Kathleen Hanna's Fire
I never saw Bikini Kill play. In fact, they were about to disband when I first became aware of them. So it's hard to reconcile the radical punk history with the Kathleen Hanna I had breakfast with recently, who's outspoken but not angry, strong but not fierce. Similarly, it's hard to draw a musical line from the screaming genius of Bikini Kill to the party-time girl-pop of Le Tigre. Hanna says simply, "Le Tigre is more where I'm at now."
Still, connections abound, in the mission and the politics behind both groups. Indie rock was, and remains, the territory of boys and men. But since the early '90s, the scene has opened up considerably. Credit is due to Hanna; it's hard to imagine bands like Sleater-Kinney, the Butchies, the Donnas and countless others--including Le Tigre--existing without the earlier work of Bikini Kill. "I think we really did have the goal in mind that we wanted to change things, at least in the music scene," Hanna explains. "It was also really selfish.... I wasn't making music at that time for a bunch of white, suburban male teenagers. The lyrics weren't about them, they weren't for them. It was frustrating when those were the people showing up at the shows because it was like, 'These aren't even the people I'm trying to talk to.'"
And they still aren't. If ever there was a band for young feminists, Le Tigre is it. Check out the lyrics to "Hot Topic," a sort of shout-out to women, men and groups whose pro-woman work and stance deserves credit: "You're getting old, that's what they'll say, but/Don't give a damn I'm listening anyway." (Those to whom the song pays tribute include Carolee Schneemann, Gayatri Spivak, Nina Simone, Angela Davis and James Baldwin.) The rallying "F.Y.R." (Fifty Years of Ridicule)--inspired by Shulamith Firestone's second-wave classic The Dialectic of Sex--calls on feminists to keep fighting: "Can we trade Title Nine for an end to hate crime?/RU-486 if we suck your fuckin dick?... Feminists we're calling you/Please report to the front desk."
But above all, Le Tigre's music is fun. It's danceable. It makes you want to move. (In the indie scene, this is radical. In the wake of the dwindling fad of moshing it seems that audiences have embraced austerity, where head-nodding is the only acceptable form of acknowledging a beat.) Mechanical beats, lots of samples, simple guitar and bass lines with smart lyrics on top make for a funky mélange that's like the girl-rap-funk trio of Luscious Jackson crossed with Kate Millett. What's more, at a typical Le Tigre show, the audience is at least half-female--full of, as Hanna calls them affectionately, "crazy good dancers." It was for them that the "LT Tour Theme" was written: "We see the girls walking towards the dance floor and we remember why we go on tour. Won't you dance some more?"
In her memoirs, Emma Goldman--that dancing anarchist-feminist--recounts a story in which a young radical whispers to her that "it did not behoove an agitator to dance." Her rejection of that notion has been famously retold as, "If I can't dance it's not my revolution"--a wonderful slogan, to be sure. But Goldman's actual rebuttal, as recorded in her autobiography, is even better--and more apt for feminists like Kathleen Hanna: "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." She would have loved a Le Tigre concert.