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Pay Tribute To Riot Grrrl And The Early '90s At Debonair Tonight

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 24, 2016 4:43PM

(Left to right - Rob Rodemeyer, Meg Comrade, Melissa Scales. Photo by Aaron Cynic)

If you grew up in the '90s, it's hard to believe tributes to the decade are even viable yet. But it's 2016, and at least one local band is paying tribute to the quintessential '90s music—Riot Grrrl—at Wicker Park's Debonair on Friday night.

Riot Grrrl, an amalgamation of feminism, DIY punk, hardcore and indie rock, first started in the early '90s with bands like Bikini Kill and Team Dresch. The movement later gained momentum as bands like L7 and Hole became associated with it. While Riot Grrrl's influence is still evident in both mainstream and underground music across genres, the raw, in-your-face attitude of its early days hasn’t been in the limelight in a long time.

Local quartet Schellenbach (Author's note - I've been friends with the folks in this band since they formed) wants to bring back the raw power, attitude and message of Riot Grrrl. Formed initially as a Beastie Boys cover band for a one-time performance at Chicago’s MCA Day in 2015—an event celebrating the life of Adam Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012—the group decided to continue on, but as a tribute to Riot Grrrl instead.

“I had so much fun learning songs and playing with the band, I was hoping we would keep it going,” said vocalist Meg Comrade. “I got a text from Rob [Rodemeyer, guitarist] asking if I was interested in re-forming Schellenbach as a Riot Grrrl cover band. Now, I wanted us to play again, but to play Riot Grrrl?! The smoke came off my thumbs I texted him back so quickly, "Yes!!!”

Ben Pfeifer, bassist, who also plays with drummer Melissa Scales in Photo-Curio, a Chicago based post-punk act, said he was exposed to the Riot Grrrl movement through Nirvana.

“During the '90s I was deep, deep into Nirvana,” said Pfiefer. “I still am, but at that time I ate up anything and everything Kurt Cobain. This included any and all of his interviews, where he would often talk about things like feminism, gay rights, and an anti-macho attitude to the world...This led me to start buying records from Riot Grrrl and other female-fronted alternative [and] grunge bands.”

(Melissa Scales and Ben Pfeifer. Photo by Aaron Cynic

While tribute bands can be a dime a dozen in any city, Schellenbach differentiates themselves by focusing on a powerful genre that spawned a movement.

"This wasn't music you casually listened to," said Rodemeyer. "Punk music defined you, it separated you from everyone else. I want to share this music, its message and how it makes me feel with people who may not have heard it before."

Playing tributes has invigorated the band's writing process, too, Pfiefer said. “The simplistic guitar style of Erin Smith in Bratmobile taught [me] you don't have to play chords—even power chords—all the time, you can play single notes and still come up with a rich, interesting song. I can then take that lesson and apply it my own original song writing.”

Scales, too, said covers were good for learning new things. “Having never had formal lessons, I've always learned from listening to music and trying to replicate parts, then synthesizing them with my own style.”

The power found in a genre like Riot Grrrl is also in the politics that were intrinsic to the style, politics that are still very much relevant today, says Comrade.

“It's fucked up that decades later we're still fighting for so many of the same things riot grrrl was about, like reproductive freedom..," she said. "We need a riot grrrl revival, because patriarchy is still definitely a thing.”

Scales added: “Feminist and gender equality issues are still incredibly relevant. I'm in this band because it is amazingly fun to play... but there is something very powerful about these songs that keeps my eyes open to the struggles facing fellow humans today.”

Schellenbach plays Friday March 25 at Debonair at 8 p.m.. Entry is $10.