Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bikini Kill - Reject All American (1996)

That whole riot grrrl thing more or less passed me by. Most of that which received coverage in the music papers seemed to be written by the fantastically irritating Everett True and I therefore ignored it on principle. I bought Huggy Bear's Taking the Rough with the Smooch 10" plus that split album they did with Bikini Kill and can't recall the first fucking thing about either of them aside from a vague memory of screeching aplenty and it all sounding a bit like a Billy Childish side project without the tunes or much of a reason to exist. I saw Huggy Bear live a few times, and don't remember much about either them or the Voodoo Queens - who I think were supporting - apart from what a wake-up call the brilliantly insightful Supermodel Superficial turned out to be. I had always imagined, for example, that in person Naomi Campbell was probably sort of like a cross between Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky but with tits, so the Voodoo Queens certainly set me straight about that one, let me tell you.

Huggy Bear also recorded at Redchurch Studio, as frequented by the band I was in at the time. Fred the engineer hadn't been particularly impressed by them. 'It seemed to be just this young boy apologising for being male whilst some of the girls stood around taking the piss out of him,' he sighed, shaking his head and lamenting the death of the guitar solo. 'You know what I mean, man?'

I picked up some riot grrrl zine from Rough Trade. I can't even remember the name of the thing, but no-one I'd heard of was involved and it seemed to be self-absorbed incoherent shit from cover to cover - the print equivalent of some teenager stood on a chair shouting I'm expressing myself and you can't stop me for a couple of hours. It was so bad it actually made me slightly nostalgic for Smiling Faeces and its like. Smiling Faeces covered bands with names wherein the letter A was customarily circled so as to double up as a symbol of studded leather and home-brew based anarchy, and the editor asked probing questions like when did you form?, how many people are in the band?, and what do you think of the government?; but at least he was fucking trying.

Anyway, more recently I saw a fairly engaging documentary about Kathleen Hanna and was inspired to wonder if maybe I'd been missing something. The split album with Huggy Bear still didn't sound like anything too amazing, but I picked this one up cheap before the curiosity wore off, and okay - I do see the point, at last; I mean I've always seen the point of working outside the music industry, messing up the stereotypes and so on, but it's also nice when the music has a bit of a fucking tune to it. Unlike the seemingly cacophonous Huggies, this rocks and rants and screeches with just enough garage-based passion to remind me how much I love X-Ray Spex, and if someone had played me this disc without telling me who it was, instead claiming it to be some forgotten Sex Pistols support band, I'd probably believe them. Some of it even reminds me of the Who when they were good! The politics and the feminism were of obvious importance to Bikini Kill, but you can really tell they actually wanted you to have a good time listening to their music and at their shows; which I suppose is where the English version failed so hard, let's have a good time not really being something we ever did with much conviction. More importantly, Bikini Kill understood that the medium and message were not necessarily mutually exclusive, and that one shouldn't negate the other - Geri's girl power being something which probably could have been communicated by means other than tits bulging from a Union Jack push-up bra, for one example. The songs are short, sharp and catchy without quite ranting or succumbing to sloganeering, and yet there's no ambiguity about what we're dealing with, no sensitive testicular feelings spared for the sake of a sale or a play on MTV or whatever was around at the time.

I never liked the term riot grrrl on the grounds that no actual riots resulted, so far as I'm aware, and grrr is just letters that idiots write on facebook when they wish to communicate anger but have no intention of actually doing anything about whatever has pissed them off; so I'm just going to call this punk rock, because that's what it is, and because it's a shame that very little punk rock is ever quite this good. Time to have another go with that split album, I guess.

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