Forget Flannel: Seattle's New Artistic Hope Is its Feminist Punk Scene
We explore rainy Seattle's bumper crop of up-and-coming feminist punks, including Tacocat, Mombutt, Chastity Belt, and more.
Photo courtesy of Mommy Long Legs
It is eleven o’clock on a Friday night on Pine Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, and the block is bustling with young people coming in and out of clubs and bars. A group of drunken twenty-somethings congregate around a selfie stick. They giggle and point their red, sweaty, smiling faces towards the camera. A woman passes by, wobbling in four-inch heels while she hangs loosely on her boyfriend’s arm. Around the corner a polo-clad, drunk frat bro dejectedly hangs his head in an alleyway and vomits up the hash browns he recently ate at the overpriced diner nearby. His friend, sporting a backwards Seahawks hat, yells out indiscernible profanities at a woman walking by in a miniskirt, whose sequins shine in the dimly lit street.
Amidst the vodka-saturated dude apocalypse, there is hope. Around the corner from this mess lies the Cockpit, a queer DIY music and arts venue. It is a magical space, soaked in mystical Technicolor lights and decorated with a mannequin decked out in bondage gear. The space even has a large loft and swing. It is colorful, ludicrous, otherworldly, and unquestionably queer. In spite of the flourishing presence of the Cockpit, in the past two years, attacks on LGBTQ-identifying people have skyrocketed in the historically LGBTQ neighborhood.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood has changed extraordinarily in the last few years. Once the core of Seattle’s queer community and epicenter of the arts scene, it is now home to numerous towering cookie-cutter condos, bro-centric bars, and twenty-dollar green smoothies. Surprisingly, in the midst of this evolving neighborhood gentrification, some of Seattle’s music and arts scene continues to grow, especially feminist music, art and activism. Over the past couple of years, as groups like indie-pop heartthrobs Death Cab for Cutie and the bearded Fleet Foxes have mostly disbanded, the members of Seattle’s most-renowned alternative bands have shifted from primarily sad-white-dudes-in-flannel to women in outspokenly feminist bands. Within the last year, scene veterans Tacocat and Chastity Belt have been gaining national attention, while newer bands like Mombutt, La Luz, and Mommy Long Legs have emerged.
These bands and their implicitly feminist-constructed lyrics subvert the normalcies in alternative music’s history by addressing important issues like gentrification, street harassment, and sex positivity. Bree McKenna, bassist in Tacocat and Childbirth, has “never felt more proud and happy to be in the arts scene in Seattle.” She says that feminism is “a topic in my music because it is an important part of my life experiences. Experiencing sexism, homophobia and discrimination has affected many elements in my daily world, which I end up examining in my music.” She says, “having suffered through a lot of that in my formative years makes me extra happy that underrepresented voices are screaming as loud as they can.”
While explicitly feminist issues are being addressed within the Seattle music scene, other issues and identities are not ignored. Bailey Skye, a member of the band Mombutt, elaborates: “I feel like the scene tries really hard to outwardly express their inclusivity but end up tokenizing one or a few artists of color for their image, rather than trying to dismantle the real issues at hand. Spaces sort of subconsciously perpetuate marginalization by only booking and supporting white friends and colleagues who create typically ‘good’ work but lack making a statement from never having been oppressed.”
Mombutt member Elena Kuran echoes these statements, and adds additional advice for young people of marginalized identities who want to become involved in Seattle’s music and arts scene. She says, “I am surrounded by privilege in everyday life, and I am a member in a scene that’s supposed to be an escape from it, but it perpetuates it. This is an unfair truth and it won’t change unless we are actively addressing it. As a mixed Japanese girl involved in the music and arts scene, this is something I remind myself of often.” She gives advice to “anyone considering getting involved in the music and arts scene, especially those of marginalized identities” and urges them to “form bands with friends who share similar experiences with you, make zines about issues that matter to you and support local artists by going to shows and buying their merch.” Most importantly, she says, “don’t water yourself down for anyone.”
Although the musicians are not even twenty years old, Mombutt’s music carries a simplistic sophistication. On “r u cirrus” Kuran’s airy voice floats above poppy drum patterns and sparse guitar. “need me” is a standout. Angelic “oohs and ahhs” are paired with angry screams on "need me"—“You tell me you need me / You don’t need me!” Short and simple, their songs are nonetheless captivating and convey a sarcastic smartness that belies the band members’ ages.
Mommy Long Legs
Mommy Long Legs puts on a gruesome and sparkly show; live, they play with their faces drenched in glitter and black lipstick. On the standout track "Weird Girls" from their EP Assholes, Mommy Long Legs snarls, “Don’t wanna be another Ashley / Don’t wanna count my fucking calories / Don’t wanna worry about my body ‘cause dickheads will like me.” Their music, filled with shrieks and crunchy chords, is angry and farcical, yet undeniably feminist.
Tacocat gained national attention with the release of their album NVM on Hardly Art. Filled with sweet pop punk melodies, NVM has catchy songs about catcalling, annoying anarchist roommates, the dreaded #8 Seattle Metro bus, and period-themed surf rock. Their 2010 release Shame Spiral is filled with punk pleasing standouts like UTI" (“bathwater sex, contraception, I think I got a urinary tract infection!”), "Peeps" (an ode to the marshmallow mess of a candy), and "Leotard" (concerning a special chastity method). Tacocat is recommended listening for a pop punk fix and a sugary rush.
Chastity Belt—consisting of Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, and Gretchen Grimm—formed at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. After the release of their critically acclaimed 2015 album Time To Go Home, they received national attention and a spot in the New Yorker (which resulted in my middle-aged non-punk aunt asking if I knew who they were). One of Time To Go Home's standout tracks is "Cool Slut," pro-slut anthem, and although many of these songs still retain Chastity Belt’s signature off-the-wall humor, they carry a new sophistication and sadness. Nonetheless, for laughs and addictively catchy songs, check out Chastity Belt oldies "Giant (Vagina)" and "Pussy Weed Beer."
THEEsatisfaction is galaxy-surfing, the hip-hop cosmic superpower of your dreams. Consisting of Stas Irons and Cat Harris-White, their signature spaced-out beats are Seattle staples. They address themes such as queer identities, racism and colonialism in many of their tracks. Together, they started Black Weirdo parties with the goal of honoring and building bonds in the black community. Seek out their EP EarTHEE released on Sub Pop in 2015 for your fix of transformative extraterrestrial synths.
Childbirth is the quintessential Seattle feminist punk supergroup. Consisting of Julia Shapiro (Chastity Belt), Stacy Peck (Pony Time) and Bree McKenna (Tacocat), their songs are relatable and unabashedly feminist. Their most recent release, Women’s Rights (out now on Suicide Squeeze), has addictive pop punk anthems about gentrification and mansplaining.
Part of Seattle’s Moor Gang, Gifted Gab has been a prominent figure in Seattle’s rap scene since she was fresh out of high school, ruling the typically male-dominated scene. Gab’s 2014 brutally honest release Girl Rap is catchy, upbeat rap featuring Northwest staple Nacho Picasso, and her rhymes are smart, impeccably crafted, and unquestionably catchy.
Lisa Prank creates bubble-gum bedroom pop punk. Her music is reminiscent of sentimental diary entries, sparkly gel pens, and plastic barrettes, and at her live shows, she covers timeworn favorites like Blink-182’s "Dammit." For a rose-tinted yet angsty transport to adolescence, check out Lisa Prank’s Crush on the World.
2014’s Mating Call is very feminist, and purely punk. The album's best track is "Girl Band," wherein lead singer Rachael Ferguson sings, “We are a girl band / Don’t get it twisted / We’re gonna wear you out.” With sex-positive, bass-heavy anthems like Bathwater and Reply, NighTraiN’s funk-fueled punk is perfect for a lewd and disorderly dance party.
La Luz makes sun-soaked, hypnotic surf-rock that shines like a beacon out of rain-drenched Seattle. Their haunting EP Weirdo Shrine is based on Seattle-bred cartoonist Charles Burns’ graphic novel Black Hole. Filled with winding, reverb-heavy guitar riffs and ghostly harmonies, La Luz will transport the listener to a dark and dreary Pacific Northwest beach.
Emma May is on Twitter.