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I Was a Teenage Riot Grrrl - In Praise of Bikini Kill

I see from their twitter account that Bikini Kill’s eponymous debut EP was released 20 years ago today. How could one not mark such an occasion other than by digging out a copy and blasting that righteous rage at full volume? Was there ever such an apt statement of intent, a sonic nailing of their theses to the alt rock door? I dare you to think of one, double dare, triple fucking dare you!

From the opening lines of “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution Girl-style now!” to the ungainly dénouement of ‘Thurston Hearts The Who’ it’s all amazing. I love the way ‘Double Dare Ya’ runs into ‘Liar’ with its judgmental declaration “Eat Meat, Hate Blacks, Beat your fuckin wife, It’s all the same thing.” ‘Carnival’ just paints such a vile portrait of the underbelly of the carny world with enough good lines and Mötley Crüe albums for a whole album. ‘Suck My Left One' just says it all and 'Feels Blind' is epic and heart-wrenching stuff: when Bikini Kill do lower tempos they do them well (see also 'Outta Me' on 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah').

I was lucky enough to see Bikini Kill play twice at the height of their powers. The first time was in the Black Cat in Washing DC in the Summer of 1994. They were on a 3 band bill sandwiched between local DC band The Norman Mayer Group and indie rock pin-ups Veruca Salt who were busily climbing the greasy pole of success at the time. I can’t claim to remember a whole lot about the gig or even what kind of set-list Bikini Kill played, although I do recall Kathleen Hanna having one of her famous rants about strippers rights in a local DC gentleman’s club.

The second time I saw them was also on a triple bill, but this time at home in Dublin on the 20th April 1996. It was right around the time their last album, ‘Reject All American’ was released, which I bought a copy of from the merch stand on the day. The gig was unusual because it was an afternoon all-ages show in Charlies on Aungier Street (where the Capitol bar is now). The crowd was a mixture of teenage lesbians and guys in their 20s (like me) trying not to look too seedy.

First up were Bis ,who has just been on Top of the Pops the previous week, playing the deliciously insipid ‘Kandy Pop' from The Secret Vampire Soundtrack EP. I am sure there were at least 2 parent and child combos there because of that. Manda Rin , Disco John and Sci-fi Steve gave it their all & I was briefly a fan but their sound wore very thin after a while.

Bikini Kill were again sandwiched in the middle of the bill and gave a stellar performance with plenty of instrument swapping and instructions to let the girls dance up the front unmolested by us phallocentric neanderthals. I didn’t have any specific memory of what songs they played but couldn’t believe it when I found a video on the whole gig on YouTube - fucking deadly! Check it out below.

I hadn’t heard of Team Dresch prior to the gig but they did a fine job headlining, even though the crowd has thinned out somewhat at that stage. I subsequently managed to track down one of their albums ‘Personal Best’ and while it is still Riot Grrrlesque in it stylings the music is a little alt-rockier than BK. There is also a video of their set on the YouTube.

Anyway now that little trip down memory lane is finished all that is left for me is to wish the Bikini Kill EP a happy 20th Birthday. I’ll roll it out again next year for the 21st.

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