Friday night is the culmination of a long-planned collaboration between dozens of artists, as Alien She—a traveling exhibition that just wrapped up at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery in Pittsburgh—kicks off a nearly two-month residency at Vox Populi. It’s a collection of works that investigate and celebrate the long-lasting influences of the riot grrrl movement. And after its opening night at Vox, the festivities migrate up to Johnny Brenda’s, where a badass lineup of females will deliver a living and breathing tribute to riot grrrl.
Does it need to be said what the movement for women in punk and rock ‘n roll is all about? Well, it started with bands like Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, Sleater-Kinney and Heavens to Betsy and addressed issues like racism, sexism and feminism—sometimes specifically within rock contexts—and it never really stopped. In fact, among this lineup are some of Philly’s finest examples of how the pioneering work accomplished a couple decades ago hasn’t been lost on subsequent generations.
Mannequin Pussy, a thrash-and-scream trio from New York City, headline the afterparty, but Pushin’ It 2 The Limit, The Pretty Greens and Trophy Wife are ours. And Sarah Muhl, also known as Kool Schmool, the newest member of The Pretty Greens, had lots to say about her band and their upcoming biggest show to date.
A testament to the DIY nature of riot grrrl—and proof that you don’t need tons of money or resources to start a movement, Muhl started playing the guitar last spring. Having just settled into a rental in South Philly with her boyfriend, Clint Eastburn (also a musician we’ve admired, who goes simply by Eastburn), she seems pretty pumped about being the newbie in the band and is taking her role pretty seriously.
“I’ve always loved and had a great appreciation for music. Clint and I played a show at Ortleib’s, a country show where I played the autoharp, and Clint played the guitar. But a kindergartner could play the autoharp,” she recalls, detailing her journey towards guitar mastery. “He’s been very helpful, and so has the Internet. There are some really good YouTube videos out there.”
Muhl’s Kool Schmool moniker is an overt reference to “Cool Schmool,” a spunky Bratmobile song that employs smart “Fuck off” lyrics and feels like equal parts The Runaways and The B-52’s. “They’re definitely my number-one riot grrrl influence,” Muhl admits, switching the LPs on her giant, antique record-playing armoire from Link Wray to Harry Nillson.
The Pretty Greens’ vets are Carly Marcoux on drums and voice and Julia Gottlieb, who plays bass and also sings. They were a duo for a while until they started craving a guitar and maybe another singer. Muhl went to a Greens show with a mutual friend at The Nuthouse, and afterwards, they asked her to come jam. Not wanting to look like a total novice, Muhl says, “I took a month to learn some songs and came out to jam.” They clicked and joined forces, with Gottlieb and Marcoux teaching Muhl as they go. Marcoux, a writer who helps maintain the blog Philly Girl About Town, is practically a girl-punk scholar, so Muhl’s in good hands.
“We’ve played a lot, and it’s fucking awesome,” Muhl says of The Pretty Greens’ growing gig schedule and band cohesion. “It’s the three of us getting together once a week to practice and pouring our hearts out on stage once a month, sometimes twice a month. It’s a lot of fun. And that’s the point.”
Just a couple weeks ago they put out a three-track single, “Jealous Waves,” and it’s awesome. Their Ghost World EP came out just as Muhl joined last summer, and while still awesome—especially Gottlieb’s excellent vocal nods to her Riot Grrrl forebears—sounds quite different from “Waves.” Their music’s gotten richer, a little more gentle and groovy.
One of the best things about the Friday show: It’s free. And the big secret in the room, too, is the involvement of Pussy Division, an identity-shrouded guerrilla feminist collective who are sponsors of Alien She and, well, close friends of The Pretty Greens. They’re responsible for those red-and-white bumper stickers slapped onto stop signs with the word “Rape” on them, as well as those stencil spray-paintings you see on sidewalks and at subway stops of unwelcome cat-call phrases with a line through them: “Hey Baby,” “Nice Ass,” “What’s Your Name?” and such. Mum’s the word, though. Everyone’s got day jobs.
Still, a regular gig doesn’t have to stop women across Philadelphia from picking up a guitar or initiating an underground movement. Alien She is a celebration of both, and The Pretty Greens are poised to capitalize on the groundswell of excitement surrounding this night, one that celebrates women actively not giving a shit about the patriarchy that’s long dominated rock ‘n roll. That’s pretty punk.
Fri., March 7, 9pm. Free. With Mannequin Pussy, Trophy Wife, Pushin’ It 2 The Limit and Avalon Clare. Johnny Brendas, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com