Tribe of Love
Remember lesbian chic? It's a little odd to think of this media buzz as already being passe, but for now the media's sloppy salivation over women who love women has subsided. k.d. lang came out, as did Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls. Heck, even Morgan Fairchild played a lesbian on the right-wing targeted Roseanne.
Suddenly, lesbians were no longer shunned by the media but became the pretty pretty nice nice poster children for the multicultural age. Though likely remaining fetishized in the minds of the men in power, lesbians became as novel as Rubik's Cube at its introduction. The take-no-prisoners women of Tribe 8, however, won't allow themselves to be twisted by anyone but themselves.
"There are rules about being a dyke that I didn't know about because I came out in San Fransisco," chuckled Tribe 8 guitarist Lynn Flipper on the wire from a Chicago tour stop. Rules are one of many social conventions that the "all-dyke" Tribe 8 have happily disregarded throughout their infamous five-year history. The self-described female homo-core outfit from San Fransisco have railed against both heterosexual oppression and overly politically correct lesbian ways in their fiery punk rock anthems. Tribe 8 may offend damn near everyone in their wake, but "we're really doing it for dyke culture," said Flipper. "We don't go out of our way to offend."
Though often lazily lumped in with the riot grrl movement, Tribe 8 are an autonomous entity.
"We didn't really feel like we were part of riot grrl. It's just funny that any band with a girl in it was automatically labeled riot grrl," commented Flipper. "We're more like riot hags."
With songs about lesbian love, stringently p.c. "neanderthal dykes," and "gang castration" as an answer to gang rape, Tribe 8 have forged a more unique identity than any other band in recent memory.
The in your faceness of Tribe 8 will likely never be forgotten by the attendees of the annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival the year that the riot hags played. The festival usually attracts upwards of 7,000 women for a few days of workshops, dialogue and music. Historically known for its Birkenstock set and gentle acoustic strumming, the festival was ill prepared for the Doc Marten wearing, dildo brandishing, good haircut sporting Tribe 8.
"We were the shit stirrers that year," said Flipper. "That was [the organizers'] intention when they invited us to play. There's usually a controversy every year--we were kind of the import controversy. The whole thing was kind of surreal because it's a whole extracted mini world that's different from the rest."
Tribe 8 disrupted the "mini world" of the much revered festival, so much so that protesters marched outside the festival's entrance arguing that the band promoted violence through sadomasochism and embraced the patriarchy with their display of dildos during their set. Many of the festival's skeptical attendees, however, lost their reservations about Tribe 8 within the magical catharsis of the mosh pit.
The festival's first pit is now legendary and is said to have contained not only punk dykes, but conservative looking middle aged women and gray haired herbal tea addicts. When Tribe 8 began as "a joke at a party" in 1990, it's unlikely that Lynn Flipper and vocalist Lynn Breedlove would have guessed that the eventual punchline would make Womyn's Music Festival history.
"We didn't really know what we were doing," said Flipper. "We couldn't play so we used to have really elaborate stage shows because we needed the distraction. We had a friend who did some stage stuff with us. She used to fuck a blow up doll to this song about obsessive love called Masochist Medley.
Sometimes she'd use a blow up sheep," Flipper added. "One time the blow up doll popped during the song and it really disturbed people. Stuff like that kind of got us in trouble in the beginning," laughed the guitarist.
As is made apparent on Tribe 8's latest release Fist City, the distraction of theatrics is no longer necessary. The long player is filled with great punk riffs, continually evolving musicianship, and witty, irreverent lyrics.
The opening track begins with a mocking excerpt from Women's Love by Johanna Lee: "Women's love it's so friendly/women's love like herbal tea/women's love it empowers me." After the chant is over, Tribe 8 rip into Manipulate, a song about, well, manipulating your girlfriend. Fist City is filled with a surprising amount of philosophizing. Throughout the album, Lynn Breedlove's soulful crooning narrates a questioning journey through love, hate, and the human condition at large.
Though Fist City's songs are by and about lesbians, most thinking humans would find a resonance of truth in the album's snarling tunes. "We like to get all kinds of people at the shows even though the music is written about dykes," said Flipper. It's important for us to communicate with a lot of different people."
Playing a wide variety of shows to both straight and gay audiences, Tribe 8 often find themselves unwitting de facto role models. "We've never really felt like spokespeople for the gay community or lesbians at all. We can't really cater to anyone but ourselves." If there's one group that Tribe 8 is certainly not catering to, it's "frat pigs."
Fist City's finale is an anti rape song entitled Frat Pig. The track details an account of an archetypal gang rape situation and includes the furious chorus of "frat pig/it's called gang rape/let's play/gang castrate." Here, Tribe 8 show that they may well be the embodiment of every rapist's, bigot's and oppressor's nightmare.
One unfortunate dolt had his nightmare played out at a Tribe 8 gig a few years ago. At a show where young straight punk boys are invited on stage to perform fellatio on Lynn Breedlove's strap-on dildo, a gaggle of idiots thought it might be a good idea to start heckling the band.
"We were playing with NOFX and about ten guys of about two hundred would slam dance during the songs but yell 'fucking dykes' in between," remembered Flipper. "Finally, one of them grabbed our bass player's crotch; she threw down her bass and kicked him in the face and people in the crowd jumped him and threw him out."
As Lynn Flipper tells it, however, most Tribe 8 shows aren't plagued by geniuses such as the famed crotch grabber. One might even argue that a Tribe 8 show is a family affair. Just ask Lynn Flipper's mother.
So we did. Mom Margot, on the horn from scenic Vermont, said that she is amazed at her daughter's courage. "It really takes guts to perform," she commented. "When I first went to see them, I wasn't sure about it but the crowd was very supportive and there was a great feeling in the place. All the time and energy that goes into it--it does really take guts and I'm glad to see she [Flipper] has got them."
"She danced all the way through the set," exclaimed Flipper of her mother. "She loved it and for the first time she was finally truly proud."
Most would expect parental-types to be a little put off by a guitar-crunching, tattooed demi-goddess dyke but Flipper's mom rocks with the flow. "It helps that I come from the rock-n-roll era, I mean, I'm a veteran of many Dead concerts and I think that definitely helps us bridge the 'gap,'" she explained. "One thing about having eccentric parents is you don't have to worry too much."
When asked if she was surprised at her daughter's career choice, Margot immediately said no. "She was always a very intense person and none of it, not the sexuality or the band, has been surprising to me," she said. "I was sort of surprised to see that she was pursuing a career of public performing but the intensity--no. Tribe 8 has a message and it might not be for everyone but its nice to see thought process in music. I'm very proud of her."