Pioneers of the female front, Bikini Kill, return with the re-release of ‘Revolution Girl Style Now’ later this month.
Unashamedly provocative and light-years ahead of the current wave of feminism (see ‘free the nipple’ on Instagram vs. Bikini Kill’s 90s song title ‘Suck My Left One’), we look at the some of the finest Bikini Kill moments.
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1. Riot Grrrl movement
A musical genre, a feminist movement, a scene. Riot Grrrl was spawned in the early 90s and centralised itself in Seattle and Washington, where groups of girls would get together, hold meetings, share ideas and create fanzines. One particular zine, Jigsaw (created by Toby Vail), caught Kathleen Hanna’s eye and soon thereafter an exchange of interviews and ideas took place before the two created Bikini Kill the zine (and later the band), which placed heavy emphasis on politics, feminism and equality. Best of all, the Riot Grrrl movement had its own manifesto, which you can read here.
Hailing from Olympia, Washington, and following stints in several bands, working as a stripper, studying photography, volunteering and showing at different art galleries; Kathleen Hanna found her tribe in fellow friends and Evergreen College students Toby Vail, Kathi Wilcox and Billy Karren. Initially teaming up to produce Bikini Kill, the zine, the collective soon found themselves bringing the publication to life as a band and energetic live show complete with soapbox-style politicising and audience participation in the form of story sharing mostly unfortunate experiences concerning male abuse of power and sexual assault. Confrontational, fearless and weighted with a conscious, Bikini Kill were fast established as a tour de force.
3. Rebel Girl
Even those unfamiliar with Bikini Kill will probably respond to this track with a sense of familiarity and a head nod at the very least. Inspired by a friend of Kathleen’s and laden with lyrical love toward the song’s subject, ‘Rebel Girl’ is the ultimate feminist anthem delivered with strength and dripping with punk attitude. Recorded three times (‘Yeah Yeah Yeah LP’, ‘New Radio 7”’ – by Joan Jett no less – and finally, ‘Pussy Whipped’), the song is included in Blender’s list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born’ and Rolling Stone’s ‘Most Excellent Songs of Every Year Since 1967’. ‘Rebel Girl’ also has a must-watch music video, which manages to mash together ballet and military themes amongst a tropical backdrop. Yes.
4. Pussy Whipped
'Pussy Whipped' is Bikini Kill’s debut studio album, released in 1993 and comprising of twelve tracks of full-force punk proclamations including the eponymous ‘Rebel Girl’. Filled with a conscious roughness and DIY feel, Pussy Whipped is emblematic of the Riot Grrrl movement and served audiences a generous helping of Hanna’s world and vision through an underground, hardcore lens. Produced by Stuart Hallerman who was also working with Soundgarden around the same time, Pussy Whipped is a sonic ride of screams, distortion and Bikini Kill’s unstoppable energy.
5. The Kurt Cobain connection
Just in case being pivotal in third wave feminism and creating politically meaningful art wasn’t enough, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna can also be credited with influencing one of the defining songs (and moments) of grunge; Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ At a 2010 New York gig, Hanna recalled a drunken afternoon spent with Kurt Cobain, which ended with her scrawling “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on his bedroom wall. Teen Spirit was also the name of a deodorant brand (apparently) worn by Toby Vail, who dated Cobain prior to the release of ‘Nevermind’.
An active band for seven years, Bikini Kill called it quits in 1997 and soon after, Kathleen Hanna created an album entitled ‘Julie Ruin’, adopting a moniker of the same name. Working with friends to create a live version of Julie Ruin resulted in the formation of Le Tigre. Toby Vail went on to form bands; The Frumpies and Spider and the Webs whilst continuing to blog, work as a music critic and organise Ladyfest alongside her sister, Cat Power and Alison Wolfe. Billy Karren played in The Frumpies and The Go Team, and Kathi Wilcox continues to be the bass player for Julie Ruin.
Initially created as a cassette tape purely to book shows, Bikini Kill’s demo, ‘Revolution Girl Style Now’ is being re-released on vinyl, CD, digital and a limited edition cassette. Recorded in 1991, the reissue will be available on 22 September and consists of the original eight tracks with three unreleased songs, including ‘Playground’, which recently premiered on Rolling Stone and can be heard here. ‘The Bikini Kill EP’ and songs from ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ were reissued earlier this year by Bikini Kill Records and you can watch the trailer for ‘Revolution Style Girl Now here.
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'Revolution Girl Style Now' will be re-released on September 22nd.
Words: Natalie Reiss