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Riotgrrl L7 Rock For Choice 1993
At Rock For Choice, 1993From Donita Sparks's personal archive

Grrrl punk heroes L7’s most fearless moments

From throwing her used tampon at a Reading Festival crowd to getting her bum out on telly, frontwoman Donita Sparks on sticking it to the system

As one of the 1990s’ most ferocious rock bands, L7 merged metal, grunge and punk to create a grubby groove which came alongside an equally iconic image, typified by bleached and pillar box red hair as well as Duct-taped denim. Breaking messily into the mainstream in 1992 with the seminal Bricks Are Heavy album – helmed by Nevermind producer Butch Vig – the band were already underground heroes thanks to 1988’s caustic self-titled debut and 1990’s “Smell The Magic”. Formed by LA Weekly writer Donita Sparks and Black Flag collaborator Suzi Gardner, L7 was rounded out by bassist Jennifer Finch, who started out playing with Hole’s Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland, and Chicago drummer Demetra Plakas. Despite disbanding in 2001, at the end of last year they announced plans to reform after interest in a new documentary about the band showed they still had a fanbase desperate to see them play. On the eve of their UK comeback, frontwoman Sparks recalls some of the band's most fearless moments.


I did not know I was making rock history at the time, it was just one of those things,” explains Sparks of the epic moment. “The show was going so weird – it was like an acid trip. The sound on stage was really weird, we didn’t have some of our equipment and we had no soundcheck, the crowd started throwing mud and hitting us and our guitars and it was throwing our guitars out of tune. It was a show that we had such high expectations for because it was Reading and it was just turning out to be this slow motion car wreck. So I was like, ‘fuck it’. Thankfully I was locked and loaded and so I did indeed throw my tampon into the audience. Somebody threw it back and it ended up on Nick Cave’s stage monitor but he couldn’t see it because it was on the crowd side. I was on the side of the stage watching Nick Cave later and all I could see was my tampon! It was funny because he was being so serious and little did he know that I was mortified that my tampon was in sight.”


Sparking a national outcry, Sparks pulled down her jeans and pants midway through a rendition of single “Pretend We’re Dead” on late night British youth TV show, The Word. “It’s just funny, Americans are known for being distasteful to the Brits, but I found that show distasteful,” says Sparks today. “There was also a bare bum contest going on. I suppose it was fun, but I was also like, ‘fuck it, this is live TV, I’m dropping my pants. Why not, anything goes on this show, obviously!’”


L7 were asked personally by Waters to appear in Serial Mom, where they performed under the name Camel Lips (video below). “We were having lunch with our manager and he was like, ‘hey, this filmmaker John Waters contacted me and wants you to do this film’. I thought it was a joke and it turned out to be real,” remembers Sparks. “We did a live scene in a club called Hammerjack’s and we had pants that had padded pussies so it was very accentuated, the shape of our crotch area! He wanted us to write a song for the film and said: ‘All I care about is that the name of it is Gas Chamber’ and I was like, ‘ok!’”


I had done a couple of pro-choice benefits in LA when I was a nobody and nobody came, but I tried, because the scene was pretty misogynistic – even the punk rock scene – not just the hard rock scene,” says Sparks. “Then when the band got big the clinics were under attack and they wanted to reverse Roe v Wade, so we met with the Feminist Majority Foundation. We said we want to throw a benefit and they were like, ‘Oh, we could maybe contact so-and-so,’ who were from the 1960s. So we were like, ‘We know this band called Nirvana’... Joan Jett came to a show of ours in Washington DC, which was a pro-choice event, and became friends with Fugazi and Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna there. She agreed to play a Rock For Choice show in LA and we were basically the Blackhearts for that and played four songs of hers, including ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘Cherry Bomb’. Her star power was amazing. People just loved it.”

L7 play UK dates through June including Download Festival, June 12-14