Sisters Are Punking It for Themselves

Mel Hell and Alice Sin lead the charge of the misfit boy-toys

Not mommy/teacher material, clearly. And that's the point. "There's a lot of emotion involved, a lot of angst and stresses in life that women have, especially being a mom, and having this outlet -- I don't know where it comes from, but when I get up there behind the mike and play my guitar, it all just comes out."

Hell's something of a new face on the scene, but many longtime Houston music fans will remember Alice Sin from the Bareknuckle Knockouts, C'Mon C'Mon, Deathkultur BBQ and Manhole, one of the most prominent female punk bands the Bayou City has ever seen. I haven't heard this band yet, but the lineup and personnel certainly look intriguing -- upright bass, drums, guitar and pedal steel, all playing, as Sin describes it on their MySpace site, "good nasty rock and roll, rockabilly, and punk."

"The pedal steel brings a very unique sound," Sin says. "We didn't know how it was gonna work out, but it really puts the icing on the cake. It's a really cool sound."

I asked Sin, a veteran on the local punk scene, how things had changed since 1994, when former music editor Brad Tyer wrote Manhole up in these pages. "Things are a lot easier now," she says. "Ten or 15 years ago when I started on the scene, there were no women at all. And then it became real kitschy -- a woman band wasn't supposed to be serious. It was like a gimmick. Now I think that's completely blown out of the water. In general, there's just way more women becoming musicians."

Sin is right about the scarcity of women in the early '90s, but if you look further back, to the late '70s and early '80s, there were lots of women on the punk scene. Punk's forerunners teemed with women -- Patti Smith, the Runaways, Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground, Girlschool and Suzi Quatro, to name a few of the most prominent. And then once punk bloomed, you had bands like the Slits and X-Ray Spex in addition to the Pretenders and Siouxsie Sioux. The earliest new wave was very woman-friendly as well.

What happened? My theory is that the Go Go's and the Bangles ruined it all from the musical standpoint, and Madonna spoiled the fashion. The former watered down the music, and Madonna took the fashion from the streets to suburbia, and MTV gave them each the means. I asked Sin about this theory. "I think that holds true," she said. "Those bands made it where you had to be cute to be a woman in a band. And with MTV, people were seeing you more than hearing you."

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