This week we asked our writers to listen to one of the highest rated podcasts of 2023. Starting a Riot is a 6 episode podcast from Oregon Public Broadcasting, hosted by journalist Fabi Reyna, about the riot grrrl era of the 1990s with a slightly different look at the politics and community that fed the music genre.
Fabi Reyna is here to give us all a history lesson and fill in some pretty hefty cracks in the version of events we've been told. Thirty years ago, the movement started in the Pacific Northwest and it wasn't just music – it was politics, feminism, culture and zines (a rrramble favourite). We're still feeling its effects today, particularly in the rise of DIY culture like zine making, clothes upcycling, and punk gigs in weird little venues.
But whose stories have been left out of the narrative? We asked our writers to share their thoughts on this topical podcast.
It’s easy to look back on Riot Grrrl through rose-coloured glasses as a genre of music that
empowered all women. Starting a Riot - hosted by Fabi Reyna - explores the complexities of this movement, both celebrating everything it did for women in the music industry and critically
examining the problems faced by queer people and women of colour within the Riot Grrrl
Host Fabi Reyna acknowledges the impact Riot Grrrl had on women throughout the podcast by
discussing the impact the movement had on her growing up, which she describes as complicated.
She says that Riot Grrrl was hugely impactful to her own development and future career as
founder of She Shreds Media, and you can tell from the way she talks about it with care that
this is something very important and very personal to her. However, she also says that she often felt out of place within the Riot Grrrl movement as a woman of colour, something that is echoed by many of the people interviewed for this podcast.
A strength of this podcast is its diverse range of interviewees. There are many people
interviewed who have nothing but positive things to say about Riot Grrrl and others who, like
Reyna, often felt that the movement was not catered to them as queer people and people of
colour. By presenting a broad range of different perspectives and experiences, Starting a Riot is able to underscore the movement's complexity. This podcast does not follow the basic narrative typically put forward within the mainstream of Riot Grrrl = female empowerment. Instead, it uses a range of voices from specific people to represent the differering ideas and opinions from within that community.
It goes without saying that you can’t create a podcast on Riot Grrrl without talking about Riot
Grrrl music, and while this podcast talks in depth about bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile,
the primary focus is on the politics that underpinned Riot Grrrl. In particular, the podcast focuses on the punk feminist zines many people involved in Riot Grrrl would create and how, in largely a pre-internet age, this was huge in helping people within this community feel connected.
Many of the people Reyna interviewed said that this community building played a huge role in
their identity formation. This was refreshing, as a lot of the mainstream media you can consume about Riot Grrrl now sanitises it somewhat, and focuses more on the music in isolation from the politics, despite the music being rooted within these political foundations. This podcast allowed for a more accurate understanding of the movement.
Overall, Starting a Riot is a compelling exploration of the the Riot Grrrl genre, created by
someone who clearly has a lot of love for this community, but also understands that it was not
perfect. The podcast itself is well produced and hugely entertaining and informative, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about this genre.
I can’t stake any particular claim to the punk or Riot Grrrl scene, but give me a story about angry women challenging the status quo, disrupting male dominated spaces and shouting about what’s important to them and I am here for it. The rallying cries of “femmes to the front”, “girls constitute a revolutionary soul force”, and “we can be angry” felt powerful and timely and made me want to start a band or a zine or at least do some shouting.
A well paced, wide ranging, and sleek production, Starting a Riot is a great listen. This six part series covers everything from the influence of geography, to the complicated legacy of
this revolutionary scene and a whole lot more in between. Coming in at around 3 hours for
the whole series, it covers a huge amount of ground, in an entertaining and accessible way.
While the subject matter was clearly very close to the heart of the creators, an emotional
and emotive one, the podcast has a balanced and critical approach that I found really
refreshing and that kept me listening.
Starting A Riot isn’t just some uncomplicated piece of devotion or hero worship, nor was it a take down of a flawed movement. Across the six episodes Fabi Renya, host and founder of She Shreds Media, explores the push and pull of the movement. How it simultaneously attracted and repelled the ‘outsiders’, how the politics and culture appealed to and ignored those on the margins. This cultural history skillfully balances nostalgia, with an analysis of the current significance of the movement, as well as musing on the future. It asks the question: how much does it matter to see yourself in a movement if that movement speaks to you on some level and inspires you?
And Riot Grrrl isn’t just history - its impact is still being felt today. It has a very active legacy
in terms of those who came after and what it paved the way for. Not to mention the bands,
like Bikini Kill, are still actually touring. These questions are important to ask and the
legacy is important to interrogate. And this podcast does just that - it provides an
introduction, history, and a nuanced and intersectional analysis of the revolution - cut
together with interviews, narration and tantalising musical excerpts. It is an impressive
undertaking, and a series of this length could never cover everything. As much as it does
address and the balance it achieves, perhaps class was an element of the story that wasn’t
really explored. But of course, like Riot Grrrl itself, it has limitations and doesn’t need to be
perfect to be a thought provoking, joyful, and contemplative exploration of this early 90s
And sure, for my part, I hope this review will become a cornerstone of my artistic legacy, I
hope it has reached the heady heights of cultural critique, but hey, in the spirit of embracing
the ethos of Riot Grrrl and the message of the podcast (and that of rrramble, while we're at
it) - I won’t let perfection stand in the way of participation and expression - femmes to the
If, hypothetically, your brain and sleep cycle are utterly mangled, and you like music but don’t
really feel like listening to it a lot of the time, but you still need noise, so you find yourself
obsessively listening to podcasts to fill the void, but find a lot of podcasts either dull or
annoying, and you’ve already gone through all the ones you actually like because of your
mangled sleep cycle, so now you're stuck with nothing that really engages you and you’re
weighed down by the sense that maybe your life is going nowhere and it’s time to just pack
your bags and flee the country just to feel something....
If you relate to this entirely hypothetical situation Starting a Riot is ideal for scratching that
podcast itch. It’s just so cleanly produced, each episode is focused and confident in itself to
tell a story, with a clear arc throughout the series, and enough music and soundbites to
make an engaging listening experience without ever becoming too much. Plus, they get an
extra special gold star for not having adverts, making it very easy to get sucked in to every
Admittedly, as a riot grrrl enthusiast I was predisposed to enjoy this, but even if you’re
completely new to the genre, this podcast is so well produced and Fabi Reyna’s
journalism is so thorough and insightful that you’ll still get something out of it. The show
hones in on diverse perspectives, which prevents them falling into the trap of talking dryly
about musical technique, or an extensive biography of Kathleen Hanna. Reyna shies away
from centering the bands and instead looks at the way riot grrrl worked as audiences and as a community, as well as the broader political context that shaped the movement. This subtle
change in focus takes the show beyond a straightforward conversation about music, instead
interrogating an important, but often overlooked, part of our cultural history.
By treating riot grrrl as a cultural movement as well as a musical one, Starting a Riot is able
to confront the awkward questions around the genre that I’ve often felt flicking through old
Bratmobile records. Despite its radical aesthetic, the movement was predominantly white,
cis, and suburban, and often failed to create any meaningful space for global majority
femmes. I was really grateful for how candidly Reyna confronted these issues, brought
marginalised voices into the fold, and was able to articulate admiration of riot grrrl’s radical
breakthrough, and the anxieties of its failings.
Sadly, this willingness to confront both sides of riot grrrl loses momentum in the final
episodes of the podcast. When looking at riot grrl’s legacy, we see how the movement
inspired and influenced, but there were parts of the movement that were appropriated and
commodified. The radical core lives on, but the rallying cry of “girl power” has also been
nabbed by girlboss CEOs, milquetoast liberal feminists, and the dreaded TERFs, who treat it
more as an outfit than an ethos.
That said, I loved the time spent shining a light on the ways the movement lives on. My favourite part of listening was learning about new music through Reyna’s recommendations in the later episodes: I wish she’d given more throughout the show. If you’re going to give this a listen then definitely go to their website, where there is a playlist of riot grrl songs and links to bands you can’t find on major streaming platforms. Starting a Riot isn’t just a fascinating listening experience, it reengaged my love for music.
Review edited by Artie