Photograph by Marcus Leatherdale
WE ARE THE ONE: The Avengers' Penelope Houston, left, epitomizes the pre-riot-grrrl era of 'Femme Punk.'
Women-fronted punk bands take center stage
By Leilani Clark
"As long as people get turned on to new music, that's what really makes me happy," says Eric Yee. "When people come up to me and say, 'Oh, I really like this band,' that's the ultimate reward."
Yee has just compiled Femme Punk, an epic 11-volume collection of women-fronted punk bands spanning 1974 to the present and available for free download on file-sharing network Pirate Bay. When Yee first got into punk in the 1980s, he was struck by the under-representation of women, and he says that Femme Punk is an attempt to remedy that imbalance. Its release, he says, speaking by phone from the East Bay, serves to "bring to light the more obscure bands that have fallen through the cracks and eluded most people's perceptions of women in punk."
Culled from a massive selection of cassettes and vinyl, and inspired by comps such as the gray-area Killed by Death series, Femme Punk cost Yee dearly. "I decimated my own collection by trading away valuable, collectible records to get the songs. The list was pretty brutal," he says with a pained laugh. An avid vinyl collector, Yee offed everything from the first Fear single to extremely rare Misfits recordings, trading them for obscure records by bands that only existed for a brief moment in time.
Yee initially made four separate compilations, which he copied and handed around to friends. Soon, he had amassed so much music that he decided to put everything into one super "box set" of 11 CDs, with a large booklet. Femme Punk's extensive liner notes were created over the course of three frenzied writing nights with the help of East Bay punk notables Robert Eggplant (publisher of Absolutely Zippo zine), Aaron Cometbus (Cometbus zine) and Julia Booz. He made just 15 hard copies of the box set and gave them all away; eventually creating a downloadable version meant getting the music out into the world with no cost.
Featuring loads of acts ranging from San Francisco legends the Avengers to disappearing entities like Flackoff and Treason, a Hayward-based band whose only release was on a '90s peace-punk compilation, Femme Punk is mind-blowing in its scope. It contains 347 songs. And while it archives the contributions of women to an often male-dominated punk scene, Yee is enthusiastic about the fact that times have changed since those testosterone-fueled early days.
"There are a lot of great all-women bands around now," Yee says, mentioning Songs for Mom and Grass Widow, two current Bay Area bands. "I go to the average gig, at least in the East Bay, and there are always women in bands, so much more so than when I first got into punk."
And how do these bands feel about the fact that all music, graphics and photos have been used without permission? Yee hopes there won't be any legal implications, and is cheered by the fact that Penelope Houston, lead singer of the Avengers, approved of the endeavor when she stumbled upon it at his friend's record store.
"I'm a small fish," Yee says. "I don't even sell it, and a lot of the other stuff has been comped already or is just so obscure that I don't think there will be any problem."
For your own mp3 version of 'Femme Punk,' Google "Femme Punk Pirate Bay," which leads to the download link. For one of the elusive hard copies, Yee says you'll have to find him in an alley after a show and buy him a forty.
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