Interview: Bikini Kill

There’s no question hanging over the title of seminal Riot Grrrl band. During their seven active years, Bikini Kill were joined by musicians, spoken word performers, poets and artists across the world, promoting feminist ideology alongside the genre’s trademark punk ethos and sound. Theirs was the music that acted as a catalyst to the scene, and – for whatever reason - they’re the name that leaps out of confides of history.

Formed in Olympia by staples Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox, the band’s DIY approach has been compounded by their strong ethic and socially charged, explicit lyrics. Noted collaborations with Nirvana, Joan Jett and Sonic Youth ensured Bikini Kill’s word quickly spread. In 1992 they joined forces with Kill Rock Stars to release their debut self-titled EP; the rest is history, and a topic gamely covered by publications year in, year out.

Bikini Kill and its members have released scores of records since, ranging from 1993’s Pussy Whipped to commercially successful albums like Le Tigre’s This Island, alongside forming stalwart bands such as The Casual Dots, The Frumpies and Suture, and associating with major players from a range of resources. Why should we still care about their career? They’ve categorically made their mark on a generation of women, many of whom play a key part in the music industry of today, and as individuals they continue to contribute... Now for the first time in fifteen year, they’re back together to reaffirm their importance.

On November 24th Bikini Kill will re-release their debut on 12”, via their newly founded Bikini Kill Records. In a typical display of homemade crafts, those that pre-order the release will also receive posters, zines, liner notes and photos. For $12, or £7.44.

To celebrate, DrunkenWerewolf is extraordinarily proud to interview founding member Kathi Wilcox on the label, the past, and what the future may hold.

Most of your material was originally released on Kill Rock Stars; why not re-release with them now, and what made you start your own label fifteen years after Bikini Kill disbanded? KRS is different than it was in 1991, and our relationship with the label has changed over the years. It just makes sense for us to release everything ourselves at this point. Also the business itself has changed. It's easier now to put out a record yourself than it was 20 years ago.

If you could go back in time, would you self-release all of your records? Why didn’t you? No, I don't think so. We were a touring band and I don't think any of us wanted to spend the time and energy it would take to start a record label at that point. KRS was a very small operation in the beginning - Slim had only released one 7" spoken-word record when we approached him about putting out the Bikini Kill EP. It felt like a joint enterprise in a way, at least at first. Like we were all in it together. What made you want to re-release your debut 12” EP first, over anything else? The EP was our first vinyl release and we wanted to start at the beginning. How do you think the music industry has changed to support artists? I suppose the most obvious change is the internet. Bands have a lot more options for connecting with people and getting their music out now. I don't actually know what the "industry" is up to these days because that's not really my end of it so much, but I think there's no question that artists have more tools at their disposal now, where they don't necessarily need to get past any gate-keepers to get their music out the way that maybe they once did. Has the internet helped Bikini Kill’s notoriety, do you think, or is it a better tool for new bands? It's just another tool, and I think it works for anyone really at any level. I suppose the difference is if you wanted someone to market the record then maybe that's one advantage of being on a label, but then again you can always hire someone to do that job. All aspects of putting out records and being in a band seem to be more accessible than they once were. You always could "do it yourself", but not a lot of people wanted to spend the time and resources it took to do that. The internet has made it more feasible. It’s been 20 years since you first released this material. What do you think of the impact you've made on the feminist movement and music in general? I'm really proud to have Bikini Kill included in any history of feminism. If our band was a part of furthering that conversation, of introducing the idea in people's minds or causing them to look at things in a different light, then that's a legacy I am really excited about. Musically, I hope we inspired people to start bands that reflected what they were passionate about, and to not wait around until they were totally perfect players - that it's more important to be passionate about what you're doing than perfectly polished. Kathleen mentioned in an interview recently that there’s no need to ‘restart’ Riot Grrrl. How have the political and social issues that influenced you to form and write this EP changed? Depressingly little, I'm afraid. Women are still paid less than men for the same work; women are still being stalked, raped, murdered; women's reproductive rights are being stripped away, at least in America; sexual harassment still exists. So really, there is no reason why people shouldn't "restart" the essence of Riot Grrrl - anger at social injustice and gender inequality. It just doesn't need to take the exact same form, which would play out as nostalgia. Make it relevant to the current era and your own life. You know, like don't start the "Yippies" again, start "Occupy Wall Street". What should influence people, and in particular women, to start a band? Their own lives. You’ve also created a new zine to coincide with the vinyl! I started DW as a zine when my Mum handed me down some political zines from the 70s and 80s. What do you make of all the blogs and websites out there ‘replacing’ zines? Why are zines still important to you? The printed zine is appealing to me, personally, because it's finite. Blogs just go on forever, but a zine is manageable and stands on its own as an object with a beginning, middle, and end. But really, Bikini Kill did zines because that was what there was -- there was no internet. I think obviously we would probably do a website or a blog if our band started today. Since we did zines, we decided to include one with the vinyl EP. A major area of your website is designed for fans to leave messages and share their BK experiences with other fans. Who came up with that idea and why not use social media accounts instead? That was Kathleen's idea. I can't answer the "why not social media" question; I imagine that's just how she decided to set it up. But I do appreciate all the people who have shared their stories of seeing us play or what the band meant to them personally. It really means a lot to us to get that kind of feedback. Relating to and engaging with your fans is perhaps one of the greatest things you’re known for as a band - if you could let them all know one thing, a tit-bit of life saving information, what would it be? Trust in yourself.
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