On the 10th and 11th of June, Bikini Kill played the last two shows of their reunion tour. Prior to this, they hadn’t played in 22 years, but they came back to that stage as strong as ever. Bikini Kill are a feminist-based punk band that formed in Olympia, Washington in 1990. To say that their careers were an endurance would be an understatement.
They encouraged a female-centred environment at their shows – women at the front, men at the back – and they always tried to give setlists and guitar picks to the women. Hanna frequently removed male hecklers herself by diving into the crowd but was also often met with verbal and physical abuse during the show. Luckily, none of this happened during these two nights. They were supported by Big Joanie and The Tuts.
The Tuts were the first band on. They are made up of three members (of proud English, Pakistani, and Caribbean descent) and come from Hayes, London. They aim to promote a message of female empowerment and took to the stage in a flurry of bright colours, lead singer (Nadia Javed) stunning the crowd with a frilly yellow coat and pink tutu. After only recently coming to the same venue with The Specials, many people were there specifically to see them perform. They were energetic, bubbly, and people were clearly engaged with the energy they gave off.
Next were Big Joanie, a Brixton-born, black feminist band that, like the others, fits under the punk genre. The band was brought together when Stephanie Phillips (guitar and vocals) posted a request online asking for bandmates after she had become increasingly frustrated with the lack of racial diversity in the scene. They were definitely unique on the night, presenting themselves in a line of four people, each one playing their instrument. Unlike The Tuts (and later on, Bikini Kill) they didn’t have the same the energetic punk feeling to their performance, but that isn’t a bad thing. They were the kind of band you could relax to, and their music still enticed people with its sound and thought-provoking lyrics.
Finally, Bikini Kill came on. The low, anxious chatter of the crowd erupted into a frenzy as the band took the stage, and frontwoman Kathleen Hanna waved and blew kisses to the fans she hadn’t seen in 22 years. They then launched into their first song, “New Radio”.
Sporting a metallic silver dress, Hanna was almost a spotlight herself. The coloured lights bounced off of her as she filled the stage with pure fun. It was clear that she was enjoying being back on tour as she danced and sang and talked to the crowd, though not always in a political way, sometimes just talking about how happy she was to be back. The crowd – which was surprisingly young – were clearly loving it, too. Many of the people I saw wouldn’t have been old enough to see Bikini Kill in their prime, performing in the 90s, and must’ve been insanely grateful for this chance.
Bikini Kill had definitely done a lot to empower LGBT people and women with their music and performance. Hanna was a strong woman who wasn’t as tame as some of the others you’d see and was clearly powerful in her own way. Headbanging, fist raising, the audience was loving it. Taking in the political message, loving the excitement that Hanna brought to the stage, it would be hard to find a show where the crowd were so involved in the people performing.
They ended on “Rebel Girl” before launching into three encore songs: “Double Dare Ya”, “Suck My Left One”, and “For Tammy Rae”. The crowd especially reacted to “Rebel Girl”, which is arguably one of their most known, if not in fact their biggest, songs.
As a fairly political person myself, I had always loved Bikini Kill’s message of empowering women and the LGBT community. Having the opportunity to see them, even for a short while, was a truly amazing experience. Hanna has inspired so many people and truly changed the punk scene forever.
Photos by Abi Rose Photography