Sweden’s Riot Grrrl Sessions project intersects punk feminism, collaboration and music.
“We are the riot grrrls/We are the terror grrrls/We are the rainbow grrrls/We are the future” are the lines written by Frida Ståhl that conclude The 1st Session, an album released in February 2018 under the artist name “Riot Grrrl Sessions.” After learning that the twelve Swedish musicians behind the project wrote, arranged, and recorded the thirteen songs on the album in a single weekend–without a cisgender man involved at any point in the process–this claim isn’t hard to believe.
Though in the United States we tend to view Sweden as a particularly progressive country in terms of gender equality, its’ music scenes, like those nearly everywhere, are not free from sexism. “I’ve been playing in punk bands for twenty years and I still get questions from journalists and people around me that are so fucked up and the kind of questions that I only get because I’m a woman,” said Canan Rosén, a Stockholm musician who organized the Riot Grrrl Sessions. “There are a few things in Sweden that are really awesome about gender equality, but if you ask me, no, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Rosén wanted to organize a project that would express the ideas from Riot Grrrl, a U.S. underground feminist punk movement that started in the 1990s. The riot grrrl sessions in Sweden finds inspiration from this movement and reinterprets these ideas through their project. “I think the movement is about finding ways to express yourself and it could be through any kind of art form or through demos; it could be anything, it’s just your imagination that is scaling it down,” Rosén said. “It’s the people who are part of it that make it what it’s going to be,” said Rosen.
To accomplish the daunting task of writing and recording an entire album in one weekend, Rosén decided to organize the project with a “Do It Together” (DIT) rather than “Do It Yourself” (DIY) mindset. Rosén first heard the term “Do It Together” from Popkollo, a Swedish organization similar to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance in the U.S., which runs workshops and summer camps. Though she supported the widely-used punk idea of DIY for a long time, Rosén said, “now when I hear this other expression, ‘Do It Together,’ I think, ‘no that’s what punk is about’…that’s when we can really accomplish things, when we are doing it together. There’s true strength behind that expression and I really love it.”
This purposefully DIT approach established a distinct and collaborative musical environment in the studio. “To be working in the opposite way was such a revolution and the whole weekend I just had this whole feeling of mutual respect for everybody there,” said recording engineer Katharina Grubmüller.
This was the first time that most of those involved had heard the term DIT, but it shaped the entire weekend. “I believe in DIT more than DIY, that I learned, and that you can learn so much from each other,” said Tess de la Cour, a musician part of the session. Mastering engineer Frida Claeson Johansson also described the connection that this approach almost immediately established between those involved. “The energy in the studio was kind of different because everyone was so excited and like ‘now we’re doing this together,’” she said.
As of now, the Riot Grrrl Sessions project consists of one album, a photo exhibition part of the 2018 Stockholm Fringe Festival, and a forthcoming documentary. But its influence is already reaching far beyond the relatively small country of Sweden. “It’s been a huge bonus having riot grrrls around the world contact us and tell us how inspired they are and to share experiences with people around the world who are fighting for the same thing that we are,” Rosén said.
Everyone participating in the session seemed to echo the same sentiment of sharing the best weekend ever. Recording engineer Katharina Grubmüller reflects that, “the feeling from the weekend was amazing and I didn’t understand it until it was over. I just realized many things and had these ‘aha moments’…I was being part of a tiny bit of history.”