In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, as Bikini Kill reissues one of its old LPs, we’re highlighting our favorite riot grrrl bands.
Fake bands shouldn’t be as good as Bratmobile. Famously formed as the concept of a band instead of a real one, when Bratmobile actually picked up instruments and gave it a go the group quickly became a cornerstone of the budding riot grrrl scene. Its debut album Pottymouth was an album full of jittery agitations, quickly solidifying the group as one of the Pacific Northwest’s garage greats. On a follow-up EP The Real Janelle, Bratmobile would rear back and take a swing, one aimed square at the jaw of Ben Weasel.
At the time Ben Weasel was little more than the leader of bubblegum pop-punk unit Screeching Weasel, though he was increasingly becoming known as a bit of a provocateur via his lengthy screeds in punk zine Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll. Opinionated but largely harmless, in 1993 Screeching Weasel would release a split 7-inch with New York’s Born Against, a band that was Screeching Weasel’s polar opposite in nearly every respect. In an attempt to bridge that gap and the opposing sounds and perspectives each band penned lyrics for the other, and the result was the otherwise socially conscious Born Against pining for a female caricature thanks to Weasel’s often reductive perspective.
When Bratmobile released “The Real Janelle” in 1994 it had its sights set on Weasel, calling him out with the emasculating nickname “Bennie Weasel.” It’s all with the purpose of prodding him for his stunted concept of gender, one that was becoming increasingly counterproductive to the riot grrrl movement. In the year between Pottymouth and The Real Janelle, Bratmobile sharpened its approach, and the surf-rock rhythms of guitarist Erin Smith became the foundation upon which Allison Wolfe could use a rock ’n’ roll trope such as a “papa-oom-mow-mow” to indict Weasel’s antiquated thinking while offering a danceable anthem.
Though Bratmobile would go on hiatus by the year’s end, the sting of “The Real Janelle” remained. In 1998 Weasel would offer up a rebuttal with “The Last Janelle,” a song that–in light of his infamous performance at 2011’s South By Southwest where he assaulted a female audience member–seems all the more menacing when his anger turns to words of violence against those calling him out. If anything Weasel’s four-year-late response only solidified the prescience of both Bratmobile and riot grrrl, an irony that, if Weasel ever noticed, he’d certainly be too hardheaded to acknowledge.