Bikini Kill is Back Because We Need Them: It took Kathleen Hanna 20 years, between 1997 and 2017, before she decided that she wanted to play the music of Bikini Kill again. Between 1990 and ‘97, the band created music that was vital for the few people who heard it, but at the time, it didn’t reach enough ears. However, in pioneering the riot grrl sound and scene (drummer Tobi Vail is responsible for the “grrl” spelling), Bikini Kill has a legacy that only blossomed in the years following their split.

It’s not like Hanna went away though. The end of the ‘90s through mid 2000s saw her return with the phenomenal Le Tigre – the electro-rock group that released three magnificent albums. (Incidentally, Le Tigre are reuniting for the This Aint No Picnic fest at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.) Since 2010, she’s been playing with Bikini Kill’s Kathi Wilcox in punk band the Julie Ruin, but that group is on hiatus while she focuses on the former two.

So that brings us back to the now. Hanna tells us that she finally feels like playing Bikini Kill’s songs again, although she wishes that she didn’t because the inspiration comes from the shitty state of the world.

“When Bikini Kill played in the ‘90s, there was a lot of violence and aggression towards us, and there were also a lot of people who loved us and were very supportive,” Hanna says. “It’s really amazing for me to come back as a singer so many years later and get so much love and positivity. I think people don’t realize that we weren’t a popular band – Bikini Kill was a very niche thing. People either really loved us or wanted to literally kill us. There were a lot of ‘you guys don’t even deserve to exist,’ kind of sentiment. So to come back and be like, we do deserve to exist and actually, these songs – sadly, sadly, sadly, sadly – are feeling more relevant now than they did then. It’s great that I feel like singing the songs again when I didn’t feel like singing them for 20 years, but jeez, I would rather that the world was a better place. I wish I could sing about flowers.”

Yeah, it’s not the time for flower songs just yet. Hanna says that she was performing with the Julie Ruin on the night that Trump was elected and then, during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings for the Supreme Court seat, she justifiably feared for women’s reproductive rights. Clearly, the world still needed Bikini Kill.

“So much stuff and so many cops killing black people for no reason,” Hanna says. “So many white nationalist vigilantes murdering people. So much stuff going on that I was like, I need to get this out. I’m so fucking pissed. I tend to either turn it on myself, or turn it into song. For me it’s all about the live outlet. I like the Bikini Kill records, but for the most part I always considered us a live band. Connecting with the audience and especially after being so isolated – I feel like I’m going to cry the whole time.”

Unfortunately, just as Bikini Kill was ready to tour, the pandemic hit. Like pretty much every band, its plans were trashed.

“It was awful,” Hanna says. “We were about to go on tour and literally everything got shut down the day before. We’d been rehearsing and we were all in great shape, and we were sounding really great, and it was like, ‘OK, you’re going back home.’ How do you make big plans that you have to make far in advance that involve a lot of people? I think that’s what a lot of bands are dealing with. I was able to play music with some friends. I don’t really jam, but I kind of learned to jam in COVID. But I was still a mess like everyone else. I wrote some songs every so often, just because I had to, but it was really hard to just focus.”

Finally, they’re able to get going again and all of that work hasn’t been in vain. Hanna, Vail and Wilcox are joined by new guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle so Bikini Kill is all-female now (Billy Karren played guitar in the ‘90s). That, Hanna says, naturally changes the sound a little.

“She’s amazing,” Hanna says of Lyle. “I can’t tell you how it feels to stand on stage and play songs that are so familiar and yet so far away. We’re older now, we have a new guitar player, so there’s a certain different excitement in the songs. When you’re on stage standing in the whirlwind of the songs, it’s a joyous feeling because it also feels like a triumphant return, like Rocky running up the steps. Maybe we don’t suck. Maybe we got better. There’s something about being older that makes me appreciate these experiences, especially travel, so much more than I did back in my 20s.”

It’s clearly different now. Bikini Kill is performing at venues, like the Greek Theatre, around the country, rather than basements. The crowds are loving, rather than angry meathead men calling them “manhaters.” 

“We’ve grown an audience that’s very intergenerational,” Hanna says. “We have 15 year olds, and 65 year olds, and everything in between. I think that’s one of the most satisfying parts of the tour for me. Right now, everybody is so fucking focused on ‘you’re a boomer, you’re Gen X, you’re a millennial – here’s the jokes about millennials. Here are the jokes about Gen Z.’ It’s all marketing. It’s, let’s divide and conquer. We’re all on social media, just feeding into it. So to have an audience that’s intergenerational where they’re all in the same room, enjoying, critiquing, whatever, the music that is happening, feels really positive to me. I just want to be part of positive stuff, because there’s so much evil around. I want to bring joy and righteous anger. Anger’s not a bad thing. We should all be angry.”

Thank god, then, that Bikini Kill is back.

Bikini Kill is Back Because We Need Them: Bikini Kill perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 29 at the Greek Theatre. The Olympia, Washington shows will be a benefit for the Interfaith Works Nightly Shelter – shelters for unhoused people who are trans or cisgender women. Hanna also has a company called tees4togo, which sells t shirts for the $40 that it costs to provide a woman in Togo, West Africa an education.

LA Weekly