Top 20 Badass Frontwomen in Indie/Underground Music

There’s an almost infinite amount of killer women fronting bands these days. We’ve done our best to put together our list of our 20 favorite bad asses that currently front their own bands, while also including some of our favorite lesser-known acts that have the potential to grow into being some of the better known ones. We got some good insight from our readers via social media, as well as from our own staff. Here’s our list in no particular order.

1. Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs

photo karen o yeah yeah yeahs

Karen O was one of the first to come to mind when working on this feature, for good reason. If you’ve ever seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live, you might recall Karen O basically swallowing the microphone while screaming into it during “Art Star.” She’s a supreme bad ass who has also found success as a solo artist — her Crush Songs album a few years back showed a different side to her, proving she’s as versatile as they come.


2. Alison Mosshart of The Kills / The Dead Weather

Alison Mosshart_The Kills 6-3

While a member of Jack White supergroup The Dead Weather, Mosshart went by the stage name “Baby Ruthless,” which is a pretty damn good description. She’s a maniac on stage and one of the premier rockers regardless of gender. Her smoky vocals are very distinct and she’s on her own level. There are few things we are looking forward to more this year than the new album from The KillsAsh & Ice, due out June 3.


3. Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes

Photos- Bosnian Rainbows and Sister Crayon at First Unitarian Church

Teri Suarez made a name as being one of the ultimate live performance artists of the past decade. She started her band Le Butcherettes with the specific idea to fight against sexism and social injustice among other things, adopting the “Gender Bender” surname as her alter-ego. Her music and on-stage antics (which included rocking a pig’s head) inspired Mars Volta member Omar Rodriguez-Lopez to sign them to his label and they’ve been making waves for years. Our interview two years ago with her is still one of our most interesting we’ve conducted.


4. Kim House of Kim & The Created

kim and the created

Kim House might be the Queen of Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. Her band Kim & The Created was added to the Burger Records roster a year ago and their name has continued to climb up their festivals ever since. House is a whirling dervish on stage and there’s never a dull moment when they’re performing. You just never know what she’s going to do — like when she ripped off her shirt at Desert Daze last year to reveal some well-placed body paint.


5. Annie Clark aka St. Vincent

St Vincent

St. Vincent

While Joan Jett and Kim Gordon have been established rockers for multiple decades, Annie Clark was chosen to sing “Lithium” during Nirvana’s Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction because of the largely-held opinion she will be a pillar of the genre for decades to come. St. Vincent is a bad ass lady with supreme vision — you’d know this if you saw her touring her last album, 2014’s St. Vincent. Her synchronized stage moves are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and she straight shreds on the guitar.


6. Hether Fortune of Wax Idols

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That Hether Fortune was able to write most of the latest Wax Idols album while touring full-time as a member of White Lung speaks to her hard work and dedication as a musician. She also played all the instruments but drums when recording the album, American Tragic. Her band opened for Refused a few years ago, Fortune having struck a friendship with the band after punching a bouncer at one of their shows in San Francisco. Does it get more badass than that?


7. Courtney Barnett

Courtney barnett

Aussie singer Courtney Barnett might be the most creative songwriter in rock music today. That she’s able to write her lyrics in this sort of stream of consciousness style while also retaining pop sensibilities is impressive as hell — plus she can write one heck of a hook. Her 2015 album Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit was full of these types of numbers, and she was one of the busiest people all last year as she toured the album extensively. She will melt your face off with her killer guitar work as well.


8. Kera Armendariz of Kera & The Lesbians

Kera and The Lesbians Girlschool Field Day

Kera Armendariz faced some problems simply due to her band name Kera & The Lesbians, which says all you need to know about our country in certain places. Her response? “If you are going to judge anything by its name, like judging a book by its cover, it’s your loss if you never discover it,” she told Anne-Marie Schafer in an interview at Grimy Goods last month. It definitely is their loss because Armendariz and her band rock, outside the box.


9. Jehnny Beth of Savages

savages fyf fest 2015 photos

The grittiest rock band in all the land might be UK’s Savages, comprised of four killer females that together will melt your faces. Lead vocalist Jehnny Beth can do it all — she can scream with the best of them and also hit notes that others can’t. On stage, she is a lunatic and she helped steal the show from more prominent acts at last year’s FYF Fest. Her star will only continue to rise.


10. Peaches

Peaches at The Regent

Does anyone push the boundaries of music the way that Peaches does? Not only does she push the boundaries, but she provides a space for all the freaks and weirdos to be comfortable within themselves. Her on-stage attire is always top-notch and her stage production is always out there. I mean, she had her dancers dressed up as vaginas at her Regent show last November during the song “Vaginoplasty.”


11. Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara

Dead Sara

Emily Armstrong has intense stage presence and as powerful vocals as anyone on this list. Dead Sara was the only set during the inaugural Girl School in January that I recall seeing a mosh pit, you just can’t help it when you see Armstrong ripping and roaring behind the mic.


12. Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis is a woman so badass that even legendary funny man Bill Murray followed her around during SXSW wherever she performed. She was a major part of seminal indie rock band Rilo Kiley and has spurned a successful solo career that’s now spanned a decade. Her mesmerizing vocals and ability to write an arresting pop song are hard to match these days. Not only that, she always stacks her band with killer women that go on to rock on their own (HAIM’s Danielle Haim, also Natalie Prass).


13. Chloe Chaidez aka Kitten

Kitten-at-the-Echo7

You know you’re a badass when you’re opening for Conor Oberst while you’re still in middle school. That’s what Chloe Chaidez was doing while the rest of her peers were worried about getting their school crush to like them. Kitten is a great moniker for Chaidez because she must think she has nine lives the way she climbs things on stage while rocking out during shows. Her pop sensibilities are top notch and her musical IQ is far beyond her years.


14. Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams

Shannon and The Clams photo

There’s an awesome throwback doo-wop vibe to Shannon and the Clams that you just don’t hear much these days. Shannon Shaw helps crowds time travel back to a time where girl groups and Buddy Holly ruled the radio. You feel like you’re in the movie Grease when you’re watching them, if there was a punk element added to the film.


15. Kate Nash

kate nash

Every time we’ve seen Kate Nash perform, the instant reaction has been, “What a bad ass.” That she was able to morph from being that poppy red-headed teen to a pink or orange-haired punk rock princess is a testament to her growth as a musician. She’s forever inspiring girls and boys to be themselves just by showing how fun it can be. Los Angeles is lucky to count her as one of our own after stealing her from the UK.


16. Kim Gordon of Glitterbust, Body/Head, formerly Sonic Youth

bodyhead

Kim Gordon is one of the supreme girl rockers of the past few decades. Though her projects since leaving Sonic Youth have lacked the same oomph that her old band was known for, she continues to experiment and find new ways to challenge herself as a musician and artist. The fact is, there are probably quite a few on this list that would say Kim Gordon is a big reason they got into rock and roll.


17. Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs

tune-yards

Merrill Garbus is quite a sight to see on stage. Watching her live loop drums while playing ukelele and sing, you can best describe the experience as awesomely eccentric. Don’t miss tUnE-yArDs when they come to a town near you.


18. Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast

best coast

Watching Bethany and her band Best Coast grow from being a two-piece surf rock act that wrote catchy two-minute songs with repeating verses to the fuller-sounding band they are now has been a true delight. She has added a lot of depth and always rocks out on stage. She’s also never afraid to share her opinions or stand up against misogyny in the industry, a true role model to anyone who needs one.


19. Santigold

SantiGold photos

Her strong and infectious voice is just one of the many qualities we love about Santigold. Everybody loves her, which is why in her latest video you get cameos from music giants Jay-Z and Pharrell as well as actor Andy Samberg and actress Olivia Wilde. Her new album 99¢ is an amazing critique on the pop culture machine she happens to be a part of. We look forward to getting more from her in the years to come.


20. Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice

wolf alice

They made their U.S. debut at Bardot in Hollywwood just 14 months ago, but Wolf Alice has been as fast a rising band as any in the time since. You can attribute much of that to the vocals and antics of Rowsell, whose stage presence has grown tremendously since that gig. She screams with the best of them and the demonic look on her face that accompanies the end of “You’re a Germ” sticks with you well beyond the time you’re walking out of the venue.

Words: Mark E. Ortega

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3 thoughts on “Top 20 Badass Frontwomen in Indie/Underground Music

  1. Zach Noel

    Mitski and Francis Quinlan of Hop Along should be added as well. Mitski and Hop Along both put out some of the strongest records in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Mitski is an incredible live performer who strikes a perfect balance between confidence and self-deprecation on stage who can carry a song with her backing band or solo with engaging stage presence. Frances Quinlan is also one of the greatest raspy voiced frontwomen to come out in a long time and is a force to be reckoned with live. Also, Sadie Dupuis from Speedy Ortiz deserves a shout out!

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