The most iconic female-fronted bands of the 90s

8 March 2024, 12:00

The women of Indie, 1990s-style: Louise Wener of Sleeper, Skunk Anansie's Skin and Shirley Manson of Garbage
The women of Indie, 1990s-style: Louise Wener of Sleeper, Skunk Anansie's Skin and Shirley Manson of Garbage. Picture: Rob Watkins/Pictorial Press Ltd/ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

The 1990s saw powerful female musicians come to the fore. Radio X celebrates the leading female-fronted bands that made iconic music in the decade.

Radio X

By Radio X

  1. Elastica

    Justine Frischmann was briefly in Suede with drummer Justin Welch, but when they went their separate ways, they collaborated on a new band: Elastica. Their 1993 debut single Stutter was released by Steve Lamacq’s indie label Deceptive, and they quickly found themselves swept up in the breaking wave of Britpop.

    Elastica’s self-titled debut album hit No 1 in the UK, but the success didn’t last and they split in 2001. Frischmann now works as an artist in San Francisco.

    Elastica - Waking Up

  2. Garbage

    Born in Edinburgh, Manson made her first impression on the music business with the Scottish band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, where she took on keyboard and backing vocal duties. In 1994 she was playing with the band Angelfish where she was spotted by guitarist Steve Marker, who enlisted her as the vocalist with his new project with Nirvana producer Butch Vig: Garbage.

    Garbage - Stupid Girl

  3. Skunk Anansie

    Deborah Dyer, better known as Skin, became the singer with the London rock band Skunk Anansie in 1994 and made waves with the classic hits Weak and Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good). She released a solo album, Fleshwounds, in 2003 and followed it up with Fake Chemical State three years later. Skunk Anansie reunited in 2009 and are still performing, while Skin joined the judging panel of the Italian version of The X Factor in 2015.

    Skunk Anansie - Weak

  4. The Cranberries

    Originally known as The Cranberry Saw-Us and formed by brothers Mike and Noel Hogan, this band from Limerick, Ireland were fronted by the entrancing voice of Dolores O’Riordan. She got the job as singer by turning up with a song called Linger. She passed the audition.

    The Cranberries - Linger

  5. PJ Harvey

    Before you try and correct us - PJ Harvey was the name of the trio of Rob Ellis, Ian Oliver and Polly Jean Harvey, who released two acclaimed records in the early 90s, Dry and Rid Of Me. Harvey, of course, went on to become one of the most acclaimed British singer-songwriters of the past 25 years, and the only artist to win the Mercury Prize twice.

    PJ Harvey - 50 Ft Queenie

  6. Hole

    After a brief career as an actor, Courtney Love placed an ad in a mag saying: “I want to start a band. My influences are Big Black, Sonic Youth and Fleetwood Mac.” Which kind of sums up the sound of her band Hole. They gained some indie success with the LP Pretty On The Inside, before Love hooked up with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1991 and they remained together until his death three years later. Hole's second album, Live Through This, appeared a week after Kurt’s suicide, but their commercial peak came with 1998’s Celebrity Skin.

    Hole - Doll Parts

  7. Sleeper

    Louise Wener met Jon Stewart at Manchester University and briefly called themselves Surrender Dorothy before settling on Sleeper after the Woody Allen movie. A support slot for Blur in 1994 put them on the Britpop map, and their first two albums, Smart and The It Girl each made the Top 5. Wener’s wearing of a “Just Another Female Fronted Band” t-shirt ironically commented on features such as the one you're reading, but despite much music press coverage, the band called it a day in 1998. Wener became a successful author while Sleeper band reunited in 2017 for a series of dates.

    Sleeper - Sale Of The Century (Video)

  8. Catatonia

    Formed in Cardiff in 1992 by guitarist Mark Roberts and singer Cerys Matthews, Catatonia released some early EPs on Welsh indie label Crai, before signing to blanco y negro for their debut album Way Beyond Blue. But it was 1998’s International Velvet that made a star of Cerys, which spawned the hits Mulder And Scully and Road Rage.

    The success didn’t continue and Matthews entered rehab in 2001, for “anxiety and exhaustion”, which effectively ended the band. She recovered, had a solo career and and is now a successful radio broadcaster for the BBC.

    Catatonia - Mulder And Scully (Official Music Video)

  9. The Cardigans

    Nina Persson fronts this Swedish band, who broke through with their third album, First Band On The Moon in 1996. It spawned the huge hit Lovefool, which appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s film version of Romeo + Juliet. Persson also made two albums under the name A Camp, plus an eponymous solo album and appeared on the Manic Street Preachers’ track Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.

    The Cardigans - Erase / Rewind “Director's Cut”

  10. Echobelly

    Fronted by Sonya Madan and featuring former Curve guitarist Debbie Smith, Echobelly smashed the Top 20 with Great Things and their second album, On, made No 4 in the Summer of 1995. Health and legal issues meant they didn’t follow it up until 1997, by which time Britpop had cooled down. After a hiatus, Madan and guitarist Glenn Johansson reformed in 2017 for a new album under the Echobelly, called Anarchy And Alchemy.

    Echobelly - King Of The Kerb