Manic Pixi brings Riot Grrl feminism and activism back to punk culture
While attending any punk show or festival, one will notice an extreme lack of female band members. Lyrics, too, which were once woven with anti-establishment messages,have dulled into white, straight men complaining about being rejected and eating pizza. While the punk community prides themselves on being all-inclusive and progressive, the representation onstage and the content of their music says otherwise.
In 2012, one band set out to break this trend and over the years have brought truth to the values punk prides itself on. This band calls themselves Manic Pixi. Based in Brooklyn and fronted by 24-year-old singer Kat Hamilton, the band makes nods to Riot Grrl bands with unabashed feminism and lyrics about LGBT experiences. Marshall Biever (guitar), Drew Bastian (bass), and Emmett Ceglia (drums), make up the rest of the band and create the harsh rock and roll melodies that pop punk fans know and love.
Hamilton pulls inspiration from revolutionary women in rock and roll such as Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna, Brody Dalle, and especially Stevie Nicks. It was hearing Fleetwood Mac for the first time that convinced Hamilton to pursue a career as a singer. Hamilton loves the idea of having strong women in the front and she loves the showmanship of them singing their music.
Hamilton not only shares the passion, drive, and talent that these women have, but also the sexist experiences they have all faced being women in the rock and punk genre. She has received the ever popular, “you’re really good for a girl” or, “I don’t usually like female fronted bands, but I like you,” which she says makes her really uncomfortable. “You shouldn’t have to put down other bands just to like our music,” Hamilton tells Acentric about the sexist comments she receives. She also finds the term “female fronted” offensive.
“I’m all about girls to the front, but it can’t just be music, it has to be ‘female fronted,’” says Hamilton. “You’re only weighing the validity of its music against other female fronted bands as if it’s the kiddie pool and all the men are in the separate, real pool. I don’t particularly enjoy that.”
Hamilton points out that mentioning gender in a compliment or statement seems to only apply to the music industry, especially with names like “girl bands” and “female-fronted bands.” “It’s a damaging genre name,” asserts Hamilton. “There aren’t any other genres out there where you’re referencing the person’s personhood instead of how their music sounds. Or you don’t go, ‘this is a really good restaurant for having a female head chef.’ You don’t sort your Yelp category into ‘Female Run Auto Body Dealerships’ and ‘Male Run Auto Body Dealerships.’” She believes that at this point it’s more revolutionary to take away that isolating title and simply call the band what it is: a band.
Manic Pixi gets their name from the manic pixie dream girl trope in stories. Hamilton says it pokes fun at that trope like how their music pokes fun at itself. The band also relates to manic pixie dream girls in that they are stereotyped and stigmatized. But once people see them live, they realize they aren’t the cookie-cutter pop-punk band. Hamilton says some listeners say, “Oh, it’s pop punk! It’s sugary, poppy, fun music,” but then listen to the music and realize there is so much more there. She also says this is the same problem that manic pixie dream girls experience; there’s a generalization of something that there’s so much more to – a human being. The band’s lyrics are more complex, complicated, and deep than they seem. Hamilton stresses that Manic Pixi focuses on taking stereotypes such as these and turning them around.
Hamilton says her experiences as a lesbian are also a part of what goes into the band’s music. The passion the entire band has for discouraged, outcast people played a part in their latest album Iron Heart. “A few other members of the band fall on the spectrum of mental health and we wanted to make sure that if we have those voices in the band, we make them heard and make sure that people know we’re not trying to hide it,” Hamilton tells Acentric. “When most of the lyrical content is written by a queer person, it would be a shame to hide that when so many people are looking to connect with that.”
Hamilton says the band feels open and enthusiastically representative of a community that can connect with what they are talking about. “Iron Heart is about growing thicker skin and there are some songs more than others that represent a queer experience,” says Hamilton, referencing “Pearls,” a song about falling for straight women. “But it’s mainly about coming into adulthood and we want people to feel encouraged in this.” The album cover, created by Ceglia’s cousin, Caitlin Bassolini, features a giant iron heart being constructed by numerous tiny people. Behind the heart is an intricate, geometric cityscape. The members of the band were so blown away by this hand painted artwork that they scrapped their original idea for the album cover and went with this painting instead.
Manic Pixi is currently touring in the northeast/midwest region of the United States on their way back from playing a show in Canada. Hamilton says Bandsintown isn’t the most reliable source for finding out where they’re headed to next, but they keep their social media up to date. Some cities they’re hitting on their current tour include Detroit, Philadelphia and Erie. Manic Pixi’s focus on and passion for inclusiveness and equality should put them on any true punk fan’s radar, and hopefully this band can lead the way for the punk community to return to its roots, one show at a time.