When most old-school bands reunite, they do it with pomp, pyro and a reality television show. Not so Bikini Kill, who casually regrouped for the first time in 20 years last week to play just one song at a book launch party in New York. One of the greatest political bands of the 20th century, Bikini Kill spearheaded the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s, a third-wave feminist dream who sang – or rather shouted from the very depths of their souls – songs about sisterhood, solidarity, rape, assault and abuse. These were songs that sought to regain women’s power and ownership of their own bodies. These were important songs, songs which had a powerful message but were also really f**king banging. The very best kind of songs, you might say.
Battling against the macho hard rock scene, or “beergutboyrock” as the band’s incendiary front woman Kathleen Hanna called it, Bikini Kill wanted to make women feel safe at gigs, and called for female crowd members to come to the front of their shows while the men were instructed to hang at the back. Their aim was to flip the script of punk and hardcore, which had become butch and exclusive, pushing out women with ultra-violent gigs and a blokey ‘girls aren’t welcome’ attitude.
Though they released their final album, ‘Reject All American’, in 1996, the band’s message seems more important now than ever. In the wake of assault claims against men in the entertainment industry, politics and basically everywhere else where there are guys unable to act like decent people, Bikini Kill’s strident call to arms empowered the band and their fans, showing that not only would they refuse to tolerate harassment and domestic abuse, but they would fight it with fury, rage and some of the best punk songs since X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene first pickedup the mic and screamed about the dangers of consumerism.
“I was bringing performance art into punk music, while talking about feminism and violence against women,” Hanna told the Guardian last year. “A big part of it was writing to kids who were having a hard time and didn’t have anyone to turn to.” Reaching out to people who felt alone and abandoned, Hanna and her band were doing something that politicians and the mainstream media weren’t. Over two decades down the line and it’s as if things have hardly changed. Back in 1992, Bikini Kill called for ‘Revolution Girl Style Now!’; in 2017 it doesn’t look any closer.