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Bikini Kill

Biography

Bikini Kill
Eichner/WireImage

Proclaiming themselves riot grrrls and calling for "Revolution Girl Style Now," Bikini Kill pioneered both a musical and a feminist movement in the early 1990s. Hanna, Vail, and Wilcox met at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. In their feminist fanzine Bikini Kill they articulated an agenda for young women in and outside of music; the band put those ideas to practice. (Ironically, the zine first coined the "girl power" slogan, later co-opted by England's bubblegum pop band the Spice Girls.) Bikini Kill earned a reputation in the punk underground for confronting certain standards of that genre; for example, asking people to slam at the side of the stage, so that women would not get pushed out of the front, and inviting women to take the mike and talk about sexual abuse. A former stripper, Hanna (who inspired Nirvana's first hit by spray-painting "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Kurt Cobain's bedroom wall) challenges the sexual expectations of her audience by pulling her shirt off or writing "Kill Me" across her stomach or chest.

In 1991 Bikini Kill circulated a tape, Revolution Girl Style Now, that introduced their fiery style. Some of the same songs appear in new versions, produced by Fugazi's Ian Mackaye, on their debut EP, which features the call-to-arms "Double Dare Ya" and the wrenching "Feels Blind." The Olympia-based indie Kill Rock Stars (Bikini Kill refused to work with majors) released Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, an album backed with British riot grrrl band Huggy Bear's Our Troubled Youth, in a joint venture with the U.K. label Catcall on International Women's Day.

Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill toured England together in spring 1993, generating a wave of international interest in riot grrrl and a storm of controversy in the British press. That fall, Joan Jett produced a Bikini Kill single featuring the anthem "Rebel Girl"; Jett and the band toured together the next year. On Pussy Whipped, Bikini Kill returned to a rawer sound; this album included songs by Vail and Wilcox as well as Hanna. All three also wrote tracks for the group's last studio album, the more accessible Reject All American.

On the 1995 Lollapalooza Tour, Hanna made headlines not for her riot grrrl politics but for her riotous scuffle with Hole frontwoman Courtney Love. The two longtime rivals came to blows backstage, and though accounts of the fisticuffs vary, Love was later charged with assault in the fourth degree and received a suspended one-year sentence.

Bikini Kill disbanded in 1998 (the same year a posthumous singles compilation was released), but in 1998 Hanna released a homerecorded, electronica-influenced solo album under the name Julie Ruin. Hanna then left the Pacific Northwest to form the New York–based trio Le Tigre with 'zine editor Johanna Fateman and videographer Sadie Benning. Their self-titled debut album borrowed from Bikini Kill's punk, softened with synth-pop flourishes and girl group influences. The politics were as potent as ever, though, as Le Tigre's songs name-dropped feminists from Gertrude Stein to Yoko Ono and questioned whether filmmaker John Cassavetes was a misogynist.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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