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The Boston Phoenix First-Person Punk

Remembering Bikini Kill's first tour

By Tinuviel

JULY 27, 1998:  Here's the plot line to a movie about punk rock. A young feminist punk band go out on the road to tour. They are in a major city. They are on a bill with three hardcore bands from the good-ol'-boys punk scene. The girl band are wearing pajamas on stage. In the crowd is a wifebeater. He's a large ex-rock-club-bouncer guy with a lot of tattoos (including one of a castle on his neck). He had been released earlier that day on bail after being charged with domestic abuse. He sees the girls on stage and starts to heckle them. There's equipment problems. He's yelling at the band. "Hey! get on with the show! Hey! What's up with the fuckin' pajamas!" A girl in the audience tells the guy to shut up. He punches her out. She's on the floor. The lead singer starts to chase after the guy. Two motorcycle chicks in the corner begin making plans to hunt the guy down with a girl posse . . .

I'm outside with Laura, Bikini Kill's roadie, the girl who just got punched. She's got a bag of ice, a black eye, and a cigarette. The bumbling show promoter is apologizing. He's saying he doesn't know what happened . . . stuff like this never happens in Boston . . . violence doesn't exist at shows. Kathi, the bass player, is also sitting with us. The promoter pays her the guarantee and tells her that despite everything, the band played a great set even though it was short . . . blah blah blah.

Then another guy comes up to us. He moves quickly from expressing concern to feeling out Bikini Kill's business situation.

He: Do you guys have a CD out?

She: [deadpan] No.

He: Do you want a record?

She: We already have.

He: Are you putting out a CD?

She: No.

He: What are you doing with the recording?

She: We're putting out a record.

He: Don't you want to put out a CD?

She: I don't have a CD player. Why would I want to put out something I can't listen to?

He: But most people have CD players.

She: Not anyone I know.

He: Who are you putting out your record with?

She: Kill Rock Stars.

He: Who are they?

She: Friends of ours from Olympia.

He: No one's ever heard of them. Don't you want to put out a record with a big label?

She: No. I don't know who you are.

He: Don't you want to make a lot of money?

She: Who cares. Go away.

This was Bikini Kill's first East Coast tour and it was chaos. Every day, every city, something crazy would go down. Promoters lying, violence, van problems, sleazy label guys . . .

At this point in Bikini Kill's career, they had a demo tape, one track on the Kill Rock Stars compilation, and two fanzines out. They had just done an interview with a major music magazine and seen "off the record" remarks printed while other quotes were printed out of context to take on completely different meanings. Photos of them were published without their permission. All these experiences put them into a very defensive position, ultimately a media blackout.

Why was everyone going crazy over a band who had played out maybe a dozen times?

Bikini Kill played amazing live sets of raw noise with an urgency rarely found in bands. They had things to say, to communicate to the world. Their world was three white girls and one white boy in their early 20s in the early '90s in a small Northwest town. They volunteered at the local women's shelter and saw firsthand horrible situations women of all ages constantly faced. They grew up listening to new wave and punk rock, immersed in the '80s hardcore scene yet not finding a place to fit in with the boys.

hardcore generation
hardcore generation
hardcore generation
hardcore generation
not my generation
not my generation

it doesn't speak to me
no not at all
I don't see anything
there's something wrong
I can't understand
your favorite song
from "Anthem,"
by Tobi Vail

Bikini Kill were trying to call to action/create a peer group. "Bikini Kill is more than a band or 'zine or an idea, it's part of the revolution" (Bikini Kill 'zine).

Bikini Kill have broken up. These days, it seems like a lot of people have name recognition for the band but hardly anyone has listened to Bikini Kill. Maybe it's time to start listening.

A couple weeks later, the large tattoo'd guy walks into the store where his girlfriend works. He pulls a gun and blows her brains out. Then he goes back to his apartment a block away and kills himself.

(All events related herein are true.)

Tinuviel runs the indie label Villa Villakula. She co-founded the Olympia label Kill Rock Stars.

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