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What do you get when you combine the 90s, feminism and riot grrls? BIKINI KILL, OF COURSE. This week’s blast from the past is all about girl power. A few months back I went to see a documentary called From The Back of The Room, which focuses on female, fronted punk and hardcore bands and the lack thereof in the scene. One of the dominant women in the punk scene was, and remains, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill who – along with a few others – started something known as The Riot Grrrl movement. Riot Girls created a sort of third wave of feminism and their lyrics were generally political and radical talking about issues like empowerment, rape, sexuality, etc. For the first time really ever, women were taken seriously in punk music, something males dominated for so long and it was because of the riot grrl movement and Bikini Kill that this was possible.
Bikini Kill formed back in 1990 fronted by Kathleen Hanna and backed by Billy Karren, Kathy Wilcox, and Tobi Vail. They got the name from a fanzine they had all created together titled Bikini Kill. Something which Bikini Kill are especially known for besides their Riot Grrl status is their commitment to the Do-It-Yourself scene and holding true to it. They made zines, self produced a lot their work, played basements and houses, all things to remain to the punk aesthetic. Their shows are held in the highest regard. I’ve seen videos (if only I could have actually experienced one!) from their shows and they basically consist of Kathleen Hanna jumping around, dancing, and calling all the females up to the front of the stage. At most hardcore punk shows, the crowd is predominantly male and it’s always men at the front of the crowd or stage with rarely ever women at the front; Bikini Kill wanted to change that and see women be empowered. There’s a video from one of their shows in 1993 where Bikini Kill are performing on stage and a young guy keeps trying to take pictures of her butt and she keeps telling him to stop but he continues so she hits him. She makes a speech about it moments later saying “I will not have pictures taken of my ass by little white boys that I don’t know.” Speeches like this were quite common at Bikini Kill shows along with these kind of incidents. Hanna always tried to spread awareness during their shows, and this awareness is directly linked to their music and lyrics.
The first thing I heard from Bikini Kill was their appropriately titled first album Pussy Whipped, a perfect mesh of angry lyrics mixed with screaming, screeching, heavy bass lines and speedy drumming. The song which first stood out to me was “Rebel Girl”, pretty much the anthem of the Riot Grrl movement. Hanna sings “When she talks, I hear the revolutions, in her hips, there’s revolutions,” showing that females are starting a revolution! Rebel Girl is one of the greatest female empowerment songs as well as one of the greatest punk songs. The two and a half minute song captures what punk is all about—making a change and starting a riot about it. The album closes with a side of Bikini Kill rarely seen, a soft sort of romantic side to them with a song called “For Tammy Rae” which captures Hanna singing like a lost young girl looking for love rather then screaming and yelling about not needing a man. Though I do love the angry girl-power Bikini Kill, it’s interesting and refreshing to see the contrast of them playing a gentle song about love for once. After their first album, they continued making another LP along with several EPs. They collaborated with Joan Jett, one of the major Riot Grrls, for a their next LP showing they were gaining quite a fan base and making music which was really changing the landscape of punk.
A few months ago I walked into Emerson’s Dining Hall and I saw a girl wearing a denim jacket with a large Bikini Kill patch on the back of it. Though they are “a blast from the past,” Bikini Kill clearly still has a lingering presence in today’s society, especially for young girls who relate to their lyrics. They have made it a much more acceptable part of society to sing about female empowerment and they have proved that women can be just as equally a part of the punk scene as men.