By Josh Wolf
More than 150 people packed the Northern Friday Oct. 10 to watch Olympia-born hardcore-punk band Hysterics, while some 50 others hung out outside of the sold-out show. This was the last time Olympia would ever see Hysterics.
Dedicated fans from British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Idaho travelled to the Puget Sound to see the band in Olympia on Friday, and Seattle on Saturday. Olympia punk bands Vexx and Bricklayer opened up the Olympia show, and Nudes and Mysterious Skin joined Hysterics in Seattle for their final show.
The band decided to call it quits on a good note. “We just felt like it had run its course, and that we did what we had hoped to do,” said Stephie, who sings in Hysterics. Adriana, the band’s guitarist, was proud of Hysteric’s accomplishments. “We had a good run. Most hardcore bands don’t last longer than a couple years, and we lasted over four. We put out a couple records, and made it to Europe and back in one piece,” said Adriana.
Hysterics played numerous shows in Olympia and throughout the U.S. during their four years as a band and embarked on a 30-show European tour last summer. The band released two vinyl EPs through the radical feminist record label M’Lady’s Records, based out of Portland, Ore. Hysterics drew praise from K Records founder Calvin Johnson, as well as Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, co-founder of the Riot Grrrl movement.
[quote] We just felt like it had run its course, and that we did what we had hoped to do.” -Stephie [/quote]
While Hysterics draws on themes from Riot Grrrl, a feminist movement during the ‘90s, the band says that they have their own approach to combating oppression as female musicians. “Total respect for those women. They paved an amazing path and they took a lot of abuse just for being themselves, to make it better for the next generation,” said Stephie regarding Riot Grrrl. “I think we were born out of a different scene, and it’s a different time that has a lot of the same needs, but different ones too. We try to respond to what’s happening now, and a lot of it is the same, but we respond to what we see and experience, and it’s not so much harkening back to the ‘90s as it is responding to our reality,” said Stephie.
The band works to push farther down the path that Riot Grrrl pioneered, but Hysterics has their own experience. “Riot Grrrl has shown a lot of people the way, but I feel like we’re doing our own separate thing,” said bassist Jessica.
In the ‘90s, Riot Grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill became known for the phrase “Girls to The Front,” because they would frequently stop their performances and demand that men move to the back, in order to create a safer space for women, who are frequently threatened at punk shows.
Before Hysterics played their song “Leave Me Alone,” which is about street harassment, Stephie addressed the crowd directly: “I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, but if you identify as a straight white cis male, please take a few steps back.”
Riot Grrrl is frequently criticized today for being largely centered around white cis women, and for lacking analysis on the intersectionality of identities, but Hysterics consciously acts to acknowledge more people of different marginalized identities at their shows. “When I said that,” said Stephie, “I was calling out a lot of different aspects about identity beyond just gender, because at the end of the day, there’re so many different ways to be oppressed and so many different ways to try to find a better reality that’s free from that, so we try to keep our eyes open, and not just focus on one aspect of identity that needs work.”
Many Hysterics songs depict their experiences as female people living in today’s society. The band opened and closed their set at the Northern with one of their oldest songs, “Arm Candy,” which depicts the objectification of people and oppression that results from gender roles.
“I’m not here to have fun/ not here to participate/ I’m just here to decorate,” screams Stephie on the opening of the track. For a song that’s less than 90 seconds, Hysterics packs a lot of punches. “Arm Candy” goes on to describe the objectification of people in the music community: “I hope I look nice on your arm/ when you’re ‘chilling’ with your ‘bros’/ when we go out to shows.”
The song continues to portray and condemn alternative communities that claim to oppose oppression, but frequently exhibit oppressive attitudes. “All the same expectations, balk at re-imagination/ all the same unspoken rules, I know I’m a joke to you…/same duties of our given roles, with different music, different clothes,” sings Stephie. “Arm Candy” ends with a bitter, open-ended question “what ‘counter-culture’?” yet the climax of the song comes after an instrumental breakdown where Stephie revolts against people being dehumanized and treated as property. “Own me, I could be yours today. Going once/ Going twice/ I claim myself.”
While Hysterics message is filled with a visceral aggression, their hostile music provided a cathartic release for countless listeners going through rough times. Their music will still be available through M’Lady’s Records, but their critical voices and affirmative action will be greatly missed in Olympia.