Riot Grrrl. Punk. Emo, before Emo was a thing. A Femiplosion of sound and words that totally blew me away in the early nineties and as I listened back to some of the old classics before writing this, they still sound incendiary and icy cool to this day. And a bit scary.
Huggy Bear were one of the most all inclusive bands it was ever my pleasure to discover. A lot of the music press, essentially everyone but the Melody Maker, would only give them space to tell us how much they hated them. It was never “This EP is dull to my ears” or whatever, which I would agree to disagree with because, let’s fave it, that is what the music press was/is for. No it was always a cliched slur telling us that the band was angry at everyone in the world and that if you were not a girl you had no place in this world. This was talking about a band THAT HAD MEN IN IT and fully involved in the construction. People who slagged off Huggy Bear for their feminist ways are probably the same people who now hashtag #Notallmen whenever a girl has the strength to tell a story in which the man is the villain. They are not after all men, in the same way that Huggy Bear were not battling all men. I found the fandom of Huggy Bear to be one of the best. Sure it felt a lot like my major love, Manic Street Preachers, they were both anti-love (MSP even having a song of that name)and fiercely girl powered, years before that phrase was watered down. Both pointed me towards Andrea Dworkin, Camille Paglia and Kathy Acker. And both ruled in the fanzine culture.
It might seem strange now when you can hear anything or watch anything or read anything without even leaving your computer, but when the latest issue of their zine came through the door, I read every word, with my trusty notepad (I’m always suspicious of any writer that does not have a notepad within reach at all times) right there to list records I had not heard or writers I had not read, it was a great time. And lest we forget, they made their own unique t-shirts too. Artists in every sense of the word.
It is tough to try to explain a beginner’s guide to Huggy Bear, but at least it is easy now. Taking The Rough With The Smooch is a great compilation of those early EP’s that I searched tiny independent stores for back in the day. The best of these was probably the brilliantly titled Kiss Curl For The Kid’s Lib Guerrilas from December 1992, a scorching screech of pure power, check out Carnt Kiss for the band at it’s best.
To show how important the band was in the Riot Grrrl scene you just need to look at the debut ‘album’, essentially half an album with the second side taken up by Bikini Kill. If you’re gonna take on the world, it is best to have one of the top bands of the scene backing you up – this refers to both Bikini Kill AND Huggy Bear and also blows apart the rumours that this band were anti everything and you could never be their friend! My favourite HB track of all time is 14 February, a glorious piece of Riot Grrrl that has en my go-to song every Valentines since release. Oh and those who said Huggy Bear were just trying to be impossibly underground? You know where the intro to this song comes from? PEE WEE HERMAN. Yeah, it is from the classic sequel Big Top Pee Wee. Not an obscure black and white movie you could never find. Huggy Bear 1 Mainstream Press 0. Again.
Those looking for our generation’s Bill Grundy moment need look no further than Huggy Bear. They tore through Her Jazz on The Word (essentially a lad culture relic that seemed to star Shaun William Ryder EVERY WEEK) before it showed a report on famous American models The Barbi Twins, which upset the band and their fans who were then ejected from the studio. Freedom of speech only works when you agree with the establishment, kids and that was never Huggy Bear’s style. Live, Huggy Bear tore the building apart, storming the stage and tearing through three minute classic, after three minute classic. Again it should be noted that there was no violence or anti-boy factors here, in fact I felt safer and more part-of-a-scene than ever here, with the band talking to fans after the gigs, fans swapping fanzines and excellent support band Bratmobile even giving me their plectrum.
Overall Huggy Bear are one of the most important of the British wave of Riot Grrrl culture and whilst their career may have been short, it means it never stops racing at 90 miles per hour and never becomes cliched or watered down.
Listen to Her Jazz, listen to 14 February, listen to T-Shirt Tucked In and fall in love:
Kendall Lacey, 2018
Music and Film Journalist, Poet & Riot Grrrl Afficionado Kendall Lacey also has his own website where you can check out more of his nostalgia-soaked odes to the revolutionaries of Riot Grrrl past.