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Lucy O'Brien

Writer/broadcaster Lucy O’Brien wrote She Bop 1 and II, a history of women in popular music (1995 & 2002), with a third edition due next year. She has also published in-depth biographies including Madonna: Like An Icon (2007) and Dusty (2000). Her paper is drawn from a recently published piece in Vol 1 of the journal Punk & Post Punk. She is Lecturer in Music Journalism at Epsom University of Creative Arts, UK.

 

Abstract:

"Can I Have a Taste of Your Ice Cream? (Post punk feminism and the Yorkshire Ripper)"

'We weren't trying to be 'natural'. We embraced artificiality. We were undecorated and raw,' says Andy Gill, guitarist with the Gang of Four.

In Sound Tracks, Connell and Gibson argue that local sounds can be mythologised in 'narratives of place'. British post punk music established a narrative of particular cities - whether it was the boomy garage sound of The Fall in Manchester, Prefab Sprout's plaintive, folk-inspired ballads from Newcastle, or Sheffield's avant-funk in early Human League and Heaven 17. Post punk echoed the cultural tension of cities in transition. If it was about articulating the true narrative of place, the clashing voices, stripped-down beats and fractured guitar of Leeds bands like the Gang of Four, the Mekons and Delta 5 were the sound of gender war and collective trauma.

Why did the city of Leeds spawn such a distinctive sound? In his book Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds suggests there was a tough, alternative brand of feminism on the Leeds scene. The background to this was Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper. Between 1976-1980, this serial murderer killed thirteen women in the Leeds/Bradford area, and his crimes brought into focus deep issues of sexual politics and women’s rights.

This paper will explore the sound of post punk feminism and how it flourished in a post-industrial city affected by the Yorkshire Ripper, the National Front, and a combative male culture. And I will look at how that confrontational style has influenced many later bands - from Riot Grrl act Le Tigre to Chicks on Speed, Robots in Disguise and Boston duo Dresden Dolls, defining a gloriously defiant, female-identified sound of the city.