In the seven years between their formation in 1990 and their eventual disbandment in 1997, Washington riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill roared, riled and retaliated against the male-dominated music industry they stormed into and found lacking.
Formed of singer Kathleen Hanna (above, second from right), bassist Kathi Wilcox (above right), guitarist Billy Karren (second from left) and drummer Tobi Vail (left), they became scene figureheads and, as their career progressed, their music became an increasingly reactive statement of rage against the machine. But in the beginning there was ‘Revolution Girl Style Now!’: their first collection of grunge-inspired demos.
Now, following the re-release of their two studio LPs (1993’s ‘Pussy Whipped’ and 1996’s ‘Reject All American) the band are putting the demos out on CD and vinyl for the first time on September 22. Excitingly, the release will also contain three previously unreleased tracks: ‘Ocean Song’, ‘Just Once’ and ‘Playground’.
“It was the first thing we recorded and it captures the energy from before we had this incredible hostility and backlash,” says Wilcox, who now plays in The Julie Ruin – pictured below – with Hanna. The demos were originally self-released in 1991 on cassette. “I listen back and it’s kind of optimistic, it’s not reactive to the reactions of other people, it’s just purely a statement of our thing”.
“We listened to the recordings and it had these three songs on which was a surprise to me because I had no memory of recording them at all,” Wilcox says with a chuckle. “Kathleen and I both laughed when we heard them, not because they’re funny, but because with hindsight we were so confident in what we were doing. We’d only been a band for six months at that point but we didn’t give a shit.”
It’s this carefree attitude that earned the band a hardcore cult following, and with peers such as L7 and Babes In Toyland recently reuniting, there are scores who want Bikini Kill to do the same. “We discussed it when a friend of ours was curating ATP Festival and wanted us to reform. We had no desire to but as it was a friend we thought we should discuss it,” says Wilcox. “The timing wasn’t right though. I don’t know whether we would. We’re still friends but it’s been a long time. But hey… Never say never.”
For now, at least, there are three new tracks to keep people satiated. Here’s Wilcox on the stories behind the songs.
“Kathleen wrote the lyrics and then music on bass and at this point it wasn’t a collaborative effort at all. There was a very short window when she wrote songs like that and that’s why they sound so different from the short punk songs that we did after. It reminds me of learning to play guitar, because I literally had never picked one up before I joined this band. Listening back, it sounds more like the bands that were happening in Seattle at the time, like early Nirvana. She’s singing a dirge, it’s not full Poly Styrene yet.”
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“I have absolutely zero memory of recording this song and I couldn’t tell you what it’s about, but I know when the band started Kathleen was super angry about the end of a relationship and that fuelled the band for years – maybe for the whole [time we were a] band. At this creative time she was so filled with rage, and this song shows that the most.”
“When I listen back now, it really sounds like the product of Olympia. You don’t hear it in a lot of our songs, but here you can really hear the Olympia, Beat Happening influence in the lyrics. It’s all about childhood and playing in the playground but mixed in with this grunge element. It’s so unpolished; it’s the origins of the band. We weren’t trying to be professional, but we didn’t let out lack of experience stop us, so hopefully when people hear it they’ll think that it’s OK to start a band without being 100% there.”