Riot Grrl Night | Live Review

By Ashley Clarke

Rocking up to the Tunnels on my bike, I spy some cute girls hanging together outside the venue, their arms laden with tins, cakes and neon-iced baked goods. Confused for a split second that I may have arrived at the tail end of a tea party instead of a punk gig, I am suddenly embraced by the rather wonderful idea that these delicious looking morsels are headed for sale on the merch stall inside the gig. Mmm, cake AND a pint! Inside the venue, I linger over the proud array of zines, artwork, cds, badges and pink/purple tie-dye socks and bags for sale, scrawled angrily yet lovingly with caustic-fashion slogans such as ‘VOGUE F*****G INDIA’ (made by the Crash Paris queens themselves).

Of course, feminine-infused DIY ethics such as these have always been central to Riot Grrrl culture. With Bristol’s long established reputation for thriving creativity and generally responding ‘up yours!’ to the establishment, it is no wonder that the independent spirit of Riot Grrrl should find itself a fine home in the city. The ever-growing number of fiercely strong, hugely talented female musicians emerging from the city prove that pro-girl attitudes burn bright with them and those their music touches. Tonight, there is to be no exception.

Enveloped by the intimate lighting inside the venue, small groups chat earnestly on leather sofas beneath the old charms of the exposed brickwork arches. Having never been to the Tunnels before, I am impressed by the thoughtful layout of the space; a hidden gem of a venue. Later, listening to the bands in the live area, I’m similarly impressed with the quality of sound that has been achieved, despite the old concave ceilings.

Kicking off tonight’s acts are a last minute addition to the bill, Newport/Bristol-based duo Personal Best, who serve up a short but sweet set of indie-pop tunes featuring fuzzy guitar riffs, great melodic hooks, a powerful rhythm section and a nostalgic sense of adolescent longing.

Next up are Drunken Butterfly, a three-piece well-known on the Bristol anarcho-punk-folk circuit for their lo-fi three chord drone and politically-charged lyrics. Since last seeing them play three years ago, melodica, ukulele and a new drummer have all been added to their line-up. The girls take strong stances on stage, weapons of choice in hand, ending the set a few harder-edged numbers, including a cover of Babes In Toyland’s ‘Bruise Violet’.

Launching sharply and noisily into their set, Bristol band Bellies! scream their arrival onstage, turning all the heads in the room. Jagged guitar chords and rolling, thumping drum rhythms bounce gleefully back and forth across the stage in disjointed succession. This is tight musicianship; unpredictable time signatures are woven with Nat’s meandering, surreal vocals, which give way, without warning, to Debi’s rising, powerful yell. Reminiscent of bands such as Kleenex/LiLiPuT, the dynamic is quirky and erratic. Bellies are loveable, awesome fun and definitely ones to watch.

Now we’re all fully awake and hungry for more, Crash Paris explode with expert timing onto the stage. This fresh out of Bristol five-piece turn up the volume and kick on the distortion pedal with snarling guitar riffs and dirty chugging bass lines. Singer Melanie Flash is a formidable front woman, with a confrontational vocal style which erupts effortlessly into the volatile shrieks and screams of a woman possessed. She reels wildly about the stage and into the crowd, drowning herself in the revving guitars and pounding drums. With a really strong set and garage grunge sound recalling numerous hardcore punk bands of the late 70s, Crash Paris create a ruckus of a performance not to be missed.

Last up, headlining tonight’s proceedings are brother-sister noise rockers The Hysterical Injury, who create a beautiful din using the awesome combo of drums, bass and sexy, breathy vocals, to layered effect. This band sound like a melodic avalanche of thundering proportions. Singer/bassist Annie rocks out so hard that she is oblivious to her hair ribbon being flung to the floor as she drives those blistering bass lines fast and precise. Sibling Tom displays honed lightning fast skills and is clearly a technically versatile drummer. During ‘Bitches Balls’, wild-eyed Annie sings the intro from Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’, her voice calling out through a vocoder like a banshee from another dimension, before she drops back into the song with vocals as sweet as pie, eyes innocently turned heavenward as if nothing had just happened. The mesmerizing performance is underlined by the great sense of chemistry between the two on stage, Annie occasionally glancing up from her playing to grin cheekily at Tom, who returns it with a nonchalant toss of his head. The last song of the set is a grindingly heavy trip, marked by the relentless beat of the drum and resonating bass, interspersed with snare rolls and two-line vocal melodies.

With LadyFest due to hit Bristol in July, it’s a great time to celebrate the city’s outstanding female contribution to the arts and music scene. From all the excitement generated by tonight’s gig, I can’t wait for the next event. Let’s bring on the grrrls…