Revolution Sounds Good: Local music organization reemerges

Photo: RIOT RI.

After a name change and years of halted programming due to COVID, RIOT RI is still here – but they aren’t trying to rush back to the way things were. 


RIOT, which stands for Revolution In Our Time, was formerly known as Girls Rock! RI before their name change in 2020. The change itself was the result of a years-long collaborative discussion, as conversations around the changing needs and identities of their own community arose.

The shift away from gendered language in the name creates a more expansive invitation to participate for individuals who do not identify as girls. The mission of the group remains centered on fighting gender-based oppression, which encapsulates cis and trans women and girls, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals.

At the same time as the word “girl” felt limiting, the “rock” in Girls Rock! no longer felt adequate to summarize the music being created and admired by participants. “Traditionally, most music genres have roots in Black culture in the United States and globally that have been stripped away,” board member Abeer Khatana explains. While the origins of rock & roll can be traced back to Black musical pioneers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chuck Berry, the genre has been whitewashed and co-opted throughout the course of American music history (thanks in no small part to a certain man whom Austin Butler famously played). 

The name change, therefore, represents not only a broadening of both gender and genre but a spirit of revolution that encapsulates rock, race, girlhood, and all of their ever-morphing complexities. The name Revolution In Our Time is shared by the popular 2021 nonfiction book by Kekla Magoon, which chronicles the history of the Black Panther Party. Board members were sensitive to the issue of co-opting the language of Revolution as an arts non-profit, but youth feedback was confident in using the phrase for their new name. For those participating in RIOT RI, the experiences they are having are revolutionary, and in line with societal revolution.

Before COVID halted programming, RIOT was known for its rock camps. These week- and weekend-long experiences provided a chance for girls, women, trans, and gender expansive youth and adults to learn an instrument of their choice, no experience necessary. The participants form a band with their peers, culminating in a performance at the end of the camp. At the end, participants can also borrow gear at an affordable cost (with deposit) to continue practicing at home. 

For local singer/songwriter Phoenix, Adult Rock Camp represented the chance to sing with a live band for the first time at a venue, with professional photographers and a tech crew supporting her, making her feel “wholly supported.” Since participating in the camp, Phoenix has continued working as a music mentor and volunteer at RIOT RI, sharing: “I feel like the energy they give you makes you wanna give back.” 

I think I can sense a glimmer of the energy Phoenix is talking about, just by walking into the RIOT RI headquarters, nestled behind Nice Slice and the Providence Student Union on Westminster. Upon walking in, my eyes fell on amps and bean bag chairs. There’s a bubblegum-pink guitar hanging on the wall and a small child handing out Pokémon cards. I’m given a Zeraora card, which depicts a lanky yellow creature sprawled out in a field of wildflowers. I googled the pokémon in my car later, and apparently they are a genderless and electric-type of mythical creature.

Back in the RIOT offices, there is an electric zip in the air as well, as board members and volunteers are busy getting the space ready for the upcoming community event, their own Summer Block Party featuring performances, food, and a gear sale. After saying hello, they tell me they are creating a cozy corner for people to jam who want to get away from the commotion of the event.

RIOT has formed its own community in Rhode Island, with members like Phoenix returning year after year to give back and ensure that new participants are able to have their own time to shine. Meanwhile, the board follows the lead of their Youth Advisory Board in order to create the most success from year to year.

Reba Mitchell, a current board member who was a part of the original planning meetings for RIOT back in 2008, spoke with me about the national Girls Rock! camp’s roots in the Riot Grrrl movement and her own experience with those bands as she was growing up, stating: “It’s really important to see yourself reflected. I also value that this organization got to the point where we knew we wanted to stay in the spirit of that but in order to do so, we would need to change.”

The Riot Grrl movement was predominantly led by white women, which limited its feminism in many cases. It was impactful for many women and girls to see parts of themselves represented in bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile; however, it is important to continue expanding representation so that everyone sees themselves powerfully reflected in culture. As Reba puts it, “Who is getting to have this radical experience? Is it just cis, white women? For a long time, the answer was ‘yes’ in the world, y’know?” 

With Zeorora in my pocket, I think about moments of spark, creativity, and electricity. Moments of tuning into a larger current and feeling conductive, as if the raw material of what you are tapping into matches with the inherent fiber of who you are or wish to become. Everyone deserves that feeling.

When asked where RIOT wishes to go, moving forward after their Youth Rock Camps lost momentum during COVID, Khatana explains there is no arbitrary plan to get programming up and running exactly as it was before the pandemic, because that may not be what adolescents in the community need most right now. The organization is committed to following the lead of the youth involved, with Khatana stating: “I want to occupy the space that the community wants us to occupy, rather than doing what we think is best.” The guitars wait on the walls. The bean bags get softer. Zeorora is lying in the field, waiting for the next chance to be electric.

RIOT will have Adult Rock Camp this upcoming October 7 to October 9. They encourage all who are interested in RIOT RI to volunteer or register for camp, regardless of experience.

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