In Her Own Right: Women in Post-Punk

by Sophia Abrams

“In Her Own Right” is a column dedicated to showcasing influential women musicians whose contributions to their respective genres are, more often than not, undervalued. Aligning with Sophia Abrams’ radio show, Modern Girl, which plays all-female artists for an hour, this column digs deeper into why is it essential for people to understand the diversity of women who contribute to different musical genres.


When you think of punk and post-punk artists, how many women can you name? For the majority of people, their knowledge falls short, and they can name zero. And for some, if they can name women from these genres, the two female artists they most likely name are Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Since these genres were created and gained a devoted following, they have achieved undeniable importance to music; however, when people unpack punk and post-punk’s importance, they tend to omit the existence and influence of women in these genres. Nevertheless, women’s contributions to these genres cannot continue to be understated and undervalued, as women were very much an integral part of defining punk and post-punk.

During the 1970s, punk emerged with its aggressive melodies and vocals consolidated into short, abrupt songs. As punk’s sound amplified rock music’s defining characteristic of producing music that defied the norm, it embodied an unruly disposition, indicative of music’s latest act of rebellion. While punk prided itself on defying norms, it abstained from challenging the norm of women lacking acceptance within the genre. From this, bands such as The Sex Pistols, Television, the Ramones, and The Clash emerged as pioneers of punk and exemplified how as punk bands gained recognition, women of punk lacked visibility.

As punk’s rebellious sound became normalized as a result of its popularity, musicians who wanted to push punk’s limits started to view punk as traditional and simplistic in the late 1970s. From this, musicians took it upon themselves to play around with what punk’s framework could provide them with and employed experimentation as a catalyst to produce complex sounds that expanded upon punk’s musical constraints. Taking elements of avant-garde, utilizing the untarnished energy of youth, and staying true to DIY ethics, post-punk was born. 

Once post-punk was born, it quickly gained acceptance as fans enjoyed its digression from punk. Leading the pack of post-punk musicians were bands such as The Cure, Joy Division, Devo, and Wire. As these bands epitomized the genre, they demonstrated how post-punk —just like punk— failed to give women their deserved acceptance and recognition. 

As the 21st century reconciles with women’s importance to post-punk, women’s contribution is generally reduced to serving as footnotes in a male-dominated genre; therefore, it is still essential to understand and recognize the powerful women of post-punk. Thanks to the tireless work of female musicians in post-punk, they helped revolutionize and define its sound. As women’s contribution to post-punk still lacks its deserved recognition and visibility, here are a few of the prominent women of post-punk who helped shape post-punk to be the cherished genre it is today:

Delta 5:

  • Hailing from Leeds, England, Delta 5 meshed post-punk and new wave together. Signed to Rough Trade Records, Julz Sale fronted the band and demonstrated how punk’s  musical form could progress with her feminist lyrics paired with their two-bass funk-punk. While only active from 1979 to 1981, the band found their artistry to be of importance to the UK’s post-punk scene. 
  • Recommended Track: “Mind Your Own Business”

ESG:

  • In the late 70s, New York found itself at the center of post-punk, with its addictive sound permeating throughout the city. In the South Bronx, the Scroggin sisters found themselves pulling from a myriad of genres to create their distinctive post-punk sound. From 1978 to 1985, the band helped advance what post-punk, hip hop and dance-punk encapsulated with their debut record, Come Away with ESG. As the band retains an enigmatic status with a cult following today, their sound is more familiar to people than they think. Their song, “UFO,” continues to be sampled in rap songs, exemplifying how their contribution to music is very much heard but their recognition is lost.
  • Recommended Track: “Dance”

Family Fodder

  • While exploring the deepest corners of post-punk, the UK’s Family Fodder’s gave post-punk a recognizable sense of obscurity that proved to be influential to future alternative bands. With French singer Dominique Levillain fronting the band, Family Fodder mixed post-punk’s defining element of DIY culture with androgyny. As Family Fodder capitalized on defying norms and being impossible to classify, they maintained an impeccable sense of originality. 
  • Recommended Track: “Savoir Faire”

Kleenex/ LiLiPut 

  • As post-punk strove to implicate unconventionality as its defining tenet, the Swiss band LiLiPut (formerly known as Kleenex) realized post-punk’s potential to have unhinged access to produce their desired sound. With Regula Sing husky vocals, the band’s music featured eclectic drums, lingering guitar licks, and captivating bass lines that helped produce their noisy sound. Active from 1978 to 1983, LiLiPut produced post-punk’s energetic music with English and German lyrics that epitomized post-punk’s trashy sound. 
  • Recommended Track: “Die Matrosen”

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

  • Just as Patti Smith is recognized as a vanguard of New York’s 1970s punk scene, Lizzy Mercier Descloux is regarded as a French vanguard of the post-punk scene. A woman of many artistic domains, Mercier Descloux epitomized post-punk’s sound by mixing disco, funk, and punk to create her unique sound. Through her short-lived band Rosa Yemen and her notable solo work, Mercier Descloux’s work exemplifies the talent women brought to post-punk.
  • Recommended Track: “Slipped Disc” and “Decryptated” by Rosa Yemen 

Maximum Joy

  • Maximum Joy was an English post-punk band that formed in 1981. Hailing from Bristol, the band was fronted by Janine Rainforth, who also played clarinet and violin. Heavily influenced by jazz, funk, reggae, soul, hip hop, and punk, Maximum Joy prided themselves on creating a sound that was reflective of their influences and not pinned down to a particular genre.
  • Recommended Track: “Silent Street/ Silent Dub”

Bush Tetras

  • Bush Tetras are an American post-punk band from New York City that formed in 1979. They are best known for their 1980 song “Too Many Creeps,” which exemplified the band’s sound of unhinged rhythms and menacing vocals.
  • Recommended Track: “Too Many Creeps”

The Wake

  • The Wake is a post-punk band from Glasgow, England. With Carolyn Allen on vocals and keyboards, this band was able to contribute to the UK’s post-punk scene in 1981. From signing to independent labels, The Wake produced defining post-punk songs.
  • Recommended Track: “Crush The Flowers”

Girls At Our Best!

  • Fronted by Judy Evans, Girls At Our Best! produced synth-infused post-punk. Self-proclaimed as “early eighties indie chart darlings,” this English band produced a string of acclaimed singles. While they only lasted three years, they helped shape post-punk, with their distinct artistry pulling from a multitude of influences and producing a relished sound.
  • Recommended Track: “Politics” 

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