Sapataria concert at Festival Garotas à Frente. Source: G1
MOVE: Subcultures, Movements, Aesthetics is a series of documentation, a critical-collective output of the “Researching Subcultures and Aesthetics Postgraduate Symposium” that took place at National University of Galway Ireland in September 2019. This event was organized as part of the Punk Scholars Network event series, with the aim of bringing students and early career researchers who work on subcultural movements and arts together and offering a space to connect sociological studies on resistance with the more Humanities-oriented discussions around countercultural aesthetics.
The three episodic clusters in the series are designed to reflect the gaps and connections between disciplines, aiming to demonstrate the necessity of re-conceptualizations and how each paper can be thought as both specific to itself and part of a story, an episode of a collective research chapter. Topics ranged from neglected subjects and refusals in the literary world to the politics of independent music and punk subculture, from experimental filmmaking practices that blur the borders of American video art and cinema to the occupy, diasporic and subcultural movements in Romania, Brazil and the UK.
MOVE will run the course of autumn 2020 while the covid-19 is fluctuating in different time-spaces, gesturing towards new ways of moving under restrictions. Thanks to all the contributors, Moore Institute at NUI Galway and Punk Scholars Network for support and special thanks to Abram Foley, editor of ASAP/J. You can access all MOVE essays here.
– Temmuz Süreyya Gürbüz (Editor)
Introduction: Brazil’s political turmoil
Brazil is experiencing a strong political crisis. Ever since the coup d’état1 against Dilma Roussef, the first Brazilian woman elected president in 2014, the political polarisation has transformed the country into an ideological battlefield that has affected public life as much as friendships and family ties. After the loss of a significant amount of worker’s rights through the implantation of a neoliberal agenda since Michel Temer’s government, the election of far-right Jair Bolsonaro has pushed Brazil into its current political turmoil.
Strongly attached to religious values, a heavy conservative agenda has been applied to the country’s politics, threatening many of the progressive achievements attained in the last decade, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage2 and the accomplishments of the feminist movement in terms of pushing for women’s rights. Famous for his misogynistic, homophobic and racist public statements, Bolsonaro represents a shift in a country that once had a booming economy and taken steps towards social equality. What happens then to the feminist and LGBTQIA+ rights activists in this new (old) Brazil? In order to exemplify a form of defiance against the new establishment in the country, this essay will highlight the example of Sapataria, an all-lesbian punk/hardcore band that is part of the Riot Grrrl underground music scene in São Paulo.
Music scenes and Communication studies
In recent years, William Straw3 became a pioneer in the study of music scenes and their relation to the cities in which they are located. In 1991, Straw published the essay “Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes on Popular Music” where he created a concept that distanced itself from the definitions of musical community and subculture at the time. His research drew attention to the alternative rock and dance music scenes in Montréal. His method of investigating music scenes in the field of communication studies has proven to be of extreme importance; many different scenes became the focus of research as it can be exemplified by the works of several Brazilian professors such as De Sá and Janotti Junior (2013), Soares (2018), Oliveira (2018), and Queiroz (2019).
In this methodology, the investigation process starts in a local sphere with the aim of understanding the historical and sociological processes involved in everyday life in the city. It can be translocal, when this scene is the mirror of another happening — simultaneously or not — in further geographical spaces; or virtual, when these scenes are connected through media and the internet.4
Even though rock has been predominantly a music genre associated with the expressions of male sexuality,5 punk rock music scenes have provided, from the late 1970s on, an important stage to amplify women’s voices (Whiteley 2000, Reddington 2007, Leonard 2007). Punk’s “Do It Yourself” ethos and “Anyone Can Do It” motto would eventually allow for women to have a more active participation in it — both as creative subjects and active members in those music scenes. It is encouraging that punk “rejected technical virtuosity and professionalism in favour of amateurism, iconoclasm, and a do-it-yourself aesthetic.”6
According to Whiteley (2000, 98) “it is this identification of eccentricity, of a departure from the centre, of not conforming to common rules, that provides a particular trajectory for female punk.”7 This scenario paved the way for Riot Grrrl: a translocal music scene started in the 1990s, led by the bands Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy, although originating in Olympia, Washington D.C. at first, spread to several other countries subsequently. Its broadcasting happened initially through the mailing of fanzines and the exchange of letters between pen pals; later, it would attract the interest of mainstream media and teenage targeted magazines, being featured in outlets such as USA Today, Newsweek, Spin, The New York Times, and even Playboy (Marcus, 2010; Schilt, 2003).
The term Riot Grrrl was intended to reclaim the word “girl” out of its sexist usages in the rock music scenes turning it into an angry growl; it was first coined as the title of a zine written by the members of Bratmobile and Bikini Kill handed out at their concerts. The exhibition “Alien She”, curated by Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss organised by Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, involved a related project called “Riot Grrrl Chapters Map”, which collects Riot Grrrl chapters in 26 countries and 34 states inside the U.S.A., between active and inactive translocal scenes. Most of these countries seem to be inside the spectrum of the United States’ cultural influence, such as European and Latin American countries. Brazil and Russia, for example, are marked in the map.
In 2012, the western world first heard the name of the feminist Russian activist band Pussy Riot. The artists performed a concert that lasted about 50 seconds before being shut down inside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, one of the most well-known churches in Moscow. They sang a “punk prayer” entitled: “Mother of the Lord, Chase Putin Out”. The Pussy Riot member and ex-prisoner Nadya Tolokonnikova in her book Read and Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, first published in 2018, states: “We created Pussy Riot inspired by riot grrrls punk fanzines. How is it possible that a 20-year-old Russian girl living under Putin’s government in 2010 felt so profoundly connected to the American riot grrrl movement that began in the 1990s?” (Tolokonnikova 2019, 36). Tolokonnikova’s account is one of the most illustrative examples of Riot Grrrl’s influence through space and time: almost 30 years later, their ideals are still inspiring young women to rebel and defy the political status quo.
However, despite the successful tackling of gender inequality inside music scenes and subcultures (Gottlieb and Wald 1993), just as feminism itself (hooks 1990, Carneiro 2019, Hill Collins 2019, Lugones 2019, Gonzalez 2019), the initial Riot Grrrl scene was still held responsible of a poor dealing of race, ethnicity and class. It is usually described as a predominantly white, middle-class subculture that failed to include and support the members from underrepresented backgrounds. The women of colour involved in Riot Grrrl would continually criticise how there was a lack of understanding in terms of the forms of prejudice and oppression experienced by women from different races, ethnicities and classes in American society (Nguyen 2012, Radway, 2016). If Riot Grrrl’s ideals of gender equality are going to endure time, it would be necessary to adopt an intersectional framework within its practices. Intersectional Riot Grrrl could be the evolution the initial movement lacked in order to become the inclusive and life-changing movement it was set out to be.
Sapataria and the Riot Grrrl music scene in São Paulo
In the city of São Paulo, women are organising collectives to install their ideals of feminism inside their local punk music scenes. The collective “Desviantes” (the Portuguese word for “deviant”) has been running a music festival, which had its fourth edition in December 2019, featuring line-ups composed mainly by women. Bands such as Dominatrix — the first Brazilian band to claim the Riot Grrrl label (Gelain 2017) — and Cosmogonia formed in the 1990s are still active today, joined by new others such as Gulabi, Bioma, A Vida Toda um Quase, Hayz and Derrota. Issues of homophobia, race prejudice and misogyny are frequently addressed in the song lyrics of these bands and the festivals organised by different collectives feature political speeches between the concerts protesting the current establishment.
Here I would like to focus on the band Sapataria, a hardcore/punk band based in São Paulo composed by women who are openly lesbians, and they mention their lesbianism constantly in their songs. The very name “Sapataria” (“shoe store”) is a joke on the word used in Brazilian Portuguese to discriminate against lesbians, “Sapatão” (“big shoe”). By owning the narratives around lesbian lives and demystifying the heavy weight of that specific offensive word, the band states that they do not accept to be diminished by their identities. In their first EP released in 2018, the songs “Orgulho” (“Pride”), “Carta aos Pais” (“Letter to Parents”), and “M.S.B. (Movimento das Sem Banheiro)” (“Movement of the Ones Without Bathroom”) all directly tackle the issues faced by lesbian women in Brazil nowadays. Their self-titled EP released in 2018 opens with the song “Orgulho (Intro)”, which starts off by stating:
This is a band of dykes
This is a band of lesbians
We are Sapataria
I am proud to be a dyke
I am proud to be a lesbian
I am proud to be how I am
And I am proud of how she is.8 (Sapataria, 2018)
The information gathered here is based on a critical analysis of their first self-titled EP from 2018, and a qualitative interview collected through Skype in January 2019 with the bass player Daniela Mariguetti. Dan — as she is called by her friends and bandmates — says that she met the other members of Sapataria through activism and LGBTQIA+ protests, and she used to follow the Riot Grrrl music scene in São Paulo before even knowing about the initial Riot Grrrl movement started in Olympia, USA. She joined the local Riot Grrrl music scene when she was still in high school, introduced by a classmate to the bands like Dominatrix, Biggies, Lava and Santa Clauss. Later on, in 2013, she met the women who play in the band Anti-corpos — another big band from São Paulo’s underground scene who are currently based in Berlin. The inspiration for creating the band came when Dan saw a live show by the band Charlotte Matou um Cara at the LGBTQIA+ themed event “Queers and Queens” in 2016 alongside with her future bandmate Marina who accompanied her.
Sapataria’s concerts take place mostly at feminist events where the audience might not be familiar with their musical genre, but end up enjoying the performance because they can identify with the message in the lyrics. Recently, the band has started receiving invitations to play at mixed gendered hardcore festivals, which is a sign that their music is being taken into account within the larger punk and hardcore circles. The band’s musical material is being broadcasted mostly on internet, as the most concert invitations come through social media, such as Instagram and Facebook.
The band is composed by Zu, Dan, Isa and Marina. Dan informs me that all of them feel misrepresented in literature, cinema and art in general and that it was a unanimous decision to pick “Orgulho” as the first song of the EP (see the lyrics above). Dan has heard from third parties that certain audiences thought the specific theme of lesbianism could limit the spectrum of the band’s lyrics. As a response to that criticism, Dan states that being a lesbian is an aspect of their lives that permeates the whole experience of life, a feeling that all the members share, which makes the amplitude of the subject an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Their goal is, by writing and releasing songs like “Orgulho”, to encourage other lesbian women to write about their own experiences, and therefore expand the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ movement. In 2019, Sapataria played the same stage as Pussy Riot. Both bands performed at the “Festival Garotas à Frente” in São Paulo, on April 20th.
Sapataria concert at Festival Garotas à Frente. Source: G19
About being an openly lesbian band in Brazil in 2019, Dan states:
“This heavy atmosphere kind of generates a big movement; it causes angst, fear, but a will to try and resist somehow. It is a time when we need to be united and be more strategic, we cannot leave the space for them to come onto us. At the end of 2018, we played at an event called ‘hardcore against fascism’ and it was the first time I was afraid to play. Being in this scene since 2006, I was apprehensive and thinking before each step. It affects us and we have been hearing a lot about depressed LGBTs, people being battered, committing suicide; it has direct psychological effects on the way we act. I would love to have a place to go, but I don’t. Not everyone can leave Brazil. This is why we need to stay and resist.”
While Damares Alves, an evangelical pastor who occupies today the position of Brazilian Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights under the Bolsonaro government boasts against “gender ideology” and encourages sexual abstinence as a response to teenage pregnancies and abortion,10 feminist music scenes continue to resist and spread its ideals among young women in Brazil. Riot Grrrl, even with all its flaws, still represents an important landmark when it comes to women’s emancipation and gender equality in society.
Bennett, Andy; Peterson, Richard. Music Scenes: local, virtual, translocal. Vanderbilt University Press, 2004.
Carneiro, Sueli. “Enegrecer o Feminismo: a Situação da Mulher Negra na América Latina a Partir de uma Perspectiva de Gênero”. Pensamento Feminista: Conceitos Fundamentais. Edited by Heloisa Buarque de Holanda, 2019.
Frith, Simon; McRobbie, Angela. “Rock and Sexuality”. On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. Routledge: 1990.
Gelain, Gabriela. “Releituras, Transições e Dissidências da Cultura Riot Grrrl no Brasil”. Master’s thesis of UNISINOS, 2017.
Gonzalez, Lélia. “A categoria político-cultural da Amefricanidade”. Pensamento Feminista: Conceitos Fundamentais, edited by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, Bazar do Tempo, 2019.
Gottlieb, Joanne; Wald, Gayle. “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Riot Grrrls, Revolution and Women in Independent Rock”. Critical Matrix, Jan. 1, 1993: 7, 2, pp. 11-43.
Hill Collins, Patricia. “Pensamento feminista negro: o poder da autodefinição”. Pensamento Feminista: Conceitos Fundamentais, edited by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, Bazar do Tempo, 2019.
hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Routledge, 2015.
Leonard, Marion. Gender in the Music Industry: Rock, Discourse and Girl Power. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
Lorde, Audre. “Idade, raça, classe e gênero: mulheres redefinindo a diferença”. Pensamento Feminista: Conceitos Fundamentais, edited by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, Bazar do Tempo, 2019.
Lugones, María. “Rumo a um feminismo decolonial”. Pensamento Feminista: Conceitos Fundamentais, edited by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, Bazar do Tempo, 2019.
Milan, Marcelo. “Restauração Oligárquica e Retomada Neoliberal Plena: um ensaio sobre as origens das crises gêmeas e do golpe de estado em 2016 no Brasil”. Revista Brasileira de Estratégia e Relações Internacionais, Jan./Jun., 2016: v. 5, n. 9, pp. 76-119.
Nguyen, Mimi Thi. “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival”. Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 22:2-3, 173-196, 2012.
Queiroz, Tobias. “Valhalla, All Black In e Metal Beer: Repensando a Cena Musical a Partir de Bares do Interior do Nordeste”. PhD thesis of the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).
Radway, Janice. “Girl Zine Networks, Underground Itineraries, and Riot Grrrl History: Making Sense of the Struggle for New Social Forms in the s and Beyond.” Journal of American Studies, 50, Vol. 1, 1-31, 2016.
Reddington, Helen. The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.
Straw, Will. “Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Communities and Scenes in Popular Music.” Cultural Studies, 1991, 5(3): 366-388.
Tolokonnikova, Nadya. Um Guia Pussy Riot Para o Ativismo. São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2019.
Whiteley, Sheila. Women and Popular Music: sexuality, identity and subjectivity. London: Routledge, 2000.
Karina Moritzen is a recently graduated Media Studies Master’s from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. Her Master’s thesis focused on the activity of bands composed only by women in Natal’s independent rock music scene. Her current research interests involve gender, post-colonialism, decolonialism, musicology, ludomusicology and communication studies.
Media Studies Master’s student at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Brazil. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The very word “impeachment” has been arguably used to describe this coup. Professor Marcelo Milan of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in an article in 2016 considers it a coup d’état planned to install a capitalist neoliberal government in the country (Milan, 2016).
- LGBTQIA+ weddings in November and December 2018 portrayed a 340% increase when compared to the same months of 2017. Jair Bolsonaro’s homophobic public statements stem from this trend. “Número de casamentos LGBT cresceu 240% após eleição de Bolsonaro”. Available at: “https://exame.abril.com.br/brasil/casamento-lgbt-salta-60-em-2018-novembro-e-dezembro-lideram-registros/”. Accessed: March 20th, 2020.
- Professor at McGill University in Canada and researcher of the now extinct project “The Culture of Cities” coordinated by Alan Blum
- Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson, Music Scenes: Local, Translocal and Virtual (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004), 1-16.
- Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie. “Rock and Sexuality”. On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin. (Routledge, New York, 1990), 317-332.
- Joanne Gottlieb and Gayle Wald. “Smells Like Teen Spirit: Riot Grrrls, Revolution and Women in Independent Rock.” Critical Matrix 7, n. 2, (1993): 11-43.
- Sheila Whiteley. Women and Popular Music: sexuality, identity and subjectivity. (London: Routledge, 2000), 98.
- Translated by the author. The original says: “Essa é uma banda de sapatas/Essa é uma banda de lésbicas/Nós somos a Sapataria/Eu tenho orgulho de ser sapa/Eu tenho orgulho de ser lésbica/Eu tenho orgulho de ser como sou/E tenho orgulho de como ela é.” “Orgulho by Sapataria”. Letras. Available at: https://www.letras.mus.br/sapataria/orgulho/. Accessed March 20th 2020.
- “Pussy Riot em São Paulo; FOTOS”. G1. Available at: https://g1.globo.com/pop-arte/musica/noticia/2019/04/21/pussy-riot-em-sao-paulo-fotos.ghtml. Accessed March 20th 2020.
- “Quais as medidas concretas de Damares como Ministra”. Available at: <https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2019/10/25/Quais-as-medidas-concretas-de-Damares-como-ministra>. Accessed March 20th 2020.