Reigniting the riot
Le Butcherettes reclaim feminist punk's finest hour
Published: May 19, 2011
with Deftones, Dillinger Escape Plan
7 p.m. Saturday, May 21
Hard Rock Live
Here's a depressing but true realization: riot grrrl is dead. As a feminist response to the raw, male-dominated hardcore punk of the mid-'80s, the riot grrrl genre had a brief, and wild, decade run. Taking shape in the early '90s, the phenomenon championed an authentic sort of girl power, pointedly mocking gender stereotypes and boosting the notoriety of DIY-bred, female-heavy bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile. Today's a different story, however. Every major riot grrrl group has long since disbanded, and there are few notable descendents carrying on this subculture's incendiary pro-woman bent.
Le Butcherettes are the next best thing. The trio's leader is Teri Suarez (otherwise known as Teri Gender Bender), an unassuming looking force of nature who uses the Butcherettes' garage punk as an outlet for sociopolitical performance art of the feminist variety, even if Suarez doesn't consider herself 100 percent feminist. Created in Mexico and now based in L.A., Le Butcherettes gained early attention for their unusual stage props, which included blood capsules, actual decapitated pig heads and real cuts of meat, plus less gory items like eggs, flour, soap, feather dusters and broomsticks. To go along with this, Suarez has always maintained a fondness for dressing like a '50s housewife. The sum effect provides a commentary on stereotypical roles for women; the food was meant to evoke images of the woman's falsely assumed role in the kitchen. When Suarez literally swept the stage, the audience was meant to reevaluate why women are thought of as homemakers.
Suarez initially decided to use Le Butcherettes as this kind of outlet because she wanted to combat feeling discriminated against in Mexico because she was a woman.
"I was reading a lot of Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks - Ayn Rand came a little bit later. These writers inspired me to mix [my beliefs] in with the music," says the frontwoman, who sings and plays keyboard and guitar. "I just wanted to express myself through a metaphorical, visual way, because when you're performing, the majority of people also go there to see something, not just to hear."
Of course, playing with provocative, big-picture ideas means that there is room for misinterpretation. Some vegetarians were uncomfortable when Suarez used meat as stage props, but the frontwoman says that she's a vegetarian, too, and that she only ever used bad cuts. Ironically, she also reports that people have called her out as a sexist for dressing as an attractive housewife. But she's playing a character when Le Butcherettes perform, and she can't outright explain the implications of her approach, which can make the group an uneasy sell for newcomers.
While Suarez shelved the meat antics a while back, the recent release of Sin Sin Sin, Le Butcherettes' debut full-length album, means that she's still out to find ways to get her ideas across onstage. She might throw out pamphlets reprinting poetry by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and others. Ideally, she'd also like for the band's performances to be supplemented by projected images of men and women in the household. If all this stuff about gender and sexuality sounds riot grrrl-esque, it should. Suarez holds those bands in high regard.
"I wish I could be part of the riot grrrl era, but it would technically be mistaken because of the difference of the time," she says. "To me, it's an honor to even be considered."
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