> Bikini Kill: Fiercely Feminist Punk - Kathi Wilcox on what has changed and what hasn't - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Bikini Kill: Fiercely Feminist Punk – Kathi Wilcox on what has changed and what hasn’t

Chris Queen in conversation with Kathi Wilcox for SNACK

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Bikini Kill: their fiercely feminist punk redefined what it meant to be a woman making music. As they head out on a massive global tour nearly 30 years after the release of their last album, SNACK spoke to bassist Kathi Wilcox about what has changed – and what hasn’t.

I speak to a lot of musicians who are just starting out and Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill are by far the most referenced bands. Is that something you ever expected to happen?

Never. When we started, the idea that anything we were doing in 1991 we would still be talking about in 2024? I never would have believed that in a million years.

I feel like we were part of a long line of feminist discussion and I think that maybe the way that our band presented some of those ideas was a little different from what had come before. We didn’t invent the wheel, or anything like that. I think that our band really came out of that kind of late eighties backlash to feminism, and it was just our response.

The interesting thing about these shows is that people are coming to them who saw us back in the nineties and being like, you know, ‘I really didn’t understand your band back then, and I really hated it. And now I completely understand. And I just want you to know that, like, people can change.’ That’s been really gratifying.

Do you feel that there was a bit of the audience that was just missing the point entirely?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. People were showing up who had already decided what they thought about us. They had an idea of what our band was about, and they were showing up ready to start a fight. I don’t know that they were necessarily missing the point. I think that they were maybe taking it personally in a way that it was not necessarily about them. But, yeah, there definitely were people that just showed up just to start trouble at the shows.

Bikini Kill @ The Hollywood Palladium. Photo credit: Debi Del Grande

It’s understandable that you wanted to take a bit of time away from it. What was the impetus for coming back now?

There was a book that came out about the band The Raincoats, and they had asked us individually if we wanted to come to their book release party and play a solo song. I was like, well, if we’re all going to be in the same place, why don’t we just do a Bikini Kill song?

Because that band was so important to us, it makes more sense to just get up and do a song that was actually directly inspired by the band.It was the first time that the three of us had really been in a room together, and it felt good. So we set up a show in LA and it sold out. And then it just kind of grew from there.

Unfortunately, with the way the culture is here in the United States, it felt really relevant. We were all feeling the songs maybe in a different way, but certainly as strongly as we did in the nineties and in some ways even more. Nobody’s coming up and being like, ‘why do we need feminism?’ That was a lot of the response we got back in the nineties. And now abortion rights are being rolled back, trans rights are under attack. It’s much more obvious what’s happening now.

Has the message or the priorities of what you need to communicate changed?

I think it has changed because the conversation has changed. It’s gotten more complicated and more nuanced in a good way. We were 21 when we started playing and fresh out of university, so we were pretty – I don’t want to say naive, but it’s like we had very simplistic ideas about feminism and intersectionality, and a lot of other ideas have come into play since then.

I feel like the conversation has gotten much larger, and I feel like that’s a good thing.

Bikini Kill by Lisa Darms 1995-1996

The whole ‘girls to the front’ thing keeps coming up at every show where people are shouting at us to say girls to the front. And we look out at the front and it’s all girls. You’re already there. Then sometimes there will be one guy over to the side, and then people will be getting angry at him because he’s just existing.

We don’t want to tell anyone that they can’t be at our show. We want everybody to feel safe and included. Like, we don’t know what people’s gender is. We don’t want to be like, the gender cops from the stage being like, all the guys to the back. That was never really what that was about anyway.

A clip from “The Punk Singer,” a documentary about Kathleen Hanna. Directed by Sini Anderson.

Riot Grrrl as a concept l think has become very commodified in a way. Is that inevitable?

I mean, it’s funny. It’s almost like the trappings became more important than the idea itself. I think it’s fine if people go back and read the zines and listen to music or get in touch with other people in their community, if it’s actually a real thing.

The cool thing about fanzines is you don’t make a billion, you make like 50. There’s a finite amount. It’s not like the internet, where every single person who feels like tuning in is suddenly part of your community when they’re really not. You use all this energy in conversation with people that are not part of your community in the immediate sense.

I’m not saying just people that live next door to you, but people who you know and have a vested interest in maintaining a relationship with. It’s not just some anonymous person yelling at you on social media.

Bikini Kill play O2 Academy, Glasgow on 14th June. Tickets here.

Main Photo Credit: Debi Del Grande

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