we just appropriated the punk attitude for ourselves. For example, one day at the flea market I saw a violin and just bought it. Then we wrote a song including violin, although I’d never played before.
Klaudia: It was also a shared spirit among the people we knew. Everyone supported each other and thought it was great that we were in a band, no one cared if we could play or not. People acted out of goodwill and were very supportive.
Part two of the interview will be posted next Monday. Stay tuned to learn all about Frauennerve, Edelpunks, Rough Trade and more. Until then enjoy “Boatsong.”
Ladyfest Ten, the DIY, feminist, female-led, volunteer-run, labour of love, punk rooted, multi-facted festival is set to hit London in a few scant days.
The full programme of activities, running from 12 - 14 November 2010, includes a world of music, stand-up comedy, sit-down literature, take part workshops and so much more. In honour of this grand event I’ve put together a little 30 minute digital mixtape featuring songs from some of the bands performing over the weekend.
Enjoy the mix and see you at the ‘fest! Tracklist as follows:
Trash Kit - Fame
Peepholes - Lair
Kissing Kalina - C.O.W.
The Hysterical Injury - Three
Veronica Falls - Beachy Head
Tender Trap - 2 To The N
La La Vasquez - Kill
Wet Dog - Jane Bowles
Vile Vile Creatures - Second Storey
Battant - The Lurker
MEN - Make It Reverse
Lykez - Not Your Hair
Patricia Panther - What! I’m Not Doing Dat
This book is necessary in so many ways. It’s necessary to me so that I could get a full picture of a “movement” that I was tangentially part of and remind me of my teenage passion, longing and adoration. It’s necessary for my family so that they can understand a bit of the angst I experienced as well as the happiness I sought. This book is necessary for all the young girls, boys and in-betweens - the freaks, geeks and dorks - still struggling with the same issues of misplaced emotion and frustration. And most of all it’s necessary as a documentation of a time and a fair account of a feminist history.
Here’s what Kathleen Hanna had to say about it at the book release party in Brooklyn, New York in early October 2010:
Sara was one of the many penpals I had throughout the mid 1990s. We exchanged zines - one of her Out of the Vortex for one of my Beri-Beri’s - and traded banter between Gaithersburg, Maryland and Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. Now, fifteen years later I wanted to check in with her and find out about this whole book thing…
JW: What a gift you have given us by telling the story of the U.S. riot grrrl movement in a thoughtful, cohesive text. How did you end up writing this story? What made you think you could do it?
SM: My idea from the beginning was to write about Riot Grrrl as a whole—which is to say, people’s grassroots experiences of it, nonmusicians as well as musicians—before those histories got lost forever. Because they were already getting terribly attenuated, and I had this urgent feeling that some rock critic somewhere was about to write a history of Riot Grrrl that cast the young women as fans, consumers, and followers—as I had already seen in countless minor accounts of the movement—instead of as human beings acting with political agency against a backdrop of important historical and political forces. So that was the very polemical précis I started out with, and as I continued working on the book and grappled with feelings of personal grandiosity (e.g., how dare I be excited that a book written with the blood of hundreds of girls was going to be A Good Book and make me finally feel like A Good Writer), I kept regrounding myself in this mission.
As for what made me think I could do it, it was a combination of three facts:
a) I was already working as a writer writing for magazines about pop culture, rock music, feminism, and activism, so this fit—I knew that people, including me, would believe I was qualified to do it.
b) I was determined enough to write a book, and to write this book, that I was willing to devote my life to it for five years.
c) Perhaps most important, between my history in the movement, my experiences touring in bands, and my involvement in feminist art communities, I realized that I had a friend in common with nearly everybody I would need to interview for the book.
So I suppose you could say it was a crime both of passion and of opportunity.
JW: The Author’s Note was a sweet and touching introduction - I could absolutely relate to the awe and delight you experienced when you first discovered riot grrrl. However, the book then proceeds to document the rocky journey and ultimate downfall of the movement. This was difficult for me as a reader how was this for you as the researcher and writer?
SM: A year or two before starting to work on this book, before I even knew I would write it, I saw the great fiction writer Grace Paley speak, and I asked her during the Q&A how she dealt with writing about her activist communities and saying things people in those circles might not want to see written down. She said, “If you’re a writer—and I think that you are—you have to tell the truth.” I thought of that moment many times while writing this book. It’s a tactical fudge, of course—what is “The Truth,” anyway?—but giving myself license to access that sort of moral rectitude and fealty to What Really Happened was quite an empowering and freeing move. My experience of Riot Grrrl was pretty halcyon, so I wasn’t quite expecting all the tales of rancor and bitterness and mistreatment that I encountered. At first I felt a little protective of this movement that had, after all, really changed my life for the better; I wished I could just accentuate the positive. But the difficult aspects formed a part of the story that I couldn’t ignore or wish away—that “truth” thing again—and additionally, they presented a cautionary tale. If people read the book and drew inspiration from it to start new feminist revolutions, but then fell prey to the same tensions and shortsightednesses as in the ’90s because I had been too wimpy to say “Look, here are some of the pitfalls that come along with this kind of work,” that would be a marker of failure on my part.
JW: Sadly, I have seen many well-intentioned riot grrrl related projects fall flat due to a lack of interest, motivation and/or resources. What kept you going?
SM: I interviewed about 150 people for this book. But by the time I had interviewed the first two people, just those two people made me feel like I had made a commitment to see this through to the end. The more people I interviewed, the more people I owed a finished product to.
I have an old friend who never tells people what he’s working on until it’s done, so that if he abandons it halfway through nobody will be asking him about it. I’m the exact opposite: I always mouth off to my friends about projects I’m planning, in order to block off any escape hatch. There’s no shame in that game; in fact, that process of talking yourself up and then having your community say “Put your money where your mouth is” played a key role in the formation of both Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, as I relate in the book. It’s a very punk rock/Riot Grrrl tactic: recognizing how important a supportive community is in supporting creative production.
But it feels a little disingenuous to credit my production entirely to the support of others. It’s just as accurate to say that I was completely, fanatically, unwaveringly determined to make this thing happen, and I sought out whatever supports I felt would be helpful to me, while cutting out any detrimental influences. Lining up support for yourself is a creative act. Asking the right people for advice, recognizing good advice when you get it, and doing what it takes to follow that advice are all acts of intelligence and discernment.
What else helped? I feel it’s important to talk about the material conditions of production, because so often these things get mystified—like the boy who once told me “Don’t get a full-time job, your writing will suffer” while neglecting to mention that he was paying his rent by selling drugs. Above all, this project was made possible by a graduate program that gave me access to three extra years of federal loans, library and database (LexisNexis!) access, and health insurance after my classes had ended. Other things:
-A low-key work schedule: I work as a copy editor at monthly and bimonthly magazines, so I get weeks off at a time.
-Stints at residency programs that fed and housed me for six weeks at a time and enabled me to focus solely on the book.
-Roommates in Brooklyn who allowed me to sublet my room and move upstate for half a year, where I paid one quarter my rent in the city; generous upstate roommates who were willing to accommodate my uncertain schedule (and to lend me their car when I needed to get groceries).
These things were huge, but I also want to stress that I sought these things out; I insisted on them. They didn’t just drop into my lap. And I made compromises (e.g., $100K of student loans) and refused to settle for conditions that wouldn’t support my getting this done. I say this not to be all “I’m so great” but just to make clear that projects don’t simply happen on their own; they require great determination and, at times, a commitment to prioritize the work over everything else.
JW: The book is incredibly well-researched with loads of context and background information, obviously you know you are not speaking only to an audience of people who were there “in the moment.” So who is your ideal audience?
SM: Everybody should read this book. People our age, who were around in the ’90s and are now reassessing that period in our lives, asking ourselves what values and passions from that period are worth bringing into our current lives, albeit perhaps in adapted or updated form. People in their teens and 20s who are trying to figure out how to make things happen in their own generation. Feminists and rebels of every age and stripe. People who like music. People who care about young women. Parents of adolescents or of children who will one day be adolescents. People who were once adolescents themselves or still are. Did I leave anybody out?
Between 1992 -1996, during my late teens, I published a series of personal ‘zines. The first three editions I called Busy Bea’s Bush, as a play on Beatrice, my middle name. But I then got a bit shy about the title and decided to change to the more aggressive, less personal Beri-Beri (after the song by the Swiss band Kleenex) for the next two issues.
At any one point, I was corresponding with hundreds of people from across North America. Every day, I could expect a zine or letter waiting in my mailbox when I came home from high school. Yet once I started college in 1994, I had less time and less need to publish a zine and by 1996 I stopped all together. Beri-Beri no. 3 never reached beyond the draft stage.
But now, with the aid of modern technology, here at last is the Beri- Beri lost edition! It’s basically a look back at one year of my life (age 19) jumping from Antioch College to Boston to Pittsburgh to New York City before I disappear into ‘zine oblivion. Embarrassing as it is for me to share this now, some fifteen years later, I have to say I am proud of what I accomplished then and still carry myself with that riot grrrl empowerment in everything I do.
On a somewhat related note,ZineWiki has done a fantastic job collecting and cataloging zines from around the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find such comprehensive listings for both Busy Bea’s Bush and Beri-Beri. The Queer Zine Archive Projectis a more genre specific web based project dedicated to archiving and sharing queer zines. Both are worthy of attention and support by anyone interested in independent publishing.
In a three part series over the next few weeks I’ll explore my personal experience with riot grrrl, the mid 90’s American punk feminist movement. Here’s what you have to look forward to…
In two weeks I’ll publish an interview with Sara Marcus about her recent book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.In one week I delve into my cringe-worthy teen-angst riddled zine publishing herstory with scans of my last-ever, never published half-finished zine from 1995. This week I’m digging into the dusty boxes and overstuffed filing cabinets of riot grrrl and feminist punk zine archives around the world, including a digitized version of a scrapbook I put together back in 1996.
Sophia Smith Collection
Tinúviel, of Kill Rock Stars Records and Villa Villakula Records, donated her collection of grrrl zines, a copy of every KRS or VV record she helped to produce, various correspondence and other papers to the Smith College Women’s History Archives in 2005. The Sophia Smith collection also boasts a Girl Zine Collection started by a donation from Tristan Taormino, author of A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World, in 1999.
The Sarah and Jen Wolfe Collection
The Sarah and Jen Wolfe Collection of Riot Grrrl and Underground Music Zines is housed at the University of Iowa Library and features grrrl zines and comics from ca. 1991 - 2003.
Barnard Zine Library
The Barnard College Zine Library in New York City features donations by Sara Jaffe, Yumi Lee, Lauren Jade Martin, and Celia Perez.
The Women’s Library Zine Collection
The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University in London features an ever growing collection of girl zines started by a donation from the Ladyfest London team in 2002.
Riot Grrrl Retrospective
The Experience Music Project with headquarters in Seattle, Washington, is host to this online exhibition of riot grrrl featuring the history of the movement told through text, interviews, audio and video.