Get Into This: The Linda Lindas’ Riot Grrrl inspo

Written by Marion Hodges

Revolution, grrrl style. LA punk band The Linda Lindas represent a long lineage of femme-leaning punks finding ways to skirt the system.

Welcome to Get Into This, KCRW's series of essential guides breaking down everything you need to know about musical styles, movements, and artists from the folks who know them best. 

The vibe-shift happens in real time on an early June evening in Santa Monica, as LA’s Generation Alpha riot grrrls The Linda Lindas close their KCRW: Live From HQ session with the mega-viral song that put them on the map — “Racist, Sexist Boy.” The band, comprised of sisters Lucia (16) and Mila (12) de la Garza, their cousin Eloise Wong (15), and mutual friend Bela Salazar (18), has drawn an equally fresh-faced crowd fidgeting with pre-pubescent anticipation. For the adults in the room, it’s been a long night. Two-song opening sets from KCRW Young Creators Project bands The Treedome and Forsythia made for an invigorating warm-up, but still add considerably to the amount of time spent standing.

Following them is a hearty pre-show interview marked by the four Lindas passing a single microphone back and forth, and ribbing each other with inside jokes. Detours include: An impromptu audience Q&A, during which a 5-year-old fan named Bea asks the band for a hug (each member lovingly takes a turn to oblige), and the band leading the crowd in their pre-show shake-out ritual.

More: The Linda Lindas: Live from KCRW HQ

My co-worker and I shake out, but it does little to combat our weariness from the preceding eight hours of prep and load-in, and the not-enough-hours of sleep that came before that. We stand next to each other, both visibly fading. Then the gleefully rudimentary chords of “Racist, Sexist Boy” fill the air, and everything snaps into focus. 

A current of catharsis buzzes around me. The song, after all, went viral for more than its performance in partnership with the LA Public Library. As drummer Mila de la Garza often tells it before the band’s sets, the track was inspired by a boy in her class who told her that his dad told him to “stay away from Chinese people.” She informed him that she was Chinese. He slowly backed away. 

De la Garza could have done what most of us do: Internalize it! She could have accepted this encounter as that cruel rite of passage of youth, a jumping off point to rigorously train herself to be "less sensitive" and more polite. She could have brushed the incident into the recesses of her memory, where it could lie in wait to rain random bouts of decontextualized shame into later life. Instead, de la Garza let it out; she gave it context in song, stating, in no uncertain terms, that the behavior she experienced is not ok. She made it a hit. 

More: Get Into This: Curses’ guide to New Beat and EBM

"Racist, Sexist Boy", with its lurching, heavy chords and bone-rattling drums, immediately shifts the molecules of the studio’s atmosphere. I clock my Korean-American co-worker thrashing hard to Eloise Wong’s guttural delivery of the song’s first verse, arms raised and flailing, head-banging, transcending the body that I’ve witnessed endure racist and sexist microaggressions at shows, on the job, just existing. As I join her, stomping my feet to the bassline, I feel every single time I’ve been rendered invisible by the male gaze because I don’t exactly fit the societal standards of hotness; I feel the sheer panic of the times when I’ve looked my best and my visibility was suddenly overwhelming. 

Our experiences are distinct, but hearing “Racist, Sexist Boy” loud and live in a small room gives us both permission to transform ourselves into unembodied punk spirits — no trace of self-consciousness anywhere to be found during the song’s 1:49 run time. It totally rules. This is some real magic. “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” kind of magic. 

The Linda Lindas performing at KCRW HQ. Photo by Sophie Weill.

I’m not entirely sure I subscribe to the theory that certain art is preordained, or that there are muses who bestow artistic inspiration to a person or a group. But in the case of “Racist, Sexist Boy,” I might be a true believer. The song works as well as it does not despite, but because de la Garza was just 8 or 9 years old while writing it — only a few years older than Bea, their adoring audience member. Bea still exists in a space untouched by the forces that made Riot Grrrl, and everything that came before and after, so necessary. If de la Garza is any example, Bea will soon come up against those forces herself, and sooner than we’d like to think. How much more powerful will she feel with the Lindas as her guiding light?

Our culture likes to pretend it shields girls of that age from the looming realities and expectations of their gender, but “Racist, Sexist Boy” gives the lie to that pretense. The same forces that came for the Lindas, and may soon be coming for Bea, came for me at their age. Only now, at 39, am I establishing my own clumsy grasp on the necessary tools to fight them. 

But when I sing along to “Racist, Sexist Boy” as a 30-something, I’m allowed to shout, “Jerkface, poser, riff-raff!” without a trace of irony. I sing, “We rebuild what you destroy,” and suddenly the concept feels not only possible, but like a prophecy foretold. 

Listen closely for it in the song: Its message bestowed in the bare bones punk of its chords and structure, its “I don’t fucking care if you like it” ‘90s Riot Grrrl style. But it’s not ‘90s Riot Grrrl, it’s something else, born from our own precarious cultural climate, and that makes it feel more relevant and immediate than if it emerged from the earliest days of the movement. It’s almost 30 years later, and we’re still protesting this shit? 

Maybe (just maybe) by the time that the Lindas and Bea hit their late 30s, we will finally be done with this shit. Until then, let’s dig into the past, present, and future of the nebulous concept that is “Riot Grrrl.”  

So, what is Riot Grrrl?

Riot Grrrl’s origins are commonly traced to a 1991 letter from musician and fanzine editor Jen Smith to her friend (and founding member of seminal Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile) Allison Wolfe. Smith wanted a “GIRL RIOT,” a way to exist fully as themselves in all of their agro-glory amidst the 1980s hardcore punk scene (think: Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Black Flag, etc.). This guy was there. Plenty of women were peers of these bands whose fans, for the most part, ignored or didn’t take them seriously (at best), and harassed or seeked to cause them active harm (at worst). The idea of a “girl riot” ultimately morphed into Riot Grrrl, with the “grrrl” stylized intentionally to resemble a growl, in an attempt to upend the staid femininity and childishness associated with the original word. “Grrrls to the front” became a common rallying cry at shows thrown by bands who identified with this movement. There was a sense of urgency to the proceedings, a need to let certain punk-leaning femmes know that these spaces were not only safe, they were theirs

Founding Motherrrs (Original Riot Grrrls)

So who are the key figures of the original scene that you absolutely need to have on your radar? Smith, Wolfe, and their pal Molly Nueman all did time in Bratmobile, and you especially need to hear their track “Girl Germs,” which was also the name of Wolfe and Neuman’s ‘zine. Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Kathi Wilcox named their band after their own ‘zine — Bikini Kill —  and released many loud and shaggy anthems under that moniker. None are so anthemic as their 1993 single “Rebel Girl.” Fun fact: Before going viral, The Linda Lindas were already wowing their predecessors — they opened for Bikini Kill (who were playing their first shows in over 22 years) in 2019. Earlier this year, The Linda Lindas shared the stage with Bratmobile at cozy Frogtown venue Zebulon. The two bands joined forces to cover original LA punk girl group The Runaways’ provocative 1976 single “Cherry Bomb.”

In the early ‘90s, singer-guitarist Corin Tucker’s Heavens to Betsy and Carrie Brownstein’s Excuse 17 both disbanded, leading the two to form Sleater-Kinney with original drummer Janet Weiss. Sleater-Kinney remains seminal not only to Riot Grrrl, but to the continuing story of American indie rock. The intersection of Riot Grrrl and Queercore is heavily embodied by Donna Dresch’s Team Dresch. In SoCal, there was the all first-generation Asian American grrrl group, Emily’s Sassy Lime (it's a palindrome!), and in the UK there was Huggy Bear

Riot Grrrl’s Fore-Motherrrs (Post-punk and Indiepop Grrrls)

Speaking of the UK, what about all those badass art punks with lofty feminist ideals who were making amazing records in the late 1970s and early ‘80s? Naturally, a guide such as this cannot exist without two fists way up for X-Ray Spex’sOh Bondage! Up Yours!” AND The Slits’Typical Girls.” Less immediately obvious, but no less essential are anything from Au Pairs, Delta 5, The Raincoats, Kleenex (aka Liliput), and Girls At Our Best (just skimming the surface). 

And most relevant to my particular interests are the (indie)popkids — signified by what journalist Simon Reynolds characterized as a “revolt into childhood.” This definition of indiepop provides  a fascinating contrast to Riot Grrrls’ snarling reinterpretation of girldom — with both reactions largely stemming from the same place. Reynolds posits that for a certain subset of young artistic types tasked with growing up into Margaret Thatcher’s England, or Ronald Reagan’s America, they chose instead to opt out entirely. Dressed in childishly asexual clothing with haircuts to match, and spending all their time playing shows primarily with and for their friends, this description tracks. Indiepop by this particular definition is often synonymous with C86, a free compilation tape given away by British tastemaker magazine the NME (New Musical Express). 

A couple of bands from that cassette are Riot Grrrl inspo, namely Miaow and Shop Assistants, both of whom were fronted by women playing and singing squarely within their limited means, gleefully eschewing the male gaze all the while. But the height of indiepop grrrl goals exists within Amelia Fletcher, whose bands Talulah Gosh and Heavenly essentially define the ideals of the genre. It all becomes very snake-eats-tail in 1993, when Heavenly releases the still melodic, but Riot Grrrl leaning P.U.N.K. Girl EP, and Amelia Fletcher thrashes and sings back up on the closest thing that proper UK Riot Grrrls Huggy Bear ever had to a hit — “Herjazz” — on the BBC Channel 4 show, The Word

Tying it all togetherrr (Grrrls unite across the D.I.Y. spectrum)

The P.U.N.K. Girl EP was a split release between legendary UK indiepop label Sarah Records, and K Records out of Olympia. K was responsible for many a release that towed the line between D.I.Y. punk’s softer side (think: K’s flagship band Beat Happening), and Riot Grrrl-adjacent bands like Tiger Trap and The All Girl Summer Fun Band. These bands, along with Cub in Vancouver (Canada) and Black Tambourine in Washington DC, are must-listens.

Sista Grrrl Rioterrrs (POC contributors Past, Present, Futurrr)

If this is all beginning to read a bit white-feministy, you’re not imagining things! Part of the reason these sounds seem to resonate in our current moment feels deeply rooted in a spirit of do-over — take Riot Grrrl, but (dear god please) make it way more intersectional. This work began in 1997, with Tamar-kali Brown, Maya Glick, Simi Stone, and Honeychild Coleman’s first Sista Grrrl Riot show. And it carries on today with artists like London’s Big Joanie, Washington, DC’s Sneaks, and LA-based Chicana-punk icon Alice Bag (particularly her later-career solo output). They’re essential to this retelling — as are The Linda Lindas themselves. 

For a close read of Riot Grrrl’s history through the lens of the original Black grrrls in the scene, I cannot recommend this article by Gabby Bess for Vice — “Alternatives to Alternatives: the Black Grrrls Riot Ignored — highly enough.

Wanna hear more? Get into our Spotify playlist featuring most of the bands cited in this piece… plus bonus tracks.