Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Riot grrrls still rule!

2 March 2023

There’s a lot going on at Bikini Kill’s unforgettable show. So much that reviewer Harvey Rae ropes in Alicia Nowak to share their experience.

Bikini Kill
The Rechabite Hall, 1 March 2023

Kathleen Hanna opened a dialogue in the 90s. In their last century incarnation, she and Bikini Kill bandmates Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox challenged the role of girls. Now they own the stage as women.

In the last 30 years, much of what Hanna fought for has materialised and to see them back together is a vindication of their fraught mission. The Riot Grrrls of the 90s are now women of the new millennium. Yet there’s still plenty of work to do, giving the music an enduring contemporary relevance while retaining its abrasive causticness.

The band demands that girls have space in the front, and at the fore they are, as Bikini Kill storm the hall. Opening with New Radio, Hanna’s first lyrics are typically confronting: I’m the little girl at the picnic/ Who won’t stop pulling her dress up. A barrage of ferocious punk rock follows, including fan favourites Feels Blind and Carnival.

Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna on stage and singing into a a mic.
Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna continues to challenge the role of women. Photo: Cam Campbell

Between songs she’s in rare form, as black humour spikes the mood. One imagines a spoken word or comedy show wouldn’t be a stretch for Hanna.

When laughter cedes, emotions take over. A dedication to “sexual abuse survivors in the house” cues her own story. “My best friend assaulted me,” she begins. “I will never be who I was before, but I can be who I am right fucking now.” Cheers ring out and I Like Fucking follows appropriately.

But Hanna isn’t done. “Am I drunk and intense? So what?” she sneers. As the heat onstage becomes unbearable, menopause comes up. “Is this a growing pain? It is. What if I’m growing taller,” the 54-year-old jests. This is critical. Subverting traditional, restrictive narratives and normalising the very real experiences of women is just another way Hanna carves out space for them.

Soon it’s too much. Hanna leaves the stage, followed by Wilcox and Vail, while touring guitarist Sara Landeau remains on stage. The crowd looks at one another, unsure of what they’re witnessing. (Hanna’s health problems have been widely reported, including in the excellent documentary The Punk Singer).

For a while, it feels like everything is falling apart. But when she comes back 10 minutes later, to play bass while Vail sings and Wilcox drums, there’s relief. Eventually Hanna returns to the mic: “You know what? If you gotta cry, you gotta cry.”

Which is the entire point. The social contract is broken, but there’s something innately hopeful about a silver-streaked force majeure who, in claiming her space, renders her vulnerability visible.

Screw the conventions of a show. We came to see her. We saw her. We waited for her. She returned to us, and the wait was so very, very worth it. From there Bikini Kill played one of the year’s most unforgettable sets.

Four members of punk band Bikini Kill on stage playing.
Bikini Kill deliver one of the year’s most unforgettable sets. Photo: Cam Campbell

Having reset, Hanna delivers big time. Her energetic take on go-go dancing is as infectious as their biggest tunes: Reject All American, Suck My Left One, Double Dare Ya and, of course, Rebel Girl power a triumphant finish.

She is still shouting about trauma, abuse, abortion. Rightly so. The balance between the feel good and the feel bad is profoundly real. 

To witness Hanna resurrecting her rage against the patriarchy is a crystallising fulcrum of recognition. Her contemporaries in the crowd, and her acolytes, feel seen. In this space, women seasoned and wearied by the world they move through are represented.

Let’s not forget the younger demographic of punks, feminists, queers and outsiders she represents in 2023 either. This new generation of Bikini Kill fans is ensuring the band’s most successful period, and it’s most evident in support act Cold Meat who play an excellent opening set highlighted by closer Nice Girls.

Of course, Hanna sums this new-found success up best. Mimicking a well-meaning critic, she says: “You’re playing bigger gigs, so you should give all your money to, like, feminism… It’s like, I think The Strokes should give all their money to feminism.”

The crowd erupts into laughter and applause. The band kicks back in. Punk rock wins the day.

Pictured top: Bikini Kill, with Kathleen Hanna on bass, resurrecting their rage against the patriarchy. Photo: Cam Campbell

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Author —
Harvey Rae

Harvey is a familiar face in the Perth arts scene, having been a journalist, promoter, events manager, artistic planner, songwriter, radio host, marketer, publicist, label owner and more. Music may be his first love, but you'll regularly find him at anything comedy, theatre or food related. Harvey gravitates towards the swings but sometimes forgets he’s too big for a playground flying fox, too.

Past Articles

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    In a double act worthy of an arena, Living Colour and Extreme have the crowd on their feet from start to finish. Harvey Rae can’t help but join them. 

  • Who’s who elevate Timmy’s Tommy

    You Am I revisit The Who’s classic Tommy, with two of Australia’s finest rock vocalists. Harvey Rae goes on an amazing journey.

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