London singer-songwriter Lilith Ai is at the forefront of the Riot grrrl revival happening in the music scene right now. The 26-year-old released her Riot EP alongside model-photographer Georgia May Jagger late last year and is now re-releasing it—in the form of the Riot EP Deluxe—which will feature bonus tracks. Ai—a multidimensional talent—is a musician, club promoter, and artist who took a ’90s DIY approach to her tracks, including making a fanzine to correspond to the EP. Titled Notebook, it demonstrates the positive and inclusive philosophy preached by the Riot grrrl movement. It’s something that also shines through Ai’s music, which is layered with gritty, intimate vocals stripped bare to reveal a woman wise beyond her years. Below, Ai fills us in on her artistry, collaborating with Jagger, and her version of feminism. Below is an acoustic version of Ai’s “Riot,” which shows off her raw vocal chops and the riot grrrl inside.
Basically, I was working on the EP just trying to figure out what tracks I was doing. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to do a fanzine for it and have some tactile thing you could touch. I don’t know many people that have CD players anymore—it’s just MP3s. It made me think we definitely couldn’t afford to print vinyl this time, but I wanted to have something physical. I love all of those fanzines from the ’90s. I collect them whenever I can find them at random. Georgia was moving from her mom’s house to her own house, and I was helping her move stuff, and then I saw some pictures and asked who took them. She was like, ‘I took them.’ I was like, ‘You kept that quiet.’ I asked if I could put them in my fanzine and she agreed. She said she’d take some pictures of me as well. Then we finished it in September and the music got finished at the same time.
What Riot grrrl acts inspired you the most?
I don’t think there was a specific act that really moved me—it’s more the writing. A lot of the stuff you can’t even find the music for. I’ll read a fanzine that was made in the ’90s and I can’t really find what the bands are because they’re not there anymore. It’s just very glamorized in my imagination—what it would have been like to have this sisterhood because I wasn’t there and couldn’t touch it. These girls looked awesome in photographs. Obviously, I still like Bikini Kill.
To this day, which fanzine writers are your favorites?
The comic book writers that I really love would be E. Feeke, Gabrielle Bell, Beth Lisick, Angie Wang, Ulli Lust and loads of other people.
You’re a part of a feminist collective called “Fight Like A Girl.” Can you tell me a little bit about what you guys are trying to do?
Basically, when I was at music school, a lot of the girls were always trying to one-up each other with crazy hairdos and ridiculous outfits. It just wasn’t very supportive of other girls. You would try to make friends, and it was really difficult because people just weren’t interested in getting together. It was really hard because people would be only interested in promoting music they weren’t really interested in. A friend of mine and me started talking, and I was telling her about this Riot grrrl movement and how it sounded really cool, and we should do something like us. It was three of us in the beginning. We just started meeting up at my place and having a little gig in my bedroom. We would just be playing and chatting. When it got to having more people than could fit in my room, we decided to start meeting at a local coffee shop, and that’s where we hold it now. We just started supporting each other. We made sure we were at each other’s gigs and just went through what we should do with other musical ideas.
What is your definition of “feminism?” I feel like it’s such an individual thing.
My definition of feminism is to say that women are equal to men. In the same way, to say that we’re equal, if you want to walk around not wearing that much clothes and be super glam with wigs on and do all kinds of crazy makeup, then do that. If you want to dress in tracksuit bottoms and shave your head, that’s cool, too. I feel like the notion of a woman is way broader than what a lot of people in public try to portray it as. I feel like women are born natural creators. I feel like feminism is just really knowing that you’re worthy and your mate can be worthy at the same time—it’s not competition. It’s the love of women, respecting women, and respecting yourself. It’s also about respecting men—just because you are happy to be a woman doesn’t mean that men are no good. Obviously, some men are no good, but some women are no good. You need to nurture the good in everyone and try to find the good in other people.
Jumping off of that, how does your feminist perspective shine through the individual songs on your EP?
“Hang Tough” is a song I wrote on my first day of college. I met this girl—the nicest girl ever. I was walking back to the train station after, and there was this man on a bike, and he just stopped and kissed her. I was like, ‘What are you doing? Get off my friend.’ Then he was like, ‘No, no. She’s my daughter.’ She was like, ‘What?’ Then he literally started crying and told this story about his relationship with her mom and saying he hadn’t seen her since she was two-years-old. Looking at them, I could see that it was her dad. At first, we just thought it was some random man, but it turned out it was her dad. It was really moving and crazy because it was this grown-up man crying in the street and telling us this story. When I went home, I thought about the story, her mom, and the cycle of life. I think it was a weird thing where I was thinking that women are people, but men are people as well. Sometimes when you’re all about women, you forget that men are people, and they fuck up the same as we fuck up. It doesn’t mean that they’re evil people—it just means people fuck up.
There’s been a bit of a Riot grrrl revival in the music scene. Are there any artists in this genre revival that have caught your eye?
I’ve been really into this girl in my circle Girlie—she’s really cool. She’s got pink hair and braids. She’s part of the collective at world. Some friends of mine a few years ago had a band called Rush Metal, which was very Riot grrrl-influenced metal obviously. There are so many bands. Sometimes it’s not the scene of what I’m a part of, but also, the things I like is other music I take away. I love what Miley Cyrus has been doing lately. I love all different things.