Those familiar with the riot grrrl movement started in the early 90’s will most likely be familiar with Kathleen Hanna and her bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. After a long absence, explained in the excellent documentary ‘The Punk Singer’, she’s recently returned with a new band ‘The Julie Ruin‘ (not to be confused with an early solo project called ‘Julie Ruin’) and the last few years she’s been taking her new band from state to state, country to country, showing us all that the movement is far from dead, but stronger than ever. Being a stuck in the North kind of person, it took me till December to finally experience it all firsthand…
The Julie Ruin is the perfect mix of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, combining punk and pop elements to make something with a bite and a bounce. The music from the albums ‘Run Fast’ and ‘Hit Reset’ feel like well established classics when played live, and each track is given some insight from Kathleen Hanna on just what these wholesome hooks are about. There is a message within the dance.
The upbeat atmosphere from the crowd and the band were often given an aura of awkwardness when the stories behind the songs came to light. It’s easy to put together the general theme behind each song, but Kathleen Hanna talked about personal experiences with sexism, abuse, relationships, and everything else real and true about the world. A portion of the crowd would laugh and cheer, a reaction which didn’t quite flow with the tone of the tales at hand, noted by Kathleen Hanna herself. It was as she put it ‘laughing whilst talking about abuse’. As for those who talked as she did, well, that’s just not what you do at a Julie Ruin show.
Crowd and band interaction wasn’t all hostile though, Kathleen Hanna was just telling it how it is, and there was quite a lot to say, about the recent Trump win in America, and how the song ‘Fuck Twin Peaks’ from the early Bikini Kill days wasn’t actually about the show, more the alienation that came through not being invited to group get together’s with coffee and pie, just a small smattering of conversation created through crowd interaction. Plus with Kenny Mellman at the keyboard wearing his dolphin t-shirt, musing over his love of food, how could things not have an air of lightheartedness about it? A band such as The Julie Ruin is more than their songs, without the context they just wouldn’t be.
And for the finale? What else could have been played but the Bikini Kill riot grrl classic ‘Rebel Girl’? They might have played a Courtney Barnett cover to embrace the new, but they certainly didn’t forget the roots of it all either. I guess that’s The Julie Ruin all in all.