When it comes to punk rock, anything goes. From the formation of the subculture in the 1970s until now, the music has always harbored messages of hope for a better future and welcomed artists who might not be widely accepted elsewhere, despite its standoffish outward appearance of leather, chains and anarchy.
While the novelty of women in such bands isn’t necessarily new or unique at this point, the subgenre is also a space where they’ve historically thrived, whether that’s by brandishing a mic or slinging a guitar. The Runaways
, with young up-and-comers like Joan Jett and Lita Ford, kicked down the door on the boys' club that was rock at that time alongside the likes of Wendy O. Williams
, Doro Pesch
. So in some respects, it’s safe to say that punk rock was built for women by women, unlike previous subcultures.
But don’t tell Stacey Dee, the lead singer and guitarist of Bad Cop/Bad Cop
, that. She doesn’t care what’s between your legs when you step on stage. At 47, she’s been playing in punk bands for over half her life, including her start in the rowdy San Francisco scene.
“I don’t think it’s any different,” she says of fronting a four-piece with three other punk-rock women. “I think it has to do with the kind of person you are versus your gender. I’m the kind of person that wants to go travel. I’m the kind of person that wants to meet people. I’m the kind of person that wants new experiences, and I want to perform in new places. I don’t think that that’s any different than a man would feel in wanting to be an artist and a performer. I just happen to be a woman, who has a different perspective in my songwriting and things like that. We’re just those women.”
Similarly, Stephanie Byrne and Jane No of Colorado Springs “femme-core” punk band Cheap Perfume
aren’t interested in what people think about their in-your-face performances or about who they should be as women; they just want them to sit back and listen when they’re on.
“We definitely had the idea of punk in mind when we set up. It’s been really easy for us to stay true. There’s a lot to be angry about,” says co-vocalist Byrne. “I think there’s still a lot of material and a lot of good things to write about. There’s so much to speculate on. It feels like the world is absolutely on fire in every capacity it can be.”
No, who sings and plays guitar, agrees with her bandmate, explaining that she’s always been drawn to music with more meaningful messages. Punk rock allows Cheap Perfume to shed light on serious topics, from inequality to anti-capitalism to feminism — hence the “femme-core” tag.
“We hadn’t really heard it anywhere when we first started. We just thought it described our sound really well. I like that ‘femme’ can mean a lot of different things. We’re very inclusive, so clearly, femme means any women, including trans women who are women, and non-binary people, and anyone else who experiences being femme,” No adds. “I always appreciated punk as an outlet for airing political grievances and talking about how we can do things better as a society and allowing us to be angry about it. Hopefully we shed light on certain topics. I think punk is a wonderful tool for that. I do think there’s something powerful about political punk.”
Cheap Perfume and Bad Cop/Bad Cop are part of this year’s Punk in Drublic
concert, a craft beer and music festival that will be at Fiddler’s Green
on Saturday, August 20. NOFX
, Circle Jerks
, the Suicide Machines
, Bridge City Sinners
, Pkew Pkew Pkew
and All Waffle Trick
are also part of the festivities.
Dee has played Punk in Drublic before, and is looking forward to the camaraderie more than anything.
“You get to see all your friends — we’re all in the same place. I always really enjoy the days because they’re just so fun,” she says. "Once you’re a punk rocker, you’re never not a punk rocker. It’s not a phase you grow out of. It’s like this is who you are as a person.”
For Cheap Perfume, the concert will be the band’s biggest show on the biggest stage so far, No explains.
“A lot of these bands playing Punk in Drublic are bands I was way into as a teenager, so teenage me would be giddy to know that we’re going to be playing this,” she says.
While it’s “really exciting and intimidating,” No adds, being on the bill also means that she and bands like Cheap Perfume belong to the larger, inclusive community that is punk rock. Creating that type of safe space is also what she and the band aim to do whenever and wherever they play.
“One thing that I hope we could be for people is just to come and feel heard, supported, and we do have community in these dark times,” No says, citing the recent news of Roe v. Wade and the widening wealth gap as her more current inspirations. “We’re there for each other. We understand each other. That’s what I hope people feel when they listen to us and come to our shows.”
Dee expresses the same sentiment with Bad Cop/Bad Cop by approaching hard-to-talk-about topics with a sense of compassion that is typically lacking in day-to-day life or from those in positions of power who are making wide-reaching decisions.
“I can be really angry about stuff or I can be compassionate about it and change things within myself so that the example I lead with other people brings peace and happiness rather than keeping myself in a fight and [being] angry all the time. … That just makes the matter confusing and filled with turmoil,” she says. “I always try to find compassion or a way to talk about things instead of blame, blame, blame. But what made it happen? Let’s talk about why people are hurting, why people are having generational trauma, why people are hurting other people. Let’s talk about the root cause of things rather than just what has cumulated into the whitehead of it all that’s about to explode. Let’s talk about the bad food people ate to make that pimple huge.”
Byrne shares a story about a sixteen-year-old fan in France who wrote her own punk-rock song after being bullied by some boys in her grade. The song, called “Drink Our Periods,” is in line with Cheap Perfume’s blunt song titles like “Fauxminism”
and “It’s Okay to Punch Nazis.”
“What an experience that you get to connect with someone on the other side of the planet because we helped inspire them. It’s really, really cool,” Byrne says. “It’s an all-around humbling experience. It continues to be humbling to know that people are watching you, and it is important what you’re doing and how you’re representing yourselves and your strengths, because younger people are looking at those things, and they want those role models.”
Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Cheap Perfume perform at Punk in Drublic, Saturday, August 20, at Fiddler's Green, 6350 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard; tickets are $35-$99.