For the grrrls
Sylvia Wrath shows Tulsa ‘how angry teen girls can be’
For as long as men have been in charge (basically forever), young women have been taught to be quiet, polite, and reserved—to let boys be boys and act like a lady. Local band Sylvia Wrath, whose eldest members are barely old enough to vote, is flipping these expectations on their head with a blistering brand of riot grrrl punk that demands to be heard.
“Underestimate me again and I’ll punch your teeth in!” Vocalist Tessa Beil roars what sounds like an actionable threat on the track “Fuck You Buccaneer.” On another, she confronts the performatively woke: “You’re not a feminist just because you wanna fuck me!”
Expectations were high during a recent performance at the now-defunct venue Colorfeed A/V. When the four high-schoolers took the stage and launched into their uncompromising guitar-driven assault. They performed in the intimate venue as if it were packed with thousands of screaming fans as they delivered one of the most energetic and well-received punk sets in recent memory, ending in a glorious catharsis of fake blood and scattered equipment.
“It’s important to me that people realize how angry teen girls can be,” said guitarist Portlyn Houghton-Harjo. “I don’t know if anyone listens, but we scream loud enough to at least annoy people.”
Guitarist Portlyn Houghton-Harjo, bassist Sydnee Outlaw, drummer Sam Lloyd, and vocalist Tessa Beil demand to be taken seriously. The band uses their platform to confront issues like predation, assault, and “overall asshole-ery.” In a patriarchal arrangement where young girls are often discounted as emotional, immature, or hysterical—Sylvia Wrath are strong, fed up, and fighting back.
The band members have already seen the effect their music has on young women. “Our music is very much for the girls,” Outlaw said. “There was even a time where some tweenage girls asked for our autographs, and it meant a lot that there are people who like what we have to say enough to keep our signatures on their phone cases for everyone to see.”
However, Sylvia Wrath’s music is not exclusively “for the girls.” Drummer Sam Lloyd is just as passionate about the riot grrrl message as his femme band mates. “I like to think that when we play our music, it is to get people inspired to take some sort of action or to speak up about things that are needed to be spoken about, such as rape, abuse, pedophilia, etc.,” he said. “But my personal mission is to hit the drums as hard as the message.”
Abusive behavior and unwelcome attention aren’t abstract concepts for Sylvia Wrath. They write from experience, with the goal of inspiring other young women to stand up and fight back. “I hope that our music helps girls to know that they aren’t alone in their issues with men, and that there are people who are there for them, and have experienced the same types of things,” Outlaw said.
“I did once receive a Facebook friend request, and soon after a message, from an older man where he said he ‘loved watching me play the bass,’” she said. “And while it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, and even seems like a compliment, to me it seemed strange that an older man, to whom I have never spoken, would seek me out and tell me that he liked watching me. It just rubbed me the wrong way.”
Houghton-Harjo has also had uncomfortable run-ins with men at shows. “Most of my experiences have been chalked up to men touching me without consent—or, to a lesser degree, giving us a condescending, ‘Wow you guys were actually OK,’” she said. The band does their best to give even the most obnoxious naysayer a show to remember. “I found it to be a funny coincidence how people danced to the songs that should have made them stop and think about their life,” Lloyd said.
The band strives to make the music scene safer and more open to everyone—not just the boys. To this end, Sylvia Wrath is picking up the mantle of riot grrrl foremothers like Bikini Kill, screaming their rage into a male-dominated scene. Setting an example as brave, powerful young women while out-shredding their adult male peers, Sylvia Wrath is the punk savior the young women of the Tulsa music scene deserve.