Sharps & Flats

Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre say dance first and theorize later.


Carlene Bauer
November 11, 1999 10:00PM (UTC)

What do you do for an encore after you've co-written the soundtrack for revolution grrrl-style now? If you're ex-Bikini Kill front woman Kathleen Hanna, you give up the growl and seek liberation through the groove. Hanna and Bikini Kill, her four-piece punk band, led the confrontational, early-'90s female-powered charge against sexism and other societal ills with verbally viscous three-chord rants. The band quietly broke up in '98, just before Hanna released her solo debut, a low-tech, digitally enhanced affair that she recorded as her alter-ego, Julie Ruin. Hanna's latest project, Le Tigre, is a similar affair, a collaboration with video artist Sadie Benning and zine author Johanna Fateman.

But this switch, from the screech of Bikini Kill to the rudimentary bump and grind of Le Tigre, doesn't mean Hanna's finished being a pain in the patriarchy's ass. On Le Tigre's self-titled album, she's still a creative force, even when she's not screaming, "Suck my left one." The new record's thesis: Never underestimate the power of feminism, especially when it's articulated by a girl group with punked-out, primitive electronica.

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If Bikini Kill was the second coming of the woman-fronted '70s punk band X-Ray Spex, Le Tigre is a cunning Gang of Three that stages witheringly deadpan attacks on targets like the art world and the boys' club of film with samples, keyboards, guitars and turntables. The beats have all the technological sophistication of vintage video games; riffs and hooks detonate with the visceral impact of thrash. Le Tigre wants you to dance first and make your theory-informed critiques later.

On "What's Yr Take on Casavetes," the band chants the titular question over a menacing grind while voices shout out "Genius! Misogynist! Alcoholic! Messiah!" The garage rock romp "My My Metrocard" pits the limitless possibilities of travel through New York's five boroughs against the dictatorial ways of mayor and strip-bar nemesis Rudy Guiliani.

But the record isn't all arch nose thumbing. It's moody as your kid sister. When it's not antagonistic and sarcastic, it's needy and exultant, lurching from guitar-lacerated new wave to swinging '60s rhythms, from synth-cushioned self-examination to toy-piano-laced ballads about childhood neighbors.

"Hot Topic," a combination shout-out and call to arms, is the second track on the record, but it would make the perfect ending to this agitpop enterprise. In her Dusty Springfield-on-helium voice, Hanna carries the playground melody like a banner and ticks off a list of inspirational women that includes Nina Simone, Dorothy Allison, Gertrude Stein and Cibo Matto. "So much shit to get and give into," Hanna sings. "So many rules and so much opinion/So much bullshit, but we won't give in." Her exhortation, which floats atop a Motown stomp that approximates the echoey crash of feet pounding on auditorium bleachers, is filled a conviction infectious enough to make you wanna kick Fred Durst's ass.


Carlene Bauer

Carlene Bauer is an editor at Elle magazine.

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