Anyone for Riot Grrl disco?
‘Feminist Sweepstakes‘, the follow up to Le Tigre‘s eponymous debut from last year, takes the scrawly DIY punk of the 90’s ’Totally Girl Powered’ movement and dresses it up in spangly fairly lights and glitter.
Described on the record as “some kinda underground electro feminist performance artists“, Le Tigre are Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and JD Samson who, ostensibly, work as a ‘collective’, but it’s clear that it’s lead singer Hanna - the woman who put Grr into Girl - that is the bands leading light.
She won’t like the comparison, but Kathleen Hanna is the female Henry Rollins. Both are tireless, principle led refusniks who solidly and forcibly set out and, crucially, stick to their agenda, regardless of changing tastes and styles.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t listened to anything of Hanna’s since Bikini Kill, her previous band, released ‘Pussy Whipped’ in ‘93. And though there is a marked refinement and lightening of the sound to Le Tigre - spiky electro-pop rather than the often muddy, incoherent thrash of Bikini Kill - it is essentially a cosmetic change. The song remains basically the same and, as Rollins forever wanders in the same Nietzschian uber-menscsh fantasy world of his own, so Hanna is still in a feminist vendetta kinda mood. Needless to say, bigots and chauvinists don’t come too out well in ‘Feminist Sweepstakes‘.
We are immediately in familiar territory from track one as Hanna‘s megaphone wail kicks in. Not as corrosive as her female contemporaries - Babes in Toyland‘s Kat Bjelland and Courtney Love - her voice is a thin rasp when not aided by electronics (ala The Strokes‘ Julian Casablancas ) so, wisely, she sticks to her natural, softer range on many of the tracks. And the drum machine and fuzzy guitar assault of the music mean that Le Tigre come across sounding either like a lo-fi Atari Teenage Riot on the more riotous tracks, or - the most obvious influence here - like sister act, Peaches.
And age has not withered Hanna‘s ire, she shares Rollins‘ lack of patience for anyone not meeting her standards, even fellow Grrls: “Yr not good enough / for me to even despise” she spits at the fair-weather feminists who jumped on the Riot Grrl bandwagon, then promptly jumped off when it became uncool. “It’s all so precious and you throw it away” she laments on ‘Shred A‘. Elsewhere she lambastes those who adopt 'cool' in order to exploit the alternative market, “You got the rebel style / it don’t fool me / You’re a post modern parasite“. This woman has earned her stripes. She knows.
It isn’t all hectoring though, there’s ‘Fake French - where she proudly boasts of her political credentials to a slinky, hip-swinging groove - and the Fisher Price, old skool Hip-Hop of ‘Well Well Well‘. There’s even a gentle, melancholy instrumental called ‘Cry For Everything Bad That’s Happened‘.
Whatever, this is still a call to arms, a shout of encouragement to those disillusioned with an increasingly meaner and apolitical society. Yes, it’s political and Hanna hasn’t wavered in her beliefs. She may still be beating the same drum as she was in the early 90s, but when the dominant music scene is sliding ever further back into a juvenile playpen of misogyny and violence, and the music culture is being dictated to by over-hormonal, 14 year old, WWF fanboys, it is clear that now, more than ever, we need that drum to go on beating, for the sky to be set ablaze with daring once more.
Album standout, ‘Tres Bien‘, carries a message written by Tammy Rae Carland that spells out the Le Tigre philosophy, “Because we refuse to allow our writing, songs, art, activism and political histories to be suppressed or stolen. Because we refuse to be embarrassed about the mistakes and faults and choose to move forward with a political agenda bent on the freedom of all.“.
They mean it (wo)maaaan. But then, you can also dance to it. Like they say: “tomorrow we fight / so lets have fun tonight.
The party’s only just started.
8David Merryweather's Score