‘They can’t hear a word we’ve said, when we pretend that we’re dead…’
Going into Pretend We’re Dead my knowledge of influential riot grrrl band L7 was incredibly limited. I knew that lead vocalist Donita Sparks stripped off on the infamous entertainment show The Word and also that Sparks had once thrown a used tampon into the restless Reading Festival crowd. To be honest, I had kind of dismissed the LA rock band as a peddlers of controversy and nothing more. As with most aspects of my life however, I was resoundingly wrong.
L7 formed in the mid-80s but they didn’t burst onto the public consciousness until the Grunge movement kicked up a stone and allowed a whole bunch of bands to come crawling out of the underground straight onto MTV. With bad behaviour and provocative song titles, L7 gave absolutely no fucks and rocked just as hard as any of their male peers. Pretend We’re Dead tells the band’s story from humble beginnings to being feminist icons and back again.
This documentary is clearly a labour of love for director Sarah Price and she does a good job in relating just how important a band L7 were. With interviews from Shirley Manson, Krist Novaselic and various members of the infinite number of groups that were influenced by L7, Pretend We’re Dead is exhaustive without overstaying its welcome.
The live footage is numerous and disparate but it all suffers a little from lack of visual and audio clarity. While this suits the DIY aesthetic of the band, it would be nice to hear more studio recordings. Grainy, colourless video clips are not the best way to listen to any artist.
Interviews with the band members themselves are extensive and warm, with their obvious passion still screaming through, in both their words and in the archive footage. In old interviews for shows like The Headbanger’s Ball, L7 are asked constantly about being an all-girl group in a traditionally male dominated area. While this is all eye-rollingly predictable, it does give the band a fire in their bellies to become spokeswomen for a scene that didn’t really exist beyond Joan Jett and the Runaways, at least not until L7 rolled into town.
Pretend We’re Dead is a loving snapshot which serves just as well as an introduction than as a companion piece to the band’s music. L7 were a fascinating band with a topsy-turvy career and their story deserves to be told. With this documentary, Sarah Price has told that story beautifully.