Kathleen Hanna & the (R)Evolution of Riot Grrrl

Kathleen Hanna & the (R)Evolution of Riot Grrrl

By: Jen Richards

I first heard Kathleen Hanna’s piercing voice when I was sixteen years old, and it has been effecting me ever since. Her first band, Bikini Kill was at the forefront of the Riot Grrrl scene that exploded here in the Northwest, DC and spread around the country. I got involved- writing zines, attending workshops, protests, and all manor of activism largely due to Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and other punk girl bands of the time. Their influence on my generation was sizable and the music and statements they made then (and now) continue to be impactful and influential.

I was a devoted Bikini Kill fan and have followed Hanna’s career since BK disbanded. From her solo project Julie Ruin, to the synthy activist sounds of Le Tigre, and her latest project- The Julie Ruin that also includes Kathi Wilcox (of Bikini Kill).

The Julie Ruin

The Julie Ruin

The Julie Ruin played at Neumos on September 15th and the place was packed. People of all ages, and dressed in a wide variety of styles all squeezed in to see Ms. Hanna and company rock out. They were not disappointed. This band knows how to rock and offers danceable beats. Hanna has a powerful stage presence, comedic timing down to a tee, and is one of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen.  Her music and message are as powerful now as they were when I was a teenager, even if the delivery has gotten more mature and sophisticated. Those of us who have evolved with Hanna were there at Neumos, dancing along side teens and 20 somethings. They played several Le Tigre songs much to the delight of the crowd, including my favorite LT track- Eau d’Bedroom Dancing. The opening act, La Sera played a fantastic set and my to-do list now includes listening to their albums ASAP.  I waited twenty years to see Kathleen Hanna live and it was so worth the wait. I left Neumos with a smile, pep in my step, and my passion for music and feminism completely rejuvenated.

If you have not listened to the music of Kathleen Hanna before or have only checked out one of her bands, then I strongly urge you to explore her other acts and solo album. The energetic Julie Ruin debut album, Run Fast was released earlier this month.

sleater kinney

For anyone newly exploring Riot Grrrl era bands and/ or the fruits of those roots- I also highly recommend all of Sleater-Kinney’s albums. From their self-titled raw debut, to the more polished The Hot Rock, all the way to The Woods, their final and argued by many, their best. Carrie Brownstein of SK is now well known for both Portlandia and her current band, Wild Flag. Their self-titled debut from 2011 is an amazing album and shows off Ms. Brownstein’s’ musical evolution. Corin Tucker of SK is now front woman for The Corin Tucker Band. Her voice is as amazing as intense as ever. Before Sleater-Kinney Tucker was in the punk band Heavens to Betsy, another classic act from the Riot Grrrl days.

wild flag

If you are going the distance with this genre then I also suggest checking out Bratmobile, Huggy Bear, Team K Dresch, and the compilation Move Into the Villa Villakula if you can get your hands on it. The record labels Kill Rock Stars and K Records are also very much worth exploring.

villa villakula

And be sure to keep an eye out for the documentary about Hanna, The Punk Singer. Director Sini Anderson’s phenomenal doc is chalked full of fascinating interviews with artists and musicians. It should be playing in Seattle by late November/ early December. I caught a screening at SIFF this year and was transported back to my youth. A friend visiting from Holland came along, knowing nothing about Hanna or the riot grrrl scene and also thoroughly enjoyed it.

Happy listening!


About the Author: Jen nerds out about many things, particularly: travel, pop culture, and wine. Jen grew up in Seattle in a family of all boys. Her early obsessions included The Labyrinth, The Go-go’s, NW masterpiece Twin Peaks, and all things French. In her teen years music became her primary focus- especially the Riot grrrl scene, alternative, and Brit pop. College was filled with the likes of zine writing, feminist activism, The X-files, Tori Amos, and the novels of Tom Robbins. World travel started as a hobby and evolved into a way of life after university. After more than eight years at sea working for a major cruise line, two years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, and numerous backpacking trips, Jen has travelled to all 7 continents and over 125 countries. Jen has a BS in Psychology and a BA in Women’s Studies from the University of Utah.