LET'S FACE IT: Bikini Kill was Kathleen Hanna. The other members haven't enjoyed nearly as much fun in the sun. But Kathleen Hanna isn't just Bikini Kill. Since the breakup of those riot grrrls who gave us classics such as "Suck My Left One" and "Double Dare Ya," Hanna has kept on writing songs. And even though she left her Olympia, Wash. days behind for an apartment in New York City, her politics are still intact in the form of Le Tigre, her new band with indie filmmaker Sadie Benning and 'zine writer Johanna Fateman.
So what does it mean when one of the leading riot grrls trades in her distortion pedal for a drum machine?
It simply means the music's more fun. Le Tigre works to combine the tried-and-true elements of punk rock with keyboards and drum machines to create a new artistic persona that makes the music just as interesting as the message. In an interview in the September issue of Index magazine, Hanna told writer Laurie Weeks that with Le Tigre, she wanted "to make something that's totally pleasurable and political, too."
The songs on Le Tigre's self-titled debut album, released last year on Mr. Lady Records, are wonderfully catchy pop/punk anthems; they've got teeth, but you can dance to 'em, too. While listening to songs like "What's Yr Take on Cassavetes?" you can't help but tap your feet while thinking about the role of independent film in feminist cultural ideology. When Hanna asks in "The Empty," "Oh, baby, why won't you talk to me?" you're at once mesmerized by the catchiness of the song (get up and dance!) and wondering about the vacuous sport-sling bag that is pop culture.
Le Tigre isn't bound by any genre. The songs range from '60s-esque pop to lo-fi New Wave to pre-Green Day punk. "Deceptacon," with Hanna's smooth growl and grinding guitars, sounds almost like a Bikini Kill song, but the guitars are deceptive. Below them is a simple drum machine beat that makes "Deceptacon" a much more gel-coated and easy-to-swallow pop song.
Then the chorus comes in--"Who took the Bomp from the Bompalompalomp? Who took the Ram from the Ramalamading dong?"--and the punk pretense becomes a whole new statement about pop music. Could the "bomp" and the "ram" represent artistic integrity, or perhaps the political roots of punk? So many interpretations surface; unlike Bikini Kill, Le Tigre's bite is slipped in underneath the candy-coated shell.
Hanna's first album after the 1998 breakup of Bikini Kill was Julie Ruin (Kill Rock Stars), a very electronic, experimental solo project that was mostly recorded on an eight-track in her apartment. That process isn't exactly new anymore, but it is for Hanna: The music she created climbed up over the punk rock spontaneity imposed by her role as Queen of the Riot Grrrls and the Kill in Bikini Kill.
The songs are produced, in the simplest meaning of the word; they've been crafted. The vocals are unmistakably Hanna, but the way she's singing is different: It's more layered, more subversive--you begin to absorb the meaning by osmosis, rather than having it box your ears. And instead of using overly-distorted guitars, Hanna began working with samplers and drum machines and keyboards--nothing very cutting-edge, but that doesn't seem to be the point.
The point is: Why should music with a political agenda be all rage and no engage? Can't we have our cake, and eat it, too? In that same Index interview, Hanna said, "Pop music is a structure, and I'm going to use the structure and make something else happen with it."
In "Hot Topic," Hanna, Fateman and Benning provide the listener with a short list of people who inspire them, from Yoko Ono to Billie Jean King to James Baldwin, not telling us why they're hot topics to them--that's for us to figure out. The song is merely the framework. And the framework is providing Hanna with a whole new approach to political song writing.
"Dude Yr So Crazy" does a similar thing, only in reverse: It profiles someone by listing all the "cool" things and phrases that have become "uncool" by being "cool"--at least in the eyes of Le Tigre, things such as Hawaiian shirts and saying "buddy buddy."
"Let's Run" could be otherwise known as "The Ballad of Le Tigre": "I wanna spread my dementia," Hanna sings in the chorus, while the verses go back and forth as to whether Le Tigre could "totally, totally, totally freak you" or not, all to a rock-steady beat.
Songs like "Les and Ray" and "Eau D'Bedroom Dancing" are much more personal, sentimental songs about childhood and sex, respectively, but Hanna manages to pull them off without a skip in the larger scheme at hand.
Some old saying somewhere probably goes, "As the song, so the writer." The Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre is less concerned with writing "SLUT" across her stomach and more concerned with philosophizing about the concept of "slut." She's no longer just saying, "There should be a revolution," she's saying why, set to a groovy soundtrack, proving it is possible to "wear a scrunchie," as she openly admitted on Julie Ruin, and still let your hair hang down.
Le Tigre will perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, October 8 at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Las Sinfronteras opens the all-ages show. Cover charge is $7. For more information call 884-0874.