White boy : I don’t think it’s a problem cuz
most of the girls ask for it
Kathleen : Uh huh, how did they ask for it?
White boy : The way they act, the way they…
I…I can’t say they way they dress because
that’s their own personal choice
White boy : Some of these dumb hoes,
those slut rocker bitches walking down the street,
they’re asking for it, they may deny it but it’s true. (sampled dialogue at the beginning of Bikini Kill’s ‘White Boy’)
They’re funny things ladies. Just when you think you have them all worked out as pretty, scatterbrained lovelies who spend all their time thinking about kittens and gossiping happily, they go and get all cross about stuff. Some ladies had so little cooking to do that they went and got ideas in 1992; I know, imagine! These ideas, very wrongly, involved the lovely ladies not needing to look all lacey and leggy all the time. That was bad. Some ladies decided that they could form bands and get quite grumpy about a whole range of issues; don’t do it ladies! Who’ll do the ironing now?
Rather than help us fellows put down this nonsense by cutting off these ladies housekeeping money, irresponsible journalists fanned the fire of their insurrection and a new movement was born, Riot Grrrl*. It saddened me to think of all those sweet girlies (grrrlies?), playing bass in bands like Bratmobile and 7 Year Bitch and not getting married. Honestly, what would Martha Stewart say?
I liked the riot grrl movement a lot, there was a lot of taking the punk I-can’t-play ethos to extremes, more self-righteous fanzines than anyone ever needed and lots of women writing slogans on their stomachs and hands, for reasons I never quite understood. Best of all was the timely foregrounding of all manner of feminist issues – groping at gigs being a very prominent one at the time, much cathartic discussion of gender stereotyping and building ‘safe spaces’ for women, all-woman shows became a thing for a few bands for a while and just a general willingness to scream about the female experience**. It was never built to last, it only had a fairly niche appeal once you moved away from a young, educated demographic and the scenesters started getting too earnest by far, humour was never a prominent thing here^ and things splintered quickly.
For my money the two most interesting acts associated with riot grrl were Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear, so when I spotted a split LP of them both I snapped it up. It’s called either Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, or Our Troubled Youth depending on which band’s side you’re listening to^^, I tend to just call it Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah. It was released through the Cat Call and Kill Rock Stars labels and has a pleasing DIY feel about it, except my copy hasn’t got the insert full of polemic and lyrics that it should do.
In her hips, there’s revolutions
When she walks, the revolution’s coming
In her kiss, I taste the revolution!
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Bikini Kill were a great ragged band at times, their best track ‘Rebel Girl’ is nothing short of brilliant – hard-hitting, playful and sexy^* a proper 90s punk rock classic. It’s on Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah too, but unfortunately in an earlier 4-track recorded version and not the iron-clad version they included on Pussy Whipped, it’s still pretty good. The whole of the Bikini Kill side is pretty damned harum-scarum, pausing only briefly to pound some sensitivity into the slower ‘Outta Me’. I’m fond of ‘White Boy’ and ‘This Is Not a Test’ but this is not an ideal intro to the band, more for the hardcore devotee. Seriously though, is there anyone in the music biz as cool as Kathleen Hanna?*^
So to Huggy Bear, who were a UK band who courted controversy by being stroppy, swearing and having A MAN IN THE BAND! Yup, things did get a bit doctrinaire about trifles like having male members (sniggers). What Huggy Bear also had was a neat sense of musicality and they were able to mix their virulence with a nice dollop of pop to sugar the medicine. Our Troubled Youth is a far easier, more fully formed-formed listen than its’ Yank counterpart here, the production is much stronger and tracks like the Peanuts-sampling ‘Hopscotch’ almost have a Sonic Youth edge to their melodies. My particular favourites are the very pop ‘Aqua Girl Star’ and the rattling ‘T-Shirt Tucked In’.
It’s been fun listening to this relic from a small scene in another era, particularly on the eve of the USA having a chance to elect its first female president. I just think it would be nice if Bikini Kill get to reform for the inauguration and blast it out one last time on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a primal scream to heal the shattered states:
Lay me spread eagle out on your hill, yeah
then write a book on how I wanted to die.
It’s hard to talk with your dick in my mouth
I will try to scream in pain a little nicer next time
WHITE BOY…DON’T LAUGH…DON’T CRY…JUST DIE!
*the adorable ninnies even spelt it wrong.
**I’m a little hazy about what that actually entails other than getting inexplicable angry at fixed times and occasionally giving birth.
^as, in my experience, it too seldom is amongst folks who share my leftie, pinko beliefs; lord save me from earnest fools.
^^take that patriarchal fascist compulsory LP alphabeticisers!
^*fights entirely inappropriate urge to type ‘just like the way I like my chicks’ there.
*^that’s rhetorical, dumbass – the answer is ‘nope’. Le Tigre were just awesome beyond belief.