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Criss-crossing the country in a shitty van for seven years to play shows at shitty punk venues, only so many people could have ever actually seen Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox and the rest of their band Bikini Kill live. But as the keystone band for the riot grrrl movement, a country-wide network of punk rock-inspired youths who formed all-girls bands, made zines and took up feminist causes, Bikini Kill's influence is felt more and more even after the band broke up in as riot grrrl itself has taken on a life of its own and become its own self-sustaining force.
In response to the increasing and incessant interest in Bikini Kill, the band has been revisiting its history lately, donating its papers to the NYU librarystarting its own record label to re-release their old albumstaking part in a documentary about Hanna called The Punk Singer and reforming Hanna's s solo side project, Julie Ruin. At the launch for Bikini Kill's new capsule collection with online retailer VFILEScoinciding with the release of a new book about the riot grrrl movement, we caught up with Kathleen Hanna and Wilcox, who also plays in The Julie Ruin, for a trip down memory lane.
You have to think about it for ten or twenty years and then you know how you feel about it. Also, Kathleen was in Le Tigre, so people were asking about that. It was Bikini extreme fuck exciting that Le Tigre became its own entity—like really separate—and that we had our own fans. But, you know, the '90s revival is coming back, so people want to talk to us. I want to ask you about being grownups, since all of this interest is happening now. What's it like to look at the girl you were at 20, 21 and have it be impactful to people?
Kathy was a filmmaker, I was a visual artist—we really could have gone in any direction, and we kind of just happenstance-style ended up in a band, and being in a band is such a great medium. The thing that makes me most proud when I look back at those pictures or I think about those times, is like when I was in high school, there were groups—like the punks or the new wavers or the Jim Morrison kids or the jocks who were into U2—but there was nothing for girls.
I know there were girls who became friends because they listened to Bikini Kill and they had Bikini Kill patches on their jackets, and to think we had anything to do with leading young girls to feminism makes me feel super happy. So when I see those pictures and stuff I feel really happy, you know. Why was I insecure? It feels really great that we did something that has legs. This is my thing and it belongs to me. And I was so touched. Do you guys have a favorite Bikini Kill moment from all time?
You know, it was violent and angry a lot of the time. That was the thing about Bikini Kill: But our experience being in it was totally different. Looking back, is the state of the world and it's treatment of women better than it was when you first started? A lot of people talk to you guys about politics obviously, but I think sometimes people forget to mention how you guys were a crushing band.
How do you guys feel like you stand up as a punk band? And in our hearts, that's what we were trying to do a bit—just experiment. Even listening to like a bunch of live stuff and like weird spoken word that I used to do in between songs You could have actually mentioned that you were going to do fucking spoken word, because we just had to stand there and do nothing. Which really freed me up to do whatever I wanted on stage.
Seems like part of the mission of Bikini Kill was to knock the things you hated. What did you hate when you started the band? The band is a snapshot of the things of the era we hated. We hated so much. When we started it, everybody was so angry. And then one night in particular, some people were having their Twin Peaks party and a certain person that was in Bikini Kill went out on their roof and ripped out the cable.
I feel like I try to focus more on the positive now, but I get so pissed off. There were these fucking guys, I was in New Jersey, and they had these posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache on it. We went to get eggs, my husband and I, because we were going to egg them, and we went back and they were gone. I mean, I was happy they were gone, but at the same time, I just get so pissed! I get so pissed about people who are anti-abortion and bring their children with them to protests.
For me, at the basis of Bikini Kill is a really urgent need to communicate. What is it that you feel like you've spent your life trying to communicate? You can change culture from the ground up. You can actually make a huge difference.