Bikini Kill's Kathi Wilcox, the Lady Gaga experience, a soul troubadour, and the demise of a local punk band
TOFU AND WHISKEY You should know how significant the forthcoming sentence is for me. Like, when I think about it, my heart speeds up a tick. I get that fluttery, crush-style, first-discovering-feminism blood pumping something fierce. Here it is: so, I was talking to Kathi Wilcox, of Bikini Kill, the Frumpies, the Casual Dots, and Julie Ruin...that's about as far into it as I can get for now.
Take a breath. I'll start again. The music that Wilcox helped create in the early 1990s riot grrrl scene along with Toby Vail and Kathleen Hanna deeply affected, empowered, and inspired a generation of women — and continues to do so. Bikini Kill technically existed from '90 through '97, now however, there's a new chapter. The former Kill Rock Stars group started its own label — Bikini Kill Records, naturally (www.bikinikill.com) — and it recently began re-releasing albums, beginning with the 20th anniversary reissue of the band's debut 12-inch EP. As a fan who became aware of the band the very year Bikini Kill fizzled (I was 13), it's been my cruel fate to forever be indebted to a dormant group. Until late last year.
You can now perhaps grasp my Tiger Beat-sized fawning over Wilcox, who's chatting with me from her home in Brooklyn, which she shares with Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and their 7-year-old daughter. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I'll have you know that I steadied my voice, and never let on to the Bikini Kill tattoo on my left shoulder.
The creation of the Bikini Kill label came after Vail and her sister Maggie were laid off from Kill Rock Stars."If there's loyalty and it's your community and you want to support that, or the other bands on the label feel like your scene, I can understand wanting to stay, but for us it didn't really make sense. We were just like, well we should just do this ourselves," says Wilcox.
Plus, they wanted to make sure the records stayed in print, and there was that 20th anniversary of the first record milestone. I ask if there's any nostalgia in excavating youthful sonic archives of one's past.
"I'm not sure if nostalgia is right the word," she says. "It's surprising to me, going back over a lot of this, not that people are still interested — although, in some ways, I do feel a little bit surprised about that. Like, I'm surprised that we're having this conversation 20 years later." Boom-boom, my heart beats faster thinking of myself as part of this conversation. "Maybe it's just because there's been so much '90s nostalgia in the air that I feel like I've sort of worked it all out of my system?"
We talk about that moment in '92 when a leery fascination with riot grrl and its Olympia and DC hotspots was all over the mainstream media for a blip.
"We had seen what had happened with Nirvana...We watched the media take this band we knew — and they were good, we thought they were great — but we had no frame of reference for what happened to them. Then they trained their eyes on us. We were weary of that whole process. We had no desire to be like, on the cover of Rolling Stone. That was not our goal at all. We're just the next piece of chum thrown in the water there."
Their actual goals and desires were in plain sight, in their zines, lyrics, written across Hanna's stomach in permanent marker.
"We were trying to create a community where women and girls felt like they had a scene; we wanted young women to start bands. That was our scene: an underground women's, feminist network."
Though the decades between now and then seem to have softened her views of the unwanted attention.