Riot-grrl pioneers and rebel-girl revolutionaries Bikini Kill took over New York City for four sold-out reunion shows. MAGNET’s M.J. Fine (words) and Chris Sikich (photos) were there.
Night one of Bikini Kill’s four-night trek through New York was everything I’d been waiting for since the years when I clipped every article I read about riot grrl and kept them all in a drawer but didn’t know where to find any of the music. And just as the anticipation paid off 20-plus years ago when I eventually tracked down the records I’d been hunting for, finally seeing the band play the songs that have been lodged in my brain for so long—“Suck My Left One,” “Rebel Girl,” “Reject All American” and, above all, “Feels Blind”—felt as essential as hearing them for the first time.
Maybe even more so. Because as intense as it was back then to realize that Kathleen Hanna had perfectly, pithily articulated the way it felt to exist as a young woman in the mid-’90s (“I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me”), it’s nearly as intense to exist as a middle-aged woman in 2019—when so many of your role models have mellowed and your former peers have checked out to raise kids—and see Hanna, Tobi Vail and Kathi Wilcox reclaiming their power on a bigger stage than they ever had before.
You don’t have to leave the stage, they seemed to be saying. You can take a break and come back stronger. You can age without giving up your rage. You can reconnect with the people who meant something to you and build new relationships across generational divides that once seemed virtually unbridgeable. You can be older, wiser, louder, tighter and less lo-fi without giving up on the values and perspective that made you the queen of the world for a significant subculture. And people will show up and pay attention to your art, pay heed to your words and pay you what you’re worth.