This time last year I wrote a feature on one of my favourite bands of all time Bikini Kill for AU Magazine. It was for a regular spread called History Lessons and although it can be somewhat dry, it can also be the place where younger readers can maybe discover something different. For any folks out there who don’t know me too well, I’m a huge fan of punk rock and also a staunch feminist, so whenever I heard Bikini Kill for the first time they blew my fucking mind. In fact, I love them so much I even nicked their cover for ‘The Singles’ album for the first issue of my fanzine Generation Why??? six years ago.
Anway, here’s the feature and if you like what you read, download ‘This Is New Radio’ pronto!
Hailed by taste-makers such as Beth Ditto and Sleater Kinney as the most important band of the 90s, Olympia-based four-piece Bikini Kill not only invented Riot Grrrrl, they were also one of the most vital punk rock bands in the world. Over the course of eight years, they broke down barriers with their trail-blazing feminist manifesto, inspiring generations of rebel girls across the globe and this is their story. Enjoy.
“If your best friend gets it-that’s all that matters,” Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill.
Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox started out life as punk rock-loving fanzine writers living in a little town called Olympia in Washington. Their ‘zine was called Bikini Kill and it was a highly charged, politicised work focusing heavily on feminism. In late 1990, they decided to start a band, enlisting the Go Team’s guitarist Billy Karren and pretty soon they started to make a name for themselves around town.
Early Bikini Kill shows were notorious for their confrontational nature, with the shrieking Hanna often refusing to acknowledge the males in the crowd. At the time they had a penchant for performing topless and their music was a potent mix of buzzsaw guitar playing and taboo-breaking lyrics all wrapped up in perfect two-minute tunes. Out of all the Bikini Kill members, it seemed that Hanna revelled in her powerful, provocative new role the most and loved inspiring generations of girls with her radical politics. After quickly signing to the cooler than thou Kill Rock Stars record label, Bikini Kill began making music in earnest.
In 1991 the term Riot Grrrl was coined as a way to describe this new influx of feminist punk bands such as Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and of course Bikini Kill. Riot Grrrl’s had their own music, their own style and their own fanzine’s such as Girl Germs and Jigsaw. Bikini Kill were front and centre in the movement and throughout the band’s history never once turned their back on the scene they gave birth too. Although the band’s early musical skills were a little rough around the edges, that all changed with the release of their third record, 1994’s ‘Pussy Whipped.’ The album attracted favourable reviews across the board and was a blistering 12 track statement of intent that saw the band become courted by the mainstream.
Never ones to tow the line, Bikini Kill responded to all the press attention by notoriously hosting female-only gigs. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the apparent meat-headed “boys club” of the punk and hardcore scene and it won as many admirers as it did detractors. Around this time Riot Grrrl was starting to lose its way however, as newer converts were focusing more on the Hello Kitty paraphernalia and less on the true essence of the scene, which was-revolution, girl style. Confused about what to do with their situation, Hanna and Co. laid low for a while and planned their next move.
Keen to progress as a band and leave the days of those violent, chaotic early gigs behind, Bikini Kill unleashed ‘Reject All American’ in 1996. It stunned both fans and critics alike with its more restrained approach. But while the music seemed slightly softer, Hanna’s lyrics were as caustic as ever. One of the most vital tracks on the album is the harrowing ‘RIP,’ which was about the death of a friend. However, once you listen closely to the track it could almost be about the rising tensions in the band and an unknowing hint of what was to come- “I wouldn’t be so fucking mad, so fucking pissed off, if it wasn’t so fucking wrong,” screams Hanna in a cathartic but foul-mouthed frenzy of four lettered words.
And so in 1998, Bikini Kill bit the dust. Looking on the bright side of what was a dark day-the four band members remained firm friends after the split and left behind a killer discography to boot. In recent times they’ve also become icons for the feminist and gay community and their influence can still be seen today in everyone from Kate Nash to the Gossip. Although it’s safe to say at this stage that they’ll never reform-Hanna is still making great music with Le Tigre, Tobi is performing as Spider and the Webs, Kathi plays bass for the Casual Dots and Billy is in Boo-Boo and the Corrections, so it ain’t all bad. But no matter how hard they try, there will only ever be one Bikini Kill, who in the words of their best song ‘Rebel Girl,’ really were the queens of the neighbourhood.
The Singles (Kill Rock Stars, 1998)
Released shortly before their break-up, this compilation features a collection of singles which were only ever released on vinyl between the period of 95-96. For anyone unfamiliar with Bikini Kill it serves as a great starter kit and the particularly venomous ‘This Is New Radio’ with the typically outrageous lyric “Let’s wipe our cum on my parent’s bed” is possibly one of the best punk songs you’ll ever hear and is vintage Hanna.
Pussy Whipped (Kill Rock Stars, 1994)
After a few false starts, ‘Pussy Whipped’ was the album that finally told the world that Bikini Kill had arrived. Clocking in at just over 22minutes, ‘Pussy Whipped’ was recorded in a few days in 1992. Containing some of their best material (‘Rebel Girl,’ ‘Sugar,’ ‘Alien She’) it spawned countless clones but none that ever came close to matching them.
Reject All American (Kill Rock Stars, 1996)
‘Reject All American’ was the band’s swan-song and hinted at a new direction for the four-piece. Sadly it wasn’t to be, but we can’t complain too much as they left us with some of their most inspiring work as a parting gift. Check out all one minute 11 seconds of the life affirming ‘Statement of Vindication’ and you’ll see what we mean.
Hidden Tracks: For Collectors
Throughout Bikini Kill’s short but incendiary history they released countless 7inch singles and contributed to quite a few compilation albums too. Thankfully most of these rare 7inch singles were collected on The Singles album (featuring a Joan Jett produced version of ‘Rebel Girl’). Perhaps the most sought after piece of Bikini Kill memorabilia however, has to be a cassette copy of their self-released debut album ‘Revolution Girl Style Now,’ which they put out in 1991. It’s also worth checking out their split EP with kindred spirits Huggy Bear which was called ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’ and came out in 1993 on Kill Rock Stars.
STATEMENT OF VINDICATION-SELECTED BIKINI KILL TRIVIA
Chubby punk rockers NOFX recorded a song called ‘Kill Rock Stars’ on their album ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Shoes’ criticising the radical feminist philosophies of Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna’s stardom. The scamps.
Courtney Love once chinned Kathleen Hanna backstage one afternoon at Lollapalooza in 1995. The next day Love was sporting a plaster cast and told the crowd that Kathleen deserved it. A few months later the Hole frontwoman was ordered by authorities to undergo anger management therapy.
Bikini Kill’s drummer Tobi Vail famously dated 90s $pokesman for a generation Kurt Cobain for a brief period. Cobain allegedly wrote several songs about the tub thumper including ‘Drain You,’ ‘Lounge Act,’ and ‘Aneurysm’ and during the couple’s relationship, Tobi had taken to wearing Teen Spirit deodorant. On one particularly memorable night, Cobain and Tobi’s band-mate Kathleen Hanna were indulging in some vandalism when the Bikini Kill singer, inspired by the scent, spray-painted the legend “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit,” on a nearby wall, thus giving birth to Nirvana’s most popular song. Thanks Kathleen…
Bespectacled, paint-covered overalls wearing Janey Briggs from Not Another Teen Movie’s favourite band is Bikini Kill and during one delightfully daft scene she is painting a portrait while blasting out their single ‘Rebel Girl.’ The montage is a mickey take from teen queen Julia Stiles’ turn as the middle-class, conservative Riot Grrrl in 10 Things I Hate About You, who also credited her favourite band as Bikini Kill.
Determined to pay her own way through college, Kathleen Hanna worked as a burlesque dancer.
Angered at their exclusion from the Riot Grrrl scene, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain created a fake band called Lemonade Nation. They even went as far as recording a demo and distributed it amongst the Olympia scenesters. At least-that’s according to Courtney’s Poppy Z. Brite penned biography, that is.
Hanna once appeared in the video for Sonic Youth’s ‘Bull in the Heather.’ The clip featured in an episode of Beavis and Butthead with the pair stating that she looked like “a five year old girl who can’t dance.”
THIS IS NEW RADIO-A BIKINI KILL MIX TAPE
1) I Like Fucking (7 inch single, 1995)
2) Suck My Left One (There’s a Dyke in the Pit compilation, 1992)
3) Alien She (Pussy Whipped, 1994)
4) Rebel Girl (New Radio EP, 1993)
5) Anti Pleasure Dissertation (The Singles, 1998)
6) Bloody Ice Cream (Reject All American, 1996)
7) Sugar (Pussy Whipped, 1994)
8) Blood One (Pussy Whipped, 1994)
9) Statement of Vindication (Reject All American, 1996)
10) Strawberry Julius (The Singles, 1998)
11) Star Fish (Pussy Whpped, 1994)
12) I Hate Danger (7 inch single, 1995)
13) Daddy’s Lil Girl (Give Me Back, 1991)
14) Magnet (Pussy Whipped, 1994)
15) Demirep (New Radio EP, 1993)
16) Rah! Rah! Replica (The Singles, 1998)
17) RIP (Reject All American, 1996)
18) Hamster Baby (Pussy Whipped, 1994)
19) This Is New Radio (New Radio EP, 1993)